A Place to Call Home
Celestina lit the gas stove and poured a splash of oil into her pan. With the twenty soles (6 dollars) she had made at work that day, she purchased two small pieces of meat, a carrot, and three potatoes from the market on her way home. And now she smiled as she talked and stirred the potatoes in the pan. The room filled with the sound of laughter and the tart smells of Peruvian spices.
It was a safe haven twenty bus stops away from her abuser – her ex-husband of 18 years. Her new home had a beautiful view of Cusco and three separate rooms – one for her teenage daughter, one for her teenage son and one for herself and her two younger daughters. Celestina’s small bedroom also served as the living room and kitchen. She wouldn’t dream of being bothered by dirt floors and lack of running water. Celestina is immeasurably proud of her new home.
Before this, she had lived in a small studio apartment in the city. They lived their entire lives in one tiny room that the five of them shared. They had shared a bathroom with their neighbors. But when threats from her abuser forced them to find a new place to live, she was happy to find this sweet space on a hill just outside of Cusco. Here, it felt more like the campo (the country) where she had grown up. She had space in front of her house for a garden, a couple of ducks and chickens, and a swing for her little girls. And she was happy to have me and a few other friends over to fill her home.
When the meal was ready, she served each guest with a smile and a hug. We could taste her hospitality in every bite.
When Home Becomes a Battlefield
Just months after she moved into her new place, we received a call from Celestina’s oldest daughter, Lupe. Working with victims of domestic violence, the phone ringing can always be news we don’t want to hear. I answered the phone and heard a trembling voice.
“Mi papá está en nuestra casa. (My father is in our house.)” She was sobbing so hard that I couldn’t understand her at first.
“Él me robó las llaves y ahora está adentro. Tengo miedo de irme a casa. (He stole my keys and now he’s inside. I’m afraid to go home).” My heart beat quickly.
“¿Está tu mamá en casa? (Is your mom at home?)” I responded.
“No. Mi mamá está en el trabajo. No sé que hacer. (No. My mom is at work. I don’t know what to do.)”
Her dad, their aggressor, had found them. And despite the restraining order he had against him, he had followed Lupe home from school earlier in the week and stolen her keys, shouting drunken profanities.
“Abre la puerta. ¿Dónde está tu mamá? Sé que ella está allí. Abre la puerta o romperé la ventana. Voy a quemar este lugar. Abre la puerta! (Open the door! Where is your mom? I know she’s in there. Open the door, or I’ll break the window. I’m going to burn this place down. Open the door!”)
The threat cut deep because Lupe was proud of her home. It also stung because just two years earlier when they lived together, her father had burned all of the family’s clothes. Now he threatened to burn down the new place they loved.
Burning their clothes had been her mom’s breaking point after 17 years together. After he did that, they had escaped and fought for years to keep a distance from him.
Now, he was back. His anger had grown, and he threatened to destroy their new place – their new life.
Lupe kept her father out that night, but now he had the keys to their house, and she was afraid she’d find him in her house when she got home.
“Come to our office. We’ll find your mom and go with you all to the police station. Do NOT go home!” we told her.
Estoy Agradecida (I Am Grateful)
Celestina and the kids went to the police station that night. Many times police do not take women with domestic violence claims seriously, so we went to the police station with Celestina to advocate for her.
It took some convincing to get the police to go check their house, but when they finally entered Celestina’s home, they found her ex inside the house drunk, passed out in a bed with a knife. After a struggle, they arrested him and put him in jail. We weren’t sure how long he would stay in jail. It could be for a few months or a few hours, but for a moment Celestina and her kids were safe.
“Estoy agradecida de tener a alguien a quien llamar y amigos para defenderme. (I’m so thankful I had someone to call and friends to defend me),” Celestina was exhausted but thankful that she didn’t have to go through this process alone. She hugged each of us who had gone to the police station that night before getting into a taxi to return to her home — a house that just days before had been full of food and laughter but now felt unsafe. She waved and leaned her head against the window. We prayed that her abuser would stay locked away and that she’d be safe.
A Place to Start Again
Celestina and her family were safe that night, but their story is far from over. After only five days in jail, her ex-husband was released. Today, with a stricter restraining order against him, if he is found within a mile of Celestina’s house, he will be thrown in jail for three years.
While these steps are meant to protect the family from more trauma and violence, they are not enough to keep their abuser from returning. We are urgently raising funds to relocate Celestina and her four children to a safer home in a different city.
Every donation gets Celestina closer to her dream of having a safe and happy home full of love and dinner–not just for her children but for everyone.
Celestina, you are not forgotten. We’ll help you rebuild your life. And one day we’ll come back for dinner.