I went to El Dandy for the first time on a Wednesday night. El Dandy is a brothel where only biological women work. It is the only brothel within the zone, but it is divided into two separate locals, owned by the same people. The brothel is nothing like those in Hollywood movies. It is an abandoned, old house standing in the middle of a silent street. In the street just in front of it there is a mountain where slums have been settling and growing towards the top. Two local gangs and the local police are fighting for the sovereignty of the territory on a daily basis. Later on, MJ explained to me that they are frequent clients, and they pay better than others. They never quarrel with women from El Dandy.
I was very nervous. MJ introduced me to the women who administer the place: two women. V and M where very kind to me. They gave me a cup of Aguardiente – a Colombian liquor- to welcome me. They knew why I was there and they appreciated that I was there. Women at El Dandy drink Aguardiente in order to keep themselves warm. At night, the city gets so cold that I myself went there dressed as if it was winter in New York. They also get paid for the number of bottles that their clients consume; some of them told me that they have learnt how to spill some of the cups full of aguardiente that their clients offer to them, without them noticing.
Even though I’ve had some beautiful encounters with women at this brothel, there was an experience that I still need to truly question. That experience was different; it was absolutely devastating. When MJ introduced me to N, her best friend, N told me: “why do you always choose us for your research? Why don’t you go and do research on rich people instead? That is what we need. We don’t need your help, why do you think that we marginal people need your fucking help?” MJ told me that women were tired of institutions because they limited themselves to enter brothels and put an announcement on the dressing rooms. They never talk to them, they treat them as if they were less.
The announcement that people from the Secretaría de Integración Social leave in each brothel that they visit contains information about a procedure known as The Police Code. The Police Code consists of a series of activities regarding human rights, sexual and reproductive health and information about the labor opportunities that the IPES (Institute for Social Economy) offers to people who exercise prostitution. According to many of the women at El Dandy, the possibilities offered by the IPES are not suitable for them. They offer them the minimum legally possible salary, they have to work for too many hours and they only accept people who are under 32 years old (many of them are older than that).
Posted by Laura Vargas – MA Candidate at CLACS/NYU