Thursday, October 27, 2005

C2EA Nor'easter Caravan

In Boston!

I am sooo excited about this movement! I am sitting outside of Boston airport waiting for my ride; I am reuniting with an ex of mine who I have not seen in 4 years. I am just so excited to meet the people who step side by side me and so many other people in this fight. I can't wait till Saturday when I help to kick off our NOR'EASTER caravan!. DC BOUND!

Tom Donohue 26, HIV +
State College, PA

Paving The Way

Day Thirteen

October 27, 2005

Dear Friends,

It’s day thirteen.  We are spending the night at a Church of the Nazarene camp in Cecil County, Maryland, about 14 miles over the state line from Delaware.  Our day ended with a candle light vigil, after which we built a beautiful bonfire and roasted marshmallows.  It was everything one could want from a bonfire.  

The wood was wet so getting the fire started was a challenge that required teamwork.  Then there was teaching those who had never roasted marshmallows before the ritual of trimming the right branch, spearing the marshmallow, and roasting it to a golden brown.  And there was the side splitting laughter, and even a squabble or two. As a write this, a handful of people are still sitting outside, enjoying the fire’s warmth and each other’s company.  

We started out at 10:00 am this morning where we had left off yesterday, a couple of hundred yards from the state line.  Enhanced by a bus from New York City, we had about 40 marchers today.  So we were feeling quite enthusiastic.

We were met at the state line by Ed and Kevin and Virginia, the three members of the Cecil County AIDS Support Group.  Ed proudly accepted the Maryland flag, and took his place at the head of our process, right behind the American flag and right beside Susan, our Delaware host, who was carrying the Delaware flag.  

The entire day consisted of marching up and down rolling hills, watching out for gravel trucks, and stopping every few miles for rest breaks scheduled by Susan, Ed, Kevin and Virginia, at various locations that offered friendly restrooms.  For lunch, Susan surprised us with fried chicken and potato salad.

We met few people along the way, but there were many friendly vehicles, honking support as they passed us.  Laverne flyered almost every business and home along the route.  I say “almost every” because her husband Cameron called her back went she started to go up to a store that had three confederate flags flying out front.  Laverne said she thought she could have gotten some money out of them for the Campaign.

We halted our march almost exactly four miles from the Susquehanna River, at about 5:00pm.  By 5:30, the folk who had come down for the day were safely headed back to New York, and we were being shown our rooms on the campground.  Not only do we have showers, but we are sleeping on beds. Most of us have not seen a bed since the morning of October 15, so this is a real treat.  Also, the rooms have heat, something we hadn’t been on our priority list when we were scheduling the caravan to travel through in September.  

At dinner, we met Melissa, the only AIDS staffer with the County Health Department.  She did much of the work arranging our stay in Cecil County, and had enlisted the AIDS of the local support group.  Ed and Kevin talked with us about what it is like to be living as a gay, HIV-positive couple in a conservative rural community.  The talked about the difficulty they had experienced finding support, and of the isolation that most people living with AIDS in rural places experience.  Their story included harassment by others.  They had been proud to help get a story about C2EA in the county paper, but did not dare use their full names.  They have already had all of their tires slashed once.

After dinner, we unloaded the truck, and went back outside the main hall for the candle-light vigil.  We were joined by about a half dozen more local folk.  After lighting the candles, a couple of people offered prayers, and a few others offered thoughts and reflections.  I couldn’t help but think about what a motley crew we were standing their, and yet such a beautiful collection of friends and comrades in arms.  

This pilgrimage hasn’t been without its tensions and craziness.  But the bond is so much deeper than any differences, even among people who have only just met.  I have to believe that movements that change the world are built on exactly this kind of love and loyalty, faithfulness to each other that transcends barriers or differences.

While I was helping to build the fire, I got a call from Larry Bryant, traveling with the Soul of the South Caravan.  He told me that he had picked up Gabriel and Gabriel’s mother in Biloxi and that the Caravan had been given a great reception in Mobile.   Gabriel is my buddy.  He is three years old, and he is coming to Washington to demand care for his mama.  I can’t wait to see Gabriel in D.C.

Love,

Charles King  

C2EA American Heritage Caravan

Caravan update # 7

By Vaughn Frick
American Heritage caravan rider

October 27, 2005
Omaha, Nebraska to Des Moines, Iowa, and Iowa City, Iowa.

