Monday, August 21, 2006

"I have been living with HIV for three years"

I sit beside my friend, breathing in, waiting to tell her the truth.
My palms are sweaty, my breath heavier. Inside my stomach I can feel
the knots turning, the fear rising up my throat. What will she say?
What will my parents say? How long will I live to have to face that
fear, the stigma?

These are the questions that ran through my character's mind for my
team's MTV 3-minute film, which you can view online at and click on "Legends"!!
No- to alleviate your fears- I am not HIV positive, but even just
playing a character who discloses her HIV status to her friends was a
powerful and important experience for me to have. Let me explain..

As many of you know, I am now in Toronto attending the International AIDS Conference, premiering the hero book film that I have been working on during my fellowship in South Africa, participating in an MTV 48 hour filmmaking contest, and following/supporting/hanging out with my friends from Nekkies, the township at the bottom of Africa, Beaty and Siphiwe. My first two days back in North America felt surprisingly more like a culture shock than I was expecting, both good and bad. The good- walking around feeling safe, especially at night, seeing my parents and aunt and uncle, the coffee, the free wireless internet…and the bads- remembering the culture of consumerism that exists, remembering how much money there is here in North America and feeling how unfair the world is…My first two days, until my parents got here, I actually spent most of my time in the hotel room!

And then on Saturday I premiered my hero book film at the Pre-Conference Symposium focused on children. I was nervous to show my 15 minute piece and yet eager to see how people would respond, if they would "get it." And I have to say, the premiere in my eyes was a "smashing success!" I actually could not have been happier with how people- most of them working in the field with children- responded to my film and to hero booking in general. As part of the hero booking
resource pack, there is one film by Stan Watts that is an animated, fictional character who goes through hero book making. Then we showed my film which features three kids who have made hero books (from MadAboutArt), what they put in their books and what they said about hero booking. Together, these two films showed both what hero booking
is and how beneficial and powerful a tool it can be for kids. I easily gave out the 25 DVD's of my film and how requests for more! After working on this film for months, overcoming my own fears of telling a story and especially of editing my own piece, it was so so validating and affirming to see how people responded. This was in many ways the purpose of my whole time in South Africa- to make a film for Jonathan about hero booking that he can use at conferences- and I can say it felt very useful and successful for that! We're still putting the final resource pack together but I hope that any and all of you can see my piece when it is all done, email me if you'd like a copy!

Even with this amazing start to the conference, the most powerful experience for me was participating in the MTV 48 hour film festival. Basically, 48 youth delegates from around the world got put into eight teams and in 48 hours had to write, film, and edit a three minute film on an HIV related topic. My team's topic was Myths related to HIV, which is a fun but broad topic. We decided on three main myths we wanted to debunk: 1)Showering after sex does not prevent HIV transmission…this was a direct response to South Africa's deputy president (like VP) Jacob Zuma who had unprotected sex with a young family friend who he knew was HIV positive but thought he was safe because he showered afterwards….2) showing the fact that 50% of new HIV infections occur amongst people under 25…and 3) the myth that HIV = death. For me this third one was the most personal because it feels like one of the most important ways that I have changed since my time in South Africa. In the US, we learn statistics, we learn of the epidemic and what a terrible toll it is taking on the most vulnerable populations. And it is terrible, especially when so much of it can be prevented.

But what we don't hear are the stories of hope, we don't see people living proudly with and despite HIV. For me, befriending and becoming closer and closer with Beaty, I am seeing this. There are so many hardships that she faces, even more than I could put in an email, and yet she remains hopeful, she is an inspiration to her community and to me. So when my team decided that I would be the one in this third myth scene to disclose my positive HIV status to a friend who just found out she too was HIV positive, there were so many issues that came to my mind. First, this could be seen by millions of young people on MTV's website and channels- and some may actually think that I was not acting (ha, it's even funny to put that since my acting was, well, let's just say I won't be needing an agent any time soon) and people may think I am HIV positive. At first I felt sacred and vulnerable about this, about "disclosing" my status. And then I thought- this is what Beaty is doing during my filming, but she is not acting. For me, to be in front of the camera and putting myself in that vulnerable situation was critical. Still, when the camera is off, I know I am not HIV positive, but it was important to taste the fear of the stigma that people face when they disclose.

Anyhow, I could go on and on. All 8 films showed at the MTV studios and though we did not win, I was proud of our film. I was most moved when- during my part when I say, "I am still here and I will be here for a long time," the audience started clapping in support (it was the only time they did this during all 8 films), which I can't say how wonderful that made me feel…not about my acting skills, but about the positive message we are trying to put out, that I want to put out both in that film and in a film I will make- that we can be positive about HIV…regardless of our status, in order to decrease the stigma so that more people get tested, so that more people find support, so that more people will talk about it, get educated, so that less people become infected…

Being in Toronto has been an amazing and affirming experience. I feel myself changing, both in my awareness about HIV and about the world. It reaffirmed my desire to use film to promote positive change (whether about HIV or other passions), and that the future is in short films that can be distributed on the internet, downloaded onto our ipods or phones…It brought me closer to Beaty and Siphiwe who, though they enjoyed the conference, also had a hard time being away from their community and their families. I find I have so much more to say and I'll send pictures as soon as I can, but maybe I'll stop here and send another email update from New York, where I will be August 21-28!!

I send my love and hope I didn't scare anyone too much by the title of my email, though perhaps it is good for each of us to challenge our own beliefs about HIV, who gets it, and why…


At 11:10 AM, Blogger AZZAI.COM said...

Hi! Greeting from Malaysia. Visit mine too and leave a comment please. If you want to link exchange or banner exchange we can do, give a message to me.

At 3:59 AM, Blogger Raphaela said...

Hi Maital! I´ve accidentally found your blog by google-ing the keyword "48Fest" and I just wanted to say hello :-) I really like your blog the way, I´ve made some entries in my own blog
I wish you a nice christmas time, greetings from Austria. Raphaela (purple team)


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