Posts Tagged '2010 International Military HIV/AIDS Conference'

Stranded in Africa Part 3 – Rwanda Trials and Looking Back

Travel Blog By Danielle Skinner and Hadley White

(Note: Danielle and Hadley are blogging from northern Tanzania while caught in worldwide flight delays. Yesterday they visited the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda)

Giraffes stand by Lake Manyara during our weekend safari, April 16, 2010

Giraffes stand by Lake Manyara during our weekend safari, April 16, 2010

After a busy couple of days, and then waking up to a downpour of rain, we decided to stay in Arusha on Thursday and see what activities we could do indoors. April is the rainy season in Tanzania–we have been pretty lucky with the weather though. It rains a little each morning, but by afternoon it usually clears up and the strong sun comes out. We’ve repeatedly noted how beautiful the clouds are here, especially contrasted with the green and brown earth when you get outside of the city.

After enjoying sandwiches and fresh squeezed mango juice at the Africafe (a popular coffee shop/restaurant in downtown Arusha), we headed over to the Arusha International Conference Center (AICC), where we were all of last week for the 2010 International Military HIV/AIDS Conference. This time, we wanted to see if we could drop in for an open session of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which is being held there. This international court was established in 1994 by the United Nations Security Council to prosecute people responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Rwanda in 1994. The tribunal has been located in Arusha since 1995.

We tried to see a trial at the AICC earlier in the week, but were asked to leave when a protected witness did not feel comfortable speaking in a public session. This time, we attended a trial of three detainees who were former executive leaders of the Mouvement Republicain pour la Demoncratie et le Developpment (MRND). They are accused of joining with other extremist groups within the military, MRND, and “Hutu Power’ parties to seize control of the government following the assassination of President Habyarimana and creating a corps of militia that would respond to their orders to attack and destroy the Tutsi population.

We watched the session behind a glass wall, and headphones were provided to us for translations, as the trial is conducted simultaneously in English, French, and Kinyarwanda. It was very interesting to see how the trials were run and to hear the witnesses speak. One of the defendants’ witnesses was Ferdinand Nahimana who was sentenced to 30 years for publishing articles and ordering broadcasts for Radio Rwanda encouraging people to rise up against the Tutsis.  We could immediately tell he was well-spoken and extremely good at evading

the prosecutor’s questions.  The prosecutor even described him as “a man of words, who manipulates words to fit the situation.”

Nahimana was questioned for most of the session, by both the prosecutor and the defendant. What struck us the most was the fact that this particular trial had been going on since 2005, still without a resolution. Incredible.

So now that Friday is here (Hadley’s birthday!), we are getting ready to leave Tanzania with bittersweet feelings. Our flight is scheduled to depart at 9:30pm tonight, so feel free to send good vibes our way. We are looking forward to getting back to Stuttgart, as well as discovering clean clothes again, but we are also sad to leave Arusha, where we are starting to feel like we have become permanent residents here. We’ve loved learning all that we have about this city and Tanzanian culture. At dinner last night we reflected on everything we did over the past two weeks, including: learning about military HIV/AIDS issues at the health conference last week; visiting a busy HIV/AIDS voluntary testing and counseling center in Arusha; seeing almost 30 animals including giraffes, lions, elephants, and zebras on a weekend safari; visiting local markets; meeting with and learning about the Maasai people; becoming the proud owners of custom-made tire shoes; hiking around the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro; and engaging with many wonderful people here, not only from Tanzania, but from all over the world. It’s absolutely exceeded our expectations!

We hope we have the opportunity to return to Tanzania again someday, and next time we’ll be prepared with our gear so we can climb Kilimanjaro!

See Part 1 at Stranded in Africa – Opportunity to Explore

See Part 2 at Stranded in Africa Part 2 – The Road to Kilimanjaro

See Photos at Stranded in Africa

Danielle Skinner works for the U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs Office. Hadley White works for U.S. AFRICOM’s Outreach Directorate.