Last night American Heritage Caravan rider Lowen visited a Omaha bookstore near where we were staying at the offices of the Nebraska AIDS Project to attend a Poetry reading by local author Matt Mason. By coincidence the book was a collection of poems called "When the Bough Breaks," the bones and blood of this book is about the author's experiences from loosing his own father to AIDS. After the reading many of the attendees there came up to Lowen to share their own personal experiences and losses from 25 years of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Matt Mason at the end of the evening chose to donate all of the money that he had raised that evening to the American Heritage caravan to support our goals and journey to Washington, D.C.
Here's one of Matt's poems titled "Spring Break."
What do I remember clearest?
I remember running
the electric razor along his cheekbones,
his chin, throat, under his nose. Seeing the bright capillaries weave around his pores,
smelling the light
sweat as I erased a few days of stubble,
leaving the individual whiskers which refused cutting.
There aren't words for me
to remember. My plane landed in Omaha
after his last coughing syllables,
after he'd fallen into a kind of sleep.
My friends burned
marshmallows on a beach in Oregon as
I sat
in a hospital, nervous,
guilty over wanting to be somewhere else,
farther away, miles from this skin,
these hairs, the red lines ripe with virus,
the pain dripping slow and constant.
His one, open eye, reflected me,
blue, and I don't know if the reflection
went all the way through; if he
sensed my hand in his;
heard my stumbling biography;
wept somewhere
as his youngest son was at last
close enough to touch his face.

Copyright 2005 by Matt Mason
from "When the bough breaks"
published by Lone Willow Press
P.O.Box 31647, Omaha, Nebraska 68131

We next drove through fall-painted swaths of trees lining a rolling landscape of cornfields and small rural communities. We were received in Des Moines by a few local HIV/AIDS activists at St. John's Lutheran church, and were fed a lunch of cornbread and chili. (Our last three meals were of chili, although all good, hazardously incendiary during a long bumpity bus ride of people already burdened with health concerns.)
Iowa only began tracking HIV infection in 1998, an estimated 1,600 Iowans are today living with HIV/AIDS.
The Iowa AIDS Project here in Des Moines last year serviced over 250 clients.Iowa AIDS project is staffed by 11 people, 3 in case management and 5 in HIV prevention programs. Case manager loads are severely stretched to nearly the breaking point. Nearly all funds allocated go to case management over other needs such as housing and health care.Simple things like getting transportation to doctors appointments are a concern, along with the big ticket vital necessities such as drug and emergency assistance and access to medical care. A large percentage of local infections are from recent immigrant communities, compounded by a lack of interpreters and cultural barriers.
I spoke with Jay who is a client of Iowa AIDS Project, he got his HIV diagnosis in 1989, and today is battling just to receive the basic services which he needs to live. Out of gratitude he volunteers where he's needed when he is able to because of his health limitations.
David Vitiritto is the Fiscal Manager/ IT Specialist for Iowa AIDS Project, and has been working to save lives here for 13 years. Sitting in the Church basement David told me his message to take with us to Washington is " Don't let us down, the need is greater than ever, there are still people dieing of this disease. We've held at least one funeral each month here. People think that HIV is manageable,that the available drugs have curbed this epidemic, and that is bullshit!"

To learn more about HIV/AIDS in Iowa, contact:
david@aidsprojectci.org
To learn more about The Campaign To End AIDS, the American Heritage Caravan, and how you can help, contact www.c2ea.org

Paving The Way

Maryland!

Paving the Way caravan entered Maryland this morning. Yeah!
More later, walking now....
Robin Milim

C2EA American Heritage Caravan

Caravan update # 6

Campaign To End AIDS
American Heritage Caravan Update #6
By Vaughn Frick
American Heritage Caravan rider

