Living with AIDS in Middle East

Life is difficult sometimes. Especially when you live in Middle East and you find out to be HIV positive. Sometimes become always.

This is what happened to Asmaa, a main character of Amr Salama movie. Even though it was released in 2011 it still carries valid message and sparks conversation about sensitive issue. The film is set in Cairo and shows everyday life and struggle of HIV positive woman in her 40s. In order to protect her family and make a living Asmaa keeps her medical condition secret. The only place where she can openly talk about herself is AIDS support group. Complete strangers became her family. But having the virus is not the only of her problems. Asmaa desperately needs gallbladder operation. In this situation an offer to take part in TV show and talk about AIDS brings her hope to get treatment she needs outside Egypt. 

The full movie with English subtitles is available on YouTube:

‘Asmaa’ is based on a true story of a woman who actually died because of gallbladder burst and is inspired by lives of HIV patients from one of support centres in Egypt.6 years before movie’s premiere, in 2005 Amr Salama made documentary about AIDS for United Nations and this is how he got to know HIV patients. In one of the interviews the director talks about the process of making the film and obstacles he and his crew had to face while filming. “We got banned from filming at the Cairo Airport when they knew the film’s topic, although we had the required permits.”he said. ‘Asmaa’ is an outcome of three years of collecting people’s stories and constant dilemma about the script which Salama rewrote more than 30 times. Some of the patients even appeared in the movie playing minor roles. He also made the actors to meet HIV carriers to help them better understand struggle they face.

And this is what the movie is about for me. The struggle. It’s about being different, somehow worse, it’s about being part of minority, about the fear of not being accepted, judged, despised. It’s about longing for freedom, equal rights, happiness and life. Being asked: “What do you really wish for, Asmaa?” she said: “What do I wish for? I don’t want to be afraid. I fear many things. I don’t want to be afraid of the pain. I don’t want to be afraid of running out of medicine. I don’t want to be afraid of people. People don’t understand what this thing is like. I don’t want to be afraid that they know. I don’t want to be afraid of what they’d do to me if they knew. If I stop fearing the attack, or running out of medicine, or people… or Habiba. Maybe I’d feel like I’m alive.”

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has one of the lowest HIV prevalence rates. Nevertheless the region is becoming a matter of concern. Since 2001 number of carriers have increased by 35% and between 2005 and 2013 AIDS – related deaths rose by 66%. Moreover cultular aspect doesn’t do any good to tackle the problem and help those infected. HIV positive patients are very often rejected by society and even family. Ill informed people including medical staff believe that disease is highly contagious and can be passes as easily as flu or by mosquitoes. 

Beside ‘Asmaa’ I also highly recommend short documentary about AIDS by Amr Salama: 

And for those who would like to know more about HIV problem in MENA region, AVERT report:

We are all refugees

The first time I’ve heard poem ‘Home’ by Warsan Shire was on Wednesday 11th of November 2015 in Union Chapel (London Islington). The event ‘The unforgotten an evening of remembrance’ was organised to support refugee camps in Calais and Greece.
And now, more than one year later hardly anything has changed regarding the crisis. We just don’t talk about it any more. Media are preoccupied with new president of the USA, upcoming elections in Europe, Russian growing military activity. Nevertheless the problem didn’t disappear. Even now during cold winter months hundreds of people are still risking their lives and boarding boats in attempt to reach Europe in perilous journeys. According to The Independent 2016 was the deadliest year for refugees with almost 4,000 deaths, the number even higher than for 2015 with around 3,770 fatalities. One of the reasons of it is EU-Turkish deal to stop influx of migrants trying to reach Greek islands. Closed routes forced desperate people to seek alternative ways and travel via Libya, thus to take longer sea journey. Still the number of asylum seekers coming from North Africa remained same with around 160,000 reaching Italy this year, despite enforcing high profile anti-smuggling measures and greater risk of becoming victim of terrorism and death. International Organisation for Migration estimates that more than 70% migrants have been forced to work without pay, became victims of human trafficking, organ trafficking or other form of abuse in order to ‘secure’ their journey to Europe.
2016 is not over yet. Most likely those figures will grow. For those who would like to be up to date with what the situation of refugees looks like I highly recommend The Independent reports
And the comments. Sadly some refuse compassion for those who need it the most:(
Warsan Shire


No one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark

you only run for the border

when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats

the boy you went to school with

who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory

is holding a gun bigger than his body

you only leave home

when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you

fire under feet

hot blood in your belly

it’s not something you ever thought of doing

until the blade burnt threats into

your neck

and even then you carried the anthem under

your breath

only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets

sobbing as each mouthful of paper

made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,

that no one puts their children in a boat

unless the water is safer than the land

no one burns their palms

under trains

beneath carriages

no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck

feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled

means something more than journey.

no one crawls under fences

no one wants to be beaten

no one chooses refugee camps

or strip searches where your

body is left aching

or prison,

because prison is safer

than a city of fire

and one prison guard

in the night

is better than a truckload

of men who look like your father

no one could take it

no one could stomach it

no one skin would be tough enough

go home blacks


dirty immigrants

asylum seekers

sucking our country dry

niggers with their hands out

they smell strange


messed up their country and now they want

to mess ours up

how do the words

the dirty looks

roll off your backs

maybe because the blow is softer

than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender

than fourteen men between

your legs

or the insults are easier

to swallow

than rubble

than bone

than your child body

in pieces.

I want to go home,

but home is the mouth of a shark

home is the barrel of the gun

and no one would leave home

unless home chased you to the shore

unless home told you

to quicken your legs

leave your clothes behind

crawl through the desert

wade through the oceans



be hunger


forget pride

your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear



run away from me now

I don’t know what I’ve become

but I know that anywhere

is safer than here