Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Heal the world, one delegate at a time

July 17th:

Claudia and I had been told that the US delegation would be meeting at 9.30 am in the Presidente. After a breakfast at the hotel (more explaining about 'sin carne' – no meat), we went to the Presidente. There, we found a number of people dressed in white – it seemed that white apparel was suggested for the healing ceremony at noon. The closest thing I had to white was yellow, luckily ethnic (that wins some points). Some of the members of the Indian delegation were in the lobby and the restaurant upstairs.

The US delegation, or at least those who had arrived – about 20, met in a room nearby. About 65 people have registered for the conference from US and Canada. It was then we found out that we are actually the North American delegation. Mexican delegates are part of the Central American delegation – well, it atleast works out in terms of language!
We went through a round of introductions – this was a diverse set of people with varied experiences. Some have worked on US-Mexico border issues, others are union representatives fighting for heathcare, yet others work on global campaigns and quite a few are students. One delegate from Tennessee, Lori Smith, talked about her problems with health insurance when she fell sick. She is now part of a group organizing a sit-in in Tennessee protesting cuts in healthcare.
We discussed logistics – essential for finding people in this town filled with ~1500 delegates and more tourists. Incidentally, it seems there are only 1700 beds in hotels in this town. I guess a lot more people turned out than the organizers expected! Daily meetings of 5.30 pm were planned and a bulletin board would be set up so that delegates could exchange information. Some topics of interest to this group were discussed – a global 'Right to Health' campaign, right to water, protesting militarization, food security, women's health and reproductive rights and social determinants of health. I volunteered for a few tasks – the result of a high predilection for raising my hand at every occasion :)
Next, I had to buy batteries for my camera. The first shop I enquired in asked for $7 per battery (C2 lithium). 2 blocks down, it was $4!
The healing ceremony was to be led by indigenous peoples from across the world. The goal was to 'activate the earth' and seek blessings. It was held in a highly scenic place – a quadrangle bounded by buildings on three sides and a glorious backdrop on the fourth. We walked in to chanting interspersed with haunting music. The 'convenors', dressed in traditional clothes stood in a circle, with attendees in concentric circles around them and yet more in balconies around. The part of the ceremony that I witnessed included calls to the four directions, the heavens and the earth. Speakers talked about war, oppression and the hope for a better world.
I found Navin, Prasanna and Abraham from PHM, Bangalore in the crowd. All of them were in impeccable white, Prasanna attired in traditional South Indian style. 45 minutes into the event, I felt healed enough and headed out to the secretariat. More walking, especially since I lost my way. Thankfully, streets are labeled reasonably well.
At the secretariat, I found Laura of the North American delegation. We had volunteered to find the room we were assigned (Mt. St. Helena). One hour of searching and questioning everyone we could find (in fluent Spanish, thanks to Laura) was unsuccessful. Finally, Laura was able to collar the Dean of the Medical college and he promised her any room she wanted in the new facility.
Meanwhile, I joined the meeting of the Indian delegation. Because of the organizational needs, many members of this group had been drafted by various committees. The remaining members, almost to a person, were presenting papers – a marked difference from the N American delegation. As they remarked, this is just an indication of how mobilized PHM-India is. Among the attendees from India are Meera Shiva (VHAI), Abhay Shukla (CEHAT), Amitava Guha (of Patents fame) and others. One of the delegates, Pervez, is a filmmaker and musician. He asked for volunteers for a chorus for some performances around town. One more task, definitely more pleasant, added to my list.
After the meeting, I waited for Prasanna to finish his other tasks so that we could discuss a plan of action – we had earlier discussed sharing information throughout the week with AIDers and others. No luck – not only was he busy, but he was feeling mentally drained. We decided to convene the discussion to another day.
Finally, at 8 pm, a group of 5 met in Pervez's room to practice the songs we were to perform – one from the NBA (Narmada Bachao Andolan), another a Bhojpuri song and finally a 'maajhi' (boatman) song. That and a hearty meal signalled the end of one hectic day (of many to follow, hopefully).

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