Saturday, July 19, 2008

+ Jovem!

A colleague at the National AIDS Council invited me to his TV show, a talk show for youth, because this week's show would be about multiple concurrent partnerships -- the topic of my current research. Fantastic! I thought -- though I made sure he meant *in the audience* and not *as a guest speaker* before I accepted. Him being what I thought was your average beaurocrat, I assumed "+ Jovem" was a toned-down, government-run show. I was envisioning Charlie Rose set in Mozambique and focused on HIV/AIDS, with a live audience who would get the chance to ask some questions.

Well. So last night we arrived at the studio, I and a colleague from UNAIDS whom I had invited. The guard waved us in the front door, past a long line of young people; VIP treatment! A few other production aids walked us through the halls to the set, where we climbed onto the risers where the audience was seated. The youth started rolling in, raucus and excited, many dressed to the nines for their opportunity to be seen on TV. Jorge, the National AIDS council beaurocrat/TV host, started describing to all of us how the show would go. The special invited guests were the second-in-command at the National AIDS Council, and a representative from N'weti, an HIV/AIDS communication-oriented organization. There was also a woman from the Ministry of Health who would make a plug for a good hygiene campaign that was to start the following week. And, a DJ and a rap group... and two groups of Marrabenta singers... and another duo of scantily-clad female singers... and there would be T-shirts given out, and there was a large display of "Klin" detergent and two girls wearing Klin t-shirts which would have some camera time as a sponsorship deal. So, as with all things Mozambican, there were surprises, there was chaos, there were things happening which it was better to just take in and not question.

The show started with Jorge and a group of guys wearing sparkly blue vests doing a little choreographed dance, which completely cracked me up. Imagine yourself meeting a work colleague to discuss contacts and resources useful to your project. Then imagine that same colleague, a few days later, breakin' it down with a posse of sparkly-vested dancers. Classic.

The HIV-related conversation wasn't fantastic, especially because of the straight-laced, academic tack taken by the interviewees. The kids in the audience were more concerned with gossiping with each other and sending text messages. But they did have a chance to share their thoughts about multiple partnerships -- always poorly defined, but in their context meaning having more than one boy- or girlfriend at once -- and they seemed to be getting into it. I hoped the youth watching at home would have similar conversations with their families and friends.

One of Jorge's assistant approached my UNAIDS colleague, Katia, and I, and told us we would be asked questions. Despite our impassioned protests to not have to speak on national TV, Jorge insisted. Katia almost forgot the name of the special guest, but pulled it together to make a point about how we are trying to bring what have been private conversations into a public debate in order to confront the HIV emergency in Mozambique. Then the question came to me, as a foreigner, what were my impressions of what was going on here with all of these multiple partnerships?

Putting the question like that, there was really one answer I could give: Well, this isn't just Mozambique, and it isn't just Africa. It happens everywhere in the world, and it's a problem that the global community will have to tackle together. Despite this being the in-vogue theory as to why AIDS has taken such a hold on Africa (previous theories being unsafe blood supply and high rates of STDs), I do believe it happens everywhere, and, moreover, I believe it creates a culture of inferiority when the debate is framed as, "what is wrong with these Africans?" I've already met a sort of cultural defeatism when, as a Peace Corps volunteer, I told people that I had friends who were virgins at 23 because of their strongly-held beliefs. The answer I got was, "Well, maybe in America you can do that. Here, among us Mozambicans, it's not possible."

So, that's the story of my 15 minutes of fame in Mozambique. A statement about global unity on + Jovem, and I think the Portuguese grammatical errors were minimal!

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