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ACDs New Journal: AIDS and the Future of Women - Chronicle of a Movement

AIDS and the Future of Women -- le SIDA et le Future des Femmes

Chronique d’un movement ~ Chronicle of a movement

Introductions first: Hello all. My name is Anne-christine d’Adesky, and I’m a woman of many parts. One of them is being a journalist, or better, a chronicler of the events of my time and the worlds I inhabit. For me, like many of the colleagues and people you’ll meet in the days ahead, AIDS and the global grassroots movement to stop this epidemic has become my world, my global community, my cause – the ties that bind. I’ve been involved in the AIDS battle since 1982 – since the earliest days. I came of age as an activist and human rights advocate in what has become a great social and political movement. Sometimes I think of it as my own journey, sometimes as a party, because of the excitement and great people I have met in this movement.

All along the way, while my focus in this movement has changed, I’ve kept my eye on women, and now by extension, children, and especially girls. I became a passionate advocate and that passion and compassion has fused my journalism and my creative work as a writer and sometime filmmaker and always dreamer. Today, I helped start and run a free AIDS treatment program in Rwanda, benefiting mostly women survivors of genocidal rape and their children, and orphans of AIDS and the genocide. I am a mother too, of an 8-year old girl. I continue to travel as I have always been privileged to do, but always with a sense of mission, to connect with others, to do some good, especially around AIDS.

Here now, 25 years later, a quarter-century if I can believe it, I see the start of a new movement – really a deepening, a defining, of a splinter movement that has its roots in different and deep social struggles, particularly the fight for women’s rights, the fight against poverty, and the fight against HIV and AIDS. We – the broad, still loose collective of advocates and women living with HIV who come together to define this battle – call it the movement of women fighting HIV and AIDS. I privately call it something else - -the vision I have for what is at stake and what must be defined: the Future of Women – and Girls.
Welcome to my chronicle of the movement – un chronique du movement. A movement that is global, multilingual, and in which I remain fiercely committed. Adelante!

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First entry: July 7, 2007 – Nairobi, Kenya: It’s fitting that I should be starting this chronicle here now, where I am sitting, where I have come, across the waters again and far from California, where one part of my life takes place. Africa, Africa – I come here again and again, because the epidemic is here, raging. Because the great heart of a waking movement is here, waking, rumbling, beginning to take shape, ready to explode. Because the depths of suffering I witness in all corners of the countries I have visited or worked in on this continent continue to open my heart, not close it, and this suffering is rivaled by the force, by the life-beat of the people and communities I meet. Intensity meets intensity here, and it is fitting. The intensity of the epidemic, the millions of currents of impact it has on every aspect of life and society and culture here and in other parts of the planet where the epidemic is particularly visible, makes me think often of an errant thread, coursing across the essential fiber of the land and people’s lives, becoming part of this global weave, impossible sometimes to separate it from what has become daily reality for so many millions.
And yet I do imagine a world without AIDS, and I know it will exist. It won’t be for this generation and not for the next few, in the sense that even if we discovered a biomedical weapon to stop the virus, to kill it permanently, the scar-tissue of AIDS will remain on our global body for a long time. There is no question we have become permanently altered by this epidemic, and its impact is like the sun’s rays, penetrating everywhere at once, and deeply. Like the sun, it has illuminated many things too, and altered them positively. That is the irony of these great outside forces like pandemics. They never sow only destruction. They cause us to scurry like ants, to reconsider new realities and redefine how to live now, how to eat and sleep with this grand Devil in the bed beside us, not evil but certainly bringing death and suffering, not a malevolent virus, but certainly one that reflects the great inequities of our lives.
AIDS is not the great social leveler, as even I have sometimes claimed. AIDS is the mirror for our human condition, and as an epidemic, it continues to reflect the complex social and economic and political dynamics that make some of us more vulnerable to its furious path than others. Am I surprised to be here in Nairobi, 25 years after I met this viral beast? No. The threat of AIDS to Africa was preordained at least 20 years ago, and far before that, if one considers the history of the continent, and factors like colonialism that had such a profound impact on its economic development. Even though I myself was still younger and not as aware that the epidemic was exploding in Kinshasha and other key African capitals in 1982, I knew it was in Haiti. That is where I first saw signs of it, before I paid attention to the emerging face of a new epidemic in New York, where I then lived. In Haiti, I detected something new afoot in a country long-bleak with acute poverty, with historic slavery and entrenched racism -- a ravaged land, a country that, in its own way, remains a litmus mirror of the impact of the many evils that have created the social and economic conditions that existed in Haiti in 1982, and allowed HIV to flourish.
There, I saw a fresh shadow settling itself among the mud houses of the poor that live in the teeming, stinking shantytowns of the capital, Port-au-Prince. I saw this shadow like a second skin, a barely-visible layer upon another, a film settling on the skeletal bodies of long-hungry people, in the patients I saw --hearts beating wildly, bodies ravaged, awaiting death -- in the warm, fetid inner chambers of the TB wards of the public hospital, and in time, all along the corridors and waiting rooms of these institutions. I don’t have to close my eyes to remember how the hospitals seemed like living morgues, with the distance between the two so small. That was long ago, but of course, not long at all. Twenty-five years is nothing when you are almost 50, which I am.
That fact shocks me of course, that I could be nearly 50, which feels not only grown up, but nearing some older age, an age and a number I can barely accept, never mind embrace. I am a young person in my mind, in my spirit, but less so now in my body, which is showing signs of wear. I feel that way about AIDS at 25. I can see that I have grown older and the epidemic has grown and still exists, and has exploded and spread as we predicted it would, alongside our best efforts to contain it, which have limited its spread, but hardly prevented it from becoming this truly global threat. Perhaps threat is not the right word either, since it is among us, killing us daily, reshaping our lives. It is not a threat, it is a fact: the enemy is among us, sleeping nightly like a huge and mottled beast, in our beds, in our homes and dreams.
We too, have grown. We are the ragtag army, perhaps, not a polished sword to smite the beast or a cannon to blast it into history as we might have first dreamed, 25 years ago. The enemy is within us; it reflects our lives and complex human construction. We cannot easily grab inside of ourselves – our beliefs, our behaviors, our cultural and social being, our economic systems, our outward physical lives – and simply pull it out. The beast has settled in and within us, in our lives, to the point where the world is changed, and the fight takes place then on all these levels, internal and external. Luckily, the fight itself has also shaped us, continues to illuminate the new corners where the battle must take place, where the conditions that continue to feed the beast must be changed.
That is how I like to think of the battle against AIDS now, as one in which we act to stop feeding the beast. In essence, we stop this viral enemy, HIV, by changing the bathwater in which it likes to soak and relax and spread. AIDS, what we call global AIDS, has provided us – humankind with all our complex flaws – with the possibility of a corrective -- a profound corrective. Of course malaria and tuberculosis and even worms that also reflect diseases of poverty and injustice offer similar tonics. But AIDS has come along with the extra dimension of being a sexually-transmitted disease, one that has affected the people in rich societies as well as poor. It touches upon the key energy that gives our lives meaning as humans, the electric sexual and romantic charge that drives us to seek connection with one another, to couple, to bond and feel bound by these ties that bind. Sexuality, that great animal energy, is not easily tamed. It is unstoppable. And so HIV, which rides this powerful current, has been able to penetrate our human marrow in a way other diseases and epidemics have not. To fight AIDS, we must change ourselves – or so we thought. I have another approach to the problem, which is more focused on changing our socioeconomic conditions. But I’ll agree that the change starts with us, within us, about and around us. That makes it all the harder.

