Sunday, November 14, 2010


Last week, I tagged along for another social patrol, only this time, our marshrytka (mini van) was a little more crowded.  This time, a long with the social workers and driver, we had a Swedish journalist, her photographer and a translator.  They came to Ukraine because it has the fastest growing rate of HIV, and the paper wanted to release a story about it.  We answered the reporter's questions about how grave the problem is as we drove out of the center of the city in search of some kids.  Just the day before, our foundation found six children who agreed to come back to our center, so we were worried maybe today, we would not be as successful in finding some street kids to talk to.  

We made our usual rounds, and found ourselves in front of a MacDonald's. There we interviewed a couple of kids, both who are HIV+.  Of course it was sad to hear their story, and one of them basically told us flat out he would not survive this winter - he is only seventeen.  They had been injecting drugs (mostly over the counter cold medications mixed with water) for about six years.  They moved slowly, and appeared to have extremely stiff joints because they could hardly change positions - I wonder if this is a result of the AIDS, or some other disease.  Although it was eradicated in the USA, polio is still found in many countries; I kept thinking I was glad that I had my polio immunization years ago.  He told us that he had checked into a center, but they did not want him there because of his illness so he felt obligated to go back to the streets.  I asked him if there was a center for kids like him with HIV, if he would go, and he looked at me in shock, and gave me a huge toothless smile and a thumbs up.  After the interview, the reporter bought the kid a much needed new pair of warms shoes.  The kid told us in English, "Thank you very much, you saved my life," then we moved on.

Photographer, Translator, and Journalist in the back of an ambulance - hunting for prostitutes
Our next task was to find a set of prostitutes to interview, as they would be part of another large group of people who are prone to contracting HIV.  We drove outside of town, slightly further than the bus stop then pulled over.  I wasn't even sure where we were, but we stopped at what looked like a large taco stand with some indoor seating.  We interviewed one girl, who did not appear to be a prostitute at all - at least, not one that I would expect anyone to pay to be with.  She appeared drunk, and maybe only conducted the interview for the free bottle of vodka that was promised.  I took a picture outside of the restaurant, and was verbally accosted by some other woman.  

Woman yelling at me in Russian: "Why are you taking pictures of me?? I am not a prostitute."
Erica: "I am sorry, I didn't think you were. I was just taking pictures of this building."

Picture of the building - not the lady
After about five intense minutes of this, she started laughing and said that now I owe her a picture.  So we got the very nervous translator to take a picture of me and the lady next to each other.  At least the picture was on a really bad camera phone and didn't come out.  She was too drunk to notice.

At the end of it all, I came out more determined to help our organization with its goal of opening that HIV clinic/shelter for street kids.  If there had been one just a few short years ago, that kid we interviewed might actually have had a shot at surviving into adulthood.  Crazy thought, right?

On a funny note, we woke up the next day only to find out that they were doing tree clippings outside.  There were no notes telling people to move their cars, and the trimming crew hardly looked dressed for work.  I think I even saw someone sporting flip flops.

Very large branches narrowly missing the cars below

This was the most terrifying cherry picker I have ever seen

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