Nothing prepares you to face poverty. Everywhere you go, you are surrounded by flies and the smell of burning dried leaves. You turn a corner on a dirt road and you have a 3yr old boy with no shirt and no shoes by himself staring at you in bewilderment because of your complexion or presence in his tiny town. I walk up to him, smile and rub his head. A group of kids 8 - 11 in age come prancing along smiling ear to ear as I start with an hola amigos. Their smiles and laughter roll back my memory. The CISAS clown troup had dotted my nose and cheeks with red paint before I began my rounds with the Ministry of Health workers and CISAS volunteers.
House to shack, door to rusted metal leaning over the opening where the door should be, we go distributing a pamphlet that tells the bare bones of what HIV is, how it is transmitted, how we can protect ourselves, and how to properly use a condom. Along with the paper comes a pair of condoms. After doing 3 houses in pairs, I am told to take a pack of both and start down a 4 foot wide path that is lined with fences on both sides made of barbed wire or cactus. I´m with Oscar, the most well built and tall Nicaragua I have met thus far. A bartender by night and a community health intern by day. As I walk the path, making sure not to step in the stream that resides in the middle, my mind goes back to Mountains Beyond Mountains and the story of Dr. Farmer doing just this, but instead of only providing awareness and 2 condoms, he brings life saving medicine and years of medical expertise.
I struggle through my first house. The 20 year old male would rather talk about the Bronx and whats up on MTV then Sexually Transmitted Diseases. I get him back on track when I tell him about the free condoms. Mission accomplished - he asked for 2 more pamphlets for his brothers and extra condoms. My next house, like many here, are little shops in the front to get drinks, snacks, candy etc, and then the living room behind the counters. I turn to the older gentleman and Oscar turns to the woman selling him an egg and dry rice. I try to explain the science behind how the elderly man should not be using two condoms at a time. As I talk, the woman laughing says, give him all he needs he sleeps around too much with girls that are in their 20s. His leathery and worn skin smiles displaying only a handful of teeth. Is this the face of a man that a 20 yr old woman is going to give herself to? Do I dare mention the rights of women? I spend extra time telling him how a condom is really the only protection if you are going to be sexually active. He smiles again, asks for 10 condoms and thanks myself and Oscar for the advice.
On the half hour ride back to León, Oscar and I discuss how there just weren´t enough pamphlets and condoms, but that doesn´t mean there is no hope. We over hear one of the women from the ministry of health speaking about a 20 yr old girl who actually told her how HIV is transmitted and told her to save the condoms for others in the neighborhood that will need them; in her own words, "I have plenty of those trust me".