I was saying something up there, about AIDS and poverty, and my view of how to stop the epidemic, how to take bigger steps to produce the great corrective that is needed, that will change the root causes of AIDS and in so doing, stop feeding the beast. It’s unfortunately very difficult, because it requires changing our societies and our global conditions quite profoundly. We can – hopefully – with more ingenuity and perhaps sheer luck or the Gods’ graces of which ever God we believe in or conjure – we can hopefully develop what some call a cure for AIDS, a weapon to stop the HIV virus from replicating inside humans and spreading. But that will not do the trick, not alone. Or it might do the trick in many generations, enough generations for us to vaccinate against the virus while treating those who have the disease, so that slowly over time, the mathematical odds are that we might slowly gain an edge over the virus due to the successive impact of mass vaccination with a future HIV vaccine. But we aren’t there yet. None of these weapons is perfected, though we are ably trying, bravely trying, with many of our best scientific minds. But if we do not implement our existing weapons in order to also address – and improve upon – the root causes of AIDS, we won’t win.
I think of the beast as a shadow-blanket, a multilayered, quilted beast, lying among us across the globe. The beast feeds upon poverty, upon inequity. It shadows our difficult days. It drives women everywhere to sell their bodies to strange men for something to eat, for themselves and their starving children. It drives men in southern Africa to toil in inhuman labor in the bowels of dusty, diamond mines for pitiful wages, only to emerge, years or maybe only months later, with two or three devils in their bodies: TB and various ailments of the lungs and heart caused by swallowing so much dust and rock-shard; HIV, contracted from rare nights of momentary animal pleasure or simply sexual release with the women selling their bodies for food or, more shamefully hidden for some, with the other men who lay down together for milliseconds of furtive lovemaking in the dark bowels of the mines; and finally, alcoholism, the devil’s drink, driving them to forget their wives and children left far away at home, the love and warmth they miss, their acute loneliness and fears. This beast is the unequal human and social and economic condition. The social reality that drives those same men deep in the mines or others with similar passionate desires for love and human connection with other men to seek what is not easily offered, to need what may remain or was, in the earliest days of AIDS, a love that is outcast, that makes exiles and refugees of man who love other men in every society. The same should hold for women who love women, but it does not, because of an inexplicable mercy of some universal power that renders it more difficult for this particular virus to pass between two women. Similarly, these forces drive others to use hard drugs, to gain reprieve or temporary escape from lives that do not deliver, happiness that eludes, a mind and heart that will not stop talking unhappily to itself.
Everywhere, across all lands, the global mirror holds: AIDS reflects what is most difficult, what is struggling most deeply, what is not wanted, what is in conflict, what has been driven away. I like to boil it down these days for myself, to keep it simple by saying: AIDS = poverty. Or AIDS = socioeconomic injustice. Lately, I have added a third mantra, one that has equal validity and reflects the first two statements: AIDS = women’s condition… or variations on that theme: AIDS = women’s empowerment. Or disempowerment. Really, it’s the latter. AIDS reflects the condition of women on our planet. It’s a very accurate mirror for our existence, and our struggles and the journey that we must take – we being women, and men who support women’s lives -- if we want the epidemic to end.
AIDS = women’s empowerment. That statement to me is a very useful one. It does not leave men out; it invites them to see how men may contribute to the epidemic by their male conditioning and behavior, by their rules, by their treatment of women. It offers men a solution, then, too: to change behavior that hurts them as it hurts women, to change the rules that disempower women, to change the social dynamics that make women so much more vulnerable to HIV and AIDS than men. Fighting AIDS = women’s empowerment. Men have a role to play here, it’s time for them to step up. And we must invite them to be partners in this dance. We can’t do it alone. Men must change their own behavior, rules, expectations, and that of other men. And women must support them.
AIDS = women’s rights. That’s a slogan that is closer to the truth, to the core issue that has emerged here now, 25 years later, as we look across the world and we see how greatly, how deeply, HIV and AIDS are affecting women, are shaping our lives and those of our daughters and our sons, too, creating a cycle of infection and damaged lives that have become their future, or will soon, if we do not act with a greater sense of purpose.
AIDS = the Future of Women. I have come to believe it is so. Of course AIDS = the future of men and boys, too, but without women, there will be none of them either. AIDS = the Future of Women and Girls. Now is the time for us to consider with as much ability and largesse of vision and heart as we can, the full implications of this truth for our planet, and for our own time upon the earth. We have a role to play, we have a say. We will leave this earth a better place, or not. We do have a choice about that.

I hope I won’t sound overly bleak in writing this chronicle, for if you meet me, you will find me anything but. After 25 years in this epidemic, as an activist, I am hardly without spirit, without hope, without a passionate belief that we can improve upon our current performance. We will not slay the beast easily. But we can transform ourselves, our societies, and that process is an ongoing historical act. AIDS has entered the picture, another current, another errant thread in the weave, as I put it. But the movement for social justice, for women’s rights, for an end to poverty, for greater equity among people in different societies – these are stories as old as our human existence. So we have great historical movements to ride upon, to gain more momentum. We have brilliant examples to guide us now. We have an opportunity with AIDS to make the connections even more directly between these overlapping epidemics that kill so many people and the social and economic forces that drive them. In other words, we are being handed our weapons, and via these interventions, be they AIDS prevention, or a bed net for malaria, or a deworming program, to enter the beast and seek out its heart, to stop the flow of blood there, to grasp and change the root cause of the problem. That’s another mantra, or what I call my religion: the gospel of AIDS as a socioeconomic problem, one that invites an opportunity to improve upon chronic poverty and injustice as the solution to a global pandemic. Is this beyond complex? Yes. It is so much harder than the prospect of a one-shot pill or a vaccine? There’s no denying it. There’s no room for wide-eyed fools here, or easy answers. Of course it’s wildly, impossible-odds difficult. We cannot grasp an easy solution. But we can see the problem, and that does reveal the many answers. I would then argue that the many-layered solution is readily at hand, and available everywhere, yesterday as today and tomorrow.

How’s that, you ask? Well, think about it it. If the task at hand is to address the deep-rooted social and economic conditions of people’s lives, to improve upon them, then we have the billions-strong army of people living in those conditions who are ready and invested in doing this. We could start by teaching them and ourselves, teaching every one of us, regardless of social position, geographic location or level of education, how to take a measure of our own life, our own possibilities and resources. We could teach the mantra of harm reduction and aim it not at our human behavior, but at the social and economic conditions that affect how we live, how we respond to the challenge of survival, of connection, of love. We could teach each person, myself included, to assess what the specific factors are in our lives and environments that put a virus like HIV, or syphilis, or a bug like TB, or a worm in a dirty river, in our direct path. We could equally assist that person to look around their own community, local environments, loved ones, to find what and who is there to possibly assist us, to provide us with a resource, to help us reverse these dangerous social and economic conditions.
I’m advocating a personalized approach to epidemic harm reduction, one that believes each person knows their own solution, or can be helped to name it. Each of us has, at the core of our human being, a will to survive, and that will is often very creative and always super powerful. We will do anything, we know, to stay alive. That is an energy to be harnessed in the fight to survive AIDS. We can and should begin talking among ourselves in a greater and more focused conversation about how to get ourselves out of harm’s way, how to reduce the likelihood that we will encounter HIV or TB or malaria because we live in the slums of Haiti where poverty festers, or conversely, in greater wealth in richer countries where complex social forces make our lives difficult, unstable, socially on the margins. I am not advocating that we discard our focus on condoms, on using clean needles to prevent transmission of HIV. I am an ardent prevention and treatment advocate. But I am arguing that our weapons along will not stop HIV or the other diseases from coming daily into the path of those who live in conditions of poverty or great inequity. We must aim our weapons not only at the entryways to the beast’s home, we must change the basic environment so that the beast no longer feels welcome, no longer make a home among the poorest, among the vulnerable.

So that is my view.

