Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Secret strategies

I have mentioned R. in previous posts as the “Angel of Montufar” because of her role helping street children. I also wrote about her long career on the streets, (since the age of six) and how the other sex workers deeply respect her because she pulls in more clients than anyone else, despite the fact that she’s at least forty. The other day when I greeted her and asked how business was she responded that she had already served 10 clients that day. That is a remarkable number, I was shocked. Most of the women are lucky to land 3 puntos in a day, which translates into $15. Yep, she said, “I’m carrying $50 in my purse.” Remarkable! I pleaded for her to tell me her “secret.” How on earth does she do it? R. is a very attractive woman, well-built and with beautiful eyes. But without a doubt, it’s her personality that stands out from the rest of the women. She is gregarious and funny, an expert flirt and seducer. That much I know from months of observation. It doesn’t surprise me that she can charm any man into bed, given her looks and personality, but still I thought, there must be something else.

R. looks at me with a wicked grin and says, “Well, it’s easy, I lie.” I wasn’t sure what she meant, so she explained further: “As you know we all negotiate on the street before going upstairs so I say I’ll do whatever they ask….most of the women say no to half the things so they lose a lot of clients.” Okay, fair enough, R. deceives the men on the street as she negotiates prices and services. “For example, all men want “tres platos” (three courses—which means anal, oral, and vaginal sex), but the majority of the women won’t do all three. I always agree, and give them a low price for it.” I listen to R. with interest because it’s true, most of the women complain about the constant demand for “three courses.” And R. is correct, as many of them won’t do all three. R. agrees to everything and asks for a modest amount on the street but once they’re in the hotel things change. R. says she demands more money upstairs once the clients are “caliente” (turned on). She changes the negotiation and always gets more money than the client had agreed upon. R. said that sometimes she won’t even do everything they had agreed to. She feels that once they’re up in the room she’s the one in charge. I asked if such deception would be incredibly dangerous for her. R. shook her head, nope. Nothing has ever happened. I’m sure she’s tough as nails with the clients.

I’m not sure how R. remains in control as she denies services or demands more money. Perhaps she carries a weapon for protection, I didn’t ask her. But because she readily agrees to provide all three courses to client, she obviously lands more men. The women who say no from the beginning don’t receive nearly as many puntos. But then again, I’m not sure R.’s method is worth the high risk. Miraculously in her 30-plus years as a sex worker she hasn’t been a victim of severe violence—indeed, it’s a miracle she is still alive. Perhaps her many years of experience make her prone to taking greater risks. Outright lying to clients seems incredibly dangerous—life-threatening even given whom some of these men are. Fortunately, R.’s is a world-class charmer and it’s impossible to say no to her. I’m surprised by her “secret” strategy. It makes me worry about her safety, but above all else, R. is a survivor. However, although R. has surely had many close escapes, a day might come when she faces an angry, violent client and won’t make it out alive. Having lived the vast majority of her life on the streets, she might feel invincible at this point, but surely such strength makes her twice as vulnerable. Interestingly enough, R. didn’t want me to disclose her secret strategy to the other women. I don’t think they would be surprised by her method because everyone knows R. is the ultimate seducer/manipulator on the streets. I’m sure many of them already suspect her less than honest strategy. Many of the women have told me that if they took larger risks they would earn much more money, but no one but R. is willing to put themselves in such provocative situations.

Roles of clients

Clients are mysterious men who have the potential of serving numerous different roles in the lives of sex workers. They usually start as strangers who are looking for sex (obviously). It’s amazing how random their initial selection of a sexual partner is considering how significant some of these relationships become. Some of these men become regulars, who the women call “client-husbands,” while some become actual boyfriends. In fact, most of the sex workers’ steady romantic partners are ex-clients. Some of these relationships become serious, long-term partnerships that include children. As I mentioned in my previous post, my friend V. met her partner nine years ago working on the streets. They’ve been living together as “husband and wife” ever since (it’s not official by law). Although they don’t have children together they have created a blended family with both of their children from previous relationships.

Some women have clients who fall hopelessly in love with them and as such, provide them with tremendous support—both emotional and economical. One of my friends, A. says she’s thankful for her client, B. who is 30 years her senior and who desperately wants to marry her. She has repeatedly told him she’s not interested, but she willingly accepts his constant gifts and financial hand-outs. He pays her bills every month and buys all the newest toys for her three children. Even though she doesn’t enjoy sex with him, or even his company, she’s happy to accept the attention he showers upon her. Obviously she treats him with respect and kindness because she depends on his support. It’s interesting that he remains so devoted to her despite her constant rejections of marriage. A. has manipulated the situation so that she charges him three or four times as much as other clients because she knows he’ll pay any price. She says she charges him $100 to spend the night at his house, which he often requests because she’d rather be at home with her children.

