Posts Tagged ‘HIV’

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Jonathan: Preparing for India

January 16, 2011

I left the United States for Israel on 1 January 2011, welcoming in the New Year with a sense of adventure. The week before I departed, the anxiety began to rise: I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had been working on this trip for eight months with meticulous precision, paying attention to every detail. And yet, as the date of initial departure drew nearer, I felt lost. It seemed that everyone had a piece of advice for me, usually utilizing a combination of the words “Giardia,” “thieves,” “colorful,” and “Monsoon Wedding.” All advice was well meaning, but I found it isolating, always prefaced with “I’ve never been to India but my friend’s friend said that…”  I threw myself into my books, reading all day trying to find some sort of truth about the experience I was going to embark on. Instead I found a fascinating assortment of paradigms that simplified my struggle in their complexity, yet did little to actually calm my nerves. To make matters worse, I had not thought about my two weeks in Israel at all. I knew I was attending Habonim Dror’s seminar, and that I would be staying with my grandparents, but the rest seemed hazy. Israel, a substantial trip in of itself was merely a stop over. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep for days, and as I became more exhausted the anxiety only mounted. I was leaving my comfortable, if unfulfilling, existence in the United States for something unknown, challenging, and isolating.

Today, as I sit looking out the window at suburban Tel Aviv, I recognize that this half way point is essential. Gone are the sleepless schizoid nights, instead replaced with deep reflection. This trip to Israel has served an important role in its own right, allowing me to settle challenging questions about my ideology and identity that I’ve ignored for years now. But it too acted as a transitionary point between the politically correct culture of the United States with the unknown of India. It is in this context that I can truly reflect on the experiences to come.

The end of World War II in large part marks the beginning of an era of nationhood and the death of colonialism as physical occupation (I would argue colonialism is still alive and well, merely veiled under ‘globalized economics’).  India won independence in 1947 and has since risen to be known as the world’s largest democracy and the second largest country by population. Its neighbor to the northeast, China, has too seen a remarkable rise in power and global prominence, making them very important countries to watch as we enter into the second decade of the twenty first century. Given their vast size, together accounting for over a third of the world’s population, the ways they confront issues of global importance, from the enviornment to labor, becomes ever more pressing. As a student of Public Health, particularly HIV, I’ve become fascinated with looking at the ways that India, a nation not often associated with the disease yet deeply affected by it, has begun to confront the epidemic. But more on that in a few paragraphs.

In ‘the west,’ India has occupied a very particular place within our conception of the ‘developing world.’ It seems that Americans are profoundly unsure of how to feel about the country. We all know the story of Mohandas Ghandi, and often list him amongst our personal heros; yet, we too profoundly fear outsourcing. China has come to represent the loss of low-skilled manufacturing jobs to the ire of many in my native Midwest. India, on the other hand, appears more disturbing, for the perception is that the jobs shipped to there are typically replacing those of university graduates, the who tried to do the right thing by getting a degree. We as a nation seem unsure of how to address this far off land of over one billion, often settling for a mixture of jealousy, anger, and respect. But the characterization that interest me the most is that of ‘spiritual.’ At every turn in this process, people have wanted to talk about spirituality. How the Indians are, and I quote verbatim, “the most spiritual people in the world.” How they embody such wisdom in their teachings. How the land affects one’s soul. [Please, note the sarcasm.]  For a non-spiritual person such as myself, it has been exhausting. Yet, it is profoundly interesting. Yoga and meditation have become India’s least profitable but most discussed export, becoming in vogue and very fashionable for the American and European gentry. I find this characterization of India as the “über-spirit” as problematic in that it seems to paint a highly inaccurate picture of the country, and one that I feel is even damaging. Foremost, to paint India as spiritual ignores many of the cut-throat reality that occurs throughout the country. After all, the situation with Pakistan and Indian Muslims is anything but based in righteousness. Female infanticide, which occurs throughout much of India’s most traditional (read, spiritual) locales is not very righteous either. Bride-burning too lacks the piousness many in the ‘west’ attribute to the country.  Yes, India does have a well developed construct of Spiritualism, but it also has many of the vexing human rights dilemmas. The author Edward Luce writes in his book In Spite of the Gods, ”No visitor in India can fail to notice the juxtaposition of great human deprivation with its deeply religious culture. In India the sacred and the profane always seem to be liked.”  Second, it serves to create two India’s, that which we do our morning stretches to and that which we fear will consume us (or at least our paychecks).

