Layers of spray paint caked the crumbling stone walls of the alleyway. The smell of sweat, lust, and cheap beer mixed into a haze of cigarette and marijuana smoke. Underneath, people waited, shoulder-to-shoulder, for entry. Every now again, some jerk would try to push his way through. The crowd had no patience for this. They’d elbow and glare the intruder back.
Floresta, Quito is like Williamsburg, NY: chalk-full of trust-fund kids with nose rings and art degrees. Yet, in Floresta it’s supposedly not advisable to walk alone. So, I took a taxi six blocks to this party. Despite the close proximity, the driver needed directions. My Spanish is alright and my complexion dark, but my accent betrays me. Like always, I received the gringo tax. In Quito, taxi drivers don’t turn on their meters. You have to negotiate the price. I take taxi fares personally: use them to measure my level of belonging.
The woman in line next to me had an auburn bob, and large, sunken green eyes. She looked like a Tim Burton character; dressed like one too. She told me she was meeting friends inside and asked for a light. I don’t smoke, but have learned to carry matches. The girl’s name is Ana. As we crept up the alleyway, towards the mansion, she talked about the future. Ana was moving to Spain, said the music scene is way better there; and genuinely couldn’t understand why I’d chosen to live in Ecuador. “There’s nothing here,” she repeated, each time unintentionally gesturing towards Chimborazo.
In my first months in Ecuador, I couldn’t wait to climb that mountain. Its peak is the world’s furthest point from the earth’s center. When I did eventually reach the summit, everything was white: the ground covered by snow and pressing into the clouds. All I could hear was wind. When someone pointed out we were standing in the sky, I cried. For a time, I loved Ecuador in a way only an ignorant foreigner can: like the country would disappear as soon as I left—like I had to revel in it, court it fiercely.
Once we reached the party, Ana split off. There were five rooms excluding bed and bathrooms: a kitchen, a room for people to smoke in, a room drowning in strobe lights and house music, a room for the punks with a live band and mosh pit, and a room in which women in bikinis were splattering each other with glow in the dark paint. I found Eve on the balcony where a man with a Portland beard was offering free stick-and-poke tattoos. Eve was fully clothed, but covered in paint.
When we met, roughly three months prior, she and four of her friends had been dressed as puppets; tutus on, cheeks red. A man behind acted as their puppet master. Her group, along with thousands of others clogging the highway tunnel, was chanting, “Ni una menos, vivas nos queremos!” Translated directly, this phrase goes: “Not one less, we want to live.” It means that if even just one more woman is murdered, that’s one too many.
The Ni Una Menos movement—which also challenges gender roles, the gender-pay gap, sexual assault, discrimination against LGBTQIA, and pro-life laws—was started in Argentina as a cry against femicide. The march I attended was graphic. Women showed up topless, in witch costumes, and adorned by bruises. Some of the bruises were makeup. Others were real; gifts from disapproving husbands, fathers, and brothers.
Eve and I made our way to the punk room, where bodies were sloshing and flailing against one another. She grabbed my hand and leapt into the mosh pit. We were bumper cars, bouncing from person to person, laughing and screaming uncontrollably. There’s something liberating about letting your body go limp, riding on sound waves, losing control, surrendering to the music and all that. Bodies are so confining—especially when you’re a woman.
Sometimes, I forget how angry I am… at the men I’ve had to block on various social media platforms, the strangers who follow me on the street, and at the bus and train gropers. Mostly though, I’m mad at the men I’ve trusted wholeheartedly, the men I’ve called friends and introduced to people I care about, who’ve then turned around to unequivocally cross lines, to use women’s bodies against their will; to use my body against mine.
Sexual assault and violence against women are epidemics, but I guess we all know that. And I guess we all go on anyway because if we were to linger on these memories, to stay fully conscious all the time, we’d fall to insanity. Still, as the band sing-screeched, “We are all whores // fucked twenty-times a day // dreaming of another way.” I couldn’t help but to feel the rage.
In nuclear fission, when two subatomic particles collide, the nucleus of an atom splits; releasing energy. The resulting fragments are different elements than the original atom. In the right space, moshing can be a lot like that. The music splits you open, and when you collide with another in the crowd, a ripple of energy surges through the room. By the end of a set, you feel new. By the end of this set, my anger had morphed into a giddy sort of motivation.
When the band took its smoke break, Eve and I wandered into the kitchen. We sat on cheetah print stools and marveled at the neon signs. They said things like “Wild Woman” and “Bruja del Bosque” (Forest Witch) in pink. Strangling these signs were vines, which arched up the walls and covered the ceiling. Around us, women kissed, grinded, and snacked on chifles. Eve pulled me close and whispered, “This, right here, is protest.” In that moment, a velvet feeling wrapped itself through my ribs and grew into my lungs. The crystal ball on the counter revealed it’s magic, spinning time backwards to the dawn of the universe and then to the end of the last, which turns out is our future. And I saw everything. And I am telling you, we are destined to make this world better.
By: Alexandra Mayer