In the mid noughties, I attended a “Global Drug Policy Summit” in Kabul at their Intercontinental Hotel. This would have been the most developed together hotel in Kabul, but still the lavatories didn’t work well, so you can imagine how the rest of the City was. I just mention that so you can get a feel for how most people live in Afghanistan having had the sh** bombed out of their homeland for so long.
I had been abused by individual conference organisers (of the-then Senlis Council)- made to feel quite unwelcome – but as I had travelled all the way from London, UK, I was going to get into the event one way or t’other
Let me just set the scene a bit. I had already been conferencing internationally for 16 years, and only once had I ever seen armed conference security ; that was 1991 at the World AIDS Conference, being held in Florence Italy, that year. These armed cops tried to make themselves obscure in Florence but just that they were there at all, was…..well, interesting (understatement)
So when I arrived at the Kabul International Hotel, in this land where women are essentially the private property of men, and can not go out alone, or wear ANY clothes that expose bits of their skin, I was appropriately dressed, but I was not ready for a) the completely inappropriate behaviour of Senlis Council staff, or b) the fact that I was going to have to beg my way into the conference. The armed security-cops were the least of my problems, (after all, I had already lived my own personal drug war, which included being held at knife and gun point several times.)
I’d spent almost a grand getting there, setting up accommodation and the fear of the conference-organisers wasn’t going to prevent me from even getting in…. Their fear was based upon knowing that I can be a fierce, no-holds-barred activist, who doesn’t mince her words, when it comes to defending the right of all dependent drugs users to medicine and disease prevention tools (clean needles and medically assisted treatment like methadone.) According to the more genial Fabrice (Senlis Council worker), their fear was that I would go to the microphone in the main plenary of the gathering and say something that was so inflammatory, I’d cause embarrassment for them being ejected from the conference with a gun up my back. At least, it was good to know that it wasn’t simply discrimination against this grass-roots activist that was causing their misbehaviour then..
Fortunately my colleague and friend, Marco Perduca, soon arrived at the Intercontinental and was incredulous when I explained my situation. He and I had worked well together lobbying at various UN global drug policy events, so he just didn’t get why they were attempting to exclude me. He approached Ms Kennedy and explained that “there seems to be a problem for this young lady, Andria, getting into the conference. Why is that?” he asked genuinely surprised. Blushing, Ms Kennedy, knew she was going to have to make an alteration to her plan. Fabrice was sent to speak to me and explain why they were doing this. We made a deal: I could get into the conference IF I promised NOT to speak in the major plenaries, at the microphone… Having threatened to engage the press on this issue of the exclusion of a grass roots activist, and him backing down from total exclusion, I said that I would go along with that. Neither Perduca, I or my DRCNet friend thought this fair but hey ho, it coulda been worse…!!
In any case, I did get to address a smaller group about the issues I am supposedly expert in, re harm reduction and user-organising.
G, I need to formalise my act, as in work for one organisation or other and preferrably get paid to do so….The problem with that of course is that you are always answerable to one boss or other, some of whom you may not agree with. Years ago, I worked for Phoenix House (PH) London, at the beginning of the AIDS Crisis in UK… I was promoting clean needles and methadone etc at a conference (1997) Somebody asked me who I worked for and I said that I was a locum worker for Phoenix. I promptly lost that job, not that ANYBODY at Phoenix had instructed me about what I could/couldn’t say as a PH worker… A year later of course, everybody in the drugs field was promoting Harm Reduction in an attempt to prevent more HIV infections amongst injection drugs users, but I was never given an apology, informally or otherwise
Off to speak with some young drugs users in London, SE1