I am asked frequently why I chose India for study abroad and not some more western country such as France or Switzerland. The answer lies hidden between the lines of the paragraph above. As many reading this know, I am a Social Work and Gender Studies student with a primary focus on HIV. My path is towards Public Health and Medicine, but more importantly with developing a critical understanding of the health disparities experiences by queer men in the United States. While the work I do in America is complex, it boils down to the simple thesis that the academic, professional, and activist community addressing queer health dispairities has profoundly lost touch with queer men themselves. In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, dramatic activism fought not just for justice, but also for the right type of justice. It told the CDC, the FDA, doctors, medical schools, and health educators not to moralize to queer men about their culture but to act in a way that integrated its rich complexity and diversity. Essentially, it demanded a culturally competent response. Most important, this was a community effort. HIV brought people together rather than drive them apart. Today, I and others argue, that HIV has undergone a ‘medicalization’ that funnels people away from each other into private clinic offices and focuses on HIV as an individual issue not a community problem. Rising rates of HIV indicate not that young queer men are irresponsible or uneducated, but instead that the messages we send out are so out of touch with their realities that they simply cannot hear them. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Haley: Internship update

October 28, 2010

Today I wake up and at this point have realized that sweating is just something I have to get used to… sleeping you sweat, brushing your teeth you sweat, eating a banana you sweat, typing as I write this blog I sweat… wew it is HOT! So blah, I walk to work and as I walk I also realize that for some reason, kids are taught to say “How are you!” when they see a white person. So along with being called a mazungu, I get bombarded with “How-are-you’s” on my walk to and from work. yeahhhh I attempted to talked back ONCE with a “I’m doing well, how are you?” Talk about a deer-in headlights look. When you respond they either look like they’re thinking “OH-Sh#@… she responded!” or they just laugh at you and follow. Soooo now I just respond in a different language and miraculously they lose interest in me.

So today at the hospital…. I get there on-time and waited… OH hold on I waited some more….  So I walk over to the office next door because the woman in that office just arrived (the same woman I did the Mwangalizi project with). So within minutes she had me follow her and I ended up talking to a large group of people who were helping out with the HIV group for children and we talked for about 30 minutes. They were FULL of questions about the United States and were curious about the status of HIV there. It was really great being able to talk to people who WANT to educate their community about such a serious virus.

Finally, my advisor woman arrives and just kind of looks at me like “Oh… you’re here?” She semi-explained my duties for the day that I was confused about (yet again), so naturally I go to the office next door and clear things up. Today I get to experience the different offices of the peads section of the hospital! I went through registration, where they register children who are considered “exposed” to HIV because their mom’s are possitive but the child’s status still remains unknown, and then there are the children who are HIV+ themselves. Then I went to the Triage department where they take the temperature and ask what is wrong essentially, and we also have to ask the moms if they knew they were HIV+ before or after they gave birth.

The next department I shadowed was the Nutrition department and we measured and weighed the children to check weather the child rests in an average zone on the z-score chart (AH-HAH!!!! I’ve FINALLY applied a math course above algebra to my job!!… and yes, I did a little freak out moment of joy when he talked Standard Deviations). This one boy came in with the LONGEST arms and legs. He was a little over two years old and unable to walk on his own: his mother couldn’t afford to feed him enough causing him to be malnursiehd giving him no strength to walk. So the Hospital provides them with ‘plumpy nut’ (peanut butter) to help. I moved from Nutrition to the Clinic where the people in there were essentially Physicians Assistants, they just altered the medications for the children based on the symptoms and reactions which turns into a trial and error procedure. The last Department I went in to observe was the Pharmacy and what an amazing way to end the day… it was FREEZING in there!

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