I met her on a Monday afternoon by the reception desk, Manuela* was her name and all I knew was that she had sold over 300 000 condoms alone in Maputo city during the month on November, so I was eager to meet her.
She saw me first and approached me. I knew right there that she was a salesperson: someone who knows you’re looking for something and is ready to sell it to you. “This will take long”, I thought. I was wrong: After the first few minutes of curiosity, it all faded away and she became just a woman who sells condoms for a living. I said to myself “There’s nothing to her”.
This always happens to me, at first I’m filled with infatuation and excitement, and as time passes by all my love turns into indifference, the object of my affection slowly becomes just another human in the world.
Manuela became the lover whose best feature was the idea I had of what he could be, the future self I’d turn him into, but that in reality was something else. I wanted Manuela to be a story about a single mother who strives to make a better living for herself and her family, but without that nurturing aura that parents have, I think; or maybe she could’ve said she had lost someone to HIV and that it was the reason behind her business; I don’t know what I wanted from her exactly, but I’m sure I was ready to turn her into this compacted idea of what a female entrepreneur should be. And I don’t even like the term “female entrepreneur”, no ever says “male entrepreneur”… She is an entrepreneur and that’s it.
Manuela happens to be a seller for a long time, she has worked in the beer industry and as a merchandising agent, but in both fields it was hard to predict her incomes and maintain clients – because of the competition, I suppose- and that’s why she changed to this NGO, to have stability.
She found the opportunity through a newspaper ad and was immediately excited by the challenge of not only selling male condoms, but selling them as a woman to mostly male retailers. She does it all by herself just by riding the car from client to client, and most of them order an average of 5 boxes a time (holding 72 condoms each).
She is the type of person that turns a 360 condoms sale into a 301 500 condoms distribution business. Just imagine the network she has built, how much work she has put in stock management and the type of planning that’s involved to keep track of the transactions, among others things she does that I probably know nothing about.
Manuela turned out to be an ever better lover that the one I had imagined in my head!
She’s smarter, stronger and a bit intimidating, actually. Maybe I should take this lesson to my personal life and unlearn the scenarios I predict in my head. I’m glad she didn’t mention her daughter during our meetings; I enjoyed the fact that she talked about the logistical problems she faces on a daily basis (dumb smart phones; car malfunctions; …) and most of all, I really like the fact that she talks a lot about the future, it shows that she has a long-term vision for her business.
If she’s not the epitome of what a successful business strategy can result in, then I’m the same woman I was before I met her because she’s in the essence of everything every NGO should strive for. And I’m very glad that I allowed myself to be aware and to unfold the problems I had with my first impression of Manuela: she is not your charity case, she’s your typical business woman – busy, assertive and diligent.
In this NGO/ Aid industry it’s always (and too much) about the passion and the cause – the heart is the WHY of everything. We have to let go of this outdated idea that everything we do has to do with love… It’s harmful and dismissive to our reality. We must ensure that our work is not based on false premises, but guided by a true and honest set of values and behaviors that make sense for the lives we live and let live.
And really, like a wise lady said before, who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?
*Real names have been altered to protect the identity of the people involved.