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Information saves lives
by Thanos Kalamidas
2006-12-02 10:48:16
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Sometimes it is easier to write about international peace than to write about an event that has touched you personally. Before I started writing this article, I spent quite a long time thinking about what I was going to write and then after having a quick look at the news agencies, the UN and other organizations I realized that all the information you need is there.

Their websites include all the scary numbers with which the media will bombard you for the next few days, so there is no reason for me to be another one who will coldly list numbers and statistics.

This year is almost twenty years since I lost two really good friends who coincidentally had exactly the same name. I don’t want to make an elegy for them since both were very happy and jolly men, and I’m sure that’s how they both want to be remembered.

One evening I had a sudden telephone call and I found myself in a hospital waiting room watching my friend through a small glass window. He was wearing an oxygen mask on his face and breathing with great difficulty, while purple marks had appeared on his neck. I had to admit that till that day HIV AIDS was something really serious that made me worry, but that day it actually invaded my life.

I never questioned the sexuality of my friends and it never bothered me. In fact, this certain friend was probably the first gay person who was so open with his sexuality often making jokes about it. He was an Orson Welles figure, a big man who was always wearing hats; he was definitely like Citizen Kane, with his long black coat and the hat.

He was an inspiring man, a poet and actor, plus the heart and soul in an experimental cultural magazine that we started a long time ago, which became the reason for me to know him. The co-editor of the magazine was his ‘treasure’ as he used to call him, and after the second issue he became part of the editorial team. He was never afraid of his sexuality and he was often provocative with people he could sense their homophobia. He was a real talent explaining poetry and he loved German poetry, actually he was the one who introduced me to it.

For just fifteen days we all watched him from that little window transforming from Welles into a skeleton. We all were there when he gave his last breath. In all my years I never saw anybody crying so much and mourning as his treasure; he was lost after our friend’s death. His death made me angry, first with him because he knew and he let it happened. Then with the entire world that could let it happen. I was the unlucky one to have to make the final goodbye and the only thing I could say clearly was sorry. Sorry because we understood him so little, sorry because we all knew but we didn’t remind him every day, every minute of his life, sorry we didn’t protect him.

And then just when I started recovering from my anger, another friend called me a few months later telling me that he wants to talk with me. In a very apocalyptic confession I found out the same moment that another friend was gay and that he had HIV AIDS. I never understood why he never told me earlier, and I’m still worrying what made him afraid to feel free. This second friend pointed to the biggest problem for AIDS victims: information. The worst enemy in his case was the fear of a homophobic society that quickly categorized the victims of HIV AIDS as only gay people ignoring the fact that we were all in danger.

Over the next few months I found out how far this lack of information was going. He used to be member of the gang, the one who was always first in all the sports and the fun and within one week he was welcome only in my house. Even his own family let him down. Suddenly everybody only saw the word ‘gay’ leaving the jolly, happy, educated person to totally disappear. It became somehow more dramatic for me because my then girlfriend asked me not to invite him again in the house. Amazing? No, that’s the reality most of these people had to live and …die with. Outcasts all their life, even during their own death the others were stealing their dignity.

A few months after he died we had the funeral. There were only four people and this time I actually said only one sorry for goodbye. I was sorry and still am that his last memory would be suffering alone. During his last days in the hospital, I refused to wear the plastic gloves, even though I knew it was mainly for his protection and not mine. At least his last memory could be a human hand and not a plastic glove.

For the next few days you will probably read and hear about whole nations dying from HIV AIDS and you will hear once more songs from Freddie Mercury, perhaps some organizations will make concerts and known celebrities will remind you that HIV AIDS is not something for a minor community but a global threat that has nothing to do anymore with the gays but with everybody.

You will probably be surprised to find out that the numbers in the west have increased instead of decreasing and you must understand that information and protection is everything. In the beginning everybody ignored the problem blaming the gay community and over the last few years everybody thinks that these things happen only in Africa.

HIV AIDS is here. It is not outside our door anymore but inside our house and we must stop it. Information and protection is the only solution if you don’t want to find yourself in front of a very young friend’s grave.

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Asa2006-12-02 09:48:45
A poignant piece of writing, Thanos.

Well done.

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