Faiello, Dean A.



Memento The African sun, a shimmering orange disc, heated the Serengeti plain on the morning that Olivia's mother gave birth to a girl, Tamika. As the sun descended that night, providing relief from the sweltering heat, Olivia began to dig a single grave for both her mother and new-born sister. Their faceless identities were added to the list of two million lives claimed by HIV that year, and every year. Olivia's father watched the burial, shaded by the canopy of an African mahogany tree. Weakened and emaciated from AIDS, he could not help his daughter lift the soil that one month later, covered him too. As HIV ravaged the African continent, Olivia joined the ranks of eighteen million children who have been orphaned by a merciless, unstoppable virus. Thirteen years old, homeless, and HIV positive, Olivia travelled to the United States. Invited by the World Health Organization, she testified in front of Congress as to the devastation in Africa caused by the HIV virus. After Olivia told her story, senators wringed their hands, pledged some dollars toward fighting the disease, and thanked Olivia for her time. She returned to her native country, Tanzania, where one year later she joined her mother, sister, and father in a nameless grave, blanketed by the arid soil of the Serengeti plain. As Olivia was laid to rest, across the Atlantic ocean Jonathan Larson worked on a play about the impact of HIV on those living in New York City. In a heatless abandoned building in the East village, the play's characters comforted an artist stricken with AIDS. Larson added a strident musical score, and titled the play, 'Rent.' It broke box office records, won Tonys, and launched careers. But Larson never knew that. The night before 'Rent' opened on Broadway, Jonathan Larson died of AIDS. Broadway's lights dimmed, and the band played on. Despite reports in the media and alarms sounded by health organizations, much of the world paid little attention to the emerging epidemic. Americans weren't worried. AIDS was a problem in a foreign land, for people with skin of another color. It was a disease affecting Haitians, and gays, and Africans -- not god-fearing Americans. But as the virus spread, claiming the lives of actors, musicians, sports figures -- black and white -- African and American -- men and women -- the epidemic morphed into a pandemic. Yet there were still those who refused to talk about sex, or needles, or death. They denied reality and hid in the comfort of their spacious homes, pristine bedrooms and idyllic suburbs, far from blighted neighborhoods and Third World countries. On Main Street USA, in high schools and on college football fields, the bands played on Yet, the brave spoke out. The compassionate organized concerts and raised money to help the victims and combat the disease. AIDS marched without relent past borders, across oceans and continents, trampling humanity. The death toll climbed from three thousand to thirty million. Women died. Families disintegrated, and nations withered. Governments fretted about budgets as they debated the value of a human life. As the calendar marks another World AIDS Awareness Day, have we learned from the past, from our stubborn refusal to recognize a planetary plague? Once again, African countries are being ravaged by a killer virus: Ebola. Thousands are dying. Governments are slow to react. Yet Ebola has been indiscriminately killing for nearly forty years. There is still no cure, no treatment. Big Pharma abandoned trials for medications because pencil pushers said there wasn't enough profit to be made. Will next year s calendar mark a World Ebola Awareness Day as we reflect upon and remember the mothers and children that died, waiting for a treatment, a cure? Jonathan Larson and Olivia are watching, and waiting, as the band plays on.

Author: Faiello, Dean A.

Author Location: New York

Date: October 24, 2016

Genre: Essay

Extent: 2 pages

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