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).

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