Timeless Travel, on the road with Heather and her TT

I hope there are many reviews by community members of the new book Timeless On The Silk Road by Heather Ellis. For one thing it would mean that people are reading, which is always a good sign. And, for some more than others, it’s an opportunity to reflect on someone else’s life experience of HIV.

Timeless on the silk road is the second in an autobiographical series by Heather Ellis. Heather is a professional writer, mum, motorcyclists, adventurer and it has to be said, especially by a gay man, a blonde bombshell. I

I wrote a review of Heather’s first book Ubunto, about her road trip through Africa (attached below).While Heather’s voice hasn’t changed at all from the first exciting trip we took in the first book, this time we journey with here on an ‘odyssey from London to Hanoi’.

In Timeless, we travel through Heather’s memories to distant lands, some – London – quite familiar, but others are off the beaten track. Even these days with cheap flights and the Lonely Planet guides.

However, the theme of the book is completely different from the first. Heather’s personal journey during this time explores her experience of HIV. There’s a frankness in her writing this time. It’s not sugar coated or sentimental.

The clever play of words on the title leapt out at me. In the pre-ARV world, Heather’s journey was time less. Precious hours and days that were at risk. No. Doomed by diagnosis. Time less.

In the middle of this adventure, we see Heather. Confused, calm, frightened, funny. It’s a real picture of an Aussie girl trying to make sense of the world by going to meet it. On a motorbike. TT has almost become a friend over the course of Heather’s writing. Like most of us, TT has had the occasional bungle, replacement or complete overhaul. I feel indebted to the bike for bringing Heather home and for playing its part in creating this story and Heather’s gift to us all.

Just to go back to the frankness of the book for a moment. There is so much colour in the travel writing. It made me want to get up and go someone new and exciting. There are moments of disappointment and heartbreak. So many bright characters, some dodgy. But always a picture, where we can in our minds eye see Heather, centrestage. Planning the next step, the next stop and open to whatever the open road decides is coming next.

The picture about AIDS is pretty real. It lurks in the background sometimes, but is ever present. There is a disconnect between Heather and the latest, greatest treatments. Geographical distance and ability to connect play a big role. Just as they do today with the affordability and access to PrEP.

As with the first book, I hope there is a movie. And I hope that many people pick up this book. It’s good for the soul. You can leave where you’re at and pick up on the road with Heather. It’s not for the faint hearted. But it’s well worth it. There’s a freedom and independence of spirit which feels contagious.

I think it should be mandatory reading for gay men living with HIV. It’s a reminder that health is precious and every life is rich with potential. Someone please, give Stephen Spencer a copy.

You can purchase Heather’s book using this link: https://www.heather-ellis.com/

UBUNTU: One woman’s motorcycle odyssey across Africa (2016)

For the past couple of months, I’ve been going to bed with a woman. Quite an extraordinary woman and her motorbike. Now I’m not an aficionado of either of these magnificent objects, and yet with patience, perseverance and a great deal of good humour, I think I’m in love. With both.

Heather Ellis is a rather contained community member, who I came across during my work with Living Positive Victoria. A professional writer, Heather was always polite and willing to undertake work in a professional capacity. Like many in the community of women living openly with HIV, I knew there was there was a compelling story about her life’s journey to accompany such self­surety and ease with being HIV positive in the very differently challenged world of heterosexual and ‘mainstream’ Australian life.

When Heather told me about her plans to write this book, I had no choice but to support her as best I could: as a community member united by HIV, someone I knew I admired but perhaps didn’t fully appreciate why, and as a professional colleague in the expansive world of communications.

I persevered with a crowd funding campaign that raised a small amount to help Heather attend a writing school in France. Low and behold, about a year later and an autobiographical novel, personal history and most personal insights into human nature landed in my lap. Quite literally.

I should disclose my absolute delight in being remembered in the book for the small encouragement I offered. But even a stranger to Heather will be brought closer to the human family once you’ve been on this journey together. Unbunto takes you on an extraordinary journal from the outback mines of Australia through the most treacherous human and geographical landscapes known to man across the continent of Africa, with Heather and her Yamaha TT600 as your constant companions.

Each night, sullied and wearied by the day’s activities, I’ve turned to another chapter of this journey. Ubuntu refers to a word which translates as ‘the essence of being human’, says Desmund Tutu in the forward. It’s a quality which to me seems to mean the importance of our shared experiences, eating, being hungry, thirsty, enjoying a view, a moment’s rest from labour; Heather’s experiences of travelling as a young woman across foreign and unknown lands in the 1990’s reminded me of my first overseas adventures, the excitement and trepidation, the openness and closeness to everyone and everything encounters.

Heather leads us, much as she does in real life, with patience, calm and good humour. She’s a gutsy Aussie chick, full of dignity, elegance and good humour on her ramshackle run across Africa. Always drawing out acts of kindness and reflecting with honesty on human nature. Each chapter bursts with character, life and adventure. More than once during this journey I’ve paused for a glass of water, not because there’s a full well or waterhole at the end of yet another parched stretch of desert, but because I can! The landscape, the animals and the men, women and children of Africa, along with the bevvy of nuns, ex­pats and fellow travellers, soon fill your world. Each bringing special character and richness into the experience.

For those looking for an account of her journey with HIV, this volume ­ yes, the first volume of Heather’s story ­ does not focus on HIV, it focuses much more importantly on establishing Heather as a human being, a real woman of flesh and blood. Someone we can all relate to. Sero­neutral Heather, for the moment, although never one to shy away from truth Heather discloses fully in the Afterward. For me this was a stroke of brilliance. The universal themes of this book bring about reflections that everyone can share, they close the maddening gaps culture impose and illuminate elements of our shared humanity. We understand the need and normal and healthy greed, for food and shelter, that our condition as being human brings about.

On the eve of AIDS 2016 in Durban, Heather’s book is an important bridgen our understanding of the diversity of people impacted by HIV. Here in Australia there are many cultures for whom HIV and AIDS still carry stigma and in a small way as seen through Heather’s eyes we can get a closer glimpse of how our humanity, our Ubunto, links us all. Well done Heather, you’ve set the stage magnificently and prepared the ground to change many hearts and minds towards the condition of HIV. There’s room in my bed for another bike, volume two, the movie and mini­series.

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