This has been a long first entry. I must have had much to say, built up and bottled up from the past months of my blossoming mind. But I am also excited by my arrival at this point, 25 years later. You might say to yourself: these are not new insights. We have always known and called AIDS a disease of the poor, the socially marginal. Yes, but yet we have not adopted global tactics as part of the AIDS war to really redress poverty, to redress gender inequity. We have adopted biomedical approaches, and approaches to modifying human behavior. In the name of morality, some continue to advocate abstinence when each of us knows that the greatest moments of living involve human and sexual connection, a transcendence that puts us closer to a state that feels weightless, that some speak about as nearly divine, a state of union with another. We advocate and fund abstinence when we know that married women are by far the most vulnerable women to HIV, that such prevention messages are useless, an insult to them, really. We relunctantly push condoms but do little to make them available, to make them desirable to men as well as to married women. We regard women and men with HIV who dare to still want children as immoral, as child-killers of a sort, willing to sacrifice innocent lives. We are the immoral ones, those of us who preach God and show no mercy, no compassion, no respect for others, who regard children with HIV as something to be pitied, not a child to be loved equally, embraced equally, supported equally for the brilliant lives and future they are entitled to expect.
We approach battling AIDS as a polarizing battle between individuals, men and men, men and women. Although many people have long made the link of disease and poverty or inequity, as a movement, as public health policy, we have not made it our mission to improve upon poverty and inequity as the true solution to AIDS – the real cure – the only viable, sustainable answer to health. We have favored an approach that is more manageable, easier to implement. Easier to shut the doorways to the mouth or veins, or vagina or anus of the beast than change the bed or the room where the beast has come to live.
AIDS has offered us a corrective. We have no choice, really, to take it. We are failing to stop AIDS and failing to prevent its spread and we have chronicled our failure, even as we chronicle our success in cornering the beast. But I repeat: AIDS = the future of women, and girls. If we want to stop HIV from impacting women, if we want to protect more of our daughters, if we want to secure a future for our children’s children, we have to aim for the heart. We have to do so , now, more than ever, to talk about improving women’s conditions, about women’s rights, as a key weapon against AIDS. In so doing, we will improve on the social and economic lives of men. We have to help women assess what is making them vulnerable to HIV and what is possible to improve, and we must offer them resources to implement their own solutions. We have to engage men to examine their role, another role they might play, if given the choice, if handed a mirror that reflects the ability to be a man who leads other men to support women. That is the great silver lining here: there are so many solutions. As many as there are lives to be lived and improved upon, as many women and children with the will to live and help each other survive. As many men who are ready to be something other than a threat to women’s lives. As many as we are, on this planet. Each of us knows what we can do, or is ready to be revealed. Each of us has a step to take, wherever we now stand. In the global AIDS battle, each woman, each child, has action to take. Our job, as a movement, is to facilitate that personal assessment, that measure of one’s vulnerabilities and personal resources, what exists and what does not in our lives, but might be brought into the picture. A billions-strong army, ready to pick at and unravel the errant thread, the bed of each epidemic beast. That is why I am optimistic, that is why I see a solution, a great, complex, quilted solution. And there is no time like the present to act upon it.

So, 25 years later, I am hardly tired. It’s now 4:22 a.m., Nairobi time. I woke at 1 a.m., exhausted from a long day of networking and presentations and workshops at the Kenya 2007 summit, a watershed moment in the struggle, a meeting of some 2,000 HIV-positive women, particularly leaders, and advocates like myself who are defined by AIDS. I missed the gala tonight, missed more excited talk among friends and colleagues, because I could not take another step without sleep. But I woke rested, mere hours later, in the pitch black of this African night, to start writing.

This morning I woke up extra-early, to meet with some of the other key women leaders here. I, and they, were frustrated by the lack of focus on activism, on our urgent need for collective advocacy, on our responsibility to create a stronger movement by and for women and girls battling HIV and AIDS. Today, in a few hours, we’ll draft a statement about our plans going forward, the Next Steps, as we think of them. I have been in the trenches long enough to recognize a watershed moment, the emergence of something new. I can feel it, and it’s exciting. I predict that the coming months and years will see the coalescing of this global women’s activism around HIV and AIDS into a stronger, more visible social and political movement.
For my part, I’m inviting the men on board. Enough of us have learned the lesson of the earlier women’s movement. We know we need to create safe spaces for women to see themselves, to talk, to not be trampled upon by men with greater power, greater access, a greater sense of entitlement. But we need the men. We need them urgently to step up, as allies, to become leaders in this fight for women’s empowerment, this fight against gender inequity. This fight will save the men too, and we know that, and some of the men who will jump on board as allies know this well too. I think of my early days in ACT UP, a heady period of activism in the US in the late 80s and early 90s. I think we are going to see ACT UP, chapter 2: women of the world, and progressive men who understand that women’s empowerment is a critical piece of the puzzle. I think we’re going to merge easily with the recent movement for treatment access that began in AIDS and is moving over to TB and other neglected diseases and to cancer, a movement that is also focused on social justice and fundamentally, on poverty. I think we will find common cause in our multilayered effort to improve women’s lives and move them out of the path of the epidemic. So I’m refreshed, ready to see what we do together. It’s a great day.

 JULY 14, KIGALI-NAIROBI-AMSTERDAM --
It’s been a busy week. I wrote the first entry to this journal on the night before the last day of the Kenya 2007 HIV women’s summit, and since then I’ve had interesting events nearly by the hour. First, a catch up on the conference:
As with many of these global meetings (despite this being a unique one, and smaller than most), the focus of my attention was not on the actual conference agenda. As the 1st international meeting for HIV-positive women, and a meeting organized primarily (meaning funding-wise) by the World YWCA with support for ICW (Intl Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS), it reminded me of the early US AIDS meetings, where the focus was on ‘’coming out” -- ie., on the visibility of HIV-positive individuals to each other, and to leaders and policymakers. There were several workshops a day focused on helping women gain their voice, and focus their message. This speaks to the difference, a gap – in the empowerment of women at the very grassroots in the poorest countries – versus the old timers in ICW who have shaped the agenda for HIV women’s issues starting in the mid-80s. Here, the veterans among positive women (that’s the new term being advocated now, just ‘positive’ vs. HIV-positive) are mostly Western European and are long-term survivors with HIV – the first wave of the movement. While there are African and S. American and Asian women among ICW vets, the movement for visibility has been largely led by a group of women with their base in London who survived until the advent of treatment and were now here in Kenya, grinning happily to see the new wave of the movement come forward. There were also old timers like me who aren’t positive, but who have been activists on HIV issues for as long, and may, like me, have family members who are positive.
I have to say, it was lovely. So many older African women in particularly looking sort of grandmotherly/maternal to me in their longer dresses and general more formal African frocks, such great multicolored outfits and turbans and great hair styles. I thought that: Oh good, the movement is going to have more interesting style now with these new women. Especially the younger ones. There was one woman in particular who came to the one program workshop I attended (and left early) who was a total fashion diva. At first glance, I thought she was a transgendered woman — there was something in her carriage that was somewhat bold and flamboyant and yet shy and she had a very square jaw and some energy -- hard to describe it exactly -- but that made me think she might be transgendered. But no Adams apple, no 5 o’clock shadow artfully concealed with foundation, yet well-drawn kohl eyes, very dramatic. Point was, she had trans-style, i.e., major diva call-attention-to-my- fabulous-self flair. Her outfit was some budding African designer’s dream: a shock of bold color in a material that looked possibly flammable and thus not especially recycleable I thought -- a mix of printed cotton sealed with plastic of the kind used as picnic tablecloth material in the US and sold cheaply by the yard on Mission street in San Francisco. Hers was printed in an African pattern, and interesting. And she had these great glasses that could have been $300 designer glasses, but probably knock-offs, which I liked even more, thickly black-framed and making her look like a postmodern African art student with a serious academic bent, but clearly passionate about fashion and taking-no-prisoners. I imagined her at the podium, at a protest, yielding a sign. If I was a policeman, or an AIDS official, I’d pay attention. Fierce, in other words….
Anyway, I’m getting off on a tangent, but I did notice some great fashion at Kenya 2007. Inspiring. The few men who showed up at the meeting were far less exciting fashion-wise, though most of the young men in E. Africa I see wear extremely pointed shoes that do make me think of the 18th century and the courts of Versailles – tres dandy. They make me think of French movies with the rate African actor looking ultra 60’s cool sulking on their Italian mopeds and racing around Paris movies. But the shoes only. The rest of the men’s outfits were pretty dull, mostly suits, generally too big, too square, too formal for these young men with their serious bent and excellent manners.
Back to the meat of the conference: it was really the networking that made everyone happy, people meeting to share notes. For me too. I always love conferences as a chance to see old friends and colleagues, some friendships that will only exist at conferences. There’s definitely a feeling of, ‘Oh, it’s you… you’re still around’ that exists at this point in the global AIDS movement.

