From "The Memoirs, Volume Two" - Fall, 1992




            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 give hundreds.




            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!”


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            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 do know.

            "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 noticeable.


            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 agreement.

            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.



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