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  • Thank you so much. It's really scary to be here

  • among the smartest of the smart.

  • I'm here to tell you a few tales of passion.

  • There's a Jewish saying that I love.

  • What is truer than truth? Answer: The story.

  • I'm a storyteller. I want to convey something that is truer than truth

  • about our common humanity.

  • All stories interest me, and some haunt me

  • until I end up writing them.

  • Certain themes keep coming up:

  • justice, loyalty, violence, death, political and social issues,

  • freedom.

  • I'm aware of the mystery around us,

  • so I write about coincidences, premonitions,

  • emotions, dreams, the power of nature, magic.

  • In the last 20 years I have published a few books,

  • but I have lived in anonymity until February of 2006,

  • when I carried the Olympic flag in the Winter Olympics in Italy.

  • That made me a celebrity. Now people recognize me in Macy's,

  • and my grandchildren think that I'm cool.

  • (Laughter)

  • Allow me to tell you about my four minutes of fame.

  • One of the organizers of the Olympic ceremony,

  • of the opening ceremony,

  • called me and said that I had been selected

  • to be one of the flag-bearers.

  • I replied that surely this was a case of mistaken identity

  • because I'm as far as you can get from being an athlete.

  • Actually, I wasn't even sure that I could go around the stadium

  • without a walker.

  • (Laughter)

  • I was told that this was no laughing matter.

  • This would be the first time

  • that only women would carry the Olympic flag.

  • Five women, representing five continents,

  • and three Olympic gold medal winners.

  • My first question was, naturally,

  • what was I going to wear?

  • (Laughter)

  • A uniform, she said,

  • and asked for my measurements.

  • My measurements.

  • I had a vision of myself in a fluffy anorak,

  • looking like the Michelin Man.

  • (Laughter)

  • By the middle of February,

  • I found myself in Turin, where enthusiastic crowds

  • cheered when any of the 80 Olympic teams was in the street.

  • Those athletes had sacrificed everything to compete in the games.

  • They all deserved to win, but there's the element of luck.

  • A speck of snow, an inch of ice, the force of the wind,

  • can determine the result of a race or a game.

  • However, what matters most -- more than training or luck -- is the heart.

  • Only a fearless and determined heart will get the gold medal.

  • It is all about passion.

  • The streets of Turin were covered with red posters

  • announcing the slogan of the Olympics.

  • Passion lives here. Isn't it always true?

  • Heart is what drives us and determines our fate.

  • That is what I need for my characters in my books:

  • a passionate heart.

  • I need mavericks, dissidents, adventurers, outsiders and rebels,

  • who ask questions, bend the rules and take risks.

  • People like all of you in this room.

  • Nice people with common sense do not make interesting characters.

  • (Laughter)

  • They only make good former spouses.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • In the green room of the stadium, I met the other flag bearers:

  • three athletes, and the actresses Susan Sarandon and Sophia Loren.

  • Also, two women with passionate hearts:

  • Wangari Maathai, the Nobel prizewinner from Kenya

  • who has planted 30 million trees. And by doing so,

  • she has changed the soil, the weather,

  • in some places in Africa, and of course

  • the economic conditions in many villages.

  • And Somaly Mam, a Cambodian activist who fights passionately

  • against child prostitution.

  • When she was 14 years old, her grandfather sold her to a brothel.

  • She told us of little girls raped by men who believe that

  • having sex with a very young virgin will cure them from AIDS.

  • And of brothels where children are forced to receive five,

  • 15 clients per day,

  • and if they rebel, they are tortured with electricity.

  • In the green room I received my uniform.

  • It was not the kind of outfit that I normally wear,

  • but it was far from the Michelin Man suit

  • that I had anticipated. Not bad, really.

  • I looked like a refrigerator.

  • (Laughter)

  • But so did most of the flag-bearers, except Sophia Loren,

  • the universal symbol of beauty and passion.

  • Sophia is over 70 and she looks great.

  • She's sexy, slim and tall, with a deep tan.

  • Now, how can you have a deep tan and have no wrinkles?

  • I don't know.

  • When asked in a TV interview, "How could she look so good?"

  • She replied, "Posture. My back is always straight,

  • and I don't make old people's noises."

  • (Laughter)

  • So, there you have some free advice

  • from one of the most beautiful women on earth.

  • No grunting, no coughing, no wheezing,

  • no talking to yourselves, no farting.

  • (Laughter)

  • Well, she didn't say that exactly.

  • (Laughter)

  • At some point around midnight,

  • we were summoned to the wings of the stadium,

  • and the loudspeakers announced the Olympic flag, and the music started --

  • by the way, the same music that starts here,

  • the Aida March.

  • Sophia Loren was right in front of me -- she's a foot taller than I am,

  • not counting the poofy hair.

  • (Laughter)

  • She walked elegantly, like a giraffe on the African savannah,

  • holding the flag on her shoulder. I jogged behind

  • (Laughter)

  • -- on my tiptoes -- holding the flag on my extended arm,

  • so that my head was actually under the damn flag.

  • (Laughter)

  • All the cameras were, of course, on Sophia.

  • That was fortunate for me, because in most press photos

  • I appear too, although often between Sophia's legs.

  • (Laughter)

  • A place where most men would love to be.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • The best four minutes of my entire life

  • were those in the Olympic stadium.

