I have lived in South Africa for the last three years, and every time I go to Europe I feel this immediate sense of not having to be on guard. Not that security is occupying my mind every minute of the day in South Africa but when I cross the border, I subconsciously drop my guard and see my cell phone and handbag lying around and expect nothing to happen with them.
This is not a good idea in Barcelona, the pick-pocket capital of Europe. On the first day of arrival I had a woman checking out the zipper of my backpack while entering the subway. The next day my friend found a hand in her handbag which did not belong to her.
It brought back memories from two years ago, when the organizers were preparing for XIII International Conference in Durban, the first international AIDS conference to be hosted in a developing country. Everybody was extremely concerned about the security of the delegates, and many preparations were made, including security leaflets in conference bags, to make sure the delegates were aware of the potential dangers that one could encounter in Durban.
Durbanites were so concerned for their oversees visitors that they went out of their way to make sure everybody was safe and happy and enjoyed Durban to the fullest. If my memory serves me right, I think in the whole week of the Durban AIDS2000 Conference, two people were mugged.
In Barcelona, no announcements were made, no security leaflets, and no messages on the subway stations for foreign visitors to warn for pick-pockets. At yesterday’s daily briefing of UNAIDS, the issue was reportedly brought up for the first time and people were warned.
In general, in Barcelona, the AIDS conference is not felt and experienced by the people from Barcelona as it was in Durban, where everywhere you looked, from the beach to the airport, there were conference banners and cultural events.
With this in mind, I personally look forward to going to in 2002 to Thailand, country known for its peace-loving and hospitable people. Thailand also takes a more humanistic approach to PWAs with regard to visas and treatment. It is time to bring the people to the epidemic again instead of the epidemic to the people. Plus, there is another advantage: no so many pick-pockets!
AIDS 2002 Conference News produced by Health & Development Networks/Key Correspondent Team