One big HIV family

My lovely people, have I already told you how glad I am to be open about my status? I get to know more and more fabulous people in our HIV community wherever I go. And I love the way my HIV community keeps on growing. When we fight HIV stigma we need as many allies as possible.

In January this year I got in touch with a photographer from Dublin, Steven Doyle. He is not HIV positive, but he was a nurse in Romania during the height of AIDS epidemic in the 90’s where he worked with many children living with HIV and AIDS abandoned by their parents. Steven was taking care of them in hospitals and even adopted one of them, Nicu.

My HIV ally Steven

Eventually Nicu died at the age of 27. Ever since Steven’s work in Romania, he is vigorously fighting HIV stigma and discrimination through his activism and photography. His story moved me and we have so many things in common, see for example my story on HIV medication exchange for people living with HIV in Romania.

Inspired by Steven’s story I decided to join his project where he is collecting stories and portraits of people living with HIV all over the World. I consider Steven my newest HIV STIGMA family member.

So, in May Steven invited me and my husband for the photo exhibition in Dublin, Ireland. I was very excited and also curious to get to know the other HIV models. And I found that at least 3 of them are my EATG colleagues, what a small World!

In Ireland I was able to connect with new people like wonderful Gerry, who introduced me to the big HIV network in Ireland, for example HIV Ireland. One day he also showed us around in his family’s  magical garden where he told us so many stories about edible and medicinal plants, what an experience! He showed us the beautiful Kildare Cathedral where I learned much about Saint Brigid of Kildare, a very important Irish Female Saint. Gerry is truly doing a lot for the HIV community in Ireland.

Enjoying the photo exhibition with Gerry

And then came the surprise invitation of Robbie and the Fabulous Drag Queen Veda Lady who are the hosts of the Poz vibe Podcast for people living with HIV, their friends, family and allies. There I also met Jordie, and my ally Steven was also part of the podcast. While all our stories are unique and inspiring, we are all connected by beating our common enemy “HIV STIGMA”. We shared many tears and laughter that afternoon. Overall, through our common experiences we realised that we are heading into the right direction and that our efforts are not in vain. Talking about HIV openly is definitely the right way to normalise HIV.

Veda Lady and Robbie

Yet, I would like to say one word of caution as, to me, the migrant HIV community is still not vocal enough, whether in Ireland or my own country the Netherlands. So I do hope my and other stories will keep on inspiring them to join us.

I would like to thank Steven for introducing me to my allies in Ireland and helping the HIV community to share our stories through our beautiful faces. Also hugs and kisses to Veda Lady and Robbie Lawlor for working so hard to make sure the positive voices of people living with HIV are being heard by the World. And Jordi, thank you so much for inspiring the young and queer world to living a fabulous positive life. Last but not least, I am thanking generous Gerry for his contribution to HIV Stigmafighter’s work in Burundi!

Let us keep up the good work, the world needs more people like us. Feel welcome to join our battle because HIV STIGMA MUST FALL!

Peace,

Eliane

You people

I am born dark brown although many people prefer to call my colour black. OK, then I am black! Do you have a problem with that?

 It’s shocking how ignorant people remain about racism! In a week I experienced two cases, and I will share the most bizarre example here as it happened in my neighbourhood with someone I knew for over 10 years and with whom I did share joyful moments in the past. Until recently we always smiled at eachother, but a few days ago he finally removed the mask and showed his true self.

My friend dropped by and parked her car along the street in a way that we see many times and is totally legal. Despite this, he walked up to her and ordered her that she should not park there. Meanwhile across the street another car was parked which obstructed a footpath and access to a public wastebin. So my friend asked him if he also ordered that car owner to park somewhere else.

The owner of this car got away without a reprimand

When she told me what happened, my husband and I were very curious to find out why he ordered her to remove her car. So we decided it was best to have a neighbourly chat about it. I went to his place and explained why I was at his door. Immediately he started shouting ”I told your friend not to park there. She said she would be gone for 5 minutes but she was gone for an hour”.

I asked him “Do you tell everybody who parks there, not to park there?” And he said that he doesn’t talk to others. So I became more curious and asked why he decided to confront my guest today. He responded “Are you accusing me that I stopped her because she is a black woman?” I told him not to put these words in my mouth, and that I didn’t mention her skin colour. I also told him that it would have made  sense for him to talk to both cars owners which made him more angry, saying “You people make something big out of such a small thing, you are making an elephant out of a mouse. I am not listening to your nonsense. Does your husband know what you are doing to me?”

As I felt he now tried to shame me, I responded “Wait a minute, what am I exactly doing to you? I came to talk in good faith, but now you seem to turn this into something else. I am not hiding anything from my husband. You can go and ask him yourself if he is aware of what I am doing”. By now he was furious, telling me to “Go away with your nonsense!” before slamming his door.

I was left in shock as I respected him for 12 years. His decision to deny me the opportunity to explain how I experienced this situation, finally showed the real person hiding behind this smile. Looking back at what happened, to me it seems that he had been waiting a long time to share his true feelings about “us people”.

No doubt that one day he will understand that by denying “us people” to share our experience he is trying to silence or shame us into not mentioning the obvious racism that we experience so often. But if I see wrong happening, I will not be silent and continue to speak up.