October 26, 2005
Rapid City, South Dakota to Omaha, Nebraska

This morning we arose early as today a very long ride was ahead for us. We had to be in Omaha by 5:30 p.m. to speak at a press conferance set up for our caravan.
Two of our hosts Glenda and Joan met us in the hotel parking lot bearing boxes of hot sticky buns, oatmeal, coffee, and juice. A brilliant red sun rose in the eastern sky as we began the long drive at 7:00 a.m.
In South Dakota HIV/AIDS is still hidden and those affected and in need of public services must tread a dangerous path to stay alive. At last evening's meet, eat, and greet in a city park only one individual stepped forward as being openly HIV positive. When we circled and each participant told of their experiences around HIV/AIDS, all had personal stories of family and friends lost to this pandemic. I remember Amy who ten years back lost her 26 year old son. We do not forget these loved ones of ours lost to this battle, their memories walk with us, their loss leaves only tears and a hope to end this pandemic, a goal we have every right to expect to win.
This battle will be won by the strength and courage of individuals such as had by another of our Rapid City hosts, Joan Goschke. At times nearly single-handedly through her organization Positive Approach she works to meet all of the diverse needs for the many in this area affected by HIV/AIDS. Joan is also a hospice nurse, and is caring for her own daughter who is dieing of cancer, a diagnosis she got within months of returning from China where she'd adopted a daughter. Armed with a determined, soft-spoken compassion, Joan's goal is to find homes for the 20 million orphans of AIDS in Africa alone. From a hand-out written by her grouo Positive Approach : " We see a gloomy future for these children. Al Qaeda is in Africa and would probably like to recruit children to become human missiles. What an incubator for terrorism. More important, these are children growing up in the streets. A teen-ager becomes head of the family if there are no grandparents available. Extended families are over extended and already impoverished."
Joan's message is one of many that we will take with us to Washington, D.C.
As this day's long journey progressed we passed from the Black Hills to grassland then the badlands, the plateus slimming down to the vastness of the Great Plains.
Our bus drove into Omaha about sunset, where we recieved a warm greeting from our Omaha hosts at the Nebraska AIDS Project. 1,200 Nebraskans are believed to be living with HIV/AIDS, as many as who have already died here. This past year the Nebraska AIDS Project seviced 822 clients.
Founded 21 years ago, Nebraska AIDS Project is among the oldest AIDS service agencies in the country and operates five offices throughout the the state, serving Nebraska and Southwest Iowa. It is a nonprofit organization providing social services and support for men, women, and children affected by HIV/AIDS, along with educational programs to reduce the transmission of HIV.
Nebraska AIDS Project remains true to it's stated mission of prevention of HIV and providing support to those who's lives are affected by HIV/AIDS. One of the few statewide AIDS service organizations in the country, Nebraska AIDS Project is the only community based HIV/AIDS service organization in Nebraska. And community is exactly what we found here when this evening at the NAP center we met many clients and their friends who have worked tirelessly to provide education, prevention imformation, testing, counseling, and client services to anyone in Nebraska impacted by HIV/AIDS.
All this aside, people still slip through the cracks of an imperfect system in an imperfect world. Donald Magnuson (whole name used at his own request) expressed frustration in his quest for medical treatment.
Donald was first diagnosed with HIV in '96. He has just this month been diagnosed with AIDS. On top of this he has had hepatitis C for over 15 years. Donald tells us that he has tried hard to get on 'the cocktail' for years now. But he keeps hitting brick walls. Donald believes that the problem is two fold.
The first problem is that of money...the money to pay for his scrips and overall care just isn't out there and on his $800 a month he certainly can't afford it. (Donald does get insurance at a cost of $78 per month, but that's only hospital coverage-not scrips or doctor's visits).
The second part is a very difficult hurdle indeed. He's functionally illiterate. Donald says that he requires much more intensive help from his case managers than he can typically get. When they help him to access resources he isn't always able to get the follow through that he needs.
To be fair, he says, the casemanagers do what they can, but they are not always able to do as much as he needs in his own case.
His social worker, Harry, at the university hospital shall be retiring next month. "(Harry ) helped me get Boost for protein. He just helped me to apply for Title XIX." Title XIX is a program to help him to get his lifesaving medications. With Harry leaving, Donald worries that he shall slip through the cracks once again. "I've been through Hell all of my life," says Donald. "I would like to be on medicine but I'll probably never get it."
This is a statement fom Galen, a Nebraska AIDS Project client that was published in a NAP fact sheet:
"Moving back to Nebraska in 1995 when the doctors predicted my imminent death, leaving my job and my friends behind was a very lonely, scary time in my life. I left my comfortable, safe niche in life to face repeated hospitalizations, fear, prejudice, ignorance and anger from a lot of people I came in contact with.
My salvation was my family and this quiet, pretty lady who came into my life one day saying she was from Nebraska AIDS Project. She was my Caseworker, I was told, but more importantly, she became my friend. With her support and care, my life started turning around. I was better able to receive the kind of care and respect I deserved. I made friends again through the support group in our area. She helped me become involved with Mebraska AIDS Project and with the State on various committees. I found a purpose for my life again, especially doing volunteer speaking around the state. She and her contacts made me feel worthwhile again.
Today I have someone special in my life. I have the will to start a business and dreams of a future. So thanks, Barb, for being there. Thanks for the wonderful people you have brought into my life. Thanks for my life."
-Galen, diagnosed in 1985, Central Nebraska

To learn more about the Nebraska AIDS Project, log onto: www.nap.org

To learn more about the Campaign To End AIDS and the American Heritage caravan,and how to help and donate the funds needed to keep this caravan rolling, or to access the other blogs in this series, log onto:
www.c2ea.org