Sunday, July 24, 2016

Durban, South Africa

Durban - 2016 AIDS Conference

We arrived at Durban's King Shaka Int'l Airport ready for a week long AIDS Conference. It was a half hour shuttle drive to get to our hotel, Durban Manor, located in the heart of the city. It looked fabulous from the outside.

Inside, however, it showed its age. The hotel hadn't seen a lot of maintenance and renovation.

Diane and I were the sole patrons of its bar on this evening.

But one could easily see that once upon a time, it had been quite a regal place.

The view from our hotel room was not what we had gotten used to but it wasn't bad either.

We were in Durban to volunteer for the 2016 AIDS Conference, attended by over 18,000 delegates world wide and 1,000 volunteers (mostly from South Africa).

Condom usage was heavily promoted at the conference. 

Brazilian artist, Adriana Bertini, showed off her splendid dresses made of condoms. One of the dresses was made with over 2,200 condoms. One of my assignments as a volunteer was to guard them (people loved to come over and touch them - a no-no).

Diane hanging out with the AIDS virus. Diane was a supervisor volunteer. When I signed in at the volunteer desk, the person there said to me "Your supervisor is a Diane Glaser - you may know her." I said "Yes, she's my supervisor in real life too."

The conference had lots of spontaneous (peaceful) demonstrations.

The young lady below was promoting condom use. Hard to mistake the message.

All types of folks within the ranks of LGBTQI were represented at the conference, as well as sex workers. Below, a display seemed to question the sincerity of South African legislators to protect sex workers. 

Among the celebrities that showed up were Prince Harry, Bill Gates, Charlize Theron and Sir Elton John (whose foundation gave away $10 million dollars in support of AIDS research).

The conference had a "world market place" where booths sold handicrafts from various African countries.    

There were many "networking" areas for specific groups of individuals.

One day, while Diane and I were walking from our hotel to the conference, a lady (below) approached us. She simply wanted to tell her story of when she was diagnosed with HIV and got very ill - while at the same time her husband accused her of getting HIV while he professed to be free of the virus. The implication, of course, was that she had been unfaithful in their relationship.

As it turns out, she received treatment and her HIV is now well controlled through medication. Her husband eventually became very ill and died from complications of AIDS. She found out later, that he had known all along he was HIV positive and was the one who infected her. 

But today she's happy and healthy and simply wants to share her story, a story not unfamiliar to South African women.

During the conference I got a chance to go on a field trip to one of the clinics that North Star Alliance has in a number of countries in Africa. The clinics offer HIV testing and medication to truckers and sex workers. All the clinics are located at truck stops. 

There are two primary ways the HIV virus spreads in Africa: truckers and "blessers". The truckers get stuck at certain crossings, where they may be for several days. It is during this time, that prostitutes come over to service them. Up until now, the use of condoms was not promoted and the stigma to being tested for HIV was a powerful deterrent. That all has changed today.

Blessers are the other way that HIV is spread. Blessers are older men who "bless" young girls (often poor), with money and gifts and expect sex in return. In South Africa alone, each week about 2,000 women between the ages of 15 and 24 contract HIV!

One of the mornings, I took a walk to the Durban Botanical garden. It's right in the middle of the city and is a real gem.

Below is the "fever tree". Because of its yellow colored bark, people originally thought it caused fever. Come to find out, the bark actually helps people that have fevers.

The succulent below is one of the many varieties displayed in the garden.

I really appreciated the intricate brick work on this wall. It just needs a BBQ pit in front of it.

The weaver birds and their cute bowl-shaped nests seemed to thrive near the park's small lake.

On my walk back to the hotel, I walked through the city's more gritty areas. This was okay during daylight but was not advised after dark. At night we were even told to take a taxi, when we all we had to do was go two blocks. 

African women are really good at balancing things on their head.

Street vendors sell all sorts of eatables.

I came upon this unusual "voodoo-ish" scene that was being staged right adjacent to a tent set up to test people for HIV. It was an interesting contrast that may have been staged to show what works and what doesn't work in the fight against AIDS.

The city of Durban has lots of visual contrasts when it comes to architecture. There are tent vendors in front of brand new buildings.

The are old colonial styled buildings such as the city hall.

Contrasting those buildings are modern ones such as the ABSA headquarters, with a sprawling shopping mall underneath.

Sprinkle in a beautiful mosque among the architectural styles, and you pretty much sum up Durban.

Moms carry around their babies strapped to their backs. By the looks of it the babies seem quite content.

There are numerous places to get your hair done. I noticed a number promoted ways to straighten hair or braid it.

Her braids took twelve hours to do (but they last two months).

The KFC brand is ubiquitous in Durban (as well as many other cities in South Africa). There seems to be one of every corner.

After nearly a week in Durban and at the AIDS conference, it was time to leave. Next stop, Amsterdam. Although we didn't find Durban to be that attractive of a city, the experience had been very special. We had met so many interesting, committed and passionate people.