Monday, December 14, 2009

The tide is high

This time of year is slow for sex workers in Quito. The weeks right after the huge parties of Quito's Independence Day (for a week leading up to Dec. 6th), until after the Christmas holidays, are s-l-o-w. All the women have been complaining over the past week. They say that the men blew their money during the Fiestas de Quito and are now scrambling to save and buy Christmas gifts. Men are not willing to splurge on paid sex. Not right now.

The women are bored. We joke around and laugh all day. We snack on the mangoes, corn, chifles and pineapple pastries sold in the street. Most of the sex workers arrive by 10:30am and leave by 7:00pm. Actually, if you are a younger woman, you must leave by 6:30pm to give the older women a chance. The older women can stay as late as they want. Competition is fierce among the women during these slow days but women who work in the same area do not fight with each other. In fact, for the most part, they become really good friends-- but if you go even two blocks to the north or east, you will find an entirely different group of women who will not be open or kind to new-comers. Indeed, it is extremely difficult for women to break into a new corner--the intersection where I conduct my fieldwork (Espejo and Montafur) is the workplace of roughly 15 women. At this point I am friends with all of them and feel comfortable entering any of their small groups to chat and hang out. It took about 2 1/2 months for me to feel comfortable--to feel part of their group. I have yet to witness a newcomer break into "our" intersection at Espejo--I know it would be difficult because the women talk about how they can't work in the territory of other women. Even if another part of the historic center is rumored to be busier, with better business, the women stay within their groups, on familiar turf.

Today I clearly saw just how divided all the sex workers of the historic center are. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that the biggest divisions are between women who work on the streets and the women who work in brothels. These groups have different concerns and interests, which is why at the meeting I attended today the brothel workers and street workers sat divided, on opposite sides of the room. The sex workers' collective called "The Association in Defense of Women" held a meeting in order to hold new elections for the different positions in the organization. About 50 women showed up. I arrived with the women of my group on Espejo Street.

Unfortunately, the meeting did not last for more than 30 minutes. No elections were held. A worker burst through the door about 15 minutes into the meeting, interrupting everyone, to pass out a petition she had formed on behalf of all the women who work in the streets. The women who work in the brothels, in the sector called "La Cantera" in the San Roque neighborhood above the historic center, had been fighting with the president of the Association about how the goals of the meeting did not fit their needs and that the next time the Association calls for a meeting, they (the women from the Cantera) should have a say in what will be on the meeting's agenda....

As such, things were already tense before R. interrupted the meeting with her petition (afterward the women on the street said that not all of them were informed of or in agreement with the petition). When R. stormed in, more than half the women got up and left. (Most of whom were from La Cantera). The meeting unraveled from there. R. was angry--arguing for her petition while other women tried to shush her to allow other people to speak. My friends whispered to me that the meetings all ended like this--with lots of fighting, no resolutions. More and more women streamed out, saying that they were wasting important working hours..... eventually, we did too.

Money is scarce for all the women at the moment-- it is equally slow for the women on the streets and in the brothels. When people are not earning money, tensions between groups heighten. Hopefully once everyone has made it through the holidays tensions will dissipate...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

North-South Quito

Quito is a long, narrow city, its growth limited to the west by the towering Pichincha Volcano and to the east by the sudden drop to the valley, where wealthy suburbs have sprung up over the past fifteen years. Due to these limitations, Quito has grown along a north-south axis. The historic center, where I do my fieldwork (El Centro) is considered the dividing line between the North and South of Quito. Although there are exceptions, South Quito is populated by the city’s poor while the middle-upper classes live in North Quito. Many of my friends in the North have never been to the South, and likewise, many others (like the sex workers with whom I work) have never been to the North. And indeed, they are completely different worlds.