However, these relationships are very precarious and are constantly shifting. Perhaps B. will in fact get impatient with A.’s constant rejection and move on. In that situation she would have to work extra hard on the streets. It would drastically change her life, for the worse. Many women seem to maintain fluid relationships with different men that straddle the line between lovers-boyfriends-friends-financial supporters. I know many women who call different clients, or ex-clients who are now just friends, to ask them to pay the electric or phone bill. They know certain men have a “fondness” for them and are willing to help them out. These men don’t always remain clients, but rather remain friends. It always surprises me that the sex workers often become quasi-therapists for some of these men, in which sex is not longer involved. The men complain and vent about their wives /girlfriends and ask their sex worker friend for advice. The same happens with the women—they often turn to ex-clients as friends who can help provide insight into their problems.

In fact, the sex workers seem to maintain positive relationships with most of their clients. They seem to recognize the potential these men can have in their lives, in all capacities. I was once at V.’s house and an ex-client dropped by with two huge bags filled with used clothes for her and her children. He brought her dozens of pairs of shoes for the kids. All he wanted was to say hello, drink a cup of coffee and then he was on his way. Even though V. receives a stable income from her boyfriend, she appreciates (and genuinely needs) these spontaneous gifts of charity. She obviously does not tell her partner about the ex-clients that pop up in her life once in a while. All the women seem to realize that these other relationships should remain clandestine, even if they aren’t actually sleeping with these ex-clients. I get the feeling that their partners would get more jealous of these ex-clients who continually offer financial assistance than the random clients the women sleep with all day. Indeed, most of sex workers service clients who they will never see again so their partners don’t have much reason to get jealous. Perhaps part of their partners’ jealousy stems from the financial support they receive, as it might threaten their role as the household’s breadwinner.

Obviously not all clients are positive influences on the sex workers. There are just as many examples of abusive, stalker-types. Sex work is obviously a huge risk given that most of these men are total strangers. At the actual moment of sexual exchange anything could happen—and indeed sex workers often become victims of homicide during their encounters. Perhaps their development of supportive relationships with clients are less common but those are the stories I’m most exposed to—they don’t share their bad experiences as often with me. But regardless of the bad experiences, these women have a remarkable skill to get what they need out of men, through seduction, manipulation, or perhaps just simple honest friendship. More often than not, when V. calls up an ex-client to pay the phone bill she grins and winks at me and says something like, “Ha, he did it again!”


Perhaps when one thinks of sex workers, modesty is not the first thing that comes to mind but among the women, it is obsessed over. For example, the older sex workers are horrified by the how the younger sex workers dress with their short skirts and busting cleavage. The women often gossip about each other’s outfits and they tend to call skimpily dressed workers “putas” (whores). It’s a fascinating comment considering they’re all sex workers and therefore could all be called “putas.” Indeed, the terms they call one another are very important. “Prostitute” or “sex worker” are terms of respect, while the word “puta” is truly an insult reserved for women who occupy the lowest rung of the sex worker street hierarchy. Not only do they call women who are viewed as slutty “putas,” but they also call women who prostitute to support drug habits “putas.” “Decent” women who work the streets are called prostitutes or sex workers. They tend to be attentive mothers who live with their children, go home to make dinner, attend church on Sundays and have stable partners who work in the legal sector (not pimps). My friend V. is a perfect example of a sex worker the other women consider decent and honorable: she lives with and cares for her three children, her husband of nine years works in a factory, she goes to church, and runs her household efficiently (pays bills on time, etc, ). The other women would never refer to V. as a “puta.” To them, she does not fit that category because V. treats sex work as a “real” job, not as an act of desperation. It seems like “putas” are women who have been forced into prostitution either to support a drug habit or by a chulo (pimp).

These different terms used for prostitution indicate the hierarchy that exists among the women. The terms “prostitute” and “sex worker” seem to be used interchangeably as respectful references. The women accept their work in the sex industry, obviously, it’s not a secret (among each other) that they’re all sex workers. “Puta” is a derogatory term because it conjures up society’s worst images of what it means to be a prostitute: a social pariah who exists on the margins of society. “Putas” manifest biblical representations of prostitutes, which Latin America society interprets as “fallen women.” Indeed, according to traditional gender mores, the lowest a woman can fall is to sell her body. Such a woman, like Mary Magdalena in the Bible, is in desperate need of salvation since to prostitute oneself is one of the greatest sins a Catholic woman can commit. It challenges all the virtues of modesty and decency that must by definition, be part of any respectable woman’s character.

