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AIDS in Papua, A Redefined Love

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I’ve always wanted to shoot stories about HIV/AIDS. It seems like a must for some photojournalists. But since I told myself that I refuse to shoot pix that only about pity and unhappy situations, I dont feel like pursuing the deadly virus story that much. You see, I portray myself as a happy person. Am blessed with happiness around me. And even in sadness, i can still find a little piece of happiness. And I’ve seen pix revealing the stories of people that are disturbed and unhappy. Some can make a very moving images, that captures your heart and open your eyes about the bitter reality of life. Am loving some of the pictures as well. But it wont be fair just to see life as something that is unfair. At least, I cant do that. As a person blessed with happiness and love, I am obligated to tell the truth about that version of life. Some people may disapprove it, but I merely just showing my perspective of this life I see through my camera.

Last November 2010, never knew I actually will set foot in Papua again. It’s my 2nd trip this year, where each trip would cost a hole in my account. This time I made a hole in my father’s. hehe.. And I really didn’t know what to expect. Spent three weeks there, and learn a lot from this trip. I have plans of course, but some plans can just remain as plans. As a muslim, i believed that everything is as Allah’s will. Masya Allah. So when I actually went to Papua, I put the plans carefully inside my head, and my heart whisper Bismillah.. Whatever comes, comes..

Friends there, Dr. Yanuar – the ophthalmologist I met in my first trip to Papua on June 2010 – and his adorable nurses in Dian Harapan hospital gave me an incredible help. They gave me a place to sleep in the nurses’ dorm, at the back of the hospital’s building, and take me to places just for a little sight seeing. The living cost in Papua can be considered high, some of the items sold there, can be doubled the price in Jakarta. But I managed. The nurses, Frida and Doys would often cook me lunch. Maybe it’s my pitiful and always hungry looks that makes them always assure me to have my breakfast, lunch and dinner. I gained weight as I was being scaled before aboard the small plane to Asmat from Timika. So much for having a miserable life that people often say when I mentioned Papua.

Dr. Yanuar introduced me to a brother (catholic priest) that involved in Volunteer Counseling and Testing for HIV/AIDS patients. Brother Agustinus Adil, a catholic monk from Flores, been in VCT since 2003. After a half an hour talk, and me got lost in the hospital hall ways.. (I hate hospitals! All the halls look the same and once you make the wrong turn, you’ll end up looking stupid — and lost!) he told me to visit his patients in the hospice, a facility that provides special care for people who are near the end of life and for their families, usually maintained by a monastic order, like him. We also make plans for house visit to a patient living not far from Jayapura. Thats when I know, I have the chance to actually shoot story about HIV/AIDS.

I have shot a story on 2006 about the theme once, in Bogor. A few hours ride from Jakarta. They are HIV positives who got the virus by being an Injection Drug Users (IDUs). What makes this different, because am shooting the story in Papua, which contributes half of the number of people living with AIDS in Indonesia. The highest rate in the country. And of which almost 100 percent caused by sexual encounters. There I was, excited yet afraid of what am about to see. The overwhelmed feeling just started.

I wasn’t even sure that I would go to the hospice along with cameras or not. Because cameras can make some people feel uncomfortable. So I packed them in my bag, and told my self that even if am gonna shoot them at all, I wont be revealing their faces. Because what matters would be their stories, not who they are.

In between my other trip to Asmat (which end up as an almost 10 days trip), I managed to go to the hospice for like 4-5 times. 4 hours max of short visits. Most of the times, I would just hang the cameras on my shoulder and shoot nothing. I was listening to their stories, trying to understand. I also made 2 times house visit to a same patient, and went twice to a prostitution center in Sentani, Jayapura.

During those meetings with the patients, their families, the sex workers, the health workers, and other people who don’t understand HIV/AIDS at all, i was starting to felt confused. I cant really tell which is the victim and who is the villain.

A wife whose now living as AIDS patient because of her ex husband which being divorced because she refused to have a mistress in her home, a teenage girl who got infected and need to buy blood frequently because of her condition only after having sex for the first time, ONCE! with her boyfriend whom now just nowhere to be found, an ex drug users, who got the information about his HIV status from his girlfriend, with fully understanding that he got the virus for being a promiscuous.

WTF!

I got angry with the situation given in their stories and just shocked, I found myself crying for hours one night in the dorm.

She loved her husband and willing to be a muslim, just to be mistreated? She gave her love and gave birth to a daughter and a son for him just to find that he was with many other women? She treated him well for months because he got syphilis only to have a request of having him marrying another woman? And now she lives with her son in a hospice far from her home and her daughter, trying to put the pieces together with believes that she have to get by this for the sake of her children. She can still smile, joke and laugh with me, even when I cried during interviews feeling somewhat guilty and confused. “Maybe this is a try out from God, but right now, I feel so happy. I have my children, the best and most precious gift in life. Whenever I feel ill, I would just love seeing David, my son, dancing. He’s like a living radio set.”

A beautiful and energetic teenage girl, lived the life to the fullest. Fell in love and made love for the first time. Years later, bang her head until she fainted when she learn that a virus called HIV is ripping off her life. She only wanted to go home for xmas this year to see her family. She was so convinced that her family would just accept that now she’s living with AIDS. Her father whose an important person in her village, who loved her dearly, who would called her ‘daddy’s little girl’ would be okay with it, right? Right? This year she can finally menstruate again, after years can not, most likely because of her bad condition of health over the years. Now, looking cheerful and sexy, she would just pray every now and then in between her medications. “I often asked myself and God, why this happens to me, but I truly believed in God and I know I will get better.”

A cool young man, living one party to another, having the best time in his life, surrounded with friends and the great feeling of being young and restless. Maybe a little booze, sometimes, maybe a little drugs for ecstasy, sometimes. Maybe a little love here and there, celebrating his passionate life, sometimes. Now lying in the bed, with only bones and skin left. Cant even have his own shower. Lost in understanding where was the love he used to have? And what does he find now? Only the love from his parents? Only a home for his shelter? Only walls and no friends to talk to anymore. “If mama afraid of me, please just stop caring. I’ll ask brother to take care of me.”

I really need to redefine the term of love. It gets more absurd than it has been. One seems to be prone of getting hurt just to be in love. But their hope in the same time, mesmerize me. Hopes which also comes from love and affection. A wish for a better end, by accepting the past and present. It’s just overwhelming, all these misunderstandings and the effort to understand about it all at once.

Me, you, every single one of us can get infected by HIV. None can really tell. And none can be blamed either. It is NOT a punishment from God, no matter how unfair it may seems. How it happens maybe matters, but not as matters as looking ahead, and ask yourself what can you do about it. When you have someone with HIV/AIDS near you, try to listened to them, don’t judge them, no one is a saint. Embrace your passionate and do not afraid to love them and show it. Be careful as you need to be, but fear them not. Listen.. all they need is all ears from you and help them to understand what happens, as they are as confuse. Care for them all you can.

The story haunt the editor in TEMPO English Edition and make them publish it -with only minor editing!- in 2nd week of December 2010 edition.

May you who have read it and see the pictures, can learn something from it and redefined AIDS through love and affection.

*Special thanks for everyone who made this story possible, and I hope I can give the patients another visits and learn more from them, with them, time to time.

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Written by nickmatulhuda

December 21, 2010 at 2:47 pm

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