by Michael McColly - £12.99 Soft Skull Press (2007)
paperback ISBN 13: 9781932360929 | ISBN 10: 1932360921
The After-Death Room offers an insider's urgent quest for a more global understanding of the psycho-spiritual challenges that people face who wake up each morning inside the AIDS epidemic and have to act, to learn, to hope from there.
McColly's is a odyssey that leads him to search out African-American preachers on the Southside of Chicago, Buddhist monks in a remote Thai monastery, traditional [Zulu healer], male sex workers in urban India, and mullahs in Islamic Senegal. Through the lives of these far-flung individuals, and through the utterly transforming experiences of his journey, he comes to a fuller understanding of how cultural attitudes toward death and dying, sexuality and gender, and morality and spirituality affect the life chances and the activist energies of people living with HIV/AIDS.
The journey begins in South Africa at the 13th International AIDS conference in Durban to which the author was brought to give a workshop on the benefits of Yoga for people with HIV/AIDS. Shortly after he'd first learned that he was HIV positive, he embraced the discipline of Yoga to help him face the ensuing psychological and physical challenges. In South Africa he hoped to have the chance to adapt the work he had done in Chicago, where he had shared his learning about Yoga's healing potential for people suffering from HIV/AIDS and other chronic diseases.
However, in the process of offering workshops in South Africa, he found himself confronted with the deeper issues and ethical dimensions of this epidemic, particularly when asked by activists to join them and come into communities to offer the Yoga workshop to teens and HIV women's groups. He was directly confronted with himown principles and beliefs when he had to choose to either stay or return to the U.S. out of fear of losing his job and thus jeopardize my health insurance. The shaky foundations of his liberal of eastern philosophy and Christian ethics began to crumble in the face of the stories of activists from China to Nairobi and seeing for himself the destructive despair that HIV/AIDS was inflicting on a South Africa already wounded by generations of violence and racism. He found himself asking visceral questions about why such glaring inequities around the world were allowed to feed this pandemic. What do you do, for example, when four-year old AIDS orphans grab your legs and somehow know that you need to hug them as much as they need to hug you?
Traveling into this epidemic and having to face the wrenching realities of life with HIV's stigma, shame, and certain swift death had a profound effect on the author. It challenged McColly to place his own struggles in a global frame, forcing him to contemplate the lives of the majority of HIV positive people who do not have the good fortune of treatment, access to health care and a supportive community. How, he began to ask myself, do they really live? What are the worlds that shape their hardship and their hopes on a daily basis?
His South African trip affected deep changes in another way. Although that society suffers infection rates of 20 percent, he met some remarkably upbeat and committed spirits there, HIV positive activists and community organizers who are shaping not only policy in South Africa but leading the international struggle to secure affordable treatment and basic civil rights for people with HIV. These people seem unafraid of stigma and of death; they also seemed invigorated by the challenge of changing themselves and their worlds. Bearing witness to their urgent passion made him reevaluate his life and its purpose. He thus embarks on a global odyssey to both teach and learn, traveling to India, Thailand, Vietnam, Senegal (with stints in Chicago in between, and returns visits both to South Africa and other of these countries.
In so doing, he felt his identity change from that of a victim of a virus to that of a member of a worldwide movement that could help reshape the planetary future.
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