International AIDS Conference 2016 in Durban, South Africa

We are proud to have 2 of our staff, Nikki Calma and Niko Kowell attending the International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa! They recently touched down and are reporting their daily experiences. Read about their first day in South Africa…

Nikki “Tita Aida” Calma – Associate Director
Behavioral Health and Community Programs

The moment I received news that I was selected to attend the International AIDS Conference 2016 in Durban, South Africa, it was a mixed bag of emotions. The conference is the largest for HIV/AIDS research in the world and is held in different countries. It is part of their mission to reach cities and countries that are highly impacted by the epidemic. I have been blessed to attend the last two events held in Washington DC and Melbourne. Aside from learning the latest about research and meeting interesting people in this crusade, it was the ultimate goal for someone like me.

Our journey wasn’t off to a good start. The flight was delayed in London, forcing us to spend a night there. When we got to Johannesburg there weren’t any 10pm flights, so we had to spend another night there. So much for luck. However, when I got on the plane to Johannesburg, I was surprised to be sitting next to an amazing trans woman who many celebrate, Maria Sun din. Maria is a “jill of all trades,” the essence of a true activist. There were 10 hours to burn on that flight. The power of storytelling is so precious. Maria is Swedish and admits to being a “big lesbian.” Aside from hearing her amazing stories of activism, something that I really enjoyed was knowing that other people on the plane were listening to our conversation. When we chatted about funny moments in our stories, a few people around us laughed. They were getting a dose of TG history! It made me so proud not only to be there, but to see another trans woman who is 70. I was proud to hear her stories of activism; how it worked, how it didn’t, and all the experiences that made her who she is today. 

Maria is currently working with a handful of international foundations. She plays a big role in the decision making of how to fund countries that provide HIV prevention to the highest risk populations. I learned so much from her while chatting and the time went by so fast! After that, I reminded myself that I wasn’t going to let a couple of flight delays bring my spirits down. Make the best out of situations. I then knew that things were going to be great. Here is a photo of me and Maria. More to come…

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Niko Kowell – Program Supervisor
Behavioral Health and Community Programs

My travel to the International AIDS Conference is full of firsts. It’s the furthest away from home I’ve ever been, my first time south of the equator, my first time in Africa, and my first time seeing the Indian Ocean. It was a long trip with layovers in Washington DC and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I experienced jet lag like I never have before, and took the day to recover to make sure I’d be in top shape for the Trans pre-conference, another first for the International AIDS Conference.

My day led me to the beach in Umhlanga. Beaches always help me reconnect to myself and the world. I dipped my toes into the cold, rough Indian Ocean and took in the view. It was beautiful. The sky was full of huge fluffy clouds with hundreds of shades of blues, reds, and oranges, and the moon peeked out from behind.

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I still can’t quite believe I’m in Africa!!!! The city of Durban welcomed me with open arms, sea breezes and some of the most delicious and cheapest curry I’ve ever had. Stay tuned for more as I regale you all with my adventures here in Durban and at the International AIDS Conference.

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Stay tuned for the next post. Niko and Nikki will be reporting daily from the conference!


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