It’s fascinating that some sex workers still try to attain these values of respectability and decency despite the fact, that by definition, they will always be viewed as “putas” by the rest of society. Perhaps the rest of society doesn’t see a distinction between the various women working on the street, but in reality, among themselves the lines are sharply drawn. Most Latin American women, as in other places around the world, aspire to decency and respectability--most people don’t realize that sex workers do too. They want to be considered respectable, despite their identities as sex workers. Prostitutes and nuns are two professions in which the general population feels are all-encompassing, in which the women in these sectors do not have identities external to their occupational roles. Obviously, this is not true. The women I work with identify themselves as mothers first and foremost before identifying as sex workers. The rest of society would most likely identify them in the reverse order—as sex workers first and foremost, and then as mothers (if they would even recognize their maternal role). Indeed to be simultaneously a mother and prostitute in Latin America is inherently oppositional. As viewed in the Bible, mothers are revered as saints and in fact, to be viewed as a “complete” woman in this society one must become a mother. On the other hand, it would be a contradiction in terms for a prostitute to be a mother. If mothers are saintly and prostitutes are the lowest a woman can fall, how can such a dual, contradictory identity be reconciled?

I’ve had numerous conversations with the sex workers on this topic: how they are mothers who are truly revered in Latin American society, but at the same time, face stigmatization as the worst sinners possible. It’s a difficult balancing act and my hypothesis is that many of the women, like V., try to compensate for their stigmatized identity by obtaining respectability and decency to the highest extent possible in the other parts of their lives. They are good mothers, attend church regularly, generally follow the rules, and try to be outstanding citizens in every respect. They are good, decent, and respectable women who would never fit the Ecuadorian category of “puta.” In addition, they avoid becoming “putas” by wearing the most modest clothes possible (that will still signal them as sex workers) on the streets.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

World Cup Madness

Living in Ecuador, like living in any other Latin American country at the moment, means everything stops for the World Cup. Even though Ecuador did not qualify this year (they did four years ago and did fairly well), all Ecuadorians are obsessed with the tournament. During the day, I walk by bars and lunch cafeterias packed with people watching the games. I hear the buzz and commentary of the announcers on every corner, bus, taxi radio, friend’s television and store I enter. Even if I wanted to avoid the games, it would be impossible. Since football is an ingrained part of the culture here, the World Cup, as the most important football event in the world, creates a mild frenzy, to put it mildly.

World Cup mania means that the sex workers suffer. Their potential clients are glued to the television and radios, distracted by football, they forget about sex. All the women have told me that since the World Cup began their business has taken a significant hit. Groups of men are gathered inside and indeed, it is shocking to notice the difference in foot traffic on the streets. During a big game between two Latin American teams like Mexico vs. Argentina or Brazil vs. Chile, forget about it—Quito becomes a ghost town. It is socially acceptable to stay home from work if a big game is on. They women are taking a significant pay cut while the tournament is on. When I spoke to them yesterday, their major litanies were about the World Cup and why men are so obsessed with football. It’s a legitimate question. Many anthropologists have written about the connection between football fanaticism and masculinity in Latin America, as if being an ardent fan is a way to establish one’s manhood. But then again, so is being sexually active. The development of masculine identity and visiting prostitutes are also strongly linked, which is why many fathers or uncles bring their young male family members to sex workers at a young age as a rite of passage to “make them a man.” But I guess when it comes to the World Cup, this international tournament trumps sexual activity.

The women gathered in circles asking one another when the World Cup ends. Some of them have been following the tournament and participating in the fanfare. They have their favorite teams and arch enemies. Indeed, some of the women seem just as distracted by the games as their potential clients. Although, I haven’t seen any of them leave the street for an extended period to watch a game. They usually pop in and out of stores to check the scores. Many of the games seem to be during the day during men’s lunch breaks so instead of spending lunch with their preferred sex worker, they are spending it at their favorite bar. Many of the women are taking mini vacations during the tournament because business is so slow. They hope that once the tournament ends things will pick up. They will often stay home when an important game is screening because it’s just not worth standing on the corner, risking a full day without even one punto. They feel their time will be better spent taking care of their children, cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry at home.