North Quito: The rich live, work, and spend their leisure time in the modern, tree lined streets of North Quito, in luxurious apartment buildings and homes protected by private security guards and elaborate alarm systems. The most exclusive live in gated communities which are built as fortresses with maximum security, with the same barbed wire, insurmountable walls, security guards and complicated entrance procedures of a prison. But this prison bars entrances rather than departures. The wealthy of North Quito work in Latin American and other multinational (European or North American) corporate buildings, banks, law firms, advertising agencies, etc. that serve the elite. Many speak English fluently and have lived in the United States for long periods of time. North Quito is home to private elementary and high schools like the American School of Quito, the French Academy or the prestigious Military Academy for boys. Many continue their studies at universities in the United States, Canada, England and other parts of Europe, as well as at the exclusive Universidad de San Francisco located in a wealthy suburb in the valley. Many residents of North Quito vacation in the United States, especially in Miami and New York. Many own beach condos on the coast of Ecuador in the resort towns of either Salinas or Casablanca. When they need surgery or develop life-threatening diseases they often fly to Houston or Miami for treatment. They drive luxury cars and rarely take a city bus. North Quiteño teenagers hang out at shiny malls with European boutiques, Nike stores, Virgin Records, TGI Fridays, McDonalds and grocery stores that sell American and European products. They eat at restaurants that cater to Quito's international community; for instance, in the past few years sushi places have become particularly trendy. Many of these places have prices comparable to restaurants in New York. Nights on the town include bars and clubs with expensive cover charges ($10-$15); DJs from Miami come to play and at times I have felt as if I were at a trendy bar in New York. The wealthy of Quito are often more “white” and “European” looking; plastic surgery is increasingly common and now one can find cases of anorexia among privileged teenage girls. Other segments of society call the upper class “plasticos” because they view them as living in an “artificial” world: they are seen as having superficial values centered on money and self-image. In my experience, many of the elite have limited exposure to people of other social classes, except for their employees who clean and guard their homes and look after their children. Most of their “help” are part of the lower class and commute everyday from South Quito (at least an hour-often 2). I have yet to meet a Northern Quito family who does not have service employees to help run their home.

South Quito: people in this part of the city live under very different conditions. Some live in the beautiful but decrepit Spanish colonial mansions in the historic center that have now been divided into small housing units. Others live in small, at times unfinished, concrete homes to the far South and West. Housing is cramped, with extended families living together in small spaces. Many neighborhoods like San Roque, La Marin, El Lomo, La Ventimilla, among others, are portrayed by the media as being riddled with crime and drugs (local residents claim these are unfair stereotypes). Basic infrastructure like street lights and proper drainage systems are lacking. Children of South Quito attend local public schools which often do not have basic supplies such as pencils, paper and books. Residents of Southern Quito shop at public street markets (which often carry better produce than the fancy supermarkets in the north). Although, it should be noted that there is a very big mall in the South, which although does not have the same luxury stores as the malls in the North, is comparable in many other ways. Teenagers frequent smaller bars and clubs which tend to play salsa. There are more small cafeterias that serve the local cuisine of the sierra: hearty soups, corn, potatoes, fritada/hornada (fried and baked pork) and tripa (tripe). Southern Quiteoñs travel via the belching, guzzling diesel buses that cost $.25 and that often prove to be an efficient means of transportation, although they have the reputation for being dangerous at night. Many Southern Quiteños have limited access to health care. Residents of the South tend to have darker skin and would be identified as looking more "indigenous." They may wear clothes that reflect their indigenous heritage like long woven skirts, shawls, ponchos and wear their hair in tight braids. New migrants who arrive from rural areas surrounding Quito settle in the South. In general, the South has fewer resources for education, security, sanitation, garbage removal, construction, and other public services that ensure a good quality of life. The residents of South Quito live, work, and spend their leisure time in public spaces that anyone can occupy; more often than not, they are the population the North wants to exclude from their private spaces. La Marin located in El Centro is the bustling bus depot at its center which deploys buses southward and northward into these different worlds.

