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Africa 2000;
The International
AIDS Conference

A life or death event.

[see also AIDS Art || The Bird Park ]

The Flight Over

Trips like this start with very loooong airplane rides with many stops. We flew Ethiopian Airlines to and from Africa and all their flights use Addis Ababa as a hub. Our tickets said that our leg to South Africa, Addis to Johannesburg, was non-stop. Well that was almost correct; just off by two. So after stops in Lusaka and Harare we missed our connection to Durban and my luggage didn't arrive.

They put us up in a motel near the airport and assured me that my luggage would be on the next flight from Addis. The flight to Durban was uneventful and there was a major bash at the airport to greet the 12,000 or so participants and bus us, with Janet's luggage, direct to our ocean front hotel. Pietermaritzburg, capital of the state of KwaZulu Natal We stayed at the Durban Spa, about 1 mile from the conference. While others stayed miles away and spent upwards of $200/night we had a great suite of rooms on the beach, near the action for $65!

We had a free day before the conference and so we tooled off to Pietermaritzberg, the capital of the state of Kwa-Zulu Natal. Great scenery and a beautiful town with a fine Natural History museum.

Toucan at the Durban Bird Park We also had enough time to take in the interesting bird park in Durban where a show of trained birds, ranging from Pelican to Toucan flew around for us. The trip to the bird show was our first 'wrong-side of the road driving experience; we survived and it made us strong!

The AIDS Conference

We attended the very impressive and moving opening ceremony. The opening ceremony of International AIDS Conference speeches were impassioned and the performances stunning. The 'We are the World' campaign of 1992 made millions of dollars to fight hunger and raised the consciousness of the world then ... putting out an interactive CD of this performance along with some imaginative educational packaging can do the same for this and certainly the cause is much more pressing.

The Conference itself was unlike any of its predecessors or, for that matter, any scientific conference attended by Janet in that the community was so intricately involved. This conference involved scientists, AIDS activists, the medical profession, traditional healers - every sector that can be mobilized to deal with this impending disaster.

Durban City Hall/Art Gallery The whole community was involved in putting the conference together. The Durban Art Gallery, for example, showcased photo exhibits, art work and community activities that focus on fighting AIDS. Other galleries AIDS artwork around town did likewise. There were plays and other events all week.

You've probably all seen the grim numbers but only by talking to people, as we did wherever we went, can you get any idea of the scale of the pandemic, how it touches virtually everyone and how daunting a task it will be to make a dent in its progress.

Africa is at a crossroads; the human tragedy is immense in itself but the nature of its victims is such that the bulk of the workforce is being decimated and it will shortly become an economic tragedy with immeasurable longterm effects if this is not turned around. Realize this: a 30% infection rate is THE NORM for all of Southern Africa! Some states now have rates double that!!! Think of the huge numbers of AIDS orphans doomed to a terrible life. Imagine that AVERAGE life expectancy in some places is BELOW 30 YEARS! Nelson Mandela

Turning it around is not impossible - if Uganda can halve their infection rates in a decade then anyone can; with immediate action and a few miracles.

Janet will have a summary writeup of the key activities shortly.

The closing ceremony was highlighted by an appearance by Nelson Mandela who, even at his age, cuts quite an imposing presence. His words are simple and direct and pack power. If we don't respond then generations are doomed.

Durban's gold coast Durban is a wonderful town with great Indian Ocean weather; almost ideal now even in the dead of winter. We got our first views of some of Africa's wonderful birds at the Bird Park, even seeing some fly. I Durban Harbor on the Indian Ocean did hit the beaches where a huge festival was going on complete with surfing contests and rock climbing walls.

I managed a 2 day side trip, while Janet was immersed in the conference, into the Drakensberg, South Africa's impressive and South Africa's Sani Pass; Gateway to Lesotho extensive mountain range. I took a jeep ride up the Sani pass into Lesotho, a very poor country called the Switzerland of Africa for its altitude. While there is occasional cross country skiing here I'd say the comparison is not quite apt. Rather than the beauty of mountains, eastern Lesotho is a barren high plateau where almost nothing grows.

Eastern Lesotho; high and poor

As the conference drew to its end it was disheartening to see almost all participants return home immediately. We, however, set off north to see something of South Africa and its animals and learn a bit more about its peoples and the toll being taken by AIDS. There is alot to learn and its a shame that more participants didn't feel that way.