The Strong Women, Strong World trip to New York was arranged months ago. It is an annual event sponsored by World Vision in Manhattan. This year’s pre-event included a conversation at the United Nations. Watering Malawi colleague, Amanda Short and I got our badges, filed through security and entered that giant room you see on the news when there is some kind of world Summit on C-SPAN.
The documentary, a part of Humanicy, the Human Side of Diplomacy, was called After the Fall: HIV Grows Up. It tells the (largely) unheard story of Romania’s epidemic of pediatric HIV/AIDS and the unsung heroes who, though they could have walked away from hundreds of abandoned infants, stayed. They stuck it out with no knowledge of the strange disease, no understanding of how it had infected so many children and no medicine with which to treat it. When it would have been easier to run, they chose to stay. These invisible angels stepped in and loved and offered the best care they could with no medicine to treat a deadly disease that eventually claimed the lives of a multitude of innocent victims.
Afterwards, there was a dialogue of unanswerable questions and hoped for outcomes. We talked about how, for the few who survived, being loved by someone, anyone, is what mattered to them most. “Because when I feel loved,” one survivor said, “I feel okay.”
I snuck cellphone pictures of the microphones and ear-gear the real international diplomats wear when they sit in this very same room. Little red lights flash on individual microphones to indicate a delegate can address the assembly and be heard. Above them a room of invisible people behind dark, glassed-in booths controlled the technology. On the wall below their windows are the names of major languages ready to be interpreted into the outdated earbuds.
It made me wonder. How can we help the world listen better? If we can send people to the moon and medically tinker with our own internal organs, what more can we do to actually hear the individual cries of humanity more clearly? How much are we even trying to listen?
Just outside the UN and a few blocks down the street, thousands of people were marching in New York City. They were carrying signs because people keep getting killed. One group holds authority and therefore power. One group feels the injustice of what sounds like the same story repeated over and over again. How do we honestly listen and respond? How do we stick around and work towards understanding? How do we listen to each other more authentically?
Are we even trying to listen, to the voiceless children, to the oppressed minorities, to the huddled masses seeking liberty? Who is thinking up new ways to watch the world from behind the window and turn up the microphones so that people can hear each other talk? Are there ways to re-imagine outdated earpieces so that our hearing of each other is intentional, careful and understood?
The day at Humanicy ended with a young student from The Juilliard School of Music playing a Bach piece from memory. Outside the doors of the Assembly, my colleague and I slowly wandered the halls of the United Nations studying priceless works of art and gifts from countries around the globe, hanging on every wall.
All the world loves beauty. All the world needs to be loved, because when we feel love, things get better. Every nation wants access to clean water and the right tools for their children to grow up healthy and happy. No one wants the innocent to die from a mysterious disease like HIV/AIDS and Ebola, war, violence, or racial profiling.
After the meeting and a reception on the Upper East Side, these two Alabama girls hailed a cab and headed back to our swank room at the YMCA West Side. Our taxi was caught up in a swarm of police cars and motorcycles and vans with what looked like a group of protesters who had been arrested. Lights were flashing. It felt like a war zone. Christmas in New York.