Bioethics Blogs

What’s in a name? by Ruth Goldstein

“Is writing seemly? Does the writer cut a respectable figure? Is it proper to write? Is it done?”

– Jacques Derrida, “Plato’s Pharmacy” in Disseminations

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“I choose… Estrella. Yes, you can call me Estrella when you write.”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

Estrella nodded her head, a wisp of dyed honey-blonde hair coming loose from behind her ear. Her long earrings, the gold paint flaking around a plastic ruby, swayed back and forth as she nodded in affirmation. Yes, she was sure.

“You can write if you want,” Estrella gestures to my notebook that sits on the table. I write instead on a napkin. It feels less official and thus less obtrusive. “Unless you prefer napkins… This is what you call anthropology?” She laughs and pats my hand, pen frozen on the flimsy paper.

I look at my scrawl on the napkin. I have written the date, her chosen pseudonym, and the location of the café where we sit. “Yes,” I tell her. This is what I call my anthropological practice of ethnography. I bring out my field notebook, already swollen with the additions of drawings and pressed plants that women have given me. The drawings are the result of trying to keep sex workers’ children occupied while I talk with their mothers, which at times becomes a baby-sitting arrangement if a client interrupts our conversation. Estrella leafs through these. She has several children of her own, but they live with her mother in another part of Peru. That childhood home is far from her adopted one, which is a place of work in the prostíbars (brothels) of the Peruvian Amazon’s region of Madre de Dios (Mother of God).

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