I had a few things on my personal agenda: to promote PulseWire.net, a new internet social networking site I’ve been developing with my new dear friend from Portland, Oregon, and her World Pulse magazine team. Jensine Larsen is a fellow journalist-activist and journeying soul who’s a women’s rights impassionada. One of those people who is traveling on such a similar track at the moment that, at some point in the first year of our friendship and work together, we sometimes just stopped talking – we knew what the other was thinking, or likely to think. She’s been one of my great new deep people connections, a fabulous woman. From the minute I met her I knew she was going to be, or could be, a big leader in the women’s movement. A young Gloria Steinhem. She’s very charismatic, a born entrepreneur, and she has a flair with words. And most essential, she’s razor-driven in her mission to empower women. Even though she’s a lot younger than I am, in terms of professional experience, I’m learning a few tricks about building a business, watching her build what’s now World Pulse Media, a hybrid non-profit and media enterprize. That’s how we met too, through her magazine. Her volunteer researchers were searching for activist women working in the global AIDS field. We talked for a few minutes on the phone and had that instant vision-madness connection of mind and heart that can be so thrilling. It’s been a great ride so far. I always feel a combination of happiness and relief when I meet someone who shares my vision for something, but also raises the ante, expanding the possibilities. She has as many ideas per hour as I do, many of them excellent. It’s a real pleasure to have found a true working partner.
She’s also building a great team. We are almost ready to unveil PulseWire, a so-called Web 2.0 social networking /movement building online tool. I think of it as the global tool I’ve been dreaming of and craving for years, one that can make us all so much more effective in our collective AIDS advocacy work. It includes a ‘Craigslist’–like global bulletin board for individuals and NGOs working in AIDS and other key topical areas. Here’s the elevator pitch: It will allow a woman in Kigali, for example, to ask for what she needs – say more Singer foot pedal sewing machines for an income generation project (that’s what we need in Rwanda) – and for that to be seen by women and NGOs globally who can respond.
The focus is on networking, giving voice to and empowering women and on social change. I’ve focused my own efforts on HIV/AIDS as a key area to link women and share solutions and resources. We’re also focusing on human trafficking and water /sustainability issues as the key areas of initial activity. To me, it’s my best effort to multiply the direct exchange of info and especially the blueprints and programs that are working between groups, an acceleration of ideas and plans that can better meet the rapid pace and scale of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I’ve been so frustrated all these years at the gap of communication and the waste of energy and resources -- the reinvention of the wheel among groups in the same communities, cities, movement who aren’t aware that someone, somewhere else, has just created the very thing they need, no reason not to adapt it. Now, if our plan works, we’ll all be able to see what each other is doing and people like me, privileged enough to become informed about new initiatives, don’t end up being an informational-contact cog in the wheel, a lone hub that can’t get the information about a great new program or some contact out to enough other people, fast enough. That’s the beauty of the Internet, or its promise for us as activists: it’s potential to build these social movements, faster, and allow many more people to steer the boat. That, by the way, was the second part of the elevator pitch. Thing is, I believe it. I’ve got missionary fervor about this project, because it passes the ACD test: I want to use it myself, as soon as possible. If I need it, I think, millions of people do too.

So I had a plan to present a workshop on PulseWire, and one on Income Generation, well, actually microfinance, an area where I’m a newcomer, but learning fast, in order to offer something to women I work with in Rwanda, and in other places. Just before coming to Nairobi, Jensine and other colleagues at PulseWire came to San Francisco and we met with Kiva, a new online microcredit org that is the hot new buzz in microfinance. I met with the Kiva people many months ago, but only recently did we – meaning PulseWire and me, representing WE-ACTx (my Rwanda project) – meet to talk concretely about whether Kiva might help HIV-positive women, whether we might partner with them to showcase Kiva on PulseWire. The answer to both was Yes. So I felt excited to have something concrete to offer women at the Kenya meeting, not just more referrals to information, but an actual name and site to make their request for funding – the key to moving their programs forward.

I spent most of my time at the conference inside a tented area where there were a lot of crafts booths, most of them manned (hmm. that word suddenly bugs me.. since they were all represented by women.).. most of them … operated.. by women reps from the World YWCA. I wasn’t interested in buying this time, but did look carefully at a few products, to see if they were viable for our Rwanda IG coop. There was a meeting space called the Women’s Networking Zone for more workshops organized by another newish friend, Tyler Crone of ATHENA network, who is a US woman, and colleagues I have worked with before like Betsi Pendry, a New York transplant to Johannesburg. Betsi and I were the main US organizers in 2000 of a satellite woman’s conference much like this one called Women at Durban, in South Africa, our effort to include local SA township women in the big international AIDS conference. It was a rousing success but wore us out so much that Betsi and I have hardly talked since – just recovering from the transcontinental effort. But WAD gave way to similar satellite conferences at Bangkok in 2002 and Barcelona in 2004. Now the energy and group energy has morphed into the Women’s Networking Zone, which has become a feature of recent intl AIDS conferences like Toronto where key AIDS activists gather and there is a need to focus on women’s advocacy and issues that may not be deemed key priorities for the main institutional organizers of such large meetings. So here in Nairobi, my reference point was the WNZ. I kept circling back to it like a grazing animal to a salt lick.

1:45 p.m. /EURO TIME / 6:45 a.m. MIAMI TIME – I wanted to finish my account of the Kenya conference while in Amsterdam, but it didn’t happen. I’ll keep going about the conference and the week in Kigali because so much happened, and much of it involved laying seeds for major projects that will bear fruit in the year(s) to come, some of them I think truly innovative as pilots for a more global implementation of the concepts. But first I have to say something about Amsterdam airport, something true about Nairobi too. I have been coming to these airports so much in the past three years that they’ve started to feel terribly familiar, the way Tom Hanks got comfortable in the airport in that movie about the man who was exiled inside one, and learned to survive, and soon call it quasi-home. I know now where all the sleeping spots are, and where the noise is least likely to rouse my slumber. Instead of a sense of transition, I know I have these concrete blocks of time and places I can settle in and I do. Since I’m here, I’ll tell you one secret: upstairs in the Amsterdam airport, just down from Mercure Hotel, next to the bank. You can pull together two long, very, very heavy semi-hard black seating areas and when they meet you have a bed, and no one will disturb you. This is very important for long-distance travelers like moi, who have trouble sleeping on the airplanes. I used to feel like I had to get a hotel bed at Mercure and I resented it, because there were no horizontal sleeping spaces, just dozing chairs that leave me with scratch eyes and annoyance at my insomnia. I needed a better option for the long layovers to or back from Africa. Now I’m set. I use this time to decompress, to consider what I’ve been doing, to write or plan, or when I’m lucky, sleep a few golden hours.

