I have discussed the challenges I face in defining my relationships with my informants many times. As an anthropologist, it is one of the most confusing things about my work—that I study people, not things, and as such develop relationships with them. Of course these relationships don’t need a label, they are what they are, but at times I slip into friendships with them and have the same expectations of them as I would of any other friend.
Last night an incident happened in which I realized that I have a different type of relationship with my informants than with my other friends. K., the wife of Juan my bodyguard had invited me to Guayaquil for the weekend to visit her mother. We would leave Friday night on the 9:00pm bus, travel through the night and arrive early the next morning. We would bring their three children while Juan could stay in Quito and work (rob, or take advantage of carelessness, as he likes to call it). We had been planning this trip all week and with each day, K. got more and more excited about it. We planned everything to the last detail and agreed upon who would take what food for the bus. I had agreed to lend her a backpack to pack her kids’ things for the weekend. All week K. reminded me of more things—don’t forget your bathing suit, bring bug spray, it’s hot as hell on the coast right now—no jeans. Her excitement was infectious. I was excited to meet her family in Guayaquil. I was excited for a new adventure, especially since I haven’t been to the coast in years.
Friday night comes and I had spent the afternoon packing. I thought of everything, I think. I brought everything K. recommended and even bought some toys for the kids for the 8 hour bus ride (even though they would be asleep for most of it). I bought snacks for the bus and canceled my weekend plans with friends in Quito. Being a good gringa, I arrived promptly at the hotel where they live at 8:00pm. When I arrived no one was there. The owner of the hotel told me that both K. and Juan had left with the kids a bit earlier. Furthermore, the owner told me that K. always tells her when she goes to Guayaquil a few days prior and K. hadn’t mentioned a thing. Extremely confused and getting increasingly pissed off, I waited for K. and Juan to show up. Obviously, when K. said to meet at 8:00, that could mean anywhere between 8:30-10:00pm as Ecuadorians are not known for their punctuality. But I had a deeper fear that the trip was not going to happen.
It turns out that my instincts were right. Juan finally arrived at the hotel with their youngest, special needs’ son. He seemed surprised that I was there. I told him, “Remember, K. and I are going to Guayaquil this weekend—it’s her brother’s birthday—remember?” I was super pissed off. He shook his head and looked sad. He said, “Anita, I don’t think you’re going…K. is out working.” That meant that K. hadn’t earned the money she needed for the bus fares. Suddenly, I felt ashamed and guilty. How could I judge K. when I take my bus fare for granted? I can pay $9 so easily, it hadn’t occurred to me that the trip depended on the money K. could make that particular day. This family survives from day-to-day. They have no savings and often go to bed hungry.
Perhaps I felt guilty and privileged, but I still felt pissed off. I told Juan that K. should have at least called me to let me know that the trip was up in the air. Perhaps she felt embarrassed to tell me given her excitement all week. But at the same time, in the moment, I was angry that I had spent the afternoon preparing for a trip that wasn’t going to happen. Above all, I felt disappointed. I was excited to meet K.’s family, to travel to the coast and experience something new. Unfortunately, this incident also made me disappointed in K. as a person. I was disappointed that she couldn’t pull through for me—that she couldn’t even call me to tell me the trip was canceled. I understand that poverty can cause inevitable, abrupt changes in plans, but I wouldn’t accept such behavior from a friend so I couldn’t accept it from K. either.
Or so I thought…..now that I’ve had time to chill out, I realize that it isn’t K.’s fault that we couldn’t go. Her life circumstances may make her less reliable than my other friends, but obviously she’s still a good person and still a friend to me—we just won’t ever have the same type of relationship as I have with other friends—people who share my social class and who have less struggles in general. But K. IS a good friend in many ways. She is fiercely devoted to me on the streets and with Juan, takes care of me more than any other sex worker. Under her care, I know nothing will ever happen to me. For that, I am eternally grateful. But for now I’ve learned that I can’t count on her for weekend plans, and that’s not the end of the world.