Peace,

Eliane

(C)overt discrimation?

As an African woman, having a white Dutch husband and mixed kids, I want to share my experience towards Black Lives Matter. In 13 years in the Netherlands, I have come across many facets of discrimination. I mostly talk about issues relation to HIV stigma and discrimination, but today I choose to share this experience.

Not so long ago, I used to take my youngest child to school by bicycle. Crossing a busy road for a young child is dangerous so I would put him in my transport bike and bring him to school myself. Like many other parents I would use a narrow path as a shortcut to school with our bikes. Along this path, people from the neighbourhood would also be walking their dogs.

I had already been using this path for many years when suddenly a woman, walking her dog, told me I am not allowed to pass. But a white mother, also with a child on her bike, just passed and the woman said nothing at all. So I asked “why am I not allowed to pass?” She said “because this is a walking path”. I replied, “Well ,we are both breaking the rules as dogs are also not allowed to walk freely and shit here”. She was furious.

The next day, she stopped me and said she was going to report me to the police. I told her very calmly ”Look around, if you are going to call the police, make sure you clean up the dogshit, because I will tell them it is from your dog”. She said that she pays taxes to have a dog (forgetting that she should still clean up his shit), so I told her that I too pay taxes to use the path and I will tell the police to ask her how to explain the tons of dog shit along the path. I reminded her “Don’t be confused, I am Dutch and I know the rules and I am not afraid to talk with police”.

Two weeks later, she confronted me again, now with an old man. He said “You never went to school, you cannot read the sign. You are not allowed to use this path”. I replied that I can perfectly read the sign and that it says that you can walk here and that when walking with a bike in my hands, I am not breaking the rules. But that I know that a dog needs to be on a leash and that his shit needs to be cleaned. So I challenged them on who is breaking the Law right now? He was not happy with my answer and clearly did not expect me to stand up!

A week later, they were again both waiting for me and now blocked my passage. I thought that they would just let me pass. The old man said “You again? You are not allowed to pass here”. I asked why and made it clear that I am not going to use any other road. The old man then yelled at me “Houd je bek zwartkop (Shut your mouth, blackhead)”. Then he pushed me to the ground which made me almost fall into the stream along the path. When I got up I grabbed him by his shirt and looked into his eyes, and all I could read was his hatred for black people. And I already had done my research! Two white mothers, using the same path, never heard anything from those two, but one other black woman had exactly the same experience as me. 

When the police choose to believe their white citizens… 

I called my husband to tell him I was going to report these people to the police, so I took my passport and went to the police station. Guess who I saw coming out of the police station? The same woman who pushed me, she went to report me to the police. I became curious of what she could possibly have told the police as I had not committed any crime.

So after telling my story, the police officer told me “I don’t believe your story, you are the criminal”. I asked “why? what did I do?” He said “you had a knife and you were threatening this woman who you are reporting now. We know everything and stop acting like you are the victim!” I could not believe how I had transformed from a friendly mother being threatened and pushed to a criminal. I told the police that I have a witness, and that another dark mother had been experiencing exactly the same. The police send me away, and told me that my accusation had no value. So, the next day the other mother and I went to report our case again and the police responded that they will investigate.

Meanwhile my husband helped me to make complaint online through the anti-discrimination agency. Next thing I got was a visit from an anti-discrimination officer, offering me counselling as a victim. I told them that I don’t need counselling, I need Justice.

Then one day, a police officer showed up at my home. He told me that I should meet the old man, share a cup of tea at his home and talk about it. Why the hell would I share a cup of tea with a man full of hate, in his house? What would the police do if he pulled a gun and finish me in no time? And why would I go to his house, and why would he not come to my house? The police officer replied that he may feel comfortable in his own house. I said maybe he has a hidden agenda to kill me in his home and tell you that I attacked him. The police officer then said that he would check with him to meet in a neutral place. I said that I would only do that if the police officer would be available to look after me.

While waiting for the police officer to come back with a solution, they surprised me again by showing how much protective they are towards their white citizens. He came with an instruction for me to use another way to bring my child to school or wait to use that path until they are done walking their dogs. I looked the officer into his eyes and said “Listen, for a very long time now, they harass me and the other black woman, and they allow white mothers to keep using this same path. I am not going to change my route because you want to protect those people and their dogs. I want you to go back and tell those people that next time they see me to run. I will not tolerate them bullying me since you police fail to protect me and choose their side. If all mothers are going to stop using that path, I will stop, but if it’s only me who needs to change, no way. If they ever come close to me I will punish them myself and then you will come to take me to jail as a real criminal. Just tell them to wait until I have passed or go walk their dog in other place. Don’t come back again to ask to talk with them, I will teach them myself how to respect me.”

The next day I went to school on that same path, and when the woman saw me she immediately ran into another direction. My son noticed and said “Mom, she is now afraid of you, why?”. Well, I guess the police did at least one thing right! So now this woman knows that I am not a joker when it comes to discrimination, and the old man? He never dared to look into my eyes again.

Up to today, those white people got away with their violent and discriminatory behaviour. And I am still wondering why the police so openly chose the white people’s side and chose not to believe my side of the story. Did the police really expect me to keep my mouth shut like I was told by those white people? No! Because Black Lives matter everywhere!

Peace, Eliane