And before I leave this issue: I have an income generation idea, a good one I think. One that keeps me a bit perplexed as to why no one has done this before. It’s the hammock, a staple of sleep across Latin and South America. In Kigali, where I headed next, I visited some very poor families living, as poor people do across the world, in houses devoid of any furniture, apart from hard floots and mats. I thought: Hammocks. Why hasn’t anyone introduced hammocks? Surely they are more comfortable than the hard floor, even if you’ve been sleeping on the earth since your childhood. No? Well, I thought the same thing at the airport: Hammocks. Why can’t we rent a hammock, and hang it on some space with hooks. It will take up so little room. Seems like the ideal traveling accessory: takes up little space, easy to fold up, light. I’m so convinced of this that I’m going to ask our Income Generation coop in Kigali to make a few out of the traditional lungi-printed cotton fabrics that are sold to wear as a multi-functional piece of clothing for women, and men. With a simple stitch across the top – double-stitched to be sure, one could wear the lungi, and then slip in a piece of nylon rope on either end and voila – easy bed.
(Note: It’s time like these I feel like I would have been happy as a business entrepreneur, as opposed to a social-activist entrepreneur, the new hat I am wearing, courtesy of Jensine, who immediately informed me that my idea-a-minute nature is well suited to entrepreneurial activities. Never really occurred to me until recently. I don’t really have a head for finance, though, which is a real stumbling block. I realize now that other people can be hired to do these things, but I have that little bit of math-anxiety that I’m trying to get over about things like Quickbooks. It ain’t easy for me, in other words. Ho-hum. But hammocks, right? Good idea, no? Next year, or in a few months, when you read this, you’ll be able to go to the WE-ACTx site and order one, made by the Iweza coop in Kigali. Mark my words… (smile)…

Okay, so that is how I didn’t finish the journal about my time in Kigali while in Amsterdam airport in my secret sleeping place because, lo and behold -- I slept! --and am now I am here, in Miami, once again wide-awake at an early hour when the others are asleep. I’m on the terrace of a big condo overlooking the bay, with heat lightning breaking out in the distant clouds, scaring me just enough but far enough away to know I’m safe. It’s quite beautiful, another world from Kigali, just a few time zones away.
I’m with my brother and one of my best friends from NY, my second home. She’s sister-family to me, a former ex-gfriend, Cindra Feuer. We’re having an official holiday for a day today before I pick up my daughter Lucy, then continue my official holiday. I don’t remember having a holiday for, well, too long to remember. So it’s a good thing. My internal sleeping clock is really off. Before Africa, I went through a very difficult emotional period – another issue, for another journal. But I was acutely stressed and hardly slept from March-July. So I feel a sense of cumulative fatigue that must be somewhere down in my bones though I run on adrenaline so hardly feel it. I know it’s there, in the reservoirs of energy cells. It will take me time to decompress, feel that deep-down fatigue. It’s like when you start to rest, and only after a few days do you feel how exhausted you really. I’m anticipating that may happen. So I’ll use this period to figure out my next big move on the career and AIDS advocacy fronts.
Back to Kenya, to the tented Women’s Networking Zone… As I said, I focused on two key presentations there, and I also had my video camera in hand. For the past month, I’ve done some work for the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC), a global initiative to promote civil society advocacy for research into HIV vaccines. At this point in the epidemic, AVAC is morphing too, recognizing the need to be more closely merged with other single-topic prevention advocacy efforts and groups pushing for microbicides (gels, jams, products used by women to block vaginal HIV transmission), or needle exchange (dirty needs for fresh, disposable syringes for IV drug uers), and old-fashion methods like the male condom. The latest addition are two new issues that are huge challenges – opportunities and controversial issues -- for global public health: male circumcision and the arrival of the first vaccine for HPV – human papillomavirus – which is the cause of cervical cancer, a leading killer of positive (as in HIV) women, and a virus also linked to anal cancers – a threat to gay and bisexual men especially and to many women who have anal sex.
AVAC asked me to write a piece on what grassroots AIDS and reproductive health activists in the global south and north felt about these two things – male circumcision (hereby called male circ by me ‘cuz it’s a long word to write out each time) and HPV. The article has become a piece examining the state of global prevention activism - taking the pulse of what isn’t quite a movement, but a collection of groups mobilizing to promote various strategies. I said as much in the AVAC piece I filed, which comes out soon as part of a longer report they do every year. But along the way, I unearthed some deep concerns about male circ, particularly among women, and very strongly among US feminists like Crone, and even more worriedly among African positive women like Beatrice Were, who’s been given awards by groups like Human Rights Watch for her advocacy in the human rights arena.

Beatrice and I did some press work together at the 2004 AIDS conference where WE-ACTx had its first sort of not very official debut. ((I have talked about WE-ACTx in this journal already, haven’t I? I think I did… Hmm… This is the problem with moving forward like a shark. If you look back, you may get sidetracked. But if you are like me, with millions of ideas needing to be processed and dumped weekly, then you’re not sure if you’ve put an important thing on the shelf to get said later, or you mentioned it already. Other people call this the equivalent of a ‘senior moment’ – inability to remember short term. My problem here is that I have deliberately started a fresh page with each entry, so I deliberately don’t read back. I’d get distracted, or engaged, or tempted to edit too much I think. I can do that later. For now, don’t want to do that, so keep moving forward…Hmm. What to do? Okay: cliff notes. WE-ACTx is the org I started in 2004 with two pioneering US women HIV doc-researchers I knew from my journalism life. Our project works in Rwanda giving free ARVs and a fuller program to genocide and rape survivors. 5,100 clients in care so far, 28,000 HIV tests provide. I just got the newest stats from the team via e-mail. Woo Hoo! I got so excited-proud-happy. It stuns me a bit, too. I had a private dance in my head at the Amsterdam airport, where I was checking e-mail. Our Rwanda team is rocking. The team we have put in place there is great. Who knew we would succeed so quickly with VCT, which we just put in less than two years ago? Shows you how it’s possible, even with limited resources like ours, if you work in partnership. It’s all fab fab fab. There – that’s the quick updated cliff notes for WE-ACTx. Sorry for any repeat….I’ll avoid that from now on… (if I can  )…

So, 2004: We co-launched WE-ACTx with the idea that we would assist women in poor countries to access HIV treatment, and other services, not just in Rwanda, but in other conflict and post-conflict zones. A parallel, initial step was to do some homework, get a lay of the land, access-wise. So we started to document the state of access and who was doing what in East Africa. I wanted to focus on war zones, where rape is a huge engine of the HIV epidemic for women and children, as it was in Rwanda in the 1994 genocide. The conflicts in the region are so closely linked -- what is happening now in DRC is directly connected to the ’94 genocide -- same militia groups at work, fighting for land, pretending it’s all ethnic-tribal conflict when it’s mostly power, and resources such as diamonds and minerals in the Congo. So in 2004, a few months into the early months of WE-ACTx’s existence, I directed a few volunteers researchers and colleagues to look into HIV service access in the E Africa hot zones. We quickly and very roughly pulled together some preliminary information about what we could learn about the delivery of not just ARVs, as antiretroviral drugs are called, but PEP – post exposure prophylaxis for rape survivors – ARV drugs used in this case to prevent infection of HIV, if taken within 72 hours of exposure to the virus – as well as rape kits, and trauma counseling and fistula surgery. Fistula surgery is the major medical intervention that is needed for women in these war zones post rape, and on an ongoing basis for months. Most women I have since met in the DRC fistula clinics require repeated surgeries to heal from vaginal and anal rapes with weapons such as knives and machetes and broken bottles. So we wrote these overview access reports on Darfur, Sudan; Northern Uganda; DRC; Rwanda; and Kenya. Kenya was thrown in because another old friend, Megan McLemore, who’s now at Human Rights Watch in the HIV division and is a lawyer, and had been traveling there visiting some African friends based in Seattle who started an HIV program for some orphanages and poor villages in Kenya. Kenya has had itshare of conflict liked to civil-political battles in the past, and we thought: why not? After going to Nairobi for the past week, I feel good about our choice. Access to HIV testing and treatment, never mind trauma counseling, remains such a challenge outside of urban centers in all these countries.
I may as well admit right now that – it’s not much of a secret – that I tend to actively recruit my friends and, well, anyone I remotely like, to my causes. That way we can continue to become closer friends and journey together. And I genuinely usually feel like my causes are likely to be interesting to them because they are to me – a small conceit, I know, I know, sorry -- and I hope they can also sometimes help them tap into some as-yet untapped creative or humanitarian potential that will also fulfill our common human desire to Make A Difference. This is certainly true in the case of Megan, who was sort of in a ‘been-there, done-that’ moment of high accomplishment with her long career in corporate law in Seattle in 2000, and hungered to get back to her early roots as a legal AID lawyer and social justice activist. She gamely agreed to come Kampala,Uganda with me in fall 2001 where we organized ‘ A Focus on Women,’ another of the women’s satellite conferences, this one done with Ugandan positive women and other leaders. (I forgot that one in my recitation of key women’s meetings, above. My main US colleague on that one was Angela Garcia, and Emily Bass. We brought on activist men like Gregg Gonsalves, who’s now moved to South Africa to rally the AIDS troops and work with Treatment Action Campaign and other frontline activist players. Angela was then with Project Inform, a great AIDS program based in SF that focused on women’s treatment issues early on.

