Sometimes just a face will tell a story. Raquel hadn't even opened her mouth, but her weighted look spoke of trauma that no human should face.
It wasn't the stress-lines on her forehead or even her slightly sunken hollow eyes. Her very skin seemed to be imbued with grief and pain. Worn away like old sandpaper, weighted with disturbing memories.
Then she spoke. And the pain and grief welled up from the skin and flooded out, as she recounted 30 years of fear and violence inflicted by her husband. A constant fear of when her husband would walk into the room, the loss of a future as she tried to just cling on day to day, the unravelling of her very self.
And I cried too as first Raquel and then Indira and Maria told stories of domestic violence that had wrecked their lives.
Maria's whole body trembled as she recalled the time her husband tried to break her knees and held her knife to her throat.
Indira's face still had a brightness to it as she nursed her baby. But she was only 17 and her face crumpled too as she recounted the psychological abuse that had led her to flee her home without belongings or hope.
All three women had ended up taking refuge in "La casa de las mujeres" - an unassuming concrete shell of a house hidden behind high walls - where women and children fleeing violence can stay for between 3 to 6 months.
At first sight, it seemed a hopeless place to recover from the debilitating impact of domestic violence - the rooms had a grey emptiness, up to three women and their children were crammed into small dormitories with no chance for privacy, the playground for children was in disrepair, clouds of mosquitoes filled each room.
However as the women continued with their stories, there were glimmers of hope.
Not the sort of hope that you see in aid agencies' leaflets, shiny faces speaking of transformed lives. They spoke instead of a hope hidden in minute daily details. Raquel spoke about being able to sleep for the first time without pills. Maria said she didn't have to worry about where the next meal would come from.
None of them could articulate their visions for the future. But it was clear that the refuge - with its psychological, legal and counselling services - was allowing the women to slowly weave together a semblance of daily life.
Perhaps most importantly, they were able now to say to a group of strangers that they would not return to their husbands. They could at least imagine a future separate from violence, and now had the courage to speak out about their experiences, ending the isolating silence of abuse that had imprisoned them for so long.
I don't know if Raquel's face will ever look different. I fear that the scars of her life for 30 years will be too deep to erase all the pain etched into her body. But I hope at least the coming years will allow her face at times to lighten and sparkle, to tell different stories of laughter, hope and life.
*The names of the women have been changed.
Click on link below for spanish translation.