When I first moved to Ecuador in 1999, I was immediately struck by the myriad of private security forces in the spaces designated for Quito's elite society, as the wealthy take security into their own hands. I lived with a family in North Quito and men with big guns were everywhere—they stood at the entrance of malls, multiplex movie theaters, grocery stores, nightclubs and bars, elementary schools, post offices, banks, corporate businesses, restaurants, cafes, book stores, houses, apartments, car dealerships, etc. I had never seen so much security in my life but eventually these ubiquitous security guards (who are mostly from South Quito) became a background presence. Now that I’m back ten years later, I don’t find such security measures alarming or notable—I hardly notice them at all. In fact, I am more likely to notice a “lack” of security these days.

Police taking S. away

Pouring milk onto S.'s eyes after tear-gas

S. vs. the police

No surprise how this story ends. 2:10pm. Sunday, Dec. 6, 2009. Today is Quito’s Independence Day but since it falls on a Sunday, the city celebrated last night. Everyone is walking around El Centro like zombies, wearing their hangovers on their faces, looking unsteady and bleary-eyed. After taking a walk around the plazas to take in the various concerts, I make my way down to Espejo and Montufar Streets, where I conduct my fieldwork. I wasn’t sure if many women would be around since it’s a holiday, but as I walk down Espejo, I see them in huddled groups at the base of the hill. I notice a police truck stopped on the south-east side of the intersection between Espejo and Montufar. I wonder who they are harassing now. Just as I arrive, the police truck pulls away to reveal S. and R. I call to them. When I walk over I realize that both women have been drinking. S. has her hands up to her face and she is crying. When I ask what happened, she explains that the police have just sprayed tear-gas in her eyes. We are standing in front of a bodega where a number of people witnessed the incident. S. told me to find some milk to put in her eyes. We walk around the corner to another bodega where they sell milk. The storekeeper pours the entire liter bag of milk onto S.’s eyes. As S. recounts the incident, the police drove up to her and asked her to move away from the corner, to which she responded “no” and “Viva Quito.” (“Long-live Quito). When she still wouldn’t move, the police sprayed the tear-gas into her eyes. The entire interaction lasted about five minutes.

More trouble: about a half hour later, as S. and I are now wiping the milk out of her eyes, the police return in their truck. S. does not see that the police have returned. Instead, she introduces me to her 8-year old daughter, who is with her ex-husband, hanging out on the same corner. S. then disappears for a bit. I wonder whether she found a client or went to buy more beer. Her friend R. tells me, “I only drink, not S. She does XXX.” I didn’t understand what she said, but obviously, it was some sort of drug. So I figured S. went to go get high. While S. went to get high, I went over to the police to chat for a bit (even though I know I shouldn't because I am so pissed off). I introduce myself as an American researcher, and as someone who documents human rights abuses against sex workers. They get very quiet. They ask why I care about these women. At that moment, S. comes running out of nowhere and starts screaming at the police. She calls them every swear I’ve ever heard in Spanish and one of the policemen starts filming her with his phone. I keep telling S. to forget about it, walk away, don’t provoke them, etc. I hold her back but she keeps yelling louder and louder. That’s when the police (four of them) get out of their truck. S. went walking away, still yelling and grabbed her daughter who was across the street, presumably watching the whole thing. S. took her daughter’s hand and marched off. The police were not about to let her go. Two of them approached S. and her daughter. S.’s daughter starts screaming at the top of her lungs, causing everyone to stop and stare. The police grab S. tightly and she tries, without success to shake them off. They drag her kicking and screaming to the police truck and throw her into the back. A group of sex workers run to help S.’s daughter who is still crying loudly on the street. Someone goes to find S.’s ex-husband. The crowds begin to disperse and I walk away with some other sex workers down Espejo Street. I ask my friend G. for how long S. would be in jail and how she would get out—G. just shook her said and said “I don’t know.” Under the eyes of the police, sex workers have no rights, and so S.’s prison stay will be determined according to how they feel tomorrow. I have heard frequent stories about how these women have to pay off the police, either with money or sexual favors to get out of prison. (They shouldn’t even be in prison since sex work is not illegal in Ecuador—more on that to come….).

