How to survive in the street
A Guide for street-children
The best way to survive in the street is to join a ‘gallada’- a gang. Even though you may think you can manage on your own you will need the help of others. You will need to protect each other from being attacked by those who live on the streets, or by people who want to ‘clean up’ the streets. You will need to learn the rules of the gang and the slang they use. Soon, the gang will become your family. You will almost certainly start sniffing glue or the other kids will reject you. If you earn money you will have to hand some of it over to the gang-leader. When members of your gang are ill or injured you will all take it in turns to look after them. Your gang will soon be the only people you can really trust.
You will have to find ways of earning money, and there are lots–but you won’t earn much! Amongst the careers open to you are: being a ‘car watcher’ who shows motorists where they can park and keeps watch over their vehicles whilst they are in the shops and restaurants; becoming a street-entertainer, dancing, juggling or blowing bubbles to entertain the passers by; washing car windscreens when they stop at the traffic lights; scavenging things to sell from dust-bins and rubbish dumps; becoming a prostitute ( this option is open to both boys and girls ) If none of these appeal to you, you could try begging. If you are small and look appealing, you might do well at this; if not you will have to steal –or starve.
It’s safer to stay in your own area of the city; your ‘territory’. Going outside it could lead to fights with rival gangs. If your gallada is well-organised you will probably live near a shopping centre, a market, a bus-terminal or a tourist attraction because there will be a lot of people in these places and people mean money. Good places to sleep are under bridges, in shop doorways or in burnt-out buildings. If you can’t find a space in one of these you will have to sleep on the pavement , or even in a sewer. You will have to make your bed out of old newspapers or cardboard. If you are lucky you might find some polystyrene to crawl under, or some old sacking to use as a blanket, or even some plastic to keep the rain off. You won’t be able to sleep until very late because of the noise and you will probably have to smoke a joint of marijuana to prevent you having nightmares about the things that have happened to you or your friends. You must be prepared to be hungry, cold and wet; to have your shoes stolen whilst you are asleep; to be thrown out of your sleeping place by the police or night-watchmen; to be woken by the sound of gun-fire; or to be attacked yourself. Night is the most dangerous time to be in the street, so if you are offered the chance to sleep in a shelter, take it! Or, you could use the proceeds of a robbery to pay for a room for the night, but this is very dangerous so be careful, because if you are caught stealing you will be punished severely and you might even be stabbed and killed!
In the street you won’t be able to wash yourself or your clothes properly so you may suffer from boils, scabies or other skin diseases. You will have to go to the toilet in the street, and you will have no toilet paper so your bottom will get sore and you will smell. You will itch a lot because you will probably have nits, fleas or lice. As you don’t have a toothbrush and toothpaste you may have bad breath and toothache. You are unlikely to have access to a doctor or dentist. If you have to sleep where it is damp you are likely to get coughs, colds, bronchitis, or even pneumonia. The sewers are infested with rats so if you hide or sleep there a bacterium in their urine can give you Weil’s disease. This would damage your liver and kidneys. Cuts or other wounds will become infected very quickly and without treatment they could become gangrenous. If this happens you will have to have an arm or leg amputated. Malnutrition will stunt your growth and make it harder for your body to fight disease. You may find that sniffing glue will help take your mind off all this for a while. However, this habit is very dangerous and can damage your lungs and your brain. It may get into your hair and the only way to get rid of it will be to have it all cut off. The glue will make you aggressive, so people won’t want to help you and you are likely to get into serious fights. If you do, you may smash your glue bottle and use it as a weapon with which to stab or even kill other street kids, or they may kill you.
You may meet people in the street who will offer you drugs for free, especially one called basuko. They will tell you that it will make you feel good and try to persuade you to take it. Don’t do it. It is a very dangerous drug and once you take it you will want it again and again. It won’t be free any more; you will have to pay for it. To get the money to buy it you will have to steal or to work as a prostitute. You will soon be a slave to the drug. You will spend hours in drug dens, using the drug or sleeping off its effects. When you wake up you will be very hungry but you won’t have any food, unless you beg or steal some. If you are caught stealing you may be beaten, or arrested or even stabbed and killed. You will find it difficult to wash, so you will be very dirty and smelly. The drug has harmful chemicals and poisons in it and these will damage your body and your brain, especially your nervous system. You will not be able to control the way your jaw moves so it will be difficult to eat or talk. It will be very, very difficult for you to give up the drug and you will need a lot of help even to attempt it. So, remember, don’t take it, no matter what people say to you!
Sex may be another distraction but you will be in danger of catching a wide variety of serious and unpleasant diseases. Some of your friends have probably turned to prostitution and you may be tempted to join them. You may not know about the risk of AIDS but a street-kid who becomes HIV positive is likely to face a slow, painful and lonely death. If you can find a day-centre for street-children, go there. You will be able to have a shower; wash your clothes; go to the loo; have your hair cut; receive first-aid; and, if necessary, see a doctor or a dentist.
You may meet older kids who will promise to look after you if you help them to commit crimes. They will teach you to pick pockets; to steal from shops; and to smuggle drugs or weapons through check- points. All these things are very dangerous and you could be arrested or even killed.
The street is a very violent place and many of your friends will have been injured or killed. Some people may hate you and want to get you off the street.They may say you are rubbish and call you ‘disposable’. These people may try to kill you, perhaps whilst you are asleep. You might be rounded up by the authorities and treated roughly, even though the law forbids you to be ill-treated. You will be too afraid to complain in case worse happens. You may be offered money to sell one of your kidneys for transplant or the organ-traffickers may prefer to kill you and get all your organs for nothing.
If you die or are killed in the street your body will be taken to the Ampitheatre, the city mortuary. There, your body will be stripped and examined and placed in a huge refridgerator with dozens of other bodies until someone claims it for burial. You will have no documents so the identity label that will be tied to your toe will just say, ‘N.N.’- ‘No Nombre’ ( No Name ).
Extract from our CD, PASABOCAS.