Day 23: Tales of Passion

A Jewish Adage says, “What is truer than truth? The story.”
Isabel Allende is a Chilean-American writer who has published more than twenty works and has been described as the world’s best selling Spanish language writer. In this talk she describes the passionate women who inspire her main characters.
Allende has been a feminist since a young age, when as she says, nobody actually knew what feminism was. Her organisation, ‘The Isabel Allende Foundation’, works with non-profits in the San Francisco Bay area and Chile to empower women and girls. In 2006, she was one of the flag bearers at the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. She begins this talk with the story of her time as a flag bearer.
Allende recounts her experience in Turin with good humour. After the initial shock of her call up, she met with the actresses Susan Sarandon and Sophia Loren. She also met with two lesser known yet passionate and inspirational women. There was Wanghari Maathai, the Nobel prizewinner from Kenya who planted 30 million trees and Somaly Mam, a Cambodian activist who fights against child prostitution.
These are the type of women who form the basis for Allende’s heroines. As she tells us, nice people with common sense don’t make interesting characters- just good ex-spouses. She describes more of her real life heroines. There’s Rose Mapendo, a pregnant widow in a Tutsi IDP camp in the Congo in 1998 who eventually was taken to a new life in the U.S. Or Jenny, an American dental hygienist who volunteered in a clinic in Bangladesh while on holidays, removing teeth without a licence in order to lessen the severe pain of her patients, only to be confronted the following day by a man who’d beaten his wife up because she was too late home to cook his dinner (as Jenny was treating her).
Unfortunately, the message hasn’t got through to all of society. 80% of people in refugee camps are women and children. The poorest and most backward societies are those that put women down. For every dollar given to a women’s aid program, twenty are given to similar organisations targeting men.
Allende would love to have the figure of Sophia Loren, but she’d prefer to have the heart and passion of her characters. To improve the world, we need women in positions of power and we need to nurture the feminine energy of men. Or as Allende says,
Let’s get off our fannies, roll up our sleeves and get to work passionately in creating an almost perfect world.

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