On the way. 14 March 2016
In the taxi with a bag full of lubricants
The frangipane is a flower. We didn’t know, nor did the taxi driver, or maybe he did…anyway, he takes quite a detour to neighbourhood where the streets are all named after flowers. But it gives us the opportunity to look in the goody bag we’ve been given by ATLAS2018 to give to the men from HE+HIV, a charity which supports men with hiv.
The goody bag is full of condoms and lubricants, both of which are supposed to be impossible or difficult to obtain. That doesn’t surprise us. Everyone who we’d told that we were going to Suriname to photograph and interview people with hiv said: “You won’t find anyone, no one wants to admit it. And homosexuality doesn’t even exist in Suriname.”
We find some offices at number 61 Frangipane Street but no sign for HE+HIV. Fortunately the chairman Marten Colom spots us walking past and comes out to get us. HE plus HIV plus Marten plus two colleagues work in a small office. Behind Marten there’s a poster on the wall of an old Dutch HIV campaign showing Ryan Babel (a Dutch footballer of Suriname descent). It says: “Would I be offside if I had hiv?” Marten explains that everyone thinks that Ryan Babel has HIV. If that was the case then this would be a very suitable poster for Suriname. Marten and later Erol make this clear later. (For The Netherlands it’s a terrible poster, but that’s my personal opinion)
We are shocked at what Marten tells us. In 1998 he didn’t feel well and gradually felt worse. He had an hiv test in hospital. The results took ages. We think: they didn’t dare tell him. When he eventually heard that he had HIV he was just sent home, no help, nothing. He thought he could die at any moment. You can read the whole story (soon).
Fortunately a lot has changed since 1998: there is counselling (by HE+HIV and others), health care is much improved and the government distributes free medication. But stigmatization is changing very slowing. That HE+HIV don’t have a sign on their office isn’t just a coincidence. Almost no one dares to come out and admit to their hiv status. Many of those who are hiv positive won’t even admit it to themselves. So they start taking medication far too late and have very often already passed on the virus to others.
Stigma kills, here too.