It seems like on these slow days, the women spend most of their time socializing with one another. They are likely to spend the entire day in pairs or groups, sitting on steps, buying ice-cream and other treats, being silly and laughing together. However, I don’t want to idealize their friendships, on more than one occasion women have confided in me and said they have no “true” friends on the street, only work companions. Indeed, rivalries exist and the women hang out in segregated groups, mostly split between the women who are addicts, supporting their habits (who often have pimps), and those who don’t do drugs and treat their work as a 9-5 job. Even though I feel like a neutral presence, I feel more accepted and welcomed by certain groups over others, even though all women greet me warmly and are willing to make small talk. On these long, slow days, the women get incredibly bored. They sit and gossip, often about one another, behind each other’s backs. The women who do manage to land puntos on these slow days are envied. Many take extra long lunch breaks and find themselves watching the games as well, as these matches are impossible to avoid in any public venue.

The World Cup ends in a couple weeks, much to the women’s relief. Hopefully, their slump in business is indeed related to football mania and not to other factors. We’ll see when the tournament ends and more of their potential clients return to the streets as regular passer-bys. It has been an interesting study in the gendered division of public versus private spaces. Even though private spaces tend to be identified as “women’s spaces,” during the football tournaments, private spaces become dominated by men. It’s an interesting inversion of gender dynamics. The sex workers represent a powerful challenge to the traditionally masculine identity of public space since women and their sexuality are normally relegated to the private sphere. Interestingly, the World Cup has shed light on these inversions of gendered private versus public spaces.

Fieldwork Hiatus

I just got back to Ecuador after a two-week whirlwind tour of the US, visiting friends and family on both coasts. It was fun and exhausting as trips home always are. You try to cram in as much face time as possible with parents, siblings, cousins, uncles/aunts, and friends. Again, exhausting and fun. It always makes me nervous to leave the field, even for just a two week trip. Somehow I’m afraid the women will forgot me and our intimate bond, which has taken so much effort and time to build, will be destroyed. I also feel incredibly guilty that I can just hop on a plane and return to my privileged life at home; a surreal disconnect exists when I’m having dinner at a fancy restaurant in New York City with my parents. I can’t help but think of the women in these moments and I become overwhelmed with emotion. My life at home could not be more different from the lives of the women I work with on the streets. I have never known poverty, hunger, domestic violence or any kind of abuse.

So while at home, the feelings of guilt stay strong as I can’t seem to get the women out of mind. It makes no sense to obsess over them and my “white-guilt” while I’m trying to reconnect with my family and friends. This issue of “guilt” is a powerful feeling I carry around with me as an anthropologist. Obviously, I’m not the only one, plenty of anthropologists have written about it. Perhaps some of the best ways to confront these feelings is to just feel and accept them. They are never going to disappear, indeed they will accompany me for the rest of my fieldwork. But I recognize that I can’t let them dominate me into paralysis—I need to always recognize and accept my subject position of privilege in the field. Obviously, constant awareness of my power position is necessary to remain intellectually honest as I conduct my fieldwork, but it can’t prevent me from actually doing my research (which at times feels like it has the potential to do so). The feelings of guilt and sadness that accompany my research make my work so emotionally taxing that there have been moments when I’ve wanted to quit. I recognize that to do my work, I need to maintain tough emotional boundaries. For the most part I feel as if I’ve been successful with this, it’s only when I return from a visit home that I feel as vulnerable as my very first day of research on the streets.

I didn’t need to worry about the women forgetting me. As soon as I walked up the hill yesterday, I started to see familiar faces and heard the women start calling out to me, “Anita, Anita…We’ve missed you!” It was so heart-warming and as I hugged each woman I felt as if I had never left. My biggest fear is that they will somehow resent me for leaving them or feel jealous that I can go back to my country, but they never express those sentiments to me. All of them joked and asked if I brought back a cute, rich gringo for them to marry, and laughed. It felt good to be back with them and again, it was as if I had never left—what a relief ! Our relationship survived a two week hiatus! After all that work, it was truly my biggest fear that somehow they would no longer view me as part of the community. My rational self knew that such fears were unfounded, but you never know. In some ways I felt like I was happier to be back than they were. I’m just a woman they hang out with everyday but I am so invested in their lives, emotional states, and children, I wanted everyone to tell me exactly what had happened since I left. I wanted to hear about their kids and get caught up on their current problems—what had persisted, what had been resolved over the past two weeks. Obviously, I know more about them than they know about me so perhaps for this reason I feel more attached to them. Although who knows, my closest friends on the street seemed equally as pleased to see me.

