Wednesday, December 01, 2010

In honor of World AIDS Day...a look back

A look back to World AIDS Day 2006, when I was working at a township in South Africa... Entitled, "The Day I finally cried"

hello to all my loved ones out there! I started writing this last
week, when I was still up in Knsyna, but wasn't able to finish it.
It's weird how even one week later, outside of Knysna, the emotions
are less intense, the memories less vivid. I can only imagine what
will happen when I return to the US (in four days!). That's why I
haven't written until now also, because I'm squeezing all the time I
can here, putting closure on things, saying my goodbyes to people and
places....more on that later, first on World AIDS Day, or the day I
finally cried, or the day I call the culmination of my time here in
South Africa.

Yesterday, as all of you know, was World AIDS Day, and in many ways
felt like the culmination of my time here. For two reasons: First,
Beaty, the woman who I have become so close with ( whose sister died
of AIDS when I first met her in April, whose mother died of diabetes
one month later, who has become head of the household, of the soup
kitchen, who came with me to Toronto, who has the most beautiful
daughter, you've heard all this before), in any case, Beaty organized
and mc'ed the township's World AIDS Day event. As I filmed my friend
on stage, speaking passionately and from the heart, I felt such pride
and love. It has been an honor to have become friends with her, to
have seen her in both hard times and in times of hope, to be let into
her family, and to see her emerge as an AIDS activist in her community
and, well after the Toronto Conference, in the world. And in a place
where 30% of people are HIV positive, she is the only one who is open
about her status. Still, though she has many hardships she faces, she
remains hopeful, she has a sense of humour, and she finds her strength
in helping other people. I have never seen her so beautiful and so
powerful as on World AIDS Day, when she released 920 balloons into the
air, one for each person who dies of AIDS in South Africa every day.

I don't usually say statistics, but let me say these again (and as in
the US I know the war in Iraq is the main headliner rather than HIV,
let's remember how many people die in Iraq each day- about 100, which
is still terrible): BUT, 920 people DIE of AIDS in SOUTH AFRICA EVER

The number is still too large to grasp, and yet when I think of Beaty,
of Jennifer- of what a loss a family can face with the death of one becomes more real, more personal, it makes some sort of
sense rather than being lost as a statistic. I hope to somehow convey
that in a film, because I think other people are thirsty for a
different image of "victims of AIDS in Africa"- of people, not numbers
(interesting how "numb" starts "numbers", how we do become numb to

But back to the balloons. I was brought to tears as Mookie (Beaty's
family nickname) let the balloons go and said into the mic, "Let HIV
fly away from our communities, our country, and the world just as
these balloons fly away into the sky."

I have come to truly love this family, and it was very very sad to say
goodbye- how do you say goodbye to someone that you have come to love
and that you may never see again? All we could do was hug and cry.
Oh, and I got little Timmy a puppy named Thandi (meaning Love) to
remember me by, so that's something. ha. It was adorable though, but
not nearly as cute as Timmy, who also cried as I pulled away, somehow
knowing that this would be goodbye for a long time.

The second big reason why World AIDS Day was the culmination of my
time here is because of the short films that the kids at MADaboutART
made. I wasn't sure if we would be able to finish them in time, but
somehow the little geniuses pulled it off and we didn't have any major
technical gliches! We showed the films to about 200 community
children in the township town hall - one about stigma and
discrimnation against those living with HIV, the second about the
importance of not throwing trash int eh community, and the third about
a daughter who is raped by her father and not believed by her mother.
Though the kids chose the stigma and discrimination film as the winner
(because they had funnier characters, mainly Beaty's nephew/now son,
Ebby), the one about the incestuous rape was the one that made me cry.
Before we screened the films publicly, we were watching them at the
center and one of the kids' moms was around and crying because of the
films and by the kids, and who said what an impact they will make on
the community. I have to admit that though I call the kids my little
geniuses and have high expectations for them already- I too am blown
away by how the films turned out, and what type of reaction they are
already getting from people. The power behind these films isn't
dependent on which wins, but ont he process of it, of giving the kids
a voice, and as Beaty says even "if one parent stops and listens, it
is worth it." As i watch the kids watch the films over and over
again, and the older ones picking up editing, I am just so proud (the
films will be up later for all to see!).

A few days ago I met (through various connections) the founder of an
organization called Barefoot Workshops, that runs
film/editing/computer workshops for NGO's around the world and then
gives them the computer and tools to make their own short
documentaries- basically exactly what I loved about being at
MADaboutART. I told them how I would love to do what they do in five
years and the guy said "five years? why not six months?" They were
also blown away by the films that the kids made. One of the women
said to me (she met the kids a few days before at the National Art
Gallery showing of their Rainbow of Hope), "you've lit a spark in
them. It's very obvious how much you have impacted them." Tears came
to my eyes then.

In other news, I got interviewed randomly by BBC radio (also on NPR)
about race in Cape Town with my Kenyan housemate- I'll let you know
when it's broadcast. Also, the MTV film contest- of which Beaty,
Siphiwe, and I were a part of in the Toronto AIDS Conference- showed
across the world on World AIDS Day- did anyone see it?? I didn't but
a friend of mine here said she saw it and that they did end up using
my footage from Knysna!! So that will be great for my resume and is
validating, especially since I just found out that the film has
already won an award for Best Short Narrative! exciting things.

I have so much more to write, and will try to write before I head home
on Monday, about what it's been like to say goodbye, and to reflect on
an amazing, intense, life changing ten months. Until then, I'll be
dancing at two fo the best dj's in the country's shows in Cape Town- I
know I'll miss the dancing here, even as a white girl who has her own
funky dance!

Love to all! Thanks so everyone for writing me, for sending love, for
reading htis, and just for being in my life! I can't wait to hear
everyone's voices next week!