This was a minor case of police abuse compared with other stories the women have told me. What confounds me is that El Centro, where these women work, is one of the most dangerous, crime-ridden neighborhoods in Quito, but yet the police spend most of their time harassing sex workers! Sex workers do not hurt anyone. Again, prostitution isn’t even illegal! They are out working as mothers supporting their children. I have yet to meet a sex worker in El Centro who is not a mother. It pisses me off that police feel like they can treat sex workers poorly. Unfortunately, for that reason, violent crimes against sex workers are alarmingly high—people think they can get away with anything since these women exist on the margins of society. People assume that no one cares about them when in fact they have children, partners, mothers, and friends, just like the rest of us. They deserve the same treatment and the same legal rights as any other Ecuadorian woman.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


My first day of field work: 12:30 pm. I walk into the office of ASPRODEMU (Quito’s sex worker collective), where I plan to conduct my dissertation research over the upcoming year. I stuffed everything I thought I might need into my canvas bag: 2 notebooks (of different sizes), a digital voice recorder (with its instruction manual), a folder, pens galore, my day calendar, a copy of Ecuador’s new constitution (you never know), tissues (you never know…), umbrella, map of Quito’s historic center, lots of little receipts, that I need to sort through later…oh and a pack of gum…that’s about it. I knock timidly. A woman comes to the door and motions for me to sit down in an empty chair against the wall. The room is packed. The women are in the middle of a lively meeting. My entrance causes everyone to pause. Once I sit down everyone begins talking again, as loudly as possible, each struggling to be heard over voices. Before I can get my bearings and settle into the discussion, a glass topped with frothy beer is thrust into my hands. “Toma” (“Drink”) M., sitting next to me says. I smile and shake my head, a polite “no gracias.” M. insists. I politely shake my head once more. Then the worst-case scenario unfolds: M. shouts out to the others—“Hey, Anita La Gringa won’t drink our beer!” All the women look at me. I hear someone say, “We’re not diseased, don’t worry you won’t catch anything” Another woman glares at me and says: “You can’t expect to work with us and not drink with us.” I hear another yell: “You don’t want to drink with us because ‘somos putas’ (“we’re whores”)!”

Oh dear. What’s an anthropologist to do? Clearly countless anthropologists have been in this situation. Anyone who has conducted fieldwork has had to negotiate moments like these, when you’re asked to do something that you simply don’t want to do. Drinking a beer with my new “informants” hardly sounds like a burden (even though I happen to be a non-drinker—I haven’t had a drink in 5 years), in fact, it could be a great way to break the ice, right? Or, right? I sit there weighing the pros and cons of the situation. I am not as concerned with the activity itself, after all, it’s only a beer (although after noting the many empty bottles around the room, I realized that it probably wouldn’t be just *a* beer). I was more worried about the implications of my actions. If I drank with them today would that set a precedent for similar situations? Would it be better to insist on a firm “no,” from Day One of fieldwork to set that as a precedent? What are the lines that need to be drawn between research and informant? The big message we get in anthropology is that you’re not supposed to sleep with your informants, although as far as I can tell this happens over and over again. In our graduate seminars we do not sit and mull over our ethical issues—of what may arise in the field and what would the range of appropriate responses be in a given situation. In fact, in my graduate program at NYU, we don’t even have a methodology course as one of our core classes! (I know, it completely baffles me, and many other students in my program) Basically, I’ve gleaned most of what I know about fieldwork from the ethnographies we read in which different anthropologists begin by describing their methodology... (I digress…)

I ended up drinking with the women. It was much easier to drink a few glasses of beer, than keep insisting on “no, I don’t drink” “no, I don’t want to get drunk in the middle of the day” “No, I am the researcher, and you are my informants—that wouldn’t be appropriate.” To them it seemed appropriate and quite frankly, an anthropologist should being able to understand other people’s perspectives (uh..hello? isn’t that why we’re here?) To be honest, the women went back to talking and they slowly forgot about me and my beer consumption. They spent the afternoon talking, complaining about the police, laughing, telling stories and drinking, without noticing me. I was able to hand my beers to my neighbor, who happily drank them in my place. No one cared, no one noticed. It was that first beer “performance” that mattered to them. I needed to chug down that first beer with them, and then they forgot. I blended into the background, took out my notebook and began writing furiously. I left later that afternoon with a slight buzz, and as I left everyone patted my back, smiled, wished me a safe trip back to my house, and wanted to know when I would return, etc. Lots of good feelings all around. I had passed some sort of test—a rite of passage, if you will. Drinking a few beers with my informants was definitely the right decision.