  • My husband is offended when I say this --

  • although I have explained to him that what we do in private

  • usually takes less than four minutes --

  • (Laughter)

  • -- so he shouldn't take it personally.

  • I have all the press clippings of those four magnificent minutes,

  • because I don't want to forget them

  • when old age destroys my brain cells.

  • I want to carry in my heart forever the key word of the Olympics --

  • passion.

  • So here's a tale of passion.

  • The year is 1998, the place is a prison camp

  • for Tutsi refugees in Congo.

  • By the way, 80 percent of all refugees and displaced people in the world

  • are women and girls.

  • We can call this place in Congo a death camp,

  • because those who are not killed will die of disease or starvation.

  • The protagonists of this story

  • are a young woman, Rose Mapendo, and her children.

  • She's pregnant and a widow.

  • Soldiers have forced her to watch

  • as her husband was tortured and killed.

  • Somehow she manages to keep her seven children alive,

  • and a few months later, she gives birth to premature twins.

  • Two tiny little boys.

  • She cuts the umbilical cord with a stick,

  • and ties it with her own hair.

  • She names the twins after the camp's commanders

  • to gain their favor, and feeds them with black tea

  • because her milk cannot sustain them.

  • When the soldiers burst in her cell to rape her oldest daughter,

  • she grabs hold of her and refuses to let go,

  • even when they hold a gun to her head.

  • Somehow, the family survives for 16 months,

  • and then, by extraordinary luck, and the passionate heart

  • of a young American man, Sasha Chanoff,

  • who manages to put her in a U.S. rescue plane,

  • Rose Mapendo and her nine children end up in Phoenix, Arizona,

  • where they're now living and thriving.

  • Mapendo, in Swahili, means great love.

  • The protagonists of my books are strong and passionate women

  • like Rose Mapendo.

  • I don't make them up. There's no need for that.

  • I look around and I see them everywhere.

  • I have worked with women and for women all my life.

  • I know them well.

  • I was born in ancient times, at the end of the world,

  • in a patriarchal Catholic and conservative family.

  • No wonder that by age five I was a raging feminist --

  • although the term had not reached Chile yet,

  • so nobody knew what the heck was wrong with me.

  • (Laughter)

  • I would soon find out that there was a high price to pay

  • for my freedom, and for questioning the patriarchy.

  • But I was happy to pay it, because for every blow that I received,

  • I was able to deliver two.

  • (Laughter)

  • Once, when my daughter Paula was in her twenties,

  • she said to me that feminism was dated, that I should move on.

  • We had a memorable fight. Feminism is dated?

  • Yes, for privileged women like my daughter and all of us here today,

  • but not for most of our sisters in the rest of the world

  • who are still forced into premature marriage,

  • prostitution, forced labor --

  • they have children that they don't want or they cannot feed.

  • They have no control over their bodies or their lives.

  • They have no education and no freedom.

  • They are raped, beaten up and sometimes killed with impunity.

  • For most Western young women of today,

  • being called a feminist is an insult.

  • Feminism has never been sexy, but let me assure you

  • that it never stopped me from flirting,

  • and I have seldom suffered from lack of men.

  • (Laughter)

  • Feminism is not dead, by no means.

  • It has evolved. If you don't like the term,

  • change it, for Goddess' sake.

  • Call it Aphrodite, or Venus, or bimbo, or whatever you want;

  • the name doesn't matter,

  • as long as we understand what it is about, and we support it.

  • So here's another tale of passion, and this is a sad one.

  • The place is a small women's clinic in a village in Bangladesh.

  • The year is 2005.

  • Jenny is a young American dental hygienist

  • who has gone to the clinic as a volunteer

  • during her three-week vacation.

  • She's prepared to clean teeth,

  • but when she gets there, she finds out that there are no doctors,

  • no dentists, and the clinic is just a hut full of flies.

  • Outside, there is a line of women

  • who have waited several hours to be treated.

  • The first patient is in excruciating pain

  • because she has several rotten molars.

  • Jenny realizes that the only solution is to pull out the bad teeth.

  • She's not licensed for that; she has never done it.

  • She risks a lot and she's terrified.

  • She doesn't even have the proper instruments,

  • but fortunately she has brought some Novocaine.

  • Jenny has a brave and passionate heart.

  • She murmurs a prayer and she goes ahead with the operation.

  • At the end, the relieved patient kisses her hands.

  • That day the hygienist pulls out many more teeth.

  • The next morning, when she comes again to the so-called clinic,

  • her first patient is waiting for her with her husband.

  • The woman's face looks like a watermelon.

  • It is so swollen that you can't even see the eyes.

  • The husband, furious, threatens to kill the American.

  • Jenny is horrified at what she has done,

  • but then the translator explains

  • that the patient's condition has nothing to do with the operation.

  • The day before, her husband beat her up because she was not home

  • in time to prepare dinner for him.

  • Millions of women live like this today.

  • They are the poorest of the poor.

  • Although women do two-thirds of the world's labor,

  • they own less than one percent of the world's assets.

  • They are paid less than men for the same work

  • if they're paid at all, and they remain vulnerable

  • because they have no economic independence,

  • and they are constantly threatened by exploitation,

  • violence and abuse.

  • It is a fact that giving women education, work,

  • the ability to control their own income,

  • inherit and own property, benefits the society.

  • If a woman is empowered,