School’s out for summer. That means that the sex workers’ kids are being shuffled into various activities and that they must shift their work schedules. For some of the women school vacation works to their economic advantage, while for others, it’s a time of crisis. For example, some of the women can’t work at all because they can’t afford camp or fulltime daycare. Only when they find friends or relatives to babysit can they come out to the corner for a bit. Some of the women work significantly more because they send their children to extended family’s homes on the coast. My friend V. for instance is working “day and night” as much as possible during the two weeks her daughters are away. She can finally work full-time now that she doesn’t have to also be a fulltime mother. Some of the women were able to enroll their children in free municipal day-camps which means their work schedules have remained steady. V. and her friend A. both sent their children to their respective mothers’ homes on the coast and as such, they plan to travel to Cuenca, another city in the midlands, to work the streets there for a few days (rumor has it that business in Cuenca is booming at the moment).
All of the women are using this time to earn the money needed for their children’s school pensions. School starts again in September and many costs accompany the new year, despite the fact that school itself is supposedly “free.” For example, women must pay a pension, school uniforms, notebooks, and even some text and work books. The schools lack resources so the parents must pitch in for supplies. More than anything else, the sex workers have been fretting about earning the money needed for the upcoming school year. Their children are all enrolled in different schools around the city. Many of the women put their kids in schools far from the historic center so no one will know they work as prostitutes. My friend, H. explains that that is her worst fear—that the teachers and other kids at her sons’ school will find out that she’s a sex worker. She says that she would “die from humiliation” if someone found out what she did for a living. Plus, she said it would be the worst fate for her kids—given that “hijo de puta” (son of a whore) is one of the worst insults in Ecuadorian society, I can understand H.’s wish for anonymity.
One of the sex workers had her son in a Catholic school in the historic center and apparently, when one of the nuns found out that she worked as a prostitute, they proceeded to kick her son out of school. This is such a typical discriminatory act that sex workers face here—in this conservative, Catholic country nuns condemn sex workers, treating them as social lepers. Even their children are “infected” and might bring their mothers’ filth and indecency into the school. The children don’t know that their mothers are prostitutes and as such, it must be confusing for them to be kicked out of school for apparently no reason. The women are good at coming up with excuses and tell “tall tales” to protect their children. Unfortunately, many of the women must tell one lie after another, to everyone—to their families and children, to schools, to government administrators, etc.. They lead double lives and their school age children often experience the brunt of it even though they are often clueless to why they’re treated differently (and unfairly) from their peers.
Many of the women had pensions due this week and had to pay them promptly in order to save their children’s spot in a school. Some of the municipal schools are very good, at least for public schools; the parents enter their children in a lottery at several schools and then wait to see where they’re accepted. But if the women can’t pay the pension on time some of the schools fill up and their kids might miss an entire academic year. When the women can’t place their kids at any school, they try their best to teach them at home. This happens more successfully in some cases than in others. Some of the women themselves don’t have much education and therefore can’t teach their children more than elementary lessons. However, it seems as if for most of the women, their children’s education is their number one priority. As such, they always figure out a way to come up with the school pension, even if it means working late into the night when things get very dangerous on the streets. My friend V. is so obsessed with her children’s education that she gives her kids extra homework on the weekends in addition to their regular school work. She’s determined that they’ll attend university and therefore avoid employment in sex work at all cost.
Not all of the women choose their children’s education as a priority. These women are generally addicts and have long ago abandoned their children to various family members on the coast. Perhaps some of them came to Quito alone with the intention of sending money home each week to support their kids but once they arrived, fell into lives of delinquency and drugs. Or others came to Quito with their children but when family members realized that they had become unfit mothers, they came to collect the children. Some of the children of women who become addicts leave school at a premature age because no one can pay for their pensions. Perhaps these kids also have absent fathers or live with family members in such poverty that they must start working at a very young age. (Human Rights Watch recently intervened in multinational corporations in Ecuador whose huge banana plantations exploited child laborers). All of these plantations are on the coast in small cities where many of the women originate from. Some of the women have such little education themselves, they figure their children can also “get by” in life without much of their own. Or perhaps are so distracted by drama in their personal lives, often due to abusive partners that they can’t think as much about their children’s education.
I must say though, the vast majority of the sex workers fight tooth and nail to earn the money for the kids’ school expenses. I rarely meet women who don’t consider education a priority. As such, summer vacation is a stressful time because it’s when all the money for the upcoming year must be earned since most of the expenses are due in September. There’s an added sense of stress on the streets at the moment, but I know that the women will figure out way to gather the money, as they always do….