But without a doubt, these are tricky situations. There are no hard and fast rules about fieldwork because each situation is so unique. It is up to the anthropologist to make up her/his mind in the moment, according to what feels right. Obviously, there’s a range of activities one might be asked to participate in (drinking beer in the afternoon will probably be the most wholesome thing I will witness during fieldwork). By researching the sex industry, I spend most of my time in Quito’s red-light district where all sorts of things are happening…..things that make sipping beer in the afternoon look like a tea party. We’ll see how it unfolds….

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

That awkward fieldwork moment

Little did Italia Vaca know that my entire project rested on her shoulders as I walked into ASOPRODEMU’s (Asociación Pro Defensa de la Mujer, the local sex worker collective) headquarters this morning, located in Quito’s historic center. I needed Italia, president of ASOPRODEMU, to give me the green light—to tell me that I could work with the members of her organization over the upcoming year. Although I had worked with ASOPRODEMU during two summer visits in 2006 and 2007, I wasn’t able to reach them before I came this time. Perhaps not the best way to go about fieldwork, especially since they are the most prominent players in my research proposal, but I figured that since everything had worked out before, I’d take my chances and just show up at their door.

There I was. 11:15am. I had battled my way into the over-crowded Eco-Via—the “trolley” (actually a bus with its own lane)—until its final stop, La Marin, which dropped us off smack in the middle of the colonial center. Instead of taking in the gorgeous colonial facades and cobble stone streets, I marched along, looking down, determined to blend into the bustling sidewalk scene. I passed a couple electronic stores, an internet café, two modest restaurants that advertized $1.25 lunches, and a store selling the jerseys of Ecuador’s soccer team. The crowds thinned out once I took a left onto Montafur, a steep narrow street, lined with smaller businesses--a flower shop, bakery, another teeny tiny lunch place that could accommodate ten patrons, at the most. As I walked up the street I noticed several women talking together, laughing and tossing their hair—they didn’t notice me as I passed, but I took them in. I knew they were working, despite their modest clothes. As I got closer to the ASOPRODEMU office, I passed more working women, some in pairs, others standing alone. Two women were standing in front of the office and I greeted them warmly—with a huge anthropology smile—and asked politely “si puedo pasar?” (if I could enter). They seemed curious to know who I was, and what I was doing there, so they followed me into the dark, windowless office.

And there she was. Italia Vaca was sitting in her chair behind the desk. I tried to seem casual and breezy as I explained my project. I handed her a description of my project and she promptly read it out loud to the group of women in the room. All eyes were on me. I wasn’t sure where to look so I just put on my anthropology smile again and stared at Italia. A long pause. All eyes on me again. Italia nodded and looked me up and down. I was quietly nibbling on my lip. Oh my god I started thinking—what if she tells me I can’t work here??? What if all my plans fall through-just-like-that! Oh dear. Full on panic. I kept smiling wider and brighter. See how nice and friendly I am. Please—oh please. Oh my god, I am so screwed. There goes my dissertation. My entire academic career. Everything.

