It was the year 2008. It was my first time ever outside of my own country. There were many wonderful things that I saw and experienced in my 15 days there. However, this is one experience I have often told people about so I thought that I should put it down in words.
People had warned me about how expensive Switzerland was, so I didn’t venture out of the city of Basel where I was working at. Most of my free time was spent hopping onto trams or buses and exploring the city by foot. It was during one of the walks that I stumbled upon a strange looking shop. I couldn’t at first figure out what they were selling. Looking through the shop window only showed me what appeared to be strange cylindrical shaped objects of a multitude of colours and designs. It took me a few moments to register that the shape I was seeing was that of a condom. When my eyes drifted next to the name of the shop “Condomeria” I realised that what I thought I was seeing was what I was seeing.
The me from 10 years ago was not a well-travelled person. I was just a kid in 2nd year of his career at his first company. I certainly wasn’t world wise. As the photo below shows I quickly tried snapping a picture from outside and moved on. If I had come across this today, I would have at the very least entered the shop and checked out the goods. Unfortunately, I have now learned that this shop in Basel has closed permanently. I guess it was too high concept even for the Swiss.
The Swiss Tropical institute with whom I was working had set me up with a small desk within somebody else’s office. When I came to work every day, I noticed these things under my desk. Various flavour names were mentioned on the packing. I initially figured them out to be confectioneries. It’s not that they didn’t look suspiciously like a packet of condoms. I just never thought someone would simply have scores of them lying around under a desk.
A few days later I finally had a talk with my co-worker about this. He had a good laugh when I told him about what I had thought they were. He explained to me that the Swiss Tropical Institute worked with women in Africa to help produce these condoms. The proceeds of the sale would contribute to their livelihood while also promoting their use in a continent with the highest prevalence of AIDS in the world. These were to be sold at the local university festival that was being held a couple of days later.
These things made me realise how open a culture could be about their attitudes towards sex and safety. It has gotten better in India over the years no doubt but there is still a stigma associated with it.