freedom, happiness & jails in Quito

February 23, 2011 at 9:05 pm 2 comments

riding on the northbound bus this afternoon and i had that feeling that can best be described as tranquility, satisfaction or happiness. i don’t remember the last time i felt this, maybe some time in baku or my last day in azerbaijan, or one or two days in georgia. these moments are so beautiful but also so ephemeral and easily forgotten. somehow everything comes together in these moments, life seems so wonderful and i feel so lucky to have held on somehow, i’m at peace with the world and with myself, there are no regrets or guilty consciences, no nerves and hurt feeling, no anger or frustration. it’s a feeling of wholeness and togetherness. somehow at these rare moments there is harmony. it is unexpected. all of a sudden i am overwhelmed by a sensation of wonder and pleasure for just being, for being able to sit in this chair, on this bus, hear this latin pop, feel the rhythm of the road beneath me, be surrounded by babies and women and old men, rapidly passing these buildings and parks, feeling the heat of the day in my body…  these are the moments that click like one of those circular locks when you get the combination right. an intimate sensation of happiness.

and where was i going? how ironic that the moment when i felt this sense of happiness, which is always related to my feeling of freedom, that i was heading to the one place in the city where people on not free – the jail.

my guidebook recommends visiting the foreigners in Quito’s jail as a way to provide them company. it’s something i’ve wanted to do before, in Thailand and elsewhere, but never did. in Quito, the jails are separated by gender and i chose to visit the woman’s jail. it took about half hour to reach it by bus and i was surprised to find that it was just another building on a regular street full of ordinary houses and shops. no one seemed surprised or disturbed to be asked about the jail was and everyone knew where it was.

inside the jail, i handed over a copy of my passport to a uniformed woman at a computer. she refused to accept it. in bad spanish i tried to reason.

she: who are you visiting?
me: i don’t know…

she turned away from me and i appealed to another uniformed woman who was more sympathetic and said something on my behalf. i was let in…

my bag was inspected and my body padded. there was no x-ray machine, no scan of any kind. i was allowed to take my backpack with all its contents except my cellphone into the prison.

inside it felt like a fiesta instead of a jail. a small tienda, barbecue, music and many small children around. i stood in the courtyard between two buildings, the top floor windows on both sides full of drying brightly colored clothes. i think there were bars on the windows but they weren’t auspicious and didn’t make an impression on me. i was greeted by a small black woman, a prisoner i assumed, dressed in a sports suit who wanted to know who i was looking for. “just an american” i said, “or someone who speaks english.”

she led me to an older woman from new york who was actually ecuadorian. the woman was confused, why was i looking for her? but she accepted my explanation that i was a tourist just coming to chat and proceeded to tell me about the prison and life in new york. she avoided the reason she was arrested and made it seem that she was wrongly arrested. i couldn’t be sure. her husband visited her often and she had made friends with the women who worked in the jail she said. she didn’t like being here and hoped to write about it one day, but she didn’t seem miserable, and she spoke well of the computer courses she attended here.

in the jail women are allowed to keep their children with them until they turn 3 years old. this was why there were so many toddlers around and hardly any older kids. in the second courtyard i visited, it was necessary to remind myself that this was a jail where women spent many years. the cuddling couples, laughing and speaking amiably to one another amidst this sunny day made it easy to forget.

before i left, i met another woman from jamaica. she wanted to talk but wanted to finish listening to the bible story in the church first. i promised to return on saturday and bring her some fruit.

on the way home it started to rain, like it has every day since i’ve been in this mountain city. i don’t mind the rain anymore or the chilly weather. life is turbulent but good.


Entry filed under: travel. Tags: , .

“ama sua, ama llulla, ama quella” (don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t be lazy) – traditional Inca greeting An example of liberated travel:

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Emily  |  February 23, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    Hi, we haven’t talked in ages, but I came upon your blog when sorting through old bookmarks yesterday and have been enjoying it quite a bit. It impresses me how much you’ve traveled and interacted with and tried to understand people.

    Do you think the prison you visited is typical of prisons in Ecuador? It’s fascinating how different it is from a prison you might find in the U.S.. I wonder what differences there are in the social roles that prison systems there, in the U.S., and elsewhere.

    Looking forward to reading more,

  • 2. Krysta  |  February 25, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    Yelena! I’m glad you are happy. I know exactly what moment you are talking about, because I have had that moment many times in Flagstaff. But then again, I am much too sentimental and optimistic. It’s sickening.

    I saw some photos of Venezuela in a Latin American magazine and they very much made me want to visit América del Sur. Supongo que debe escribirte en español. Después de ahora, lo haré! Muchos besos, mi amiga.

    P.S. Estoy citando te.


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