“Hmmm…well, okay then.” Italia looked over me as I hung on every word. “Hmm, so that’s okay then?” I repeated. “Um hum” she said, still looking me up and down. In fact, I felt like all the women in the room were staring at me. “So, I can work here then?” I asked timidly—still not sure whether or not she had actually said yes. Italia nodded and brushed me away, saying, “I have work to do.” I was ready to jump up and down and hoot. I want to yell—she said YEEEEEES! YIPPEE. I smile once again at everyone, especially Italia and ask if I can come by again tomorrow. One of the women seated next to me said “of course.” Not looking up, Italia said “We’re here from 10:30am.” As I turn to leave, ready to push through their security gate, Italia calls out, “You know you’ll have to compensate them for their time—sitting down for an interview will cut into their working hours, right?”—I turn around and nod my head. “I know, that’s okay” I call back as I pass through the door. I am practically skipping down Monatfur Street back to the trolley station. Ohmigod. What a relief. My fieldwork is on.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mall Rat

Not since my tween years when malls = boy heaven have I taken such an interest in hanging out at malls. Malls in North Quito, the part of town where I live and hang out (which I will explain in another post), are places for the elite. It is an unspoken rule, or "public secret" that only certain people, who look a certain way can enter these upscale palace-like structures. Perhaps the heavily armed guards at the entrances help deter people who "don't belong" (the lower classes, who also happen to have darker skin, more indigenous features, etc. etc..). Unlike the upscale malls in other parts of Latin America, like in Mexico City, the big brand stores (Prada, Dior, Diesel) have not yet arrived in Quito. However, they have stores that carry a complete mish-mash of brand-name stuff flung on racks in no particular order. It is a curious thing. You might find some Diesel jeans and a J. Crew sweater in one store for example. These malls also carry the fancy local brands from Ecuador and Latin America. Because much of the stuff is imported, the stores are absurdly expensive--things will cost double or triple the amount they would cost back home (come to think of it--I don't think I have ever purchased an article of clothing in a mall here...) A pair of converse sneakers could easily cost over $100... The few people who actually buy clothes at these stores are the same people who make frequent trips to Miami for weekend shopping in order to "save money".

One thing's for sure--the food courts are booming. They are always booming, despite the high prices. A typical three course lunch (lunch is taken very seriously here--I'll save that for another post) outside the mall will cost roughly $2.00. Inside the mall, it will cost at least $4 but more frequently much more depending on where you go. There are very expensive restaurants--a sushi place, a steak house, TGIFridays (ha ha), as well as all the fast food joints imported from Gringolandia. On Sundays entire families come to the mall to do shopping, or at least window-shopping, eat at the food-court and then go to the cinema. This is a typical Sunday ritual among the upper classes (I sound like Malinowski). The streets are empty and the malls are stuffed--so crowded that you have to wade your way through, pushing past multiple sets of extended families.

As in the United States, malls also serve as a haven (and heaven perhaps) for Quiteno teenagers. Ecuador is heavily influenced by the Catholic Church and so young couples do not have quality cuddle time--they most definitely do not cuddle at each others' homes. Instead they head to the mall and parks. As such, you see lots of cuddling couples at the mall. It is fun to superficially "categorize" the couples--for example, just like in the States you will see "goth," "preppy" "sporty" "hippie" types (that is all done tongue-in-cheek--I'm an anthropologist! we don't do that sort of thing)..uh um...You even see kids here who are their own sort of "hipsters". I have faith that they could slip into the East Village or Billysburgh scenes.

My personal love affair with Quito's malls, aside from enjoying gawking at the rich kids, began during my first stay here 10 years ago when I went to hang out at the mall to alleviate homesickness. Where else could I sit in a food court, do some window shopping, buy some Skippy peanut butter and corn flakes at the imported food store, watch a trashy Hollywood blockbuster (most often dubbed) and generally, "feel at home." Malls are fairly generic places, which is probably why I find them so boring at home...but when I am far from home, they become familiar and comforting. I also got into the "mall scene" because I feel completely safe in them. I decided long ago that taking money out from cash machines in the mall was the safest place--obviously I prefer not to use cash machines on the street, nor from inside banks because you're target when you leave the bank.

