Monday, August 30, 2010

Soap Opera Salon

Today I took a break from the sex industry and headed to the nail salon. The young woman working with me launched into her recent heartbreak with an intensity and sadness that made me feel right back on the streets (exactly what I like to avoid on my days off). Accustomed to listening to such dramas, I didn’t mind sitting back and soaking in her story. Once again it left me with the realization that machisimo is alive and well in this country.

The woman, whom I’ll call Carla (I never got to her name), is from a rural province near Ambato, a city three hours south of Quito, partly known for its large surrounding indigenous communities. It would be difficult to be a woman in these areas. Her parents arranged her married when she was 15, which surprised me, because that custom has changed dramatically in the past generation. She told me that her parents arranged her sister’s marriage when she was just 13. Soon after getting married, she had two sons and realized that her husband was a miserable match. He was unemployed and more committed to drinking with his friends than to parenthood. In a way, I can’t blame him, although forced to marry at 15, he was acting perfectly age-appropriate, at least for “most” teenagers in the world. What 15 year old has the maturity to manage marriage and parenthood? But obviously, plenty of other teenage boys in his community are forced into the same situation and can rise to the occasion. Anyway, the machisimo becomes apparent when Carla had to adopt the all the responsibilities of her family, including work to support them, plus perform all domestic tasks while her husband’s behavior was viewed as perfectly acceptable. There’s a saying here that goes: “He might kill me, but he’s my husband.” The first time I heard that, I was utterly shocked, but unfortunately, now I’ve heard it plenty of times.

Unsurprisingly, this marriage didn’t last long. Despite the misery and hardship, Carla would have never left her husband—being from a rural, traditional community, she was expected to endure and endure. She felt relieved when he finally left her for another woman. Although Carla was ashamed when her husband left because being a single mother is frowned upon, she said it was a blessing in disguise because it forced her to leave her small village and move to Quito. Alone and depressed in the capital (she left her children with her parents), she found work as a domestic servant and then in the salon.

Carla found solace from her heartbreak in a new friend in Quito, a seemingly kind man who listened to her problems. “Just friends” for a long time, her new friend was frank about the fact that he had a girlfriend and son. Their platonic relationship turned romantic and before she knew it Carla was living with her new boyfriend, despite the fact that he already had a girlfriend. Looking back on it, Carla says she doesn’t know why she put up with the situation for so long (i.e. docilely accepted the fact that he was already in a relationship). But she put up with it for four years….. She assumed that since he had chosen to live with her than he had “chosen” her over his girlfriend. Who knows what he had told his “real” girlfriend this whole time—i.e. where he was living, etc. etc.

Once Carla told her boyfriend she was pregnant, everything changed. He made up his mind once and for all to return with his original girlfriend. He told her to have an abortion, that he couldn’t support another child. Carla was horrified that he had asked her (and expected her) to commit a sin—abortions are still illegal in Ecuador and most people are morally against them due to the Church. Being from a small village, Carla said it would never have entered her mind to have an abortion. His request seemed coldhearted and cruel, even monstrous. Furthermore, Carla truly believed that he had left his “ex” for good when in fact he had been in constant contact with her over the years.

Carla’s boyfriend left her in the weeks after she told him about her pregnancy. He left without a trace and she seriously considered having an abortion for the first time. Interestingly enough, destiny took over and she ended up miscarrying. Now that she was no longer pregnant, Carla felt free and could move on from this man. Apparently, her boyfriend is a national policeman—they are known to be womanizers because they’re stationed to work in different regions of the country every two years to cut down on corruption in the police force. Carla now realizes that he probably has a girlfriend in “every post,” like a sailor. She said that upon arriving in the big city she was na├»ve and impressionable, like a little girl. She explained (with tears in her eyes), that she has now learned not to trust men or their “good” intentions.

I feel badly for her, she must have still been in her early 20s, and had already suffered such terrible heartaches. Carla explained that the transition from her rural village to the big city has been filled with shocking discoveries—that you can’t trust people so easily and must keep to yourself. It was interesting to hear Carla grapple with her decision over the abortion. It seems that the “immorality” of the action was the deciding factor, despite the fact that a large stigma accompanies being a single mother as well. Indeed, Carla said herself that again, the miscarriage was a blessing in disguise because she didn’t want to be a single mother once again (and more importantly, was saved from having to commit a sin).

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