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Condoms for Nicaragua's
       sex workers

Sandra Weiss


"After all, we are men"

- Latino machos and the difficult advance of condoms​.

4.00 pm,Women's Center. Marvin Bustos retrieves the motorcycle from the garage. The "Motosex" with its bright orange transport box, the funny painted condoms, the bright pink women's symbol. This makes him stand out, provokes reactions - exactly what he wants. The sun is already low at this time in the tropics. The right time to start his tour through the shady establishments of the Nicaraguan provincial city. Every day, the social worker takes a different route, five times a week.

4.20 pm, Las Torres quarter, behind the market. A dirty slum of half-finished houses, with lots of litter, potholed roads, and corrugated iron huts. An unnamed corner bar and billiard hall. The two doors on the corner are wide open, so that occasionally a breath of air can stir up the stuffy air. Behind the threshold, the world of men begins. Half a dozen men between 18 and 50, with cues in their hands. A naked light bulb illuminates the scene. There is loud talk, with occasional deep sips from the beer bottle. An old color television is mounted on the ceiling. The picture flickers. A sentimental soap opera is playing, but no one pays it any attention.

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“Hey, the condoms are coming," someone shouts after spotting Marvin's motorcycle. Everyone receives their ration of condoms. The rest of the pack is entrusted to the landlord Ronald Dávila. "I'll distribute them. The guys here in the neighborhood already know they can get them from me for free," the 53-year-old explains. As for himself? No, he never used any, it's much nicer without them. "When I was young, we didn't know about them, and luckily I never caught anything. 


“Hey, the condoms are coming.

But the young people nowadays have to be careful. Many don't have money for condoms or don't really know much about them. That's why Marvin is doing an excellent job. Being faithful is nice and all, but we're men and want to try something different sometimes." Marvin stands nearby and stays silent. You have to know when you can say something to someone, he explains later. Machismo is deeply rooted in Nicaragua. "But it's important for men to take responsibility and get used to using condoms," says the 37-year-old.


3.30 pm, Near the market and the open sewer canal. An unplastered  stone house with a rusty metal door. Outside, a hand-painted sign that says "We repair bicycles." "Hello!" Marvin calls out into the courtyard, and a chorus of "Hello Marvin" answers him. With a hundred-pack of condoms, he enters the desolate courtyard of the brothel. Muddy ground, dangling electrical cables, a worn-out wooden table. An improvised palm roof provides shade. The owner, a rough-looking man with a bare chest, discreetly moves away when he sees Marvin.


Nancy, Junior, and three other women and transvestites lounge on white plastic chairs. "Business is slow today," Nancy complains. Not enough to feed her three children. Her husband is a good-for-nothing alcoholic, and she herself only went to school until the 5th grade and couldn't find any other work despite months of searching. "When the children cried from hunger, I just came here," she says with a downcast look. She receives 70 Córdobas for each sexual encounter. Without a condom, double that. "Sometimes I do that," she murmurs,  and casts a stolen glance.  Most of her clients are married, living out their fantasies with her. "Love is an illusion," she says. And prostitution is illegal. That's why Nancy is constantly living on the edge, without rights, unprotected, and despised.


7 pm,  Marvin stores away the Motosex. Today, he distributed 450 condoms and 50 informational flyers. According to statistics, new HIV infections in Masaya have decreased, but three people still become infected daily in Nicaragua. However, something else is equally important to him as controlling infections. "Now, it's the women who decide whether or not to use the condom, not the client." A huge step towards increasing self-confidence in the world of machismo.

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