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Read Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Symptoms of Another Life

A Time of Pure Nerves

"Pure nerves." Sra. Flora crumbled a soda cracker in her hands. It was the afternoon of Easter 2004 in La Pincoya. She had invited me to help her prepare an elaborate Easter lunch for her extended family. But the festive plans had abruptly dissolved with the news that her partner, Rodrigo, had lost his job in a textile factory where he had worked for the past twenty-five years. Instead, bites of homemade bread and sips of sugared tea mingled with stifled conversation.

Sra. Flora, Rodrigo, tío Ricardo, and Sra. Flora's daughters and grandchildren lived together in a two-story house that was a process of autoconstruction. First-floor brick rooms joined others of corrugated iron insulated with drywall. Above them, wood beams and iron sheets made a second floor. Outside, a gate of blue-painted iron bars and sheeting bounded the front patio. As part of the toma (land seizure) of 1970 that gave rise to La Pincoya, Sra. Flora and her former husband arrived on this plot of land with little more than a tent. They first built their home with materia scavenged from construction sites.

After her separation from her husband in the late 1970s, Sra. Flora and her new partner, Rodrigo, continued to build and furnish the home through bank loans and department store credit. Her daughters Carmen and Sonia, both single and in their midthirties lived on the second floor, each with two children. Separated by a thin wall was tío Ricardo's small room. On the first floor, Sra. Flora's twenty-five-year-old daughter, Valentina, shared a room with twenty-four-year-old Margarita, an adopted niece with cerebral pay. And in a room abutting that of Sra. Flora and Rodrigo, her thirty-year-old daughter, Florcita, lived with her partner, Kevin, and their two children.

Rodrigo's job loss had rippled through family relations. Carmen and Sonia worked in unstable jobs that often changed month to month: office cleaning, stocking supermarket shelves, selling pirated CDs. They would have to take on extra hours to pay the utility bil and the monthly quotas on debts until Rodrigo could find another job, but they faced the prospect with a mixture of resignation and frustration. The affects of working overtime ao intensified anger toward Florcita and Kevin, who had begun to drink hard liquor again, stealing and selling household foodstuffs to pur