Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Growing Up Ghana

I think it's safe to say I've grown a lot in Ghana - grown up, grown out, grown loud(er) - because Ghana offers me something new to learn every day (and, mostly, I learn about myself). Though the entire experience has been incredible, I think I've managed to learn the most in the last six months (every Sunday at two o'clock).

When it comes to our support group (I say 'our' because believe in community ownership), I think I've felt - and more than once - that I've learned much more from them than they have from me. Perhaps that's the nature of our relationship: fifty people have a lot more to teach than one. I consider myself lucky everytime I walk into a meeting and I find that they're all still there - ready to learn.

What once seemed a tiny smudge in the distance, our positive living workshop arrived with theatrical flair and triumph - I can call it nothing less than a success. As I sat there, watching twenty-two people become more and more enthusiastic, brighter and brighter each day, - their auras, their comfort level expanding and becoming visible to the naked eye - I realized how grateful I was to have finally offered them something in return for their faith in me. It's not often one has the opportunity to impart true, life-changing knowledge onto a group of people (let alone a group of adults) and, though I only really take credit in the workshop's general organization, it was amazing to be a part of something so integral to their lives.

I, undoubtedly, had the easiest job in the room: I sat, listening with the other group members, occasionally chiming in, while our facilitators, imported from Accra, managed to do everything I'd been trying to do in the last six months in three days. It was amazing. And it gave me the chance to get to know twenty-two people in a way I couldn't have achieved with a group of fifty, even if we'd met every other day. I was finally able to hear their stories; twenty-two people opening fold by fold, like flowers in bloom that I hope will never close again.

I think they were genuinely happy, surprised even, by everything they learned - inspired by both Edem and Gifty to live loudly, proudly, and forever positive. Because, after all, having HIV is just another state of being - a fragile state of being, yes, but a state of being, nonetheless. We growled at injustice, we laughed in the face of ignorance, we cried at tragedy, and we reveled in the fact that life is always still worth living. And I'm so proud of each and every one of them, ready to go into the world and impart their knowledge - educate so that their lives and the lives of other's may improve, educate so that we may beat HIV, so that we may beat the more dangerous diseases of discrimination, hate, and miseducation.

Our meeting this Sunday will be their first challenge: a challenge to infect others with positive energy, to take responsibility as peer leaders (and to realize their potential in the face of what some would consider an end, rather than a beginning). I have so much faith in them; Sunday cannot come soon enough.

"I want you to give your virus a name," Gifty said, "and I want you to speak to it. I want to to welcome it into your body," pausing for Joe's translation, "then I want you to set some ground rules. Trust me: your virus will listen. And then," she says, smiling a secret smile, "I want you to listen. I want you to ask your virus why it came to you and I want you to listen to what it has to say. I promise you," she levels a finger at her audience, "that it will answer ... if you listen well enough. It will."
Because, she explained, that the only way to live with the virus is to be at harmony with its existence, to accept its interference, and come to a compromise. "It's not a cure," she later enforced, "there is no cure, but there is life with HIV."

She called her virus 'Little Dragon," and when she spoke to it, Little Dragon told her to go out into the world and teach, to fight, and to live. If you think, as someone not living with HIV, I have nothing to learn from this, you'd be wrong. In fact, we all have something to learn from Gifty. Though it may not be as daunting as HIV, we all have Little Dragons, demons that weigh us down, and if you sit there in dejection - if you allow your Little Dragon to possess you, steal the fire in your heart for its own - then you are letting your Little Dragon win.

And so I left with a fire in my heart, hands entwined with my own Little Dragon, waiting to unleash twenty-two newly inspired, positively loud group members onto a world that will - eventually - accept them, wholly, for who they are. And, despite having reservations about publically declaring their status, I believe that each of them walked away as PLWHA. Loud and proud. Positive in every aspect of the word.

What's not to be inspired about that?