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8) Rules of the Street

I never smoked base with any of the sex workers, nor with Santiago (all names have been changed) or his partner, Carolina. Despite hanging daily on the streets, I never did any drugs with my research interlocutors. Even when I began filming Santiago and his family for my documentary--Let There Be Light--and their drug use was at its peak, I would never partake. At times, I drank a beer or shared cigarettes with the sex workers. There was a lot of pressure to drink with the women as they solicited clients. (I will never forget when my mother came to visit and accompanied me to the streets, all the sex workers offered her beer. My mother, who does not drink, simply because she does not like the taste or effect, politely accepted their beers, as to not offend anyone, and ended up getting drunk. It makes both of us laugh to this day!) On special occasions like, Mother's Day or International Women's Day, when the community got wasted, I too, would drink, but rarely to excess. (Though on one Mother's Day, the women had to put me into a taxi home because I had gotten wasted). Some women smoked weed on the streets too, but I never smoked with them. I never saw cocaine on the streets, only base. Towards the end of my fieldwork, in 2013, heroin had begun its slow infiltration into the community, but it was much bigger in the coastal, port city of Guayaquil, where most of the sex workers were originally from. There was only one sex worker in our community addicted to heroin, and eventually, she sadly died of an overdose, which gutted me at the time. Anyway, that was my rule: I would never use drugs with my informants. Even when I started smoking base myself, with my boyfriend Pablo, I did not share this information with the street community. I abided by these rules throughout my years of research. Back then, I was still able to follow rules dictating my drug use. As my drug use increased, rules would get broken, one by one, but luckily, while in Ecuador, I was still a casual cocaine user. I made rules easily and never once thought that there would come a time when I literally could not abide by a single rule I had once made.


The sex worker and street community never knew that I was a cocaine user--that I often indulged in a few lines while drinking cold beer after long days of research. I always hid that side of me. It felt important that they didn't know about my drug use because I wanted to be taken seriously. I wanted them to view me as a legitimate researcher, as someone professional, skilled, and highly proficient. I never turned up on the streets high. I kept a rigid boundary between my personal life and professional one, as an anthropologist rigorously collecting data. This division, between my drug use and professional identity, was a separation I had long honed, since adolescence, when I drank heavily on the weekends, but maintained an image of "perfection" during the week where I received top grades, was the president of the debate club (Junior State), and captain of various athletic teams. In fact, this division in me, which only increased over time, would become a primary characteristic of my addiction. My perfectionism and drive to high achievement were two sides of the same coin of my addiction. They went hand in hand. All these different masks, reflecting my distinct roles in life, which I learned to change and adapt to with ease, would become increasingly difficult to balance. Eventually, this neat compartmentalization identity crumbled, at the very end. But I had led a double life and kept secrets right from the start of my drinking/drugging career as a teenager. In fact, maintaining a double life and keeping bigger and bigger secrets was a large part of the thrill of my drug use, as my identity became increasingly splintered. But that's for another blog post. For now, I just want to be explicit about my rules: I made guidelines governing my behavior on the streets during fieldwork and was able to follow them. I never used any kind of drug with my research participants, nor did they ever learn that I was a drug user in my own right. No matter how hungover I was when I arrived to work on certain days, I would never mention my partying from the night before. I wanted to maintain a carefully curated performance of professionalism and perhaps even, innocence? I'm not sure why the word "innocence" just came to me. (I will have to unpack that further in later blog posts). But they all knew I could never pass as innocent. Despite keeping my drug use to myself, I know the sex workers knew I had had a checkered past at the very least. It takes one to know one, and I certainly was not passing as innocent--that much I knew.

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