So, 2004: Beatrice Were, an outspoken positive activist, agreed on short notice at the AIDS conference to help me corral the international press there to talk about northern Uganda, where she’s worked in the refugee camps in Gulu, helping ex-kidnapped child soldiers, including girls held captive as sexual slaves of the Lord’s Resistance Army, to reintegrate into life, to confront the next battle: HIV, acquired as a result of said sexual slavery. More on this in a minute. I bring it all up because I started to circle back to these women and groups at the Nairobi conference. And now, three years later, as a result of my WE-ACTx Rwanda field work and experience implanting programs, not just researchers them, I have much more to offer women working to help ex-child soldiers with HIV in Gulu, or eastern parts of DRC, heretofore known as Congo in this journal.
While at Nairobi, I ended up talking to a nurse working in Goma, where I’ve visted the fistula clinics, and to the new local rep for Action AID, an NGO that has a new campaign focused on the link of HIV and gender-based violence. I learned that, post-the latest general election in DRC, the nurse has been referring 14 women a week to the fistula clinic I had visited (run by DOCS Heal, a Seattle-funded faith-based effort). But the clinic couldn’t receive the, she claimed – a capacity problem. There are also no ARVs in the big hospital where the women waited for the day they might be sewn together again. No regular meds either, nothing for opportunistic infections. We talked about what to do. They asked if WE-ACTx couldn’t start a program like we have in Rwanda. We talked about linking them to MSF, which is active, one of the only providers in the zones where the Interhamwe, the militia that led the Rwanda genocide, has taken refuge in the heavily forested game parks of East Congo, just across the border from Rwanda. I talked about the role of trauma counseling in our program, and our effort to create new peer training modules for the social workers that we could share with the DRC nurse and rape counselors there.
So what to do?
I asked them if there might be a way to create a large safe house – a center for raped women – that would house staff surgeons and trained trauma counselors and have services for helping women reintegrate into life, such as legal advocacy and income-generation, etc. They love the idea, and said there is some money that may be available. We left, promising to pursue this idea together. I felt very happy. This way all the NGOs can refer rape survivors there, and we can be sure they’ll get good HIV services. At least for Goma, where things are stable enough to try to put forward that project. I also told them I’d email Paul (Farmer), a friend and old colleague who has started an HIV program in Rwinkwavu, in a district of Rwanda close to Goma. Thought he and colleagues might have suggestions for surgeons, or maybe PIH (as in Partners In Health, the NGO he and Dr. Jim Kim set up long ago) could get involved in Goma. In fact, I have written to Paul. I even shared the first part of this journal with him. He wrote to say he liked that, but PIH can’t go into DRC now – their own capacity issues.
There is a problem, though. We could send our Trauma Counselors from Kigali, but the Congolese women aren’t likely to be receptive, says the nurse from DRC, because the women associate the Interhamwe, their attackers, the rapists who are in DRC after fleeing Rwanda, with all Rwandans. The women make little distinction, she said. In any case, I think the better idea is to find the few trained trauma counselors who are Congolese and bring them in to train, using the new modules we hope to finish in a few weeks. Local solutions: always the best choice, always the first, in my mind.

... At Nairobi, I gave myself the job of interviewing a few positive women leaders like Beatrice (didn’t interview her, but will) as part of my current goal for 2007> of giving greater visibility to grassroots positive women activist-leaders in this global movement around HIV and las mujeres in general. I was also doing some more taking-the-pulse for AVAC around male circ and HPV. All of this took place in and around the WNZ. So many acronyms, no? The AIDS movement has so many, it’s a private language to those not involved in this cause.

So, moving more quickly now: I started with the workshop on PulseWire.net. That went well. There weren’t many women showing up just before I was to speak so I asked a male colleague to help me and we raced around the WNZ to the crafts booth sellers like a real market lady hawking goods, shouting, ‘Come hear about a way to promote your products and find out how you can connect directly with donors and funders from the global north, and share your ideas with other women.’ It was my version of the 2-second Hollywood Elevator Pitch, and it worked. By the time I finished circling the inner courtyard of the Sokoni Exhibition space, as this tented arena was called, the plastic seats in the WNZ were pretty full. The workshop was great. I talked, enthusiastically of course, with my missionary fervor, but I did check myself: shut my mouth after a few seconds, asked if anyone had questions, listened to the women, to what they have to say about what’s being proposed. I do like to talk, but I have learned the key salesperson;s lesson, one I keep re-learning all the time: get them to talk. If you want someone to be interested in your cause, fund you, buy your product, your job is to get them to talk, not listen to you. It’s an irony really, but all Avon Lady and car salesmen likely know this well. I learned it slowly, and sometimes, as I have confessed, in my rush to convey all that excites me, I tend to blurt, to overwhelm the other person. But here, in the workshops, I am better. I’m focused on my task.
I really think PulseWire is a potential huge tool – really a big, great tool – to change the delivery of info, resources, etc. to women in global south. So that means I talk a little, then shut my mouth, and listen, listen, then talk, then shut my mouth. I got it, I get it. And I was able to do that in Nairobi – sort of. I mean, for me – bigmouth – I was okay. In fact, I realized I am hardly unique as a blabber – there are a lot of us out there and many become activists – so here I was in the fun position of being cornered by many African women to listen to THEIR big projects and ideas. I loved it.
So -- Pulsewire: great workshop, handed out many promotional cards for the upcoming Beta test of the website, and talked about the signature PR /movement visibility media campaign we envision with the mantra: ‘No One Speaks for Me, I Speak for Myself’. I listened to how the women might use the tool, to the visions, the possibilities. Made connections myself to new possibilities just listening to them, but kept this to myself, merci beaucoup, for now. I’m so glad I’m keeping a journal so I have a place to dump all of this to my heart’s content. It does help to know it’s gotten stored somewhere, to be shared. Less pressure to have to tell every Tom, Dick, Harry ( hmm, what’s the female version of that saying?..To tell every Mary, Martha, Angelia… as in Jolie (ha ha) – a future fantasy.. chat with A about the AIDS movimiento…) about what I’ve come across that could be useful to them, about my discoveries of innovations that may help them in their race to save lives and change the world.

