|Organization:||Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association|
|Program Area:||Human Services|
Messages of courage, hope, and warning
Alaska AIDS Assistance Association
To be a key collaborator within the state of Alaska in the provision of supportive services to persons living with HIV/AIDS and their families and in the elimination of the transmission of HIV infection and its stigma.
"I love these meals," he tells me. "It gets me out."
Other people smile and nod. Then they talk about their jobs, or their lack thereof; about their relationships or lack thereof; about Christmas shopping and the war and the recent election. They talk about the things any group of disparate people talk about when they're sharing a meal.
Down the hallway a young Alaska Native girl is going through a rack that holds the informational brochures. She leafs through one that reads, "Living with HIV: Your Treatment Plan."
Her mother is talking in low tones to a councilor. The young woman puts the pamphlets back, leans up against the wall, and wipes tears from her eyes.
In the front lobby, a few people sit on couches, waiting to be tested or to talk to someone. They look at their feet, their hands, through magazines, anything but at each other. It will take them awhile, if ever, to find their way back here, to the little room where people are talking and laughing.
David is telling me about his cabin in the Bush, about how he had just returned from a two-week stay there. There was a time, he says, that he couldn't go out there at all. He was too weak. Now, because of the drugs he's taking, he can. But he's still not as strong as he once was. Also, he has had to give up his big love: his banjo. His disease has caused nerve damage to his left hand. But still he's grateful, he says. His disease is under check now, his viral load basically non-existent.
Another man, a younger one than David, talks about his travels and his writing. He talks about all the places he had been, all the people that he's seen, all of the stories he's written and heard, all of the things he still plans to do.
Throughout the office are pictures of people who are living with HIV / AIDS. Under those pictures are their stories; how they got the disease, how they are living with it. They are messages of courage and hope and of warning.
One of the women in those pictures is on staff at Four A's. Her name is Sarah Carter-Pierce. In 2000, she was given only a few months to live. Now, she bounds into the small room where everyone is finishing up their meals, full of energy and enthusiasm.
"How is everyone feeling?" she asks.
The young woman with tears in her eyes walks down the hallway, past those pictures of people with a disease that she may now have, past others like her who were sitting on the couch, and out into the dusky December afternoon.
In this little well-lit room David is holding a phantom banjo on his lap, picking the phantom strings, trying to show me the way it once was, in his other life.