ruminations on a series of unrelated events
Durban Sunday July 17th
I arrived in Durban two days ago for the IAS AIDS 2016 conference. The abstract for my Stigma Film project was also accepted into the International Workshop on HIV Pediatrics, which was held this weekend, just prior to the launch of AIDS 2016 on Monday. So Saturday morning I got up and tried to get an Uber for the 17km ride north to the hotel where the conference was held. After a slight panic because my phone couldn’t get to G3 signal at all and the AirBNB where I am staying doesn’t have WIFI, and my phone was nearly dead and I didn’t have a converter, I was finally able to get a data connection and get a ride. I came late to a very packed conference room and was directed to an empty seat near the front. Coincidentally it turns out I was seated directly in front of my friend Rachel Vreeman. Rachel is the sole reason I am involved in making films in Kenya. She is the Director of Global Research at IU Medicine’s Children Health Services Research and I started making films with her back in 2013.
The conference is relatively small and is two days of doctors and scientists presenting the results of various studies they have done. It was a fascinating and completely immersive experience into a world I know so little about and am only tangentially involved with. I became completely intrigued by all the information presented and did my best to understand what was being talked about. Without prior knowledge of so many acronyms like: CD4, PK, MTCT, PCT to name a few, it took a moment to catch on. But soon I was understanding CD4 percentages and viral load statistics and a lot of the terminology and logic behind what was being researched and why (thanks to a helping hand from Rachel). It was also a fascinating anthropological experience seeing people exchange such well-developed postulations and conclusions derived from research that has taken years to undertake. I felt like I had an incredible privilege to glimpse the inner workings of the presentation of research from a truly distinguished and international group of speakers. I had to remind myself that the organizers actually deemed our humble stigma films project worthy of being included in their catalogue.
Later today I will go to the main venue and meet Rachel. She will be presenting a 5 minute excerpt from the Joshua film in a session on Tuesday morning and I have to get it to her. (To see all the films I an referring to visit hiv-films.org) My poster will be hanging all day Tuesday and from 12:30-2:30 all the poster presenters are expected to be standing by their posters answering questions. I am looking forward to that.
On a different note, at about the time I arrived here there was a coup attempt in Turkey. I am scheduled to fly home through Istanbul on Turkish Airways on Saturday. That is probably not a very good idea any longer. The US has stopped all flights to Turkey. So the person at school who handles my flight arrangements is looking into alternatives, but at this late point that might be tough. So we will see just how this pans out.
July 13th Kenya
I came to Kenya for 8 days to screen the stigma films to as many people as possible before going to Durban for the International AIDS conference. I had a chance to screen the films several times. I started by screening them at the primary school where we cast the main actors and shot one of the films. There I screened them on Friday afternoon to 200 of the older kids.
After the primary school screening I went over to the University to screen them to the students who worked on the films last year and others in their class. It turns out the plugs and light switches in the building were stolen a long time ago. There was a fluorescent bulb on the wall and a kid spent about an hour splicing into the cable that leads to it. Many people carry around extension cords with the plugs cut off ready for splicing. I had my doubts it was going to happen given the height of the light. But they got power to the projector and we screened the films to about 60 people. The delay actually worked in favor of the films because it got dark in the meantime and they looked much better. People seemed to like them but for some reason I didn’t have a lot of people coming up to me to talk afterwards. Maybe they were shy.
On Sunday evening I screened them at Lighthouse Church. This was also a location of one of the films. The pastor of the church also stars in one of the films. It wasn’t a huge turnout but there were 20-25 people. I could tell it was an odd sensation for them to be sitting in the church, which they were also seeing on the screen in front of them. It was even a little odd for me.
On that Monday I went back to Moi Primary and screened the films to 200 of the younger kids. They were more attentive than the older ones (then again it was Monday rather than Friday). They didn’t want to miss any of the dialogue. Like on Friday they all of course loved the Mosi film because it was at their school and if they weren’t actually in it somewhere, they saw someone they knew.
