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 presently....here 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. (!)
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