Juan (name changed) is now my official body guard on the streets. It became official yesterday when we acknowledged his role openly. I have been actively looking for someone to fill this role as I start filming on the streets. Up until now, I’ve been filming my documentary, “Working Mothers”, based on the lives of the sex workers, in private spaces—in their homes, in the hotel where they work, at church, etc. I have only once dared to film openly in the street and I put myself in a dangerous situation. It lasted for less than half an hour because all the women warned me that the robbers were beginning to swarm around me like sharks coming in for the kill. I was sufficiently scared to put my video camera away and to never bring it back out in public. But unfortunately, as I continue filming, I can no longer avoid gathering critical footage from the street.
Juan has always “gotten my back.” He has always been one of my bodyguards—many people fill this role simultaneously, including the sex workers and random neighbors, store owners, the boyfriends of sex workers who are often themselves robbers and addicts. An example is A., who I went to visit in prison recently (see the purple plastic beads entry). He makes his living as a mugger but when it comes to me, he won’t let anyone come close. The people who know me on my corner know I’m an “untouchable,” the problem comes when robbers from other neighborhoods spot me, a vulnerable gringa standing with a bulky bag, often tape recorder in hand. I'm prime target for them, until one my bodyguards alerts them to my social position on the corner. Or, one of my bodyguards approaches me to tell me that such-and-such a person is scooping me out and that I should retreat into a lunch cafeteria or the hotel. As such, I always feel safe. In fact, as I’ve mentioned in many previous posts, I feel safer in this very dangerous area of Quito than in my own neighborhood, an elite area, since no one looks after me here.
The topic of Juan becoming my “official” bodyguard came up yesterday when he told me flat out that under no circumstances should I employ A.in this position. I'm still getting used to becoming the object of gossip, as every member of this (and any) community experiences. I guess the word got out that I'm looking for someone. Amused, I asked Juan why. He said that A. smokes base and is therefore unreliable—furthermore, A. is a dangerous man who beats his girlfriend, prone to violent rages and would definitely end up stealing my equipment. I had already come to this conclusion over the past few weeks as I’ve watched A. and his girlfriend, S.’s relationship deteriorate (which is why I was amused at J.’s insistence of A.’s “badness”—because it’s so obvious that A. would never EVER make an appropriate bodyguard!) I’ve become very wary of A. even though he still greets me with the same warmth. I would never want him to know that my feelings for him have changed, that I no longer trust him and now view him as a potential threat. I still believe he wouldn’t ever lay his hands on me, but knowing the details of the beatings he gives S. makes me keep him at a distance. But of course, things have to remain “cool” between us and I must always remain on his good side. Therefore, I never ever talk to him about his violent side, nor about his addiction to base, unless he brings it up, which he often does because he feels such remorse after beating S. or using drugs.
Anyway, I told Juan that I couldn’t agree more—that I had crossed A. off my list weeks ago. I agreed that it would be unbelievably stupid to employ a body guard who is addicted to base and is prone to violence. Juan seemed relieved. He seemed pleased to realize that I’m not THAT naïve as a dumb gringa… We sat in silence for a moment and then I popped the big question, “well Juan, when I start filming would YOU be interested in helping me out.” With a huge grin on his face, Juan replied, “yeah I can do that…I already do that, you know.” I told him that indeed, I did know—he has chased away many potential predators for me over the past 10 months. I fully trust Juan. He is the partner of one of the sex workers and is a house-dad. He takes care of their three children while K. works the streets. He doesn’t smoke base and is an admirable father. We decided that I would buy his children’s lunches as payment for days he guarded me on a shoot. There it goes. Perhaps I shouldn't, but I trust me instincts when it comes to Juan. I’m excited to now have an “official” body guard.