The second workshop was on microcredit. I’m a poor salesman here: too little knowledge. But I am enthusiastic. Luckily I’d been to visit Kiva so I had some basic info on microcredit and diff schemes to finance grassroots projects. The other presenter who really was some local African woman entrepreneur NGO expert on microcredit did not show up. So it was my turn to represent, to give the women something worth their while for 45 minutes while they could be actually making money selling the crafts for which they seek loans to expand the business. I did the quick run-around-the-corral of WNZ elevator pitch, with similar positive results. This time, we had to grab chairs from some of the booths. Money talks like nothing else, especially to ambitious women entrepreneurs.
My information was basic, but I had a few gems to offer, including the Kiva contact and business cards, which were grabbed from my like lottery tickets and closely scrutinized. I talked, I listened, I learned. I thought to myself about how Matthew and Chelsea, my Kiva contacts, were about to be deluged by these women from East Africa, who are ready to do some serious business, get that decent interest on a microcredit loan. It felt good, I have to say, really satisfying, to be able to provide something concrete to them, something more than words, or ‘look here for information.’ I felt so happy watching some of the women tuck the Kiva card inside their big bosom bras like classic market women across the world. Rock on, I thought, rock on.
Note: since Nairobi, I’ve gotten some emails from these women. They’re wasting no time. I also turned them on to Grameen, an NGO started by a guy named Mohammed Yunus (spelling?) who started Grameen, to learn more about the different ways you can microfinance grassroots projects, the different approaches. Yunus won a Nobel not long ago for his work on microfinance. Now, every pitch meeting Jensine and I go to about PulseWire, his name inevitably surfaces. It’s become a source of comedy to us. He has no idea he’s our shadow friend now, a man we feel we’re getting to know through others. It’s gotten so ridiculous that if Yunus’ name doesn’t come up in a meeting, Jensine and I feel like something is wrong. I almost feel compelled to bring it up: “Hey, you know Mohammed Yunus? Grameen. Well, I know it’s off topic for this conversation, but you might just check him out. Uh-huh. Grameen… won a Nobel Prize. Very cool guy.. I’ve never met him, but trust me on this one…”

I’m a Mohammed Yunus-PR machine, and he has no idea. And there I was in Nairobi, promoting him all over the place.

These are the voices that need to be heard in the world. This reality. This humanism, these hearts. That’s what I want to have in the ‘No One Speaks For Me, I Speak for Myself’ media campaign. More of these myriad voices, claiming their gorgeous lives, not just the struggle, but the genius, the vision, the future of positive children, women, men and their families.
I was excited by something else. I’ve already confessed – wow, I use that word a lot--- let me replace it with ‘revealed’… I ‘ve already revealed my appreciation for fashion. So I was pretty excited to see this Amazon African woman, Dorothy Onyango, very tall and soft-hard butch handsome-pretty, get up at City Hall in this killer men’s dark blue pin-striped suit, pants and jacket, with a brilliant starched-collar white shirt, and a purple turban wrapped around her short dreaded locks, to talk about African women leading the movement. She looked super-hot. Butchy in a way I rarely see African women, but with just the right touch of feminine warmth with the turban to make the outfit work for me. And modern: she just conveyed a very contemporary African woman, ready to rock everyone. I was very jazzed, and took note: well-cut dark suit, white shirt, purple turban. I am not sure I can personally pull off the purple turban look, but I’m down with the outfit overall. Fashion-first, still a mantra for me as a political activist.
An aside: this reminds me of a line I just read in a book I just started reading: Diva Adventures, that includes a quote attributed to Assata Shakur of the US Black Panther movement: ‘We do not have the right, in the name of social justice, to bore people to death.’ I just love this quote. I feel this way about activism, which I think must include fun and fashion and play--- essential elements of the party. I used to say this, in the early days of my own activism with ACT UP and later, the Lesbian Avengers (itself a a short-lived in your face activist movement party), calling what I hoped to engage in ‘the politics of attraction’ – making this party so fun no one wants to miss it. Meaning, making the doing of our politics, our activist lives, fun enough that other people want to come along for the ride. No more trying to corral them into doing things by guilt tripping them – that rarely works for long. No. Make it too fun to not jump into the pool. Even licking stamps to put on envelopes for a fundraiser can be a good time, if the company’s good and women like Dorothy show up in killer suits looking hot-hot-hot and hotter even and so sweet and modest, when she opens her mouth to say, in a deep East Africa-inflected voice before hundreds of her fellow HIV sisters and the assembled press and global attendees, as they cheer her: ‘I am blushing….’ Too cute, too cute is all I could think to myself. Hot Amazon big Kenyan woman rock City Hall who is blushing. Sometimes, all is good in the world, like in that moment, for me, watching her do her thang, watching her look super fine in a man’s world, being hotter than the Man.
So, that was Nairobi. Felt like a bit of a party, as these conferences do, even when the politics and the issues are all too real, and sobering. I took note of one, a factoid I dropped into an article I hurriedly wrote for POZ the night after the conference ended: 75% of all African HIV cases are now women, while overall, women account for 60% of all HIV cases. The numbers are climbing up, climbing. I see them all the time in my mind the way Al Gore sees the graph rising as the icebergs fall into the Arctic Ocean, harbinger of our fate, of the doom that awaits us if we can’t turn this great global problem of global warming around.

I thought I’d drop Gore in here because his documentary, ‘An Inconvenient Truth,’ got me all riled up on the plane back from Kigali about a year ago, well less than a year maybe. I also felt really annoyed because I felt he’d blown it, missed the opportunity to tell an ordinary citizen like me what I could actually DO to stop the graph from moving further up, what my personal next step might be to stop the icebergs from wiping out polar bears who mournfully have little place left to hide and face extinction soon. Like us, the film warns. Since then, Al and his movie team have done exactly that: given us some marching orders. I met the producers in LA not long ago, and they told me that audiences forced them to add some info at the end of the DVD in order to let people go with some sense of hope and not just despair. At first, Al had not wanted to be prescriptive, wanted people to figure it out ,didn’t feel like he had the answers, per se. But he came ‘round, after the producers really banged away at him. I think one has a responsibility to at least offer some direction, if you’ve gotten to the point where you’ve made a major doc and have been thinking about this issue a lot longer than most people. With privilege comes responsibility. Anyway, seems Al has seen the light on this one. Live Earth took place just after Nairobi conf… a sign of the moving times re climate change.
Anyway, I liked the format of his film documentary. I’ve helped make a doc that showed on US Showtime last year (Pills, Profits, Protest), and I have learned a little bit more about doc making and what a pain in the A—it can be, how tedious, and how to make it easier, how to deliver the message. I think a simple format like the Gore film,some talking heads, a mix of leaders and positive women and some B-roll, including simple graphics showing the rising spike of AIDS cases in women, and projecting it to 2010 or on would really help people around the world – Joe Public Citizen - grasp what this really means, what it portends for us, our world. I do like that word: portends. So heavy, so freighted with gravitas. But truly, I do feel like I have that graph in my head, and when I hear statistics like ‘75% of all Africans with HIV are women,’ the slide appears, and the red temperature line climbs up a notch. I’m going to make that slide, I hope, sooner than later, and make this film. I do think there’s a good chance I’ll make it in the coming year, organically, using the voices of women who come onto PulseWire or that I interview on my videotaping journey, a visual version of the movement I am writing about here in my private journal-Chronicle. I’m hoping to chart the new momentum of women’s HIV advocacy that got a little boost in Nairobi.

My last act in Nairobi: to huddle with a few positive women from Athena, ICW, and other stragglers into the WNZ to draft a quick letter, a Thank You to the World YWCA, and a call to keep the energy moving, to use the Kenya 2007 summit as a launching pad to strengthen what must still become a major global movement to fight HIV and its genocidal impact on women. Oh, I know it’s a huge word, freighted as I said. But how else to capture the scope of HIV, how it really is wiping women out, if not killing them slowly, then certainly hurting them profoundly, seeing possible illness and death everywhere, to the daughters? I am increasingly focused on young girls now, and the boys too – the preteen and teen, huge generation of adolescent Africans and other children who face a lifetime of trying to survive and thrive with this disease.What does it mean for their lives? For Africa? For our global collective future? I am slowly creating that slide in my head, the slide about the girls, and the children the girls might or might not bear. The next generation and the next. I’m planning to interview positive girls for the doc, too, along with the women, and boys. How are the boys changing? How is HIV chaging them? Will they become leaders in the HIV movement, ready to change men’s attitudes toward women, to support women’s empowerment, to fight against gender-based violence. Given the choice, I’d like to invest in the boys who will, if given the support, the education, the faith.

