Yesterday I had the pleasure of chatting with one of our city’s great cab drivers. Seeing as how I’ve been riding cabs for 16 years I do have a soft spot for taxi drivers. And this story that I will retell is one of the reasons why I will not stop riding in taxis.

I was taking a short ride (too short if you ask me) from Abdoun to Jabal Amman in the early evening. I jump into the cab and after greeting the taxi driver I commented on how cold it is. His response and the conversation that followed took up from the weather to AIDS! Here is the short version of how the conversation went.

The cab drivers response to the weather was yes it even rained in X (X being a town or village I had never heard of and for the life of me can not remember its name now).

Me: Really where is X?
Him: You don’t know X?
Me: NO I don’t know X, where is it?
Him: You really don’t know X? It is 15 km out of Halabat.near Azraq.

Now I know where Halabat is and I was very curious as to how he knew precisely where this town that got rain is and how he found out. And so I asked him. He found out it had rained there because they said so on the radio. How he knows where it is that is where the story gets interesting.

He knows this little town because he had taken passengers there. When asked why his reply was “Because the woman wanted a divorce”. Oh boy did that make me even more curios! Why did a woman need to go to X to get a divorce? And so I asked and to make a long story short… there is a man that can meet your needs of divorce, pregnancy, marriage, health and all that residing in X. After a lot of questions and answers it seems this man was able to facilitate a divorce through potions and readings within one week and a pregnancy within three months by the ingestion of sheep pooh and potions and readings. The price of divorce if you were wondering is JD 135 and a baby JD 65.

I was fascinated by the whole conversation and I asked him if he really believed in all this to which his response was “how else can you explain it?” And he went on to discuss in more detail the divorce. From that conversation he told me that one of the reasons the woman wanted and obtained a divorce was that her husband had AIDS and she needed a divorce because he could pass it on to her just by breathing on her. At this point I stopped him and explained to him how AIDS can be transmitted. The cab ride ended with me telling him not to believe anything anyone tells him not even me. But to go and read, learn for himself.

I left that cab ride think it was too short. I wanted to move away from sorcery and misinformation to where we could have a discussion about how and why things happen logically and maybe even talk about the science behind the transmission of HIV. Point him in the direction of information that he can assess for himself.

I know that the whole discussion was initiated by him purposely by introducing the town X. He probably thought he could get a new client to go there and solicit help from the paranormal. He got more than he bargained for in the discussion. But if last night is any indication we still have a long way to go with and without a meter!

A few days ago I got an email from a friend. It contained an attachment. It was a poster that was part of an awareness campaign regarding HIV and AIDS. What pleasantly surprised me was that the campaign was from the Ministry of Health. However the poster evoked a lot of different feelings including amusement, surprise, happiness, and disappointment.

The mixed feelings come from different places and different reactions to the poster. First let me say I applaud the Ministry for taking this step. It is a good move towards opening the dialogue about STDs in general and HIV in particular. It has always been a taboo of a topic here. We are like ostriches with our heads in the sand, in denial about the magnitude of the problem that exists in Jordan; about the unsafe sexual practices, about sexual abuse, about STDs and about actual figures. So this is a good step, no, a great step forward

I am dismayed and disappointed in the campaign its self. Visually it leaves a lot to be desired, the poster reads like a brochure, detracting from the message. It would have been more effective to use less text for more impact redirecting people who are interested to brochures, website or the phone line they have.

The actual messages sent are both positive and yet frustrating. I have heard a lot of reactions to this campaign and the reoccurring theme is wow this is great, they will learn, and hmmm they have some misconceptions. My worry is that with misinformation we can do more harm than good. Also there is no advocacy for safe sex practices. In fact they have listed sex as dangerous as a whole, which will not deter people from having sex.

Ministry HIV Campaign

For those that don’t read Arabic the campaign is a series of questions, some highlights from the texts…

  • Do you have any sexual practices?
  • Do you have any “dangerous” sexual practices (girl and girl, guy and guy, guy and girl)?
  • Do you know that VERY beautiful girl may have AIDS?
  • Do you know that STRONG, BEAUTIFUL young man may have AIDS?
  • AIDS tests are private and confidential
  • AIDS testing is free in Jordan
  • There is no “quarantine” or reservations against AIDS patients in Jordan

I have heard that this campaign is using the internet and SMS to spread the word, a great way to target the younger generation. I hope there is a plan for wider reach and more mass media tools and techniques. We need to break through the silence and really have people become more aware of the dangers and how to prevent them.