Monday, April 20, 2009

Seen in Maputo #1: Streetchildren Selling Condoms

This is a new little series I'm going to do to document the small, wonderful, irreverent, random things I observe from day to day that, without a doubt, define Maputo.

At the intersection in front of Polana Shopping, there is always a wide array of people trying to make some cash selling products (or begging) from people as they wait for the light to turn green. There are frequently flower vendors trying to sell bouquets of sunflowers and tired roses, fruit hawkers with cardboard boxes full of imported grapes and peaches from South Africa and an assortment of guys with mCel credit, newspapers, cigarettes and pirated DVDs.

There are also street boys who beg for change. It's usually the same few kids - as in other cities, there seems to be a territory system worked out as to who "controls" each corner - and I've come to recognize them. Today, I noticed one of the boys who usually begs was instead flashing a colored product at the passengers of idling cars, trying to make a sale. At first, I thought it was candy or gum, a common thing for kids to sell on street corners in Brasil. As the boy got closer to my car, I realized that he wasn't selling sweets at all - he was selling condoms!

The condoms were packaged in a bright purple plastic and connected to each other by a perforated strip in long snakes of about 15 to 20 units. From my days working in HIV prevention, I recognized the bulk packaging and was virtually certain these condoms were donations from some international NGO the kids had somehow gotten ahold of. The boy approached my car and enticingly waved two purple-wrapped condoms at the passenger window with a giant smile on his face, giving me an encouraging thumbs-up with his free hand. I couldn't help myself - I burst out laughing. The sight of this overly-enthusiastic 10-year old pushing condoms at 11am on a Monday morning was too much. Part of me wanted to see how much he was asking per condom, but alas the light turned green and I had to drive away.

Street vendors are a creative lot in Maputo, selling everything from puppies to used high-heels to the mirrors someone has just stolen off your car. However, these boys trying to sell donated condoms take the cake in my opinion.

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