I survived my two-week hiatus, one which I faced with much fear and trepidation. The women were as open as ever and everything felt more or less the same on the streets. They caught me up on the latest dramas, police beatings, domestic abuse inflected by chulos (pimps), drug dealings gone array and all the latest gossip. I got to reunite with a friend who hadn’t worked in eight months. I met her at the beginning of my fieldwork in September and then one day she disappeared. She said she found a stable partner who made enough money to support both of them so she stopped working. Now they have new expenses so she decided to walk the stroll again. Her partner knows of her decision to return to the streets—he’s an ex-client so he knows she finds steady work in the sex industry and like many of the women’s partners (who are NOT pimps, but working men), is not bothered by her work (a topic for a future blog entry).

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

La Bendición

“La bendición” literally translates into “the blessing,” but usually it’s formally verbalized in the phrase, “Que Dios te bendiga” (May God Bless you). Indeed, one of my daily reminders that I live in a Catholic country are the constant exchanges of “bendiciones” I observe among the sex workers. To bless someone is to bestow them with honor—it is literally to have God give them his praise. The vast majority of the women believe in God, according to the conversations I’ve had with each of them on this topic. Because of their strong beliefs, bendiciones are taken very seriously here. For example, yesterday R. asked all the sex workers to pitch in to buy cases of the Ensure vitamin supplement she needed for her sick son and when each woman delivered it, she gave her a blessing. Sometimes it’s used as a way to say farewell for the day. Whenever I take the women out to lunch they always bless me at the end of the meal. Although I am not religious, it is a formality I appreciate here.

Even though I have complicated feelings towards “God,” I have no problem incorporating it into my social rituals because I view it as a sign of respect more than anything. It seems that this expression is more commonly used among people from the lower class, as I’ve never once heard my wealthy Quiteño friends use it. I’m quite certain they my upper class friends would be bemused and quite shocked if I blessed them. Perhaps that’s because most of my upper class friends are not religious at all and tend not to engage in formal rituals. Perhaps not all of the sex workers who use the expression are religious either, but they still tend to engage in formal verbal rituals.

Yesterday I was caught off guard when one of the women, M. asked me for my bendición. I was taken aback because usually one receives bendiciones spontaneously, without requesting them since in this way they’re viewed as “authentic.” Such a request engages complicated power dynamics because individuals ask for bendiciones from people they highly respect. For whatever reason, they believe that a bendición from this person will be “worth” more than from someone else. In M.’s eyes perhaps I possess a certain amount of gringo power and based on pure speculation, I wonder if she feels particularly “blessed” if it comes from me, a “rich,” white foreigner. Or perhaps she feels that with my blessing she has gained my respect, even though ironically, she must ask for it. In my opinion, this particular woman, M. is one of the saddest sex workers on the street because she suffers from extreme alcoholism and feels such immense shame about it. Although she seems to be a good mother during the day, staying home with her children to help them with their homework, cooking them lunch before school, she leaves the house everyday at 5:00pm when her chores are done to work. While working, she drinks a half-bottle (about a liter) of Tropico, an incredibly strong cane liquor, arriving home each night completely drunk. With tears in her eyes, she tells me that when she arrives home her children beg her not to drink anymore. She tells me she must drink in order to work or otherwise she couldn’t bear to do it.

More than any other woman on the street M., seems the most tortured about her work (and her drinking). In her drunken stupor she kept saying that she was a “disgrace,” that this work is “not dignified,” and “that she hopes God forgives her.” Where many of the women use their belief in God as a way to forgive themselves for their work since they believe God loves everyone regardless of what they do, M. receives no comfort from her religious beliefs. When M. asked me to bless her, I did it without hesitation even though I felt incredibly awkward. I not only had to say, “Que dios te bendiga” but I also had to make the sign of the cross across her chest. I felt like a priest or religious figure. (It’s amazing the things you find yourself doing as an anthropologist.) It made me uncomfortable because I felt like a complete farce since I don’t believe in God. If this is the case, how can my words have any meaning? However, I realized that it didn’t matter how I felt about it, what mattered was its affect on her. And indeed, she seemed pleased and relieved that I had blessed her. Perhaps because she views herself with so much shame, she especially appreciated my signal of acceptance and approval. Despite her alcoholism and her employment in the sex industry, I was still willing to bless her, demonstrating that not only I accepted her, but that God did too.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Crazy Sundays

