AIDS: Men make a difference

Frankly Speaking...
by A.A. Fenty
Stabroek News
September 15, 2000

(Actually, the caption is, I understand, the theme for the Expanded World AIDS campaign 2000 - 2001. To me, the theme is more hopeful than true and should be "Men can make a difference". And really, today's offering is in fact an indirect tribute to Andre Sobryan - dramatist, dancer, choreographer, set designer, director, playwright, actor, advertiser, humorist, teacher, AIDS educator and activist.)

I'm sure I've left out a few occupations and designations, so talented and accomplished was Andre. I experience as I write, a quirk of conscience because I am one of those males who, though I have access to the media, have ignored the issue of AIDS - at least publicly. So, using the thoughts and teachings of Mr Sobryan I'll do what one of the international sub-themes advise: Break the silence.

Of course, I'm not about to repeat all that you read and hear continually - if not continuously. Basically I'm repeating and reflecting the views and advice on the subject shared by Andre Sobryan when he returned from South Africa just weeks ago. He chatted comprehensively then with Donna Short-Gill of the GTV. (That tape should be standard fare for all local AIDS educators.)

But firstly, my own view is that in the fight against HIV/AIDS, one of the foremost challenges is to convince the Guyanese/West Indian male that he can indeed make a difference in that "fight" - or war. The stark truth is that in these parts we tend to leave the onus on our females in these matters. Our males here both bully and blame the women when the worst is discovered. Safe sex practices become the female partner's burden too often. Then there is the usual misplaced Macho image and reputation the local male seeks to perpetuate: one hunk, many girls. (Even though the truth is that the girls are better equipped for the multiple-partner business!) It is therefore up to our ladies, from the earliest (necessary) age to be educated and to hold a principled, standard (necessary) hard line regarding safe, protected sex.

But here is my random repetition of Andre Sobryan's views and warnings: there must be political will as part of a vital national campaign; that is, our governmental leaders and other political figures must speak out and fashion policies on AIDS issues and programmes as if it is the disaster it is! One in five in South Africa's population is the same as one in five in Guyana's sparser population - which really makes it worse for us. We have to target the youth relentlessly, Andre advised, and too many young mothers-to-be are pregnant and positive. (Even if the HIV babies are saved what becomes of them?) All of us over fifty should be smug but those under thirty should insist on a future.

Andre says in every local work place there are HIV or AIDS sufferers - in the closet. Are you one? Is your colleague/friend one? Do you know where to turn? Do not shun your HIV friend. You wouldn't want to be shunned yourself. In his inimitable style, Sobryan told his interviewer (Short-Gill) that wives should now be "glad" that they found condoms in their husbands' pockets! And that women must now be strong enough to "Negotiate" (certain sexual relationships. In other words ladies: Stick to your guns! Better yet, stick only to whom you know!!

I won't be all praise for the late Mr Sobryan as I couldn't come to terms with some aspects of his life-style. At my age now however, I'm learning to respect, even tolerate, other people's preferences even though they may conflict with mine. I am convinced too that the enormously talented Sobryan dedicated his final dozen years on earth to ensuring that errant youth would be aware and educated for their very survival. It certainly won't be his fault if they don't survive.

Stabroek, Hoyte and Singh (Yes, business as usual. It's campaign time.) As usual, this Monday's Stabroek editorial ("Padded List?") Touched some sensitive political and electoral nerves. It took on board Mr. Desmond Hoyte's charges that there were padded voters lists and inflated voting figures for the 1997 elections.

I say "great stuff". Consistent attack. Whether Elections Petition or Campaign build-up: cast doubt, transfer the whole concept of rigging and rigged elections to the PPP/Civic era. After all, the new "little" first-time, young generation voter won't know the historical truth. But I quote a piece of Monday's editorial.

"The commission already had plans to undertake a field survey that would provide answers to some of the issues raised by Mr Hoyte and this should be modified or broadened to take full account of all the allegations. The claims unless disproved would also cast doubt over the honesty and integrity of registration workers and others in the electoral machinery.

"Given the charges that swirled around the 1997 polls and the history of rigged elections under successive PNC governments - padded voter lists and all - Guyana can ill afford entering another electoral season under a cloud of maleficence".

But as the PPP/C's Donald Ramotar has done, I've heard Elections Commission Chairman Joe Singh wonder aloud why hundreds of party scrutineers were paid millions in 1997 to check and verify the list. Up to Polling Day in December 1997 all parties had "passed" the final voters list (or the National Register of Registrants). Not so now - three years after the fact. Great stuff Sophia! Next Week, as a concerned citizen, I'll share my views on the Elections Commission and its secretariat. Just how is chairman Singh and his team "managing"?

Until... 1) If I prefer to choose my leaders based purely on racial considerations or criteria - My love for my own group - whether in Canal Number One or Hopetown - is that not my right, my freedom to choose and associate? Racism is objectionable and even criminal. But is "love of race" or being "ethnic specific" the same thing? (Great debate, huh?).

2) Have you been invited by the Businessman to the Big Atlantic Reform Bash? Why? Why not?

3) Have you ever read my piece on "Homos in high places"?

4) Why does Commentator David De Groot write often in this paper that Mr Hoyte suggested "rectification" of our border with Venezuela.

5) I was beaten to the punch soundly this week. I intended to enquire after Private Harvey - the soldier who was blasted by the Bandit Blackie. But now I know.

6) If you believe you know anything about the history of our Amerindian Guyanese, just check Stabroek's editorial two Fridays ago. Incidentally, September is education month too.

7) It was planned that Mr Hoyte should have borne Roy's casket out of the Cathedral - as a final tribute. What happened? You tell me.

8) Correct me if I'm wrong. Roy Fredericks "resigned properly from the West Indies Official Team when the Kerry Packer alternative came along. His "retirement" was principled and courteous. Now, that was class, wasn't it?

9) Be sure to catch the new Allan Fenty show on Channel Nine (NBTV). Coming soon!

'Til Next Week

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