Sunday, December 2, 2007

World AIDS Festival

Festival a Success Despite Distractions

Picture this, a two lane street a block away from the heart of the town plaza, where the biggest church in Central America resides. On one side of the street is one of the many buildings of the UNAN (Nicaragua’s public university), which is the site of the Global AIDS Festival. The other is the Church of the Mother of Mercy (the patron saint of the city).

The festival begins with the reading of participating groups and then an address from the leader of Leon’s self-help group for people living with HIV. With great courage and charisma she stands in front of the microphone and delivers a speech promoting the solidarity needed to face this virus that affects the person, community, and the world. She thanks all for coming and putting on this festival to acknowledge World AIDS Day. She leaves to the sound of applause while two 7 year old girls dressed in brightly free flowing dresses take the stage. This is the first of what will be 4 different groups of girls dancing the traditional folklore steps that Nicaraguans take great pride in. After resounding applause the CISAS clowns get introduced. Five minutes into the act, the bells of the Catholic Church of Mercy begin to clamor creating a battle of sound waves between the voices of the clowns and the sound of the bell. The bell tolls for approximately ¾ the show, obscuring some of the vital information being brought to the audience and people passing by. “Tattoos (DONG) that aren’t (DONG) cleaned before (DONG) ….” I am sure you get the picture.

The clowns put on the same show as in the terminal, but this time also added a demonstration on how to properly put on a condom, take off a condom, and throw away a condom. They also got a volunteer from the audience to replicate the procedure for a prize. When there is very limited sexual education in the school systems, and the culture does not lend itself to families talking about sexual relations and practicing safe sex, then upon who does it fall on to obtain life saving information? In this instance it is the world of non-governmental and non-profit organizations.

Throughout the 2 hour festival the bells ring on and off to the point that some people begin to laugh. Would the church blatantly have the bells ringing to overshadow the speakers directed toward the crowded streets? Why did the bells only ring during the clown show and other acts that had something to do with HIV awareness? Did the bell ringer just like folklore music and that’s the reason why the bell was silent during those acts? I had plenty of questions, so I marched into the church! I had a hundred different things that my Catholic education has taught me swirling around my head. Matthew 25, Jesuit mottos, the golden rule, all emphasizing on how this church should in no way be attempting to silence what is taking place outside its door. I walked through the beautiful wooden church doors in search of a simple answer to a simple question; do the bells normally ring like this? The head priest was saying mass and the best answer I could get stated that mass was going on and that there is no rhyme or reason to the bells – they just ring. I thought of the many Catholic priests, nuns, and the different orders, like the Jesuits and the Maryknolls, that would be greatly dismayed if the bells were utilized as a means to silence promoting World AIDS Day or educating the people.

No comments: