One of the sex workers, M. an Afro-Colombian woman, is a “bruja” or witch. She immigrated to Ecuador four years ago to escape the guerilla wars ravaging her small, poor province on the Atlantic coast. Everyone knows M. is a specialist in witchcraft and people come to her with all sorts of requests and favors. M. supplements her income from the sex industry with her bruja services, charging $10 to read fortunes from the leaves of a cigar and $5 for run-of-the-mill curses and blessings. Yesterday I had the opportunity to witness M. in action. It was 5:00pm and T. came running up the hill of Montufar Street to our corner. I greeted her and asked where she had been, as I hadn’t seen her for a few days. She had gone home to Portoviejo, a small city on the coast, to visit her sick mother. Although sad to be back in Quito, she asked me excitedly if I had seen M, la bruja. In fact, I had. T. disappeared into the hotel lobby where I had last seen M. Moments later, T. stuck her head out and called to me, “Hey, Anita, do you have a pen with red ink?” I did. As I handed T. my pen, I snuck through the door to sit on the lobby coach. M. hesitated but then nodded and said, “Okay, it’s okay gringa.” With her approval, I got a front row seat for the rest of the ceremony.
M. had requested T. to bring a specific weed from the coast in order to perform her magic. I think it’s called “Dragon’s Weed,” although I’m not completely sure. Anyway, M. was performing a spell to make T.’s boyfriend on the coast forgive her. At present, he won’t speak to T., for some unknown reason. I’m not sure if he knows she is a sex worker in Quito—perhaps not? I didn’t ask any questions because it was already an honor to be able to sit and watch the ceremony. First M. asked T. to write her boyfriend’s name on both sides of six leaves of the weed in red pen. One by one, as T. finished M. took them from her and blew on each one while stomping her foot and saying his name. Next, T. had to braid the leaves, splitting them into two groups of three. M. held them at one end so T. could braid them tightly—M. kept yelling at T. to braid them even more tightly. T. sighed and had to re-do it again and again until she finally produced the braids to M.’s satisfaction. At this time a few other sex workers came straggling in, taking a respite from the streets. M. stopped the ceremony while they hung out for a while, keeping everything top secret. When they finally left, M. handed the two slim braids back to T. and instructed her to tie three knots in each one. Once T. tied the knots she had to blow on the braids and say her boyfriend’s name three times. Then it was M.’s turn. She took the knotted braids and stomped around the room whispering lots of things I did not understand. She spoke with such ferocity and power that it gave me chills. M.’s presence is already so intense that she dominates the energy of a space, but during this ceremony she seemed larger than life. As I watched her chant and stomp her feet, I got the impression that she really was communicating with the spirits above. T. seemed equally convinced as she sat on the coach next to me. In fact, perhaps part of the ceremony was to put a spell on us as we watched.
We sat transfixed until M.’s finally handed T. the braids and asked her to stomp on them as well. As T. stomped and chanted her boyfriend’s name, she grinned at me, as if she knew that the spell was already taking affect. Finally, M. instructed T. to take off her shoes and slip the braids into them to continue stomping on them. She suggested that T. keep the knotted weeds in her shoes for the following days to ensure the spell’s success. T. thanked M., hugging her and then ran outside to tell all her friends that her boyfriend would now call and forgive her. M. nodded over at me and asked if I liked the ceremony. As I adjusted back to the drab scenery of the hotel lobby, I smiled at M. and assured her that I did. It was very cool, without a doubt. M. smiled back. I think she was proud to share this part of her cultural heritage with me, an unknowing gringa, oblivious to such important matters as witchcraft. As if she knew I was in some deep need of her witchcraft, M. offered me a discount on all of her services. Perhaps she’s right, who knows?