Saturday, Aug. 9, 2008 — 2:29 p.m.: The Nigerians sitting behind me on the early morning bus ride to Centro Banamex passionately debated human rights for commercial sex workers and men who have sex with men.
Others on the bus shuffled papers and thumbed the program book in preparation for their long day ahead.
Today is my last day in Mexico City, and I'm tired and filled with emotions.
Navigating the cavernous convention center among 25,000 conference participants, exhibitors, presenters, media and volunteers takes its toll. It's constant noise, people, lines, and information overload. The trip alone to and from the center, covering a distance of approximately six miles, is an hour-long journey each way through bottleneck traffic.
But this cacophony of languages, people and perspectives from across the globe feeds one's activist spirit. The global village, a giant tent-city erected in the middle of a horse-racing track, is a virtual temple to diversity and empowerment. Here, those of us most shunned by society and thereby disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic, find a home among comrades, allies and supporters.
During a recent visit, hundreds marched for human rights through the village's narrow passages adorned with AIDS-related artwork, photographs and living murals. The crowd culminated in a rally in the village's giant amphitheater where young organizers led chants in English and Spanish between remarks from the likes of Peter Piot, UNAIDS executive director, and former Irish President Mary Robinson.
Among the hundreds of booths and semi-private meeting spaces, affinity groups as diverse as Latino gay men, sex workers and African women living with HIVengage in workshops, art projects and video screenings. The village is also a global marketplace for hand-made jewelry, posters and AIDS-related T-shirts.
Where else in the world can you hang out with transgender AIDS activists from India, former drug users from Russia, homeless advocates from Mexico and gay male organizers from Spain?
For so many attendees—especially people living with HIV—the world ought to be more like this: A place where people living with HIV are seen and heard and respected. Where government officials and exhibitors alike recognize—or at least speak to—individual rights and human needs for health, housing, support services, legal recognition, dignity, and respect. Where knowledge, dialogue, strategy and debate—all aimed at making the world a better place—act as their own currency.
So it's with some sorrow I leave this space behind. And though I long for a day when such conferences are no longer needed, such spaces have a role in ending xenophobia, racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia and the other forms of prejudice that hurt the mind, body and spirit as deeply as HIV/AIDS.
Leaving Mexico City, I'm reminded of the millions of faithful who travel here from all over the world to visit the shrine of this nation's patron saint, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Much like her pilgrims, we came in search of healing and inspiration. We hope the burdens of our path are lessened from having made the journey.
Read the entire blog at www.aids2008.com/blog/40 .