We arrived at the Gromada which seemed like your typical conference centre with a slightly rundown look. The ride up in the elevator, a creaky straining stainless steel coffin like affair, had us using the stairs after that. Though dead tired, we had to laugh when we got our first look at the room. As C put it so aptly “we have elf beds”. See the official picture of the Gromada doubles room. What confronted us was those same yellow plaid bedding covers but on beds that were about 5 feet long and about 8 inches off the ground. It was like sleeping in the kids room.
We dropped our stuff and though bagged from the trip took a walk around the area. The hotel seemed to be the newest structure in the area; there was very little to see. Already stretched a little thin, the sweltering heat had us back in the room soon. We already knew that you had to metro to get to the old area of town. C decided to nap while I attended one of the opening sessions and then instead of flailing about and seeing if I knew anyone I joined her. I had to present the next day as well as meet my colleague so we could proof each other’s papers. I knew he was arriving about this time but knew we’d run into each other at breakfast.
Quick note on the opening plenary: it was hosted by long time members of the conference and it was so refreshing to see harm reduction in full flower and not the usual hidden project status it usually assumes. For instance, in Vancouver, since the use of heroin is illegal in Canada, Insite (the safe injection site) has been granted an exemption from the law. This is good in that it allows it to function, and someone pragmatically figured out a way for this to come about without going through the extended debates that would have jeopardized the project, but it still means that the act of decreasing the harm of illicit drug use (improving the health of the users and the surrounding community) retained an illegal status. (One suspects that the origin of illegality comes from labelling acts that harm society in some way but..) And as later came up in the conference, people involved in the project who were reporting great success worried that it was very likely given Harper’s latest moves, that they would be at the conference next year reporting about the shutting down of the project and the subsequent increase in HIV infections, more deaths from overdose and rising crime. This for a project which has support from Canadians across the country, from all levels of government with the sole exception of our ruling party, and which has been written up in a number of journals as an example to follow. (Spoke to people involved with another but similar project in Vancouver who reported that American government officials had been trying to get the names of all personnel.)
What nobody needs to explain in this environment is that we all know that people engage in behaviors that are bad for them be it drugs or unsafe sex. We know that though some people will stop, in general the behavior will continue, and we know that the people that do those things are not much different from any of us and that the best thing to do is to make those activities safer when we have the capability to do so. This is a place where users and drugs are not intrinsically evil; they are just people and behaviors. This is problem solving space away from the antideluvian debates that seem to take over too often. In fact, what is interesting here is that there are representatives not only from research and health but also from the users and sex workers. It makes it a very interesting bunch of people…not the usual parade of suits.