I just came home from another “loca” Sunday on the streets. Everyone is always a bit silly and wacky because work is slow—lots of jokes, screaming of obscenities at strangers and above all, drinking. Many of the women don’t work on Sunday because it’s traditionally a family day in Ecuador—everything is closed and the streets are deserted because everyone is at home having a big lunch with the extended family. For me as a foreigner, Sundays can be lonely days, which is probably why I spend them with the sex workers. Perhaps Sundays get so crazy because the sex workers who work on Sundays tend to be women without strong nuclear families. They tend to be the women who live in the hotel-brothel day-to-day, without much stability in their lives. They tend to be the addicts and alcoholics who are definitely not at home making lunch for their extended families. Not all of them are the “fuck-ups,” but the vast majority of the women today were either high or drunk. They were passing around glasses of beer, sneaking off to smoke base, and supplies seemed to be unlimited. Perhaps because Sundays are such a slow work day for the women, as their potential clients are also with their families, they treat it as a day off where they can let loose. In the meantime, if they manage to land a “punto,” even better. It seems like no one is worried about work or money on Sundays—although all of them claim to be “working,” they spend most of their time hanging out with each other drinking.

Some of the women get so out of control, they make me laugh hysterically. M. and the others were hooting at men as they walked by, saying whatever came to their minds. They were trying to outdo one with the obscenities they called out to these men. I couldn’t help but laugh at their outlandish, unbelievably vulgar comments. Nothing was left unsaid: they questioned each man’s virility, his abilities in bed, his penis size, etc. The men would often blush and laugh nervously while all the women cackled in laughter, patting each other on the back. On crazy Sundays the women’s priority is obviously to hang out and have fun with one another rather than land clients. They certainly weren’t attracting any clients by screaming out vulgar comments. I viewed their calls of drunken obscenity as acts of power. Ordinarily, they act nice, coy, and shower their potential clients with compliments. One of the women once told me that it’s exhausting to maintain this façade all day, with a fake smile plastered to her face. On crazy Sundays all of that bullshit goes out the window. All the pent up resentment these women have towards their clients comes gushing out. Their vulgar comments put the men on the defensive: by ridiculing them, the women express the anger that accompanies their dependence on these men who demand all sorts of sexual acts….some of them incredibly perverse, according to what the women tell me. They share with me that they get resentful because they must always be submissive and obedient in bed in order to earn that desperately needed $5.00. (Obviously they have chosen this job in the sex industry and know what they're getting into, but still, resentment builds...)

It is very (very) rare that they go to bed with men that they actually find attractive. Instead, they must hide their disgust as they service all sorts of men, some that they even find repulsive. So therefore, I believe these “crazy Sundays” serve an important purpose for the women. Perhaps they don’t earn a cent and even construe debts during the day through all the beer they drink, but I think it’s a poignant reversal of power in the traditional rendition of client-sex worker relationships. On crazy Sundays it’s the women’s turn to transform the random men on the street into passive objects of sexual ridicule.

Crazy Sundays also have the potential for violence. I’ve witnessed screaming matches that seemed dangerously close to escalating into fist-fights. At times it’s hard to keep up with all the drama unfolding. Conflicts arise all over the place: between sex workers and random men, sex workers and their boyfriends/pimps, even sex workers with each other. Crazy Sundays seem to be the time to renew prior unresolved conflicts that people have with one another. Today when a man (who was also drunk) approached the women selling CDs, one of the sex workers hit him over the head. We all watched in horror to see if he would lash back, but luckily he didn’t. He muttered something about her being a “crazy bitch” and staggered on his way. Another incident today involved N.’s pimp, who is extremely violent—just two months ago he broke her leg in three places. She was wasted and for whatever reason, this made her pimp livid. He came running down the street and grabbed her by the neck and threw her against the wall—pointing and yelling at her the entire time. She backed away in fear and one of the other sex workers ran to her rescue. It terrified me to witness this bit of public violence between them because I knew that later, behind closed doors, he would dole out her “real” punishment. N.’s pimp is the only person I’m truly afraid of at my field-site--he is prone to extreme violence, provoked by the most random things.

Crazy Sundays always feel a bit dangerous, but also involve a lot of laughter and silliness. The women often open up to me more on Crazy Sundays, perhaps due to their altered state or perhaps because a strong sense of camaraderie exists among them. Of course not everyone gets along with one another. Fights and feuds always brew below the surface and indeed, it is often on Crazy Sundays when these come to a head. But as I mentioned in my last post, these women view each other as co-workers who share the same turf, and as such, must maintain a certain amount of respect and decency towards one another (if they want to continue working our corner).