23 November 2008

A Life Worth Living

As of two weeks ago, I had met one person with HIV/AIDS in my entire life. He was a habitual drug user who contracted AIDS through intravenous drug use, and I was one of the few people he told about his disease. I tried to support him, to be there for him, but I had no idea what to do. When his roommates found out he was HIV+, they kicked him out of their apartment, and within a week, he dropped out of school and started abusing drugs and alcohol even more intensely.

If he was going to die anyway, “what was life worth,” he told me one night while he anxiously puffed a cigarette. I tried to console him, to tell him that every day was worth living, but honestly, I had no clue how long someone with HIV/AIDS could even survive. TV campaigns with emaciated African children dying in overcrowded orphanages were the only human images of AIDS I’d ever seen. I couldn’t help wondering what would stop him from experiencing the same excruciating reality.

A year has passed since I saw him, but in the last two weeks I’ve spent working with TNP+, I have met dozens of people living with HIV/AIDS, and they’re not dying in a hospital bed. They’re living, working, falling in love, and raising families.
TNP+ member P’Gaw, a tall and muscular rice farmer, told me that when he was diagnosed HIV+ four years ago, he didn’t want to live, just like my friend from home. Only a year before being diagnosed, he watched his first wife die of AIDS. When P’Gaw found out he was HIV+, he hid in his house for months, depressed and afraid, until a female TNP+ volunteer P’Sasi visited him.

P’Sasi, a petite spitfire nicknamed for her sassy personality, is not HIV+, but has counseled HIV/AIDS patients for years. Perhaps P’Sasi knew the exact words to lift P’Gaw’s spirit, but I suspect her joyful smile did the trick. Within a year of her first visit, P’Gaw and P’Sasi were engaged and married. Now, four years later, P’Gaw is the Vice President of the Northeastern TNP+ network.

P’Gaw, P’Sasi, and countless other TNP+ volunteers have not only destroyed my misperceptions about HIV/AIDS, but also have taught me about selfless service and the human spirit. Today I know that PLWHA can live normal lives if they receive adequate medical care. Until P’Gaw told me he was HIV+, I didn’t even know he had the disease. He looks just like any other normal, healthy Thai rice farmer, tanned from working long hours in the sun. The only “abnormal” thing about P’Gaw is that he devotes his life to helping others without asking anything in return.

If I had met P’Gaw a year ago, I would have known what to tell my friend from home: that his life was absolutely worth living, and that HIV/AIDS didn’t have to stop him from finishing school, getting a job, or falling in love. I would tell that if he could find the will to live, he could live the worthiest of lives: one dedicated to helping others just like him.

Alex Robinson - Davidson College

4 comments:

Danielle Litt said...

Your post is very powerful and I think that it is great that you made the connection between someone you know in the US and someone you met from abroad. This semester I am studying in Cuernavaca Mexico on the "Crossing borders" program. We spend a lot of time speaking not only of the physical border between the US and Mexico but about other types of borders. We then, just as you did, try to make connections between the two different countries. As our program is coming to a close we hope to bring these connections with us back to the US. Thank you for sharing what you have observed with us, this is something I hope we both do when we return to the US.

Wes Mills said...

Alex, you are so right about the stigma HIV/AIDS victims have around the world. They are treated as lepers or someone dangerous to society. Its hard because so many people are ignorant to the actual situation with AIDS. You have an amazing testimony through what you saw. People in the states really need to experience what you did so no more people go down the same route as your friend from home.
I hope you can help your friend when you return home.

Anonymous said...

Alex,
I am glad you chose to write about these issues in your blog. I was especially stuck by your experiences with U.S sponsored commmercials of "emaciated African children" dying in orphanages. This depiction of Africa as a monolithic diseased continent makes me sick. The ways in which bodies of color are sensationalized and paralyzed by interpretations of disease is part of the continued perpetuation of AIDS-phobia that unfortunately manifests itself more and more on the bodies of people of color. Women of Color are the growing population affected by HIV and AIDS in the U.S. I don't think it's a coincidence that pharmaceutical companies can privatize medicine therefore making it more difficult for lower income folks to access proper healthcare. I think the AIDS epidemic is intrinsically linked to the ways in which racism has permeated the globe.
I think it's important to continue sharing stories of AIDS survivors and the activism that exists for HIV/AIDS prevention. The work of AIDS survivors is crucial not only for raising awareness but also for the activist community as a whole.
- Tannia CGE Cuernavaca, Mexico

sara.saavedra said...

Alex,
As I read your blog, also having experienced an exchange with a successful victim; I have to admit that as far as I remember in school I was always taught that AIDS was the worst disease that one could get. I was brainwashed to believe that AIDS/HIV victims are basically in a death sentence. I really pitied all the many children in Africa and even not to mention all the children as well in the States who are HIV positive. I remember watching a documentary on a young teen that contracted AIDS through Thailand’s sex industry. The documentary depicts her pain and agony in an indescribable manner. After having an exchange with a woman that is HIV positive and seeing her joy in life and happiness I realized that AIDS is something that people can now live through. This woman is a strong and diligent worker on her parents’ farm. She exercises everyday and more inspiring she married a man who didn’t care about her medical situation he married her because he loves her character. He says that he doesn’t care if he gets the disease because he has love which prevails. It was very inspiring to hear a victim and her husband overcome and prevail over all the present day stigmas of AIDS. If only this was contagious happiness could transfuse the world to all the victims of AIDS there would be a reason to live life just like you said.