Sitting with Presidents and Prime Ministers and Choosing to Belong

I arrived early to the He For She event and picked up my press badge. In another room, there was a large group of media members in the press lounge getting food. Since I already ate, I passed by the lounge and searched for the press area. Seating was sectioned off and I chose a spot separated with a front aisle. While I was resting and reading the program, a woman with a large camera stood in front of me and set up her equipment. So, I stood up and contemplated sitting in a large reserved area in front of the stage. I normally feel uncomfortable sitting near the front in any situation, but I wanted to get a good view of the speakers and dignitaries that would be in attendance. I walked toward the stage and sat in the middle of the third row and began glancing through the program. As time inched closer to the start time, well-dressed people assembled around me. I was thankful that I wore a suit.

After reading data on gender equality issues, I glanced to my right as a man with a thick muscular neck sat down next to me. I regretted passing on my 50 pushups to start the day. Another gentleman accompanied him and they began speaking softly in one another’s ear. I scanned the second man’s face and recognized it was Klaus Werner Iohannis, the President of Romania. The muscular man received some papers and passed them to a person behind me. President Iohannis continued to chat privately with his entourage as I pretended to be sitting where I belonged. As the Romanian conversation to my right was taking place, the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe walked into the row in front of me. A handful of people entered behind him as he extended his hand to President Iohannis, who stood up and shook his hand. They spoke a few pleasantries, then Prime Minister Abe sat down in front of me and we made eye contact. He lifted his hand and put up a partial wave and smile as though we knew each other. A conversation in Japanese between Abe and his group occurred while President Sauli Niinistö of Finland entered the aisle to my left and sat down. President Peter Mutharika from the Republic of Malawi was seated to the left of Prime Minister Abe. All around me, conversations were being conducted in Romanian, Japanese, Finnish, and English. Realizing I’m obviously exactly where I belonged, took out a notebook and pen and started taking notes like everyone else was doing around me. 

One by one, each nation’s leader walked to the podium to deliver a speech about what their country was doing to support gender equality and how they were educating their populace. Each speech motivated me and I was feeling a charge to use my voice to promote gender equality. After each leader returned to their seat, I gave them a nod as though they needed my approval for what was delivered.

As time ticked away, I anxiously checked my watch as it delivered the news that time was getting closer for me to leave. I had to pick my kids up from school at 2 and was dangerously close to being late. I gathered my stuff together and leaned forward, gently brushing Prime Minister Abe’s chair. I apologized as he turned his head in my direction. He smiled and nodded. I said, “excuse me” to the man with the thick neck and humbly apologized to President Iohannis as I glided in front of him. And then I grabbed a bagel from the press lounge and went on my way.

After picking up my kids, we stopped at the playground where my kids played with children whose first language was not English. They worked together on making sure the merry-go-round spun in the right direction and at the right speed. They played games of tag and hide-and-seek. They laughed, traded Pokémon cards, and shared snacks. All around me, languages were spoken in Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, Greek, Korean, Bengali, Czech, and English. For the second time that day, I was right where I belonged. While watching all the kids playing together, I smiled and nodded to the other parents.

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