Sharp Solutions was very lucky to recently attend the 21st International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa. I was able to do this thanks to a full scholarship provided by the International AIDS Society (IAS). Although my own abstract to present at the main conference was not accepted - I did have the honour to support another colleague as a co-presenter in a 90 minute workshop session. There were also generous opportunities to present at the International Indigenous pre-conference which was organised by the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN) and the International Indigenous Working Group on HIV/AIDS (IIGWHA). Much to my surprise, I was also asked to present at the International Transgender Pre-Conference. It truly was a whirlwind of activity during my 10 days in Durban and there were many opportunities to learn.
The Indigenous Pre-Conference was organised in partnership with a local chapter of PRO.ME.TRA - an international group 'whose purpose is to preserve African traditional medicine, culture and indigenous science through research, education, advocacy and practice.' This meant that we were able to begin our conference and have support throughout of local traditional medicine people. Here is a part of the opening song.
This was just the beginning of an incredible, eye-opening week as we set up our Indigenous Networking Zone in the Global Village at the main AIDS conference. The Global Village is the portion of the conference that is open to the general public. It is a space where various groups and organisations have the opportunity to network and share information. Once again, we were generously supported by PRO.ME.TRA to create a wonderful space in the Global Village where we could gather and share our cultures not only with one another, but with whoever came by and were interested.
I spent some time with the Traditional Healers who were so generous with their time and teachings. What was remarkable was how much we had in common. We seemed to take turns amazing one another by sharing some tidbit of teachings or ceremony... only to have the other go wide-eyed and state... 'we do the same thing!' What stands out for me is that this was also my experience at the International Indigenous Pre-conference & AIDS Conference in Mexico City in 2008. We may do specific things differently, but the essence of the ceremonies is the same... to honour Mother Earth, to connect to spirit and the land, to connect to one another and to be healthy, whole human beings.
As human beings, we are often too focused on our differences - sometimes to the point of fear and irrationality... we fail to see that we are all part of the circle. The opportunities i have had to travel and connect with other Indigenous people in other lands keeps returning me to the powerful teaching that we are ALL part of the circle. We need to embrace that teaching in order to counteract the forces in our world that seek to divide us. When we can come together, celebrate our differences and see the strength in them rather than being afraid - then we can truly save our Mother the Earth. Each person we encounter is someone who has something to teach us - how rich our lives can be if we can only open ourselves to this learning. I am blessed to have had so many opportunities.