I’m always surprised by the lack of competition among the women. I thought there would be more jealousies over who could pull in more clients. That doesn’t seem to be the case at all. The women seem to understand on a gut level that clients are fickle and always want different things. I remember sitting with a group of women when they were talking about clients’ tastes. They all started joking and decided that they can never please these men. They said to me, “Anita, if you have big tits, they want small ones, a big ass, they want a small one” “Yeah, if you’re skinny, they want hips, if you’re flat they want tits.” “If you have curly hair they want it straight, if you have straight hair they want it curly.” The women seem to accept that clients won’t always pick them. They don’t get offended because they know a different man will choose them soon enough. Furthermore, the man who picked their friend this time might pick them next time.
However, without a doubt, some women pull in more clients than others. For example, M., a Colombian woman with fair skin, works consistently all day. The other women attribute her success not to her good looks, but because she “knows how to work it.” The women see it as their own fault if they don’t get clients. The women must sell themselves like any other product which means they must transform random men on the street into potential clients. They hiss, hoot, make gestures and whisper to them as they pass by. M. is talented at convincing men to go to bed with her. She always stands slightly apart from the rest of us in order not to get distracted. She doesn’t have time to sit around and hang out—she’s on constant patrol. I watch M. disappear up and down the stairs of the hotel in 15 minute intervals all day. I’ve never even seen her take a break for lunch, she’s always the first to arrive and the last woman to leave. She’s always smoking and wears a serious expression on her face. Although she lives with an Ecuadorian man in Quito, her children are in Colombia. Perhaps she works so hard because she has a more desperate situation than the others and/or has more free time.
Perhaps the other women envy M.’s success but they don’t talk poorly about her or seem jealous in a mean-spirited way. In fact, they talk about her with admiration, saying things like she’s a “buen trabajadora” (a good-worker) and super disciplinada (very disciplined). They respect her work ethic and again, don’t mention a connection between her looks and relatively stable earnings. V. my closest informant, spends much of her time with me sitting on the steps. Sometimes I feel guilty because I know I’m distracting her from her job, but at the same time I know she enjoys my company. Sometimes she’ll turn to me and say, “Okay Anita, I have to try to work for a while” and she’ll get up from the step and walk off by herself. The women definitely have more success when they stand alone, rather than stand in their customary groups. They tend to bunch up and start talking, laughing, and gossiping together. Sometimes one of their regulars will approach and with the soft whisper of a name, one of the women will disappear down the street. Many times V. and I will be talking and a regular will beckon her from the corner. She gets up and goes to meet him so quickly, I won’t have time to process what happened. She’ll be mid-sentence and suddenly disappear. Obviously it only takes a second for me to realize where she went…
I enjoy the camaraderie the women have on the streets. Of course it’s not always smooth sailing—I know that rivalries and feuds exist, but for the most part, the women who stand together on Espejo and Montufar Streets are friendly. Perhaps they aren’t super competitive and treat each other well is because they all belong to the same turf. If bad blood develops between two women one of them usually ends up moving to another area of the historic center. A certain amount of respect must exist between everyone because it was difficult for each one to break into this particular turf. For instance, there are women who work in a nearby plaza who tell me they’d love to work on my corner but they don’t know anyone over there. The women are territorial and I have yet to witness the process of a newcomer become part of our group. It is intimidating, as I know from personal experience. But once you’re in, you’re in.