So, I used that big word up there: genocide. I think it fits in terms of numbers, though not necessarily in direct intent. It’s not genocide as a deliberate act, but it’s genocidal in scope, in impact, and one can argue, there’s an aspect of genocide when you fail to deliver treatment and prevention and education, knowing that without these, women will be infected, children will be born with the virus, men will pass on HIV without knowing because they have not yet had the courage to get tested, or maybe knowingly, being unable to confront themselves, never mind their one, two or more wives. All of this will be in the doc. Instead of saying ‘if I make it,’ I say, ‘that I plan to make—that I am making, organically, as I do these other things.

Action follows intention. That’s my mantra. Along with the party metaphor and the fashion first and the politics of attraction. Ask me if I’m having fun, if my life is exciting. To me, it is. I can’t imagine a richer life, a more stimulating set of challenges. It’s hard too, especially financially. I don’t have it all together. I live with a great deal of stress, all self-imposed one could argue. I don’t take care of myself as well as I could, wanting to make a difference and use my talents to help others, on a grander scale, while I don’t often do the self-care part as well. I have a daughter that’s 8. I need to pay attention, be a stable mom who delivers for her child. I’m improving, slowly. It’s a process, like learning to shut my mouth. Action follows intention. My intention is to continue doing all I do, but now, get properly paid for it. Up to now, I’ve volunteered for much of it, by choice, but also, often, by the uncertainty of knowing how I would find a way to pay myself that felt right, that felt ethically okay. When the funds for fighting AIDS are limited, I have done the right thing, I think: I’ve given it to those who need it more. But I’ve also impoverished myself a lot in the doing, which, if you think historically as I often do, is okay too: it’s another corrective, one that balances the generations of white people who impoverished others. While I sometimes feel fine about being part of a historical corrective, I also know that this self-sacrifice cloak I can wear gets awfully thin when reality hits and I have to pay my rent and I feel afraid, as I have often these past years, of how I’m going to pull a hat-trick, as I think of it, and find the money in time. I have been borrowing too much of late and now, I’ve decided to end that. I’ve done enough for the moment, in Rwanda, in this movement, to take it back a notch, find some way to include myself in the basket of plenty so I can continue being of service to myself, my child as well as this thing I call the AIDS movement to save women and girls.

Just another quick note on this before I take a break. Next I’ll write about Kigali, ‘cuz a lot happened there. I feel like Proust writing this journal- so much happening in a single day that it takes pages to describe. But that’s what it feels like: many big things happening every day, many worth documenting. So I’ll keep going, shark-like.
But first that note and then another break soon to get some refill coffee: I was going to say that I know a part of the problem is that it’s hard to champion yourself, your own life, when your reality is so much easier, richer, better-resourced than others, than the people you are hoping to assist, since they have asked you, pleaded with you often. This is something I have to say is true: it’s not so easy, when the funds are so limited, to push yourself first, when you know what that money can do for another, elsewhere, who is in such dire straits. So when I get down on myself, as I am prone to do, about my choices, when I feel like I am hurting myself too much by cutting it too close, I try to forgive myself, to recognize that it really isn’t as easy as I think it should be, to choose to put oneself first, when one has the opportunity and I often feel, and also the responsibility that comes with knowledge, to help another in serious pain. Voila. That’s it. There’s no end to human suffering, it is true, but when that suffering person has come into one’s heart, into one’s mind, it’s not easy either to ignore them. At least not for me. I have no illusions about saving the whole world, but I have to tell you here: it’s possible to do good, a lot of it, and it feels good and it is good, very good, to live in service of others. But not to the extent that you are become as suffering as another, in your own way, your own context. I would rather find the way to help and not hurt myself too much in doing so. Some deprivation, yes. That’s normal, that’s part of activism, of committing to a cause maybe. So that is my new mantra. A combo of self-care and making sure to pay the bills thrown into the mix of doing good, committing and making sure one has fun. It’s necessary, if I want to keep doing this movement work. I have no choice either. No one is coming to my rescue, but me. So – that’s a side note, but you’ll see, it will be a current of this journal.
I’m not special: so many people in this AIDS movement, at all levels, feel as I do. The fact is, there’s a global epidemic threatening us, not something abstract. It’s as Al Gore says: the icebergs are melting. Now is the time act, and urgently. That means acting even when one’s own life may not be all together, when the rent isn’t quite paid or you haven’t taken the time to update one’s resume to secure a more stable job. All that must happen but it’s not easy. There really is a global threat to women, to our future, from AIDS. And what we do now will make a difference. What I do now can, does, could make some difference. I know it; I can’t pretend to deny it. There’s plenty of personal evidence to show me that this is true. With more resources and less stress, I could also do more, possibly. So I have that slide in my head too. I have no illusions about it. I carry the proof of my actions with me, lot of evidence of the fact that, if I act, there is a significant change I can help to engender. And if I act with others, there’s much greater power. If I create tools like PulseWire, many more people can join the party overnight. That is a very powerful piece of knowledge. That is what informs my decision-making, on a given day. If I act, I may do something that moves something else forward. If I don’t, it may not happen. It might, someone else might, but maybe not, maybe not as I will, or in the time I think it needs to happen. And so the battle takes place in my head, how to prioritize my actions, and take care of myself as I work with others on the larger collective fight. Still, I have my priorities clear: must pay rent is one of them. Must keep daughter front and center. Must take time to smell the roses, be present for my family, friends. And I do. It’s been rather off-balance, with my work taking precedent often, but I do. And since I’m bringing my friends along for the ride, that makes it easier, too.

On to Kigali now…

GOD this was a long entry.. or series of entries. Note to self: make it shorter, or drink less coffee, if I exepct anyone to read these massive word and thought-dumps.

Onward!

Maria Jett's picture

best practices for journal entries

HI there AC, just noticing all your great material here and i thought I'd give you a few pointers for increasing the visibility and effectiveness of your posts.

What you've got going here is a number of different entries published as one entry plus a lot of comments on that same entry. Since only the main entries are going to come up as titles (see your member profile for an example!), I believe you'd be much better off entering your various chronicles as separate entries rather than as comments on your own entry. (To do this, select the "Post to my Journal" button repeatedly.)

This technique also works best way for developing conversations if you single entries and let other people comment on them. Then you can read their comments and respond to those and thusly develops the thread. Reading this much at once is going to be VERY overwhelming for folks.

So, for example: "ACDs New Journal: AIDS and the Future of Women - Chronicle of a Movement" sounds to me like the title of your entire PulseWire journal. If it is the title of your journal, you should go to your member profile and name your journal just that. If it is the title of just one entry, you may want to consider making future entry titles more specific to aide readers.

The site help feature will be up within the next few days so you'll be less in the dark!

Cheers :)

maria

Maria Jett, PulseWire's Online Community Director

KKMelodyCharlene's picture

Inspired

I am inspired by all of the work and travel you have put in. I am at a turning point in my life with regard to humanitarian efforts. I aspire to chronicle my journey half as dilligently as you!

I work in Education and am especially passionate about females in Afganistan. I know you are probably thinking...another reader, on the heels of Kiterunner, but I actually picked up A Thousand Splendid "sons" first, that is, S-O-N-S not S-U-N-S. It was Nola who moved me. It wasn't until later that I read Kiterunner and than Three Cups of Tea. Nonetheless, there is desperate need in that region and I feel so helpless here in Portland. I am the advisor for the Foreign Exchange Club at the high school I work at. We are trying to decide on a project or fundraiser at the moment. It all seems so small compared to the magnitude and complexity of the problem.

Thanks for taking the time to listen. I know your cause is HIV. However your PDX, right??? that is comforting to me;)

-Melody

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