My interest in malls also stems from my anthropological research interests in public versus private spaces. Lots of academic literature has focused on malls in the "developing world" as "private" public spaces--this is most definitely true in Quito, and my own project about sex workers in the historic center touches upon similar themes of how public vs. private space become divided... conclusion....I can add hanging out a malls to the list of things I do in Ecuador that I don’t do at home (along with eating copious amounts of meat, watching TV, not bothering to buckle my seatbelt—I know, I know....I’m living on the edge…)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bang- Bang Bienvenidas a Quito

I am settling into my first week of living in Quito, the capital of Ecuador nestled high in the Andes mountains. Towering mountains, which change from different shades of greens and grays throughout day, frame the western side of the city. I will be here for a year conducting research for my dissertation in cultural anthropology from New York University. I study sex work in the historic district, a rapidly gentrifying area which is desperately seeking to shed its reputation as the center of the sex industry and drug trade of the city. We'll see how that drama unfolds....

Now one of my own:
I have always felt very much at home in Quito. I first arrived in this city 10 years ago to teach English at a local highschool after college. I lived with a family for a year and as it turns out, that year changed the course of my life as Ecuador and my experiences here continued to inform the decisions about what I would do next...and then....and after...until I am. I'm back.

I've changed significantly since my first visit to Ecuador. Ecuador has too. Last night I got a taste of just how much it has changed. As I settled down on the sofa with a cup of steaming tea, about to crack open my book, I heard loud gunshots from the street. Next a man's voice yelling: "Auxilio" "Auxilio" (help, help). I heard more yelling, then lots of commotion as people from nearby apartment buildings leaned out their windows and started shouting too. No sirens to be heard (police tend not to make it to crime scenes here). Even my warm tea could not "quita" my chills. I have settled into a "fancy" neighborhood on the eastern slopes of the city. Muy tranquilo (or so I thought).

The assault happened at 7:30pm last night. Way too early I thought, although the sun sets here by 6:30 so anytime after that becomes fair game for this type of prowling. I have no idea the details of the crime, whether the gunshots I heard were from one of the security officers who sit in guard houses in front of each apartment building, or from the "ladrones" (thieves) or perhaps even from the "victim." What I do know is that this event reinforced what many of my Ecuadorian friends have told me since my arrival: Be very careful. Quito is much more dangerous now.

I believe it. When my friend picked me up from the airport last weekend she launched into the story of a French woman who had been shot and killed during a mugging last week. The woman was walking home, down the hill in Guapalo, a bohemian neighborhood I have spent lots of time in. In fact, I have walked her identical path by myself, up and down the hill--just like her. But, unlike her, I walked this path--up and down, up and down, up and down, a few years ago. I am sure it was still dangerous when I was doing it-- it was a risky form of transportation, even then, but from all my friends' accounts, it is a life-threatening one now.

No more Guapalo. Well, no more walking by myself in Guapalo, day or night. No more walking anywhere at night. I used to feel safe walking after dark in the "fancy" neighborhoods, like my own. Once the sun sets I will be in a taxi or already at home. Have I just given myself at 7pm curfew? Dusk is the bewitching hour in Quito, yesterday, even before witnessing the assault outside my building, I looked to my watch and quickened my pace to make it home well before the lights of the city start to turn on one-by-one. Unfortunately, as I recounted the story of the assault last night to a friend, he reminded me that well, you should not feel safe anywhere during the day either. (!)

Bang-bang bienvenidas!
thanks Quito, for your not-so-warm welcome. I love this city and refuse to walk around like a shell-shocked doe. However, I also recognize that I need to step up the security and never let myself get too comfortable--on those days when I only have 4 or 5 blocks to walk home and the sun has just set I need to hail a cab. I need to look forward and backward whenever walking during the day. I cannot carry a purse or have credit cards or a wallet on me. I will carry just the meager amount of money I will need for that moment, not a dollar more.

It is hard to adjust to living in constant high alert. I am used to navigating the streets of Brooklyn (which now seem innocent-- all kitten and puppy-like).
The security issues are the worst part about living here. My limited mobility is deeply unsettling. It makes me feel weak and vulnerable, which are the worst enemies of women. Even more so here...

Stay tuned to my next blog which will be filled with fun, giggles, innocent adventures, kittens and toddlers