A choir welcomes us to the Arusha Lutheran Voluntary Counseling and Testing Center, April 14, 2010

A choir welcomes us to the Arusha Lutheran Voluntary Counseling and Testing Center, April 14, 2010

Lab technicians show us their testing center at the Arusha Lutheran Voluntary Counseling and Testing Center, April 14, 2010

Lab technicians show us their testing center at the Arusha Lutheran Voluntary Counseling and Testing Center, April 14, 2010

Monument in Arusha

Monument in Arusha

View of the Ngorogoro Crater, April 17, 2010

View of the Ngorogoro Crater, April 17, 2010

A zebra stands in a field of flowers at the Ngorogoro Crater, during our weekend safari, April 17, 2010

A zebra stands in a field of flowers at the Ngorogoro Crater, during our weekend safari, April 17, 2010

Zebras and wildebeasts rest in the Ngorogoro Carter, April 17, 2010

Zebras and wildebeasts rest in the Ngorogoro Crater, April 17, 2010

Lions rest on a hot day in the Ngorogoro Crater, April 17, 2010

Lions rest on a hot day in the Ngorogoro Crater, April 17, 2010

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Stranded in Africa – Opportunity to Explore

Travel Blog by Danielle Skinner and Hadley White

Hadley and Danielle at the Maasai Women's Fair Trade Center in Arusha, Tanzania, April 20.

Hadley and Danielle at the Maasai Women's Fair Trade Center in Arusha, Tanzania, April 20.


As we sit here in our hotel in Arusha, Tanzania, we are watching the news for updates on the openings of European airports.  Yes, we are one of the thousands of people stranded following the eruption of the volcano in Iceland. We were in Arusha last week for the 2010 International Military HIV/AIDS Conference which ran from April 12-15, (See related article: http://www.africom.mil/getArticle.asp?art=4270&lang=0) and expected to return to Stuttgart that week. No such luck.
We have been repeatedly struck by how warm, friendly, and sympathetic the Tanzanians are about our situation. We walked into the hotel tired and disappointed by the news that our flight was cancelled, but the hotel staff couldn’t have been any nicer, offering us juice, expressing how sorry they were for our situation, and promising to keep us updated with flight information.

Being stranded is never fun, but we decided we should make the most of the situation, and see as much as we could in Arusha and learn about local culture.

So today, we set out on a mission to learn more about the Maasai culture and hired a local guide named Hassan to show us around.  The Maasai are an indigenous African ethnic group located in Kenya and northern Tanzania. We gave Hassan a general idea of what we were interested in, and he created a full itinerary to introduce us to the local culture.

He first took us to the Maasai Women’s Fair Trade Center, which is a development organization that supports Maasai women in the areas of education, health, and economic empowerment.  We talked to a Massai woman who was helping to run the center, and she was very helpful in talking about the programs that the center runs, how it benefits the women and their families, and shared with us stories of President Bush’s visit there in 2008.  We also had the chance to buy the beautiful handiworks and crafts made by local women and to support the organization.

Next stop was a Maasai market we happened to pass along the road. Hassan told us this was a great opportunity to talk with the local people and ask them questions. We found that the market happens only once a week on Tuesdays so we were really lucky to have stumbled across it.  Hundreds of people from all over the Arusha area were there, buying and selling fruits, vegetable, clothes, tools, and even shoes made from tires. Both of us were particularly interested in the tire shoes, which we noticed everyone seemed to be wearing. Before we knew it, we were being fitted for our own custom-made pairs.  As the shoemaker was carving the rubber and driving in nails into our new shoes, a small crowd gathered to watch and talk with us. Many of them found it amusing that we wanted to wear shoes like theirs.  The shoes are literally made from tires with the tread on the bottom, and they are shaped like rectangles.  Evidently they can last for years.

One of the men we met while we were being fitted for shoes offered to show us around the Maasai cattle market, which was hidden behind the main market.  The adjoining market had dozens of cattle that were there for trading between communities and selling to vendors for meat. We learned that the average price of a cow is one million Tanzanian shillings, or 800 U.S. dollars. While we were there, a lot of people stopped to talk to us, especially about our new tire shoes, which we were then wearing and attempting to break in.

On the way back to town, Hassan asked us if we would like to try some game meat at a restaurant owned by a friend of his. We weren’t sure what he was referring to but we said we’d give it a try.  It turns out this out-of-the-way restaurant is extremely popular with local families especially on the weekends, when many of them spend all day there sitting under the trees, enjoying the peaceful setting. While we waiting for our food to come out, we talked about what we had experienced in the market, and Hassan told us that most people in Arusha are either farmers or cattle herders, and tourism is a significant industry. We told him how we had found Tanzanians to be so friendly and welcoming. He said that he was happy to hear that, as people take pride in their country here and being a good host is very important to them.

Well, before we knew it, the waitress brought out a plate of eland, in the antelope family, and a bowl of ugali, a Tanzanian staple food made of corn flower, which is traditionally eaten with your hands. Hassan said that a Tanzanian can’t go more than 2 days without a serving of ugali. It was interesting to try the local food and we found ourselves enjoying it more than we thought we would.

