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Wednesday, December 13, 2006


December 1, 2006 is World AIDS Day. Do you know your status?

That’s what the ATM machine asked me at 8:25 in the morning on December 2, 2006 when I groggily stuck my card in the machine trying to get some cash before the work day started.

Why, yes, I thought. I do. But that wasn’t the reason I was smiling.

I was smiling because this was the exact type of HIV “intervention” I might have been conspiring to put into place back in my old life – the life where I sat in Washington, DC or traveled to London or South Africa scheming about how to make people in the developing world sit up and listen to the fact that it was World AIDS Day, dammit. So listen to what I have to say now!

Back in my old life, World AIDS Day was a big deal. For the 13 years before I moved to Tanzania I was always involved in World AIDS Day happenings. At FHI we’d typically have a moment of silence, read a poem, take a moment to reflect together upon the work that we were doing.

In the year leading up to World AIDS Day I would dubiously look at national plans from the various countries that I supported. So much money would be put into World AIDS Day plans – rallies, testing campaigns, t-shirts and caps. I wondered what the value of spending so much money on one day was.

Can one day a year really make a difference? And yet, what would the cost be of not participating in the hoopla? Would someone who could have been reached with a lifesaving message be lost if we used our money some other way?

For the previous five years, most of my/our (FHI’s) collaborative work with MTV would cumulate on World AIDS Day. In November we’d film a program with Bill Clinton, and December 1, voila, it would be broadcast around the world to nearly one billion homes. Folks, you can’t get much bigger than that in the media world. This was World AIDS Day big time.

So many people around the world put so much effort into World AIDS Day events. I always assumed that everyone everywhere was enveloped in learning about, hearing about, thinking about HIV on that day. How could they miss it with so much going on? Not with a rally on every corner? With every news outlet everywhere creating programming all on HIV!

And yet, it was December 2nd when I got that message. Somehow, here in Tanzania, I missed World AIDS Day.

That morning I stuck my card in the machine, got a message from the bank, and thought, “Yeah, it was World AIDS Day yesterday, wasn’t it?”

OK. I’m lying to you.

Sort of.

I knew we were coming up on World AIDS Day because at T-MARC we made plans to participate in some events in the field. (Turns out it was raining pretty hard that day in Mbeya and that the crowds were very, very small.)

Also, T-MARC was invited to participate in the Tanzanian national World AIDS Day event – all the way up in the northwest of the country - in a spot so far from Dar and so rural, that the government had to charter planes for the groups of government and foreign dignitaries (including the President of Tanzania and the American Ambassador) that shelped up to Musoma for the day.

I had the chance to participate in that, but I turned it down and sent a colleague instead. I just wasn’t that into small chartered planes and a day of speeches in Swahili.

And so on December 1, I got out of bed. I listened to the radio in the background as I got dressed. I went to work. I talked about AIDS, but World AIDS Day didn’t come up. I talked with my staff – both at home and at work, but World AIDS Day didn’t come up. I went out for dinner with friends, but World AIDS Day didn’t come up. I watched TV, but World AIDS Day didn’t come up!

On the morning of December 2nd, I stood at that ATM machine and wondered how the hell I could have missed it. And if I missed it here in Tanzania, where people are really affected by HIV, who else must have missed it, too?
Good question.

I want to think that the reason I missed it is because one way or another I end up surrounded by HIV all the time – it is my work, my friends are directly affected, and I’m living in a country where it is a serious crisis.

But I don’t think that is it. I think that the reason I missed it is because we (the collective “we”) haven’t yet figured it out. The ATM’s message was cute. And it made me reflect for a moment on December 2nd. But it still isn’t the answer.

I don’t know what is.


Blogger Mom101 said...

It's really interesting to be so inside a particular world that it feels that everyone is right along with you, be it AIDS prevention, parenthood, political campaigning or pot smoking--only to remove yourself and get a different perspective.

Good lesson?

4:14 AM  

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