As AIDS 2012 starts to draw to a close, I start to reflect back on my experiences this week and the one place of the conference which sticks out in my mind is the Global Village. It is an enormous space, filled with people, language, culture, and connection. It’s the place where our communities come together and network with each other. It’s where we connect; we recharge our emotional batteries, and learn together about how we are all fighting across the globe to bring about changes in this epidemic. The Global Village is a space filled with booths and exhibits and vendors from around the globe. There are also some stages where performances would be happening at all hours of the day by groups and artists from every corner of the world. It was truly an overwhelming experience to come down there for the first time during this conference and find that the whole world had converged upon one large room to share ideas and learn from one another.
Walking up and down the aisles of booths which looked almost unending, I was astonished to find people from every country and continent giving out information on their organizations, selling or displaying local wares and crafts, and conversing in the networking zones around the room. There were numerous beautiful pieces of jewelry and art from across Africa, a full-size teepee in the Native/Indigenous Networking Zone, and many booths giving away little items from their organization, such as pins, stickers, pens, and such. The variety and amount of information about different organizations from across the globe was mind-baffling. Each night when I’d return to the hotel, I would find my bag full of goodies to be read over and new approaches to care to consider and bring up to my own community here in the U.S.
Perhaps, my favorite part of the Global Village was the networking zones that could be found on any number of topics, although I must admit the Women’s Networking Zone, the Human Rights Networking Zone and the Youth Pavilion were among my favorites. It was in these zones that I could connect and converse with members of my community from across the globe in an informal way. There was no pressure to present information to your colleagues, yet our conversations inevitably turned to the subject of HIV and our work in fighting this disease. The Youth Pavilion was especially moving for me because it offered the opportunity for young HIV+ people to hang out and socialize, while also offering sessions which addressed the needs of our community of HIV+ people under 30.
I found myself retreating to the Global Village quite frequently during my free time, because there was always something interesting going on – from the gospel choirs, to drag shows, to film screenings, the Global Village really was where much of the action at AIDS 2012 was happening. Yet as the conference went on, I would stop in sessions where the scientific information was simply above my understanding. I would go back to the Global Village, visit with people in the lounges and discuss what I’d experienced in my sessions. Our discussions would be a chance for a more in-depth discussion and examination of what it was really being discussed by the scientists surrounding us.
Although I often wished there was more clarity in the scientific sessions, in terms of offering better simplified explanations as to what the session will cover, I can understand that the scientists in attendance do need things presented to them in a format with which they’re comfortable. Yet it seems a bit of a shame to me that at an event like this there’s still such barriers in getting HIV+ people into the room with the scientists, researchers, and doctors whose very livelihood is intertwined with treating this disease while searching for its cure. To continue to separate us from our providers only furthers the uphill battle that many HIV+ people, especially women, face when trying to expand their education about HIV.
The Global Village at AIDS 2012 will be closed by the time you read these words, and the space cleared and empty. The booths will be taken apart, the pamphlets packed up to be taken home. The stages taken down, the artwork removed from the walls. Though the space will soon be blank, and ready for the next conference to take over, perhaps the spirit of the HIV movement – this sense of urgency to bring about change, and promote the health and life of HIV+ people – will remain in the space along with the people of Washington, D.C. I sincerely hope that the positive energy generated by the thousands of people in attendance at the conference will flow out from D.C. and turn the tide of this epidemic.