November 15, 2010
For our World AIDS Day 2010 section, we wanted to capture the diversity of the AIDS community. So, we reached out to people across the world -- mostly those who have never written for us before -- and asked them to guest blog. These columns are written by people who are living with HIV, have been affected by HIV, or work in the field.
Not exactly -- in fact I don't even watch TV! I guess I am not missing a lot, right? What I meant is: Before this year, World AIDS Day for me was something black and white -- it was similar to watching a TV that has no colors.
I perceived it as a day for Africans. This was pretty much my entire connection to AIDS and World AIDS Day -- I used to view it as a day to distribute food to frail Africans with AIDS who were lying on their iron beds looking at the cameras while the I.V. fluid tubes crossed over their faces. This whole day didn't reserve more than a few brain cells in me. World AIDS Day was not my day by any means. Not even in my wildest dreams -- and wow, if you knew how wild my dreams could get -- had I had ever imagined that at this point, this day would mean something for me.
This year I am happy that I've started to see this day in colors -- it's just like switching from a black-and-white TV to a colored one. Today I understand that this day is more than just the black Africa day! Even though Africa still represents the biggest portion of the epidemic, I see now the full range of colors representing the many nationalities that are concerned with this issue, and my nation is one of them.
But I don't want to be too optimistic. It's not all about victory. This is a day to remember those who died and are still dying because of this illness. It's a day to recognize our defeat in some of the battles against a VIRUS -- whether in the poorest Sub-Saharan African areas or in the capital of the richest country in the world: Washington, D.C. The lives we lost in these areas are a sign of battles lost on many fronts against a tiny weak virus. Just like in any good army, the soldiers always die courageously; the fault is the governments' and policy makers' who failed in facing this virus due to lack of proper allocation of resources in most of the cases.
And since I am getting more into politics, let me say that I rarely admire something a politician says. I'm allergic to most politicians and towards everything they do and say -- yet I have to quote the great phrase of Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon:
"Whatever our role in life, wherever we may live, in some way or another, we all live with HIV. We are all affected by it. We all need to take responsibility for the response."
Thinking about this makes me say: Whoa -- a politician and right! This is more impressive than the fact that his words are so accurate: We must stop looking at this virus as an individual issue. This virus is a community issue and as long as we are part of a community -- any community -- then we are affected by it, whether it's an LGBT community or an African community or a Muslim community. We have to face it: The virus is out there. But the question is, where are we?!
A year ago I thought I'd become different, and I would be the lonely wolf when it comes to HIV. I always enjoyed being the Alpha male, but you need a herd to be one, and with my feeling of loneliness, my self-esteem went down as well. After searching and educating myself about the HIV/AIDS issue, I learned a lot -- and I became stronger in facing HIV. Then I decided to go out and share what I learned in that period. There was a lot to learn from, and I needed to share it, so I started writing for this site.
Then all the e-mails started bombarding me, especially in the first days. In the beginning, I thought each person who reached out would have a different level of black-colored sadness. I couldn't imagine the wide spectrum of the issue. Soon I discovered that they were each colored in a different way: They carried the colors of Asian tigers, African safaris, Caribbean oceans and European mountains. I finally discovered that they all actually are the same: a bunch of rainbows! And this is what World AIDS Day has become to me.
On Worlds AIDS Day I will observe the Arab and Muslim media, trying to monitor every program and article they have, to see if they are addressing the issue properly. When it comes to this I understand how important this day is, in bringing the topic of HIV to the headlines so that people understand it's still out there.
On a more personal level: I should really celebrate this day -- being happy that I am winning the fight against the virus inside me and keeping it away from celebrating this day in its own way: by turning into the dragon of AIDS and ending me. On this day I shall celebrate the defeat of the virus in this battle and I shall nuke it again with my pill.
And as the virus keeps trying to take the opportunity to celebrate Worlds AIDS Day in its own way, I keep saying: No, this is a celebration that shall remain in my own way! A celebration of your defeat by me!
I wonder how I would celebrate this day 10 years from now. Would I celebrate the fact that medicine became so good that I mark it by taking my one yearly pill only? Or maybe I will mark it by celebrating a memory of an illness that was eradicated! After all, I still pray that one day there will be a cure, with God's willing -- or as we say in Arabic, Inshallah.
Well, one thing is for sure: I am not celebrating it as lonely as I used to be before, and this is what matters.
Ibrahim is a professional Muslim man from the Middle East, living in the U.S.
Read more of A Poz Salam, Ibrahim's blog, on TheBody.com.