COMMON FRONT AGAINST AIDS
From "The Memoirs, Volume Two" -
Later at one of Nancy’s talks (I always
went along to run the slide projector), this nice-looking young guy
comes up afterwards and starts talking to Nancy and smiling a lot and it
turns out he is a nurse (male nurses are rare in Mexico), and used to do
AIDS work in the northern border town of Mexicali with a group there.
And did we need any help. Nancy says, well, come around and we’ll try
you out. Later she said, there’s your new speaker, Bill.
That’s how Paco Espinoza started giving
talks, first splitting them with Nancy and then on his own. He would
One of the first times that
Paco gave a talk on his own happened soon after in the little pueblo of
Zaachila, almost a suburb of Oaxaca only about fifteen kilometers out of
town, where we were to present our talk in the open town square to the
general public in the evening. A truck would come pick us up at the
Center and take us and return us. We would take our slides. There
would be electricity. Lilia had arranged it all.
Well, we asked if Boris
would like to accompany us and he said sure. So, it was me and Paco and
Boris, and we gathered at the Center and waited for the truck. Well, we
waited and waited and the truck never came and it was getting dark and
getting nearly past the time of the talk. I’m pacing. Just then Lilia,
along with her husband, comes zooming up in their big car and says,
“What happened? Where’s the truck?”
We tell her the truck’s not
come and she jumps out of the car and starts hailing at a passing cab.
She reaches into her purse and pulls out a wad of bills and says “Bill,
hurry!” She gave the cab driver instructions.
We went, the taxi obliging
with a hair-raising dash through the dark into the rolling countryside,
and arrived only a little bit late. There in this small town, sitting
in the dark, we found about 45 of the village elders, all men, the heads
of families, camposinos all, sitting in rows, silently staring straight
ahead. Yes, there was an electrical cord and electricity and we hooked
up the slide projector and Paco, of course, began to give his very
thorough talk. They all sat silently until the end.
Then Paco asked for
questions or comments from the crowd and at first nobody says a thing,
then this old guy slowly stands up and starts saying something about how
the strength of the Pueblo is in its people (!), and how they don’t need
anybody coming in here (!), and telling them what to do (!). Well,
immediately up jumps a whole bunch of other hombres and starts shushing
him and telling him to shut up and sit down! And then one of them
stands up real formal like and clears his throat.
“There is another virus
which is in the Pueblo!” he says and stands looking intensely at the
first old man. “It is the virus of ignorance in our Pueblo! (The
audience nodded solemnly.) And we thank you , Doctor (they always
called Paco, Doctor), for coming to our Pueblo! (More nodding.) And
for helping us to know about this sickness!” And he sat down.
The whole crowd nodded and
murmured their agreement.
We were given many
handshakes and thanks by all the men, for coming to their pueblo and
helping them to understand. In the end we piled into our waiting taxi
home as Boris poured the praise all over Paco, repeating, “¡Mucho éxito, Paco! ¡Mucho éxito!”
* * *
Shortly after the big,
successful, second annual AIDS Walk in March, with about eight hundred
people walking the now-famous “symbolic” ten kilometers, there came into
the Center a request for help, it wasn't clear what help, from a person
quite sick with AIDS, a woman and mother of three young kids. The
request had come from a third party, as is often the case, some kind of
social group, concerned with families. Well, I passed on the request to
a couple of our people, Mónica and such, but nobody could get through,
or keep the appointment or some such thing and it was a big mess and
finally I called Yolanda and said, look you got to help me out, contact
these people and see what goes.
So finally, she gets
through to them and goes to see them and sets up a plan to visit them
again and I guess it worked out OK. But in general, I was pretty upset
at the way we had handled the thing, wasting several days, in our
slowness. I remembered how sick people just sit by the clock, waiting,
counting the hours. One can't be five minutes late, or ten, when seeing
to their needs. DAYS we had stalled.
I was determined not to
repeat this mistake and when the next occasion came, I vowed to take the
initiative myself and get things rolling.
I didn't have long to wait.
A couple days later, I
happened past the office and Germán had just returned from a talk he had
given, speaking at a kindergarten school, to the teachers and staff. He
was writing out on the computer a report to me in which told the story
of what happened that day. It seems that after the talk, the principal
and the teachers of the school had confided to him that there was an HIV
possitive kid in the school and the teachers were freaking out. They
wanted to know what to do next. I thought, well, they did the right
thing first, they called us for a talk, and I felt good about that, at
least. I called the principal at her home that evening and made
arrangements to meet with her the next day. She said, come to the
school at noon.
