It's Wednesday, 23 April 2014, and I'm arriving in Montpellier after a long trip from Montréal, not having slept on the flight from Montréal to Paris. I allow myself to take a taxi from the airport to the hotel where I will be staying for a few days for a meeting of the Coalition PLUS, leading up to the AFRAVIH conference, the 7th International Francophone Conference on HIV and Viral Hepatitis.
I exchange a little small talk with the taxi driver. Where did I come from? "From Winter," I answer, which would be funny if it were not for the snow we got there just a week earlier! After several exchanges, he asks me what I do for a living and I know that the moment has arrived for me to take off my simple taxi passenger hat and replace it with an educator's hat.
For people living with HIV and for those who work in the HIV field, this educator role comes to the fore everywhere and always. If HIV has not touched the life of the person you meet, he will have lots of questions and perceptions of the epidemic that are not necessarily up-to-date. If you identify yourself as a person living with HIV, there will probably also be a bit of fear and maybe more reluctance to ask questions. Too bad. No one should rein in his curiosity or his capacity to inform others through his knowledge and experiences.
In my case, the taxi driver began with an affirmation that HIV (AIDS, in his terminology) is still present, but that the public seems to have forgotten it. This opens the door to my being able to vent my own opinions about the level of awareness of the public in developed countries, and to share information about the advancement of treatments and how HIV is lived today with appropriate medical follow-up. I hope that I shared information that he will retain and that this information will change even slightly his perspective on HIV in 2014.
I enjoy this role and my ability to choose my identity in the exchange. My work is the door-opener, but I can also step beyond that and identify myself as a person living with HIV if I think that will contribute to the learning experience of the person I meet. I've had these exchanges in person and even on "dating" applications. Not being afraid to identify yourself, be it by profession or by status, is the best route to better public awareness of HIV and its reality today.
I suspect that exchanges such as the one I had with my taxi driver will be numerous here over the next week. It is probably the best reason to move these conferences around the world: there is always a certain education and awareness promotion that will take place around the edges of the conference and related meetings. It's a good excuse to launch a prevention campaign (like in Washington during the international AIDS conference) and for all of the informal encounters that allow conference participants to contribute to a public discourse that is not always driven by the latest information.
Catch him also on his own site www.talktothehump.blogspot.com