Tuesday was the day of the big screening at AMPATH. It went very well. We had 50 people show up. I had been talking about it all week at IU House (where I stay in Eldoret), so there were a lot of people from here who wanted to go. Some of the actors came to the screening and I gave shoutouts for all of them so they could enjoy the crowd recognition. I could tell they all felt quite proud. The screening went very well. People were EXTREMELY complimentary afterwards. A super enthusiastic person at IU House the next morning told me that he felt very honored to have been able to see them. I felt extremely quite happy and relieved that it was over.
I have been absolutely AWOL when it comes to writing this blog. Once I started traveling in Spain in Morocco with my daughter, I didn’t so much as want to even see a computer. My life seems constantly tied to computers and technology. I know I am not alone in that. So to have a brief opportunity to be sans computer was a very welcome vacation. And speaking of looking at computers, I noticed an amazing thing in Spain. Of course Spain, like so much of Europe has a thriving café culture. There are full cafes everywhere. And one thing you don’t see is anybody, and I mean anybody, sitting at a café looking at a laptop. Absolutely NOBODY. People aren’t even looking at their phones. People are, get this, talking with one another. I thought I must have gone back in time to the early 90s. It was amazing to see. Consequently sitting in a café writing my blog was definitely out of the question. There was no way I was going to go against this norm. I know laptops are not nearly as common in Europe as in the US, but everyone here has a phone. They are just not sitting there lost in their phones. People talk on their phones rather than stare at them blankly. I was at one café that was completely full. I remember looking around and seeing no phones. Even people who weren’t actively engaged with other people weren’t on their phones. They were just sitting there reading or lost in thought. What a novel concept. I love it. In Morocco it was a little different. There I did see people checking in with their phones a bit. Nothing like in the US, but more so than in Spain. This lack of apparent laptops might be an indication that people in Spain know how to separate their work from their pleasure, or they just don’t have as much computer-based work, or both. In the US we go work on our laptops at Starbucks on the weekend so we aren’t sitting home alone working. I do that. But it ends up being some unsatisfying non-social situation where a bunch of non-communicative people are all in the same room drinking coffee and staring at screens. Trying to restrict work more to working hours so that social time is actually social would be welcome change. Maybe I will try going to Starbucks without a laptop. What a concept.
Other thoughts about Spain: I was in Sevilla in 1984. I thought it was beautiful and I can remember saying to myself at the time that I would make a point to go back there one day. I had never forgotten that. It is why I decided that is where I wanted to go with Amalia this summer. We instantly felt at home in Sevilla. Everywhere you look it is stunningly gorgeous. I decided that as long as I am teaching in Greece every summer, I am following that up with a trip to Seville. Well not just Sevilla, Granada as well. As much as I love Sevilla, I might love Granada even more. It has more of a Moorish flavor that is not apparent in Sevilla. The street scene is exactly what you imagine when you imagine Europe. Despite a supposed 25% unemployment rate, or maybe because of it, the streets are thriving with people. There is a constant festive mood in the air with packed cafes and squares and music and laughter everywhere. Plus there are the stunningly beautiful mountains and the Alhambra overlooking the city. I was really overcome with the desire to live there or retire there, or at the very least to live there for a year. So for now anyway I am making Granada a goal.
Thoughts on Morocco: I was also in Morocco in 1984. It was 10 days that seemed like a month. Morocco was very intense to travel in. It is less so now at least in terms of the transportation. In 1984 I remember being on a full bus from Tetuaon and the roof was packed with everyone’s belongings. The bus was so full that when someone wanted to get off they would shout and then climb out the window by their seat. Then the guy on the roof would throw down their stuff and the passenger would walk off into what seemed to be a completely empty desert. There was none of that this time. The buses are new and air conditioned with windows that don’t open. The logistics of train, bus and taxi travel in Morocco are not bad at all. Marrakech and Fez both have beautiful new train stations that are stunning.
