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...


  1. I like how your blog is all like, actual reflections on fieldwork. Mine is like--ooh, there was a gecko behind my wall-hanging! And we ate some good hamburgers. Haha.

  2. yeah--i think your blog is a lot cooler. I kinda feel like a dork and these are the only notes i've been keeping about fieldwork (ha ha not really advisors..)