March 30, 2012
Today was our last day with AIDS Alabama. We met Carly at campus at 9am to help them with some yard work around the facilities. We had a glorious time in that fabulous weather, as it was cloudy with a nice breeze for the majority of the day. It made working outside a bit more tolerable.
We started out weeding for what seems like hours. We had minimal supplies and experience, though we jumped right in and tackled the task at hand. We had little time, but maximal energy. We had little guidance, but tons of enthusiasm. We weeded and picked up trash from the main courtyard, then headed over to the entrance to the JASPER House. There, some of us went into beast mode and picked weeds, spread 20 bags of mulch, and Michael clipped tons of hedges. We made the area look as nice as possible for the clients who call it home. Amanda, Shea and Colbey worked with a client who liked to garden the area. She thanked us for helping her out and removing the weeds, promising us that she would maintain the area after we left.
After our quick lunch break and Jong-In and Peter arranging the marriage of their future offspring, we headed straight back to work. Amanda, Colbey and Shea headed to AGAPE II and planted more flowers in the courtyard. The client from before helped out, but convinced another (hesitant) client to plant one flower. He called it his flower and promised to take care of it in our absence. One of the little girls from the residences came out and helped us enthusiastically plant some more flowers. Everyone else went to AGAPE and pulled more weeds as we raced the impending rain. The weather was getting frightening and a storm was on the horizon. We realized that we had limited time and kicked it into turbo mode, working together to finish the AGAPE courtyard. We were fighting against the looming monsoon. As the clouds darkened above us, we quickened our pace without lowering our high level of efficiency. It was as if our productivity increased as the pressure increased exponentially. Within 30 minutes, we planted 180 flowers and "made it rain" MiracleGro. We finished just as the clouds opened up and the torrential downpour began. We made it home safely despite the heavy rain.
Afterward, we started making our Last Supper. We made Nigerian stew in honor of our Nigerian priest, Father Paul, the most loveable host we've had. He had been experiencing a rough week with some deaths in his family and was very pleased to have us here. We took his mind off the subject, and for that he was thankful. He was even more pleased that we had prepared him a traditional Nigerian food. This trip couldn't have been any better in terms of the relationships and friendships made. He offered some alcohol, but our participants were wonderful and declined. Zach, Peter, Michael and Lexie got nostalgic with dish-washing karaoke with vigor, where they jammed out to hits of the 70s, 80s, and 90s; the greatest hits before and during the early years of their youth.
At dinner we sat together for our last meal and came together as a family. We even splurged on some Sparkling Grape Juice and had some toasts to a great week. We toasted to a variety of things: to service, to AIDS Alabama and Birmingham AIDS Outreach, to the relationships we made, to learning, to the effort spent this week, to new and old friends, to two new moms, to some love triangles (joking!), to getting along, to Robert from the BAO Food Pantry, to positive attitudes, to Father Paul in his time of loss, to great leadership and driving, to a fantastic group of participants with so much effort, to good friends and to good memories.
We've had fun, Birmingham. It has been an unforgettable week and a phenomenal experience. This week was far better than any Spring Break trip we could have imagined. We learned so much about HIV and the state of affairs regarding AIDS in Alabama. We encountered several historical sites in the Civil Rights movement. We did some service, had some fun, and sweated gallons. Our only regret is that we couldn't have helped these organizations more!
And now, as we prepare to depart our home away from home, we know that we have made such a tremendous impact on the HIV community here in Alabama. It is important for us to remember that although we had our Last Supper in Birmingham, our experiences and lessons learned will persist throughout our lifetimes. Tomorrow, we will return to Columbia, prepared to share our experiences and knowledge. We dedicated this week to HIV/AIDS, but we know this is only initiates our roles as allies to this community.
Thank you to Alternative Spring Break and the University of Missouri for providing this phenomenal opportunity to us. Thank you to the Saint Francis of Assisi Church for providing a fantastic retreat center for us to reside. Thank you to Birmingham AIDS Outreach and AIDS Alabama for providing us with service opportunities during this week. And thank you to our readers, who have shared our memories with us throughout this experience.