The intensity of traveling in Morocco is because people constantly approach you in an aggressive manner to sell you something or to convince you that they need to guide you somewhere. This has probably been the case for centuries if not millennia, but the mildly aggressive tone can quickly elevate into very aggressive shouting and cursing when you repeatedly decline their offer. Consequently you start to feel like walking prey all the time. Your guard is always up in anticipation of the next person who is going to be approaching you. Which will be within the next minute. Add to that the fact that the medina, especially in Fez, is a human maze the likes of which are impossible to solve. So you are lost on top of everything else. Being lost and feeling defensive is pretty exhausting. After a few hours of wandering around the hustling bustling medina fending off so many things coming your way, you are completely exhausted and want to return to the calm and security of your hotel. After a couple of hours of recharging it is time to venture out again.
I have to say though Marrakech is more chill than Fez. Marrakesh knows tourism and is set up for it. Fez feels like you have gone back 13 centuries, consequently it feels very genuine and very intense. The other thing that is kind of intense is the haggling process. After some practice it can be fun even though you know you are never really going to get a deal. At other times it can get really out of hand. The trick is to walk away. Suddenly they will most likely meet your final offer. It is like there is a cultural programming that says to drain every last drop of drachma out of everyone with no worry about offending anyone. It is a relief to shop in the fixed price markets. You might pay a tiny bit more, but you aren’t being pressured to part with all your money.
Wednesday June 1
This year we have divided the class into two groups that are each making a short doc about an archeological site on the island. One group, AKA River Styx Team, is doing the Ancient Cemetery. The other team, whose name I am not even sure about because they just always mumble it, is doing the Acropolis site which has been the location of different buildings over the centuries. The docs are modest when compared to last years efforts. Last year we were way too ambitious. With the scaled down projects, the smaller and more manageable group of students and our new classroom location that is right in town, this year our experience is way better than before.
Tuesday May 31st
Most of the students went away to Santorini for a 3-day weekend. That gave us a chance to chill a little bit. I rented a bike and biked around the island on Saturday morning and again on Sunday morning. I am not exactly sure how far it is. Maybe next time I will track it. On Saturday’s ride, the shorter of the two, I did a loop through the town of Lekes. The hill to Lekes, which I will henceforth refer to as Lefkes Pass, isn’t really all that bad considering what I have ridden, but it is the steepest main road on the island and took maybe 15 sweaty minutes to climb. On both days I hit the road at 6:30 in the morning which made for little traffic. Unfortunately the Greek sense of appropriate distance is right up there with Americans if not worse.
Thursday May 26th
Over the last couple of days we shot an interview with one of our main people to appear in our video productions. It went extremely well. And the students are busily editing the results. We also had an opportunity to access the ancient cemetery in town which is normally locked. There we shot a lot of b-roll for the video about the ancient cemetery.
On Tuesday we took the group up to the ancient quarries of Paros where early inhabitants of the island mined the amazingly pure and super famous Parian marble. Hiking through the quarries is truly amazing. There are two quarries and they feel like old caves, rather than the open pit type of quarry we are familiar with today. The chisel marks and soot from the torches that lit their work are still as fresh as yesterday. The mines were exhausted of their precious marble almost 1300 years ago, but a French company tried to reopen the mines back in the time of Napoleon. (They dug a new shift into one of the mines through which we existed. They eventually mined enough marble to create Napoleon’s tomb.) That company subsequently sold their operation to a Belgian company which put in a lot of infrastructure only to find out the mine was exhausted.
On Wednesday night Albert, Andy and I had the pleasure of being invited to the home of Tom and Blondie, two Americans from Colorado who have been coming to Paros for more than 30 years. They have a beautiful home in the Castro. We enjoyed drinks on their roof and great conversation. Their home left our heads spinning.
Today, May 22, was our first day off. Albert, my co-instructor, and I went for a morning hike up in the hills behind the hotel. This was the same hike I took students on last year on our first morning on Paros. It is a steepish climb with great views of the town of Parikia; a nice way to get the blood pumping in the morning.
