Unpacking From Prague: Women’s International Network

Let’s hear it for Reality/Dream Mashups.

Our last post anticipated leaving for and taking part in a global conference called W.I.N. (Women’s International Network) held this year in Prague. Back on that page, I dreamt myself into the hours and days ahead as I would arrive in my hotel room, unpack gear and gown for that conference, and line up my photos of family and special ones of our son, Parker. All of this was supposed to prefigure a personal dream-fulfillment of speaking publicly on my research and writing about both global living and living after loss.

So, just to return and report: Things didn’t go exactly as I’d dreamt.

They went better.

Everyone beat their own Sewa Beats djembe.  "Sewa": unity, service, joy.

Everyone beat their own Sewa Beats djembe. “Sewa”: unity, service, joy.

Quickly, let me tell you about the women, the ideas, the spirit, the music, the presentations, and the splendid city of Prague. What a week. . .

Kristin Engwig, social entrepreneur and founder of W.I.N., presents awards to women from Norway, Turkey and Nigeria.

Kristin Engwig, social entrepreneur and founder of W.I.N., presents special awards

. . .A week that began (small detail) without the aforementioned luggage. . .

Special award winners

Special award winners from Norway, Turkey and Nigeria

. . .And continued when Dieter-with-the-silky-customer-service-voice spoke from my hotel phone: “We regret to tell you, Mrs. Bradford, that we somehow have no record. . .at all. . . of your luggage.”

Which is when Maya Angelou’s even silkier voice slid into mind:

I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.

(See entire quote here)

So I gathered my few adrenalin-swollen, anxiety-twitching wits, channeled Angelou, and reframed both my expectations and the outlines for my two presentations. (Because in addition to my clothing for the week, I happen to have packed all my lecture notes, additional literature, and important talisman family photos in that one missing bag.)

Besides Angelou, I also channeled two generations of pioneer stock. And by darn, I found that one can squeeze a lot out of a bar of hotel soap the size of an Oreo.

Here’s what’s interesting. As soon as I got my mind and spirit settled and my Dreams compressed to Reality (i.e., this opportunity was not going to fulfill my high-pitched dreams; my presentations would be spotty and unpolished and I’d too closely resemble those pioneer forbears of mine after five days in recycled jeans and stinky boots), then it seemed everything trundled right along, sort of obliviously. Seamlessly. Like an empty luggage carousel.

The W.I.N. conference got rolling and I got swept up in it. Everywhere there were interesting, energetic conversations with leaders from backgrounds as numerous and diverse as their 75 nationalities: An entrepreneur from Kosovo; A girls’ school founder from India, another from Bhutan; a leading politician from Iceland, another from the Czech Republic; a researcher from Mongolia, another from Nigeria; corporate heads from all over Europe, mothers who are mentors, consultants, physicians, and writers; daughters who are film makers, painters, vocalists; sisters who are environmentalists, economists, pianists; and everyday marvels who are mountaineers and ultra-athletes (which title, in case you wondered, is given to those who run 315 km in 50 hours with neither sleep nor rest. And live to speak about it.)

Prague's old city

Prague’s old city

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By the end of our second day of plenary sessions and break-out courses, I’d already sped by foot throughout Prague’s old city, scouting out sumptuous architecture and random sales (for a couple of pieces of basic replacement clothing.)

When I returned to my hotel room, wouldn’t you know it? There stood my lost suitcase, rescued and delivered, as it had been, from the Bermuda Triangle of transiting luggage: the bowels of Charles de Gaulle airport.

Quickly, I changed clothes, hung the rest including that gala gown, organized my lecture notes and stacks of literature, and lined up my family photos. I washed my face, straightened my spine, and raced off to my session where I spoke to people about my writing. And they listened intently. They were extremely gracious toward me.

New friends over lunch

With Lisa and Sherry, new friends sharing lunch

Indian, Bhutanese, Nigerian, French Swiss, Canadian, American of Iranian/Indian descent, English

Indian, Bhutanese, Nigerian, French Swiss, Canadian, American of Iranian/Indian descent, English

The last evening, at midnight, while other conference participants crowded onto the dance floor of this, the Zofin  palace. . .

Zofin palace, Prague

Zofin palace, Prague

Over my head: Zofin palace

Over my head: ornate coffered ceilings of the Zofin palace

Irish, Turkish, Indian. . .

Irish, Romanian, Indian. . .

Majbritt, a beautiful soprano and, as we discovered, Swiss neighbor

Majbritt, a beautiful soprano and financial analyst, and, as we discovered, my Swiss nearly-next-door neighbor

. . .I stepped out onto a veranda with a couple of other women. We needed to catch some air. In the crisp blackness in front of me, my breath swam like liquefied cotton batting, and vanished – dreamily – as I looked out over the Vltava (Moldau) river.

“Changing moon,” the German next to me sighed, throwing her head back, peering upwards at the porthole of speckled white caught in the tangle of chestnut tree branches. “Exceptionally auspicious,” the redhead on the other side of me added. “A very powerful moon. It has pull.”

“And what does that mean? Pull?” I asked, searching for what the others were seeing. Was it pulling, pulsing, that moon? Or was that just the bass from the dance band inside? (And excuse me, but was I hearing a Czech translation of “Shake, Rattle and Roll”? No, but close. It was a Czech translation of “Hit Me Baby One More Time.” A proud moment, to be sure, for my native country.)

“It means,” continued the redhead, wrapping an Indian shawl up over her shoulders, “there could be change coming.”

Change? Like?”

“Like. . .well, you know. You’d better pay attention to your dreams. They can pull you to a new reality.”

More award recipients from all around the world

More award recipients from all around the world

The ribboned river swallowed the moon in pieces as I turned to go back to my hotel. There, I repacked my suitcase (boots, jeans, gown, lecture notes, my sacred family gallery) for the early morning flight and for whatever dreams and realities will rise under the pulse and pull of the next moon.

Landing in Geneva

Landing in Geneva

3 thoughts on “Unpacking From Prague: Women’s International Network

  1. Hi, Melissa! Michelle’s friend, Kit, here. Sounds like a fabulous experience in Prague! I just have a quick question for you. I am hosting my book club this week and presenting Global Mom to my friends. We always try to serve refreshments from the book we read and I was hoping you would share your recipe for the Norwegian cider you talked about? Any other personal favorites of yours would be great, too! I’m sure you’re extremely busy as usual, so if you don’t have time, it’s no problem. I’m excited to share your wonderful book with my friends! I can’t tell you how many times I laughed out loud and cried and smiled and cried some more. So many of the things we have lived paralleled each chapter–the fight to name our babies how we wanted to in France, the endless forms to fill out, the struggle to really learn the culture as well as the language, losing someone we love so much, finding joy through the ache as we share their life with others….Thank you for putting it all into words for someone like me who is NOT a writer :).

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