After great food and conversation, we made it back to the hotel, a little sunburned but extremely happy. What a great day! We still don’t know when we are going to leave Tanzania (we’re hoping our Friday flight works out), but are excited to have this opportunity to spend more time here and explore the Arusha area. We look forward to what new adventure tomorrow brings!

Danielle Skinner works for U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs, and Hadley White works for U.S. AFRICOM’s Outreach Directorate.

Maasai woman at a market near Arusha, April 20

Maasai woman at a market near Arusha, April 20

Vendor sells shoes made from tires at a market near Arusha, April 20

Vendor sells shoes made from tires at a market near Arusha, April 20.

Hadley is fitted for shoes made of tire rubber at a market near Arusha, April 20

Hadley is fitted for shoes made of tire rubber at a market near Arusha, April 20

Hassan and Hadley enjoy a traditional Tanzanian meal of eland (type of antelope) and ugali.

Hassan and Hadley enjoy a traditional Tanzanian meal of eland (type of antelope) and ugali.

View of Mount Meru in Tanzania. It is the 10th highest mountain in Africa

View of Mount Meru in Tanzania. It is the 10th highest mountain in Africa

HIV/AIDS Counseling and Testing in Militaries

On 4/15/2010 8:46:21 AM Danielle Skinner of the U.S. Africa Command public affairs office wrote:

The past week, April 12-15, while representing the U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs Office at the 2010 International Military HIV/AIDS Conference, I learned a lot about the challenges facing militaries with regards to HIV/AIDS. Since I don’t have a medical background, a lot of the information was new to me. In listening to the presentations and talking with participants from all over the world (60 countries were represented), I gained a better understanding of how HIV/AIDS affects national security.

As several speakers reiterated throughout the week, a military with members who are sick and dying cannot as effectively protect its people, defend its borders, or participate in regional peacekeeping operations. Since military members are at higher risk for contracting the disease than the civilian population, implementing HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention, and treatment programs within militaries is critical.

The Tanzania People’s Defence Force is an example of a military that is proactive in its HIV/AIDS programs. While talking to an officer from the Tanzania People’s Defence Force, Colonel (Dr.) JW Bigambo, he shared a lot about what the TPDF is doing to combat the epidemic and emphasized the role of leadership in promoting counseling and testing. He said that it has to happen from the top down. Military commanders need to have open conversations encouraging their troops to get tested and know the status of each member of his or her unit. I was impressed to learn that Tanzania’s President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete (who also spoke at the conference) led by example and tested publicly for HIV/AIDS in 2007. Four million people followed his lead.

Having heard so much this week about counseling and testing for HIV/AIDS, I decided to join a group going over to a local VCT (Voluntary Counseling and Testing) facility called Arusha Lutheran Medical Centre. The VCT center is part of the Selian AIDS Control Programme which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development through its PEPFAR program.

There are three VCT centers in Arusha. The one I visited was very small, but well-organized. I was impressed with the positive attitudes of all the staff members there, who welcomed us and described what they do on a daily basis. Judith, one of the counselors, said that on average they counsel and test approximately 50-60 clients per day, though that number can vary. Together, the three VCT centers in Arusha tested more than 20,000 clients in 2009, and of those, approximately 1,300 people were HIV positive. In addition to providing testing, they provide pre-counseling and post-counseling.

Judith also described some of the challenges they face, such as the increasing number of people living with HIV/AIDS (more than 5,000 within the Selian hospitals). Another challenge is that their patients don’t have enough food or basic necessities to stay healthy. She described the miserable conditions she sees regularly during home visits with many patients sleeping on dirt floors. Finally, she said there is still a lot of stigma associated with HIV/AIDS testing, and those who test positive face discrimination in the community.

In spite of their many setbacks, the staff members at Selian displayed very positive attitudes and seemed to promote a caring environment focused on making the testing and post-testing processes easier for their clients.

Today, April 15, is the last day of the conference, which will consist of more plenary sessions, discussions, and follow-up talks. From what I saw and comments I heard from other participants, the conference offered valuable opportunities to network with other international military leaders and health experts and to exchange information and best practices.

http://www.africom.mil/africomDialogue.asp?entry=1185
Read more about the International Military HIV/AIDS conference here: http://www.africom.mil/getArticle.asp?art=4270〈=0.


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