Later in the afternoon Albert and I drove around the bay of Parikia to see the Delion Sanctuary of Apollo, a group of carved stones high on a VERY windy hilltop overlooking the bay. From there there are even nicer views. But first we took a wrong turn and ended up at land’s end over on the far side of the bay. There are some interesting ruins there, far more recent than from the days of Apollo. They made for some nice pics.
Then Albert and I drove over to the postcard town Lefkes, one of the island’s few inland towns. It is the highest town on the island and was once the capitol. It is not visible from the sea. During prolonged times of marauding pirates, something Paros knows all too well, many of the costal inhabitants would move to Lefkes. Last year Albert, Andy and I went there and must have taken over 300 photos each. It is funny how dramatically the picture taking drops off after you’ve been somewhere once before. Apparently so much so I couldn’t even be troubled with carrying my real camera and felt my phone would suffice this time around. Albert and I found the trailhead for the Byzantine Trail and walked about 1 1/2 miles. The Byzantine trail originates from 1000 years and is marble-paved. It was the main road of the island and was constructed to connect Marpissa to Parikia. It was still in use in some parts as a donkey trail well into the 1950s. It is very hilly around Lefkes and today the skies were quite dramatic. The flora is like southern California in many respects and the smell of sage was strong in the air.
After a short walk on the trail, turning around after about a mile, we returned to a restaurant where last year I had a Lefkes salad. The place didn’t disappoint this year. The Lefkes salad features a very local and very fresh goat cheese called semonazithra. (That is my phonetic spelling from what the owner said.) It is a mild but incredibly delicious cheese which he assured me was only to be found in Lefkes.
We’ve been on Paros for a few of days and shortly after our arrival our TA, Andy Townsend, and I started working on a rather ambitious plan. We decided to create an elaborate scavenger hunt for our students. We felt this would help them acclimate and orient to the island. Andy and I spent an enormous amount of time devising plans that would require our students to roam around the town in search of various things, interacting with people they encounter, learning some facts about various things and most importantly having some fun. Students seemed to really enjoy it. Andy went with one team and I went with the other and we shot lots of video of our students rambling around trying to solve the various clues we left with people at each location. It is funny to watch the group mentality at work. One student would just take off certain they understood the clue without any discussion and the others would follow. And then some of the followers would start to question why they were following when it became obvious their leader was lost not to mention wrong in his interpretation. There were a total of 9 locations and each of the two teams would visit 6 of them because the teams were split apart and sent to separate destinations. At each stop they would have to accomplish a certain challenge, like singing Raspberry Beret to the hat seller, or getting the answers about the functions of certain items in the antique store. Once the challenge was completed they would be given the clue to the next destination. One of my favorite clues:
There is a man who sells antiquities. Find his store. It is packed galore. And ask him: Who is Euripides?
We had such a great time coming up with these ideas and we really felt this was a worthwhile experience for our students. We are so excited by it that we decided to create a presentation about it for a future scholarship of teaching conference.
After the hectic wrapping up of an incredibly busy semester, I am off for a fun summer of travel. In a nutshell I am going to Greece to teach a summer abroad course again, then traveling with my daughter through Spain and Morocco for a month, then to Kenya to screen my films, and finally to Durban, South Africa to present the stigma film project at the 2016 International AIDS conference. Needless to say that is a lot of travel.
The semester ended with an intensity that I think was unsurpassed in all my years at IUPUI. This was largely in part due to having to finally push through and finish all the films prior to my departure. Color grading, final fixes to sound, blu-ray authoring were all very time consuming. My great friend Vicki Shively surprised me with a doing key art for the films. So I suddenly and unexpectedly had a movie poster, DVD/BD inserts, postcards, and disc menus. WOW! That was a great surprise, but also meant rounds of tweaks and details had to be completed so I could finish the disc authoring and leave the country with movie posters.
Let the travel begin.