Down and dirty English

Down and dirty English

Belo Horizonte, Brazil Behind the News

All sorts of people are gearing up for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, among them some of the country’s prostitutes.

A group of sex workers in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais have been taking English classes once a week so that they can communicate better with soccer fans who might use their services when they come to Brazil.

Volunteer English teacher Igor Fuchs teaches a class to women who are members of the Association of Prostitutes of Minas Gerais, an organisation of sex workers that sponsors events and attends local and international conferences.

Volunteer English teacher Igor Fuchs teaches a class to women who are members of the Association of Prostitutes of Minas Gerais, an organisation of sex workers that sponsors events and attends local and international conferences.

During class, these women not only learn basic vocabulary like the days of the week, but also sexual words and phrases to use on the job.

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

Slideshow

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Laura Maria do Espiritu Santo, the vice-president of the Association of Prostitutes of Minas Gerais (APROSMIG), takes notes during an English class.

Laura Maria do Espiritu Santo, the vice-president of the Association of Prostitutes of Minas Gerais (APROSMIG), takes notes during an English class.

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

Brazilian sex worker Cida Vieira, president of APROSMIG, holds up a lipstick while she and Cida da Silva, a fellow prostitute and member of the association, attend an English class.

Brazilian sex worker Cida Vieira, president of APROSMIG, holds up a lipstick while she and Cida da Silva, a fellow prostitute and member of the association, attend an English class.

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

Teacher Igor Fuchs uses a dildo to point to words on the board.

Teacher Igor Fuchs uses a dildo to point to words on the board.

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

The sex workers attend the class.

The sex workers attend the class.

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

Fuchs uses a sex toy to teach English.

Fuchs uses a sex toy to teach English.

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

Laura Maria do Espirito Santo holds packets of condoms.

Laura Maria do Espirito Santo holds packets of condoms.

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

Cida Vieira listens with a dildo and femidon pack on her desk.

Cida Vieira listens with a dildo and femidon pack on her desk.

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

Cida Vieira looks for clients by the side of a street.

Cida Vieira looks for clients by the side of a street.

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

Laura Maria do Espirito Santo shops for lingerie.

Laura Maria do Espirito Santo shops for lingerie.

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

She arranges a basket of condoms while awaiting clients in a hotel room.

She arranges a basket of condoms while awaiting clients in a hotel room.

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

She sits in the hotel room after finishing an English class.

She sits in the hotel room after finishing an English class.

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

Witness

"Laura Maria, is an enthusiastic and cheerful veteran of prostitution... When she speaks the new language she always ends her sentences with a chuckle"

2 Jun 2014. Pilar Olivares, Reuters Photographer

As I went chasing after “ladies of the night” (who sometimes work in the daytime too) I discovered that some of them are proud to be sex workers, almost too proud to be bothered by someone like me - a photographer looking for a good story.

I was on an assignment to take pictures of a group of prostitutes who are taking English classes once a week in preparation for the World Cup. They hope these lessons will help them communicate better with soccer fans who might use their services when they come to Brazil.

Of all my subjects, the most elusive character to photograph was Cida Vieira, the president of the Association of Prostitutes of Minas Gerais (APROSMIG), based in the southeastern Brazilian state whose capital is Belo Horizonte.

Before our first meeting I spent a whole day at the APROSMIG office just waiting for her to appear. While I was there, I saw quite a bit of activity in the small room they rent as office space, but it was mostly from women looking for condoms. They would enter, open their plastic bags, and the secretary would drop in a fistful of the little packets.

Some of the women would walk out without muttering a word after signing a paper for what they received. Others, however, would stay a while to tell anecdotes, laughing and describing the sexual fantasies of their clients in some detail.

Patricia, the secretary, is the daughter of a prostitute and also used to work as one herself. She looked at me with distrust at first, but then she started laughing at my face when she saw me react to some of the sexual tales that I heard. Once she also surprised me by lifting up her shirt and showing all of us a huge scar crossing her stomach. It looked as if she’d had major surgery, but that wasn’t it; the scar was a souvenir from a client with a knife.

APROSMIG is likely the best-organised group of sex workers in Brazil. They sponsor events, beauty pageants, and English classes, and are invited to international conferences. Lately they have been very busy responding to requests from local and international media.

Their vice-president, Laura Maria, is an enthusiastic and cheerful veteran of prostitution. Igor, their English teacher, told me she is also his best student. I enjoyed photographing her during the classes. When she speaks the new language she always ends her sentences with a chuckle.

Joking among themselves during class, these women not only learn to say “hello,” “good morning”, and recite the days of the week; they also learn erotic words and phrases that they use on the job every day.

Laura Maria asked Igor to go straight to the words they need the most, from the names of sexual organs to the very crude words that some clients demand they say.

Laura Maria also let me accompany her to her workplace - a little room she rents inside a hotel that is not necessarily for sleeping. The place is dismal and dirty, and in the hallway I not only passed men of all types, but also a parade of cockroaches.

We stopped at the front desk for the key and the male receptionist looked at me with surprise. I wondered if he was thinking that I was Laura Maria’s client.

In the end, I figured that with the dark glasses I was wearing nobody would remember my face. I stayed for a short time to take pictures and then Laura Maria asked me to leave. She needed to work to pay her rent, and with me there nobody would come in.

Looking through my dark glasses, the men I passed in the hallway looked like wandering ghosts. From time to time a woman’s figure would peer out from a half-open doorway, as the ghosts decided which one to enter.

I left the dark hotel and returned to the Association’s office, where Patricia asked me how it went. We stood in silence for a moment and then she just laughed at my expression.

A few hours later Cida appeared and I finally got to meet her. I realised that she had no idea what Reuters was or what I was talking about when I had called her on the phone from Rio. She looked at me reluctantly and it seemed she just wanted to get rid of me.

Then she mentioned she was leaving the next day for a prostitutes’ convention in Peru, my home country. I seized the opportunity and began to talk to her about the food there, including our famous ceviche. She had never heard of it, and she didn’t speak a word of Spanish. I hoped her new English would be useful to her on her first trip abroad.

In any case she has carried on with the lessons, and let me come back to photograph her taking part.

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