The next day I went to the
kindergarten and met with the principal and the teacher of the kid.
They were both very cordial and appreciative of my visit. Soon they
were telling me their story. Seems one of their students' father had
died of AIDS some two or three years back. They said it had made the
papers and was a big scandal. Well, I could remember, before the Frente
was in operation there were lots of real negative stories in the press,
with photos and addresses and such and really horrid. That sort of
stuff has pretty much ended, thanks, I believe, in part to our steady
work with the press. But now, they continued, the mother is infected
with the virus and, they said, looking very thin and pale (later in the
conversation they pointed her out, there she goes, look. Well, she
didn't look too sick to me, but it was across the yard and a fleeting
glimpse). And the kid is HIV positive. With sores on his arms and
legs, they said.
Well, they continued, none
of this would have come to light except that, and here it gets
complicated, a good friend of the mother is the neighbor of the parents
of an other child in the school, and she, the friend (!) told these
neighbors all about it and the neighbors came running to the school to
tell the principal that the kid was infected and wanted to pull their
own kids out of the school.
It was at this point, they
slowly explained, that they had made their "grand error." And what was
that, I asked. Well, seems they contacted someone in the health
department, and they gave me his name, a doctor, and arranged to have
the kid's blood tested(!). Under the pretext of some survey or other,
they took blood from several kids and sent it off, this without the
permission of any parents or such. Well, I guess they threw away the
other kids' blood and tested the one kid's and it showed positive on the
Elisa test here in Oaxaca. It has since been sent to Mexico City for
confirmation by the Western Blot.
All this occurred without
telling either the kid or the mother, though I take it, there was a bit
of a row when the mother heard the kid's blood had been taken for
whatever reason and she made a big stink at the school. (With good
reason, said Nancy later.) Nor has there been any communication with
the mother about any of this. I guess the teachers don't know how to
bring it up and the mother is generally hostile at this point. What a
mess, I thought.
I tried to explain about
the risk to them and the other students, namely none, and about privacy,
which has been invaded, and about confidentiality, which has at least
not been broken.
"But it's very important no
one else hear about this, how many know?" I asked.
Only us, they said, the six
teachers, and the principal.
Well, yes, the two.
"How about your husbands,
do they know?" (All the teachers were women.)
Ah, well, yes they probably
"So, how many? There's 14
or 16, and the neighbors, there's two more, and their friends?"
At this point they wanted
me to see the kid. I said Look, I'm not a doctor and really can't say a
thing, but they had the need, I think, for some reassurance. So, under
some pretext or other, the kid and two little girls, who looked like
sisters, were brought into the principal's office and introduced. I
chatted with them awhile, not knowing what to say. Three sweet little
kids, the little boy I wanted to hug and hug. How could I tell anything?
He looked fine to me, a bit bewildered, and why not, he's probably been
stared at and poked and bled and what ever. And he's never been told,
well of course not, he wouldn't. He had a few scrapes and scratches on
him, what I figured most little boys have, and perhaps some slight skin
condition, I didn't know, maybe a mild eczema or such, but not
Finally the kids were lead
away and I turned to the principal and the teacher. Well, you have a
problem, I said. No one is supposed to know about this, and you can't
say you know, because how would you know, without having tested the kid,
which you're not supposed to have done. They nodded sadly their
Look, I said, let's have
the Frente Común give a talk for all the parents of all the kids, just a
regular talk about AIDS as we give in many different locales and, of
course, not mentioning anything to anybody about anything at all. And
that'll be a first step, letting the mother know that the school is
sensitive about AIDS and has a sane and compassionate attitude. That's
about all you can do. You can't approach the mother, nor ask her about
it nor tell her you know.
We made a date for the
following week and I took Yolanda along, she has two small kids and is a
good speaker. We gave a great talk in the patio in the open air with
our nice flip-chart to about 80 parents. I kept looking to see the mother but
couldn't remember much what she looked like. There were a couple of
possible candidates in the audience, but I don't think either of them
was the mother, and as I didn't get to speak with the principal
afterwards, I didn't know if she showed up or not, I kinda doubt it.
At least, she got a notice
from her kid that the school was having an AIDS talk and maybe she'll
take the step herself soon, to seek us out, or someone, to ask for some
help, some support. Maybe she already has, maybe she's fine. Maybe she
doesn't need a thing. I hope so, it's a tough call.
* * *
...NEXT: PART THREE