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A Prodigal Daughter Returns (The Ribbon, Spring 2011)

ribbonspringA Prodigal Daughter Returns by Zsuzsa Béres
(The Ribbon, Spring, 2011)
I feel like a Prodigal Daughter, returning to the warm and steady fold of the International Women’s Club of Budapest (IWC) after a journey of myriad years and myriad adventures. It felt really good to sign up for full membership late last year and to hold the Holiday issue of The Ribbon in my hands! Browsing through its pages, checking out the new IWC web- site and facebook page instantly triggered flashbacks to fond memories.

My first encounter with the IWC occurred in the nonprofit manager-meets-charity organi- zation context. As the founding executive director in the mid-90s of Hungary‟s first do- mestic violence project, NaNE (Women Working with Women Against Violence), I reached out to the IWC as part of our fundraising efforts. At the time, violence against women was not simply ignored, but was culturally condoned in Hungary. The old Hungari- an adage “Money is for counting, women are for beating” has solid, if ignoble roots in local and regional patriarchal tradition. I knew I‟d find a far more receptive audience for our cause in an international community of women such as the IWC.

And I was right! In Spring 1995 I had an inspiring meeting with the IWC near Deák tér in downtown Budapest. After my presentation of NaNE‟s work and needs, we had a freewheeling Q & A session about how the IWC might help us. A lady from Austria called Claire, a practicing psychotherapist who sat right next to me, immediately volunteered to provide professional supervision for our helpline volunteers! We also discussed other possibilities for fundraising and agreed to keep our conversation going.

A peculiar turn of events ensued on my way home from this meeting. My spirits ran high. The companionship of like-minded women who fully understood the issues was gratifying to say the least. I lived near Kálvin tér so I decided to walk home. I had just reached Ráday utca when the panic attack hit. It seemed to strike right out of the blue there and then, but this was certainly not the first time. I made it home, but just barely. The next day I prepared to leave for the NaNE office, as usual. I opened the door, but my feet refused to cross the threshold. Powerless to move, I stood in the doorway for what felt like eternity. Then, my feet made me turn around and walked me right back inside. I knew I needed help, and after a flicker of hesitation I called Clair. I told her it felt like I was having some sort of nervous breakdown. Clair sound- ed genuinely surprised. I had not exactly given her that impres- sion the day before. She immediately assured me, however, that she would help me. As it turned out, I had a severe bout of burnout after nearly a decade of intense civic engagement in new, post-Communist Hungarian civil society.

In taking care of others – causes and people – I had failed to take care of myself. A common enough occurrence, Claire helped me understand in one of our early sessions. Yes, she was there for me during the ensuing six months, a challenging time in my life. Initially, I felt a modicum of guilt that she was working with me rather than our helpline volunteers. Eventu- ally, I made peace with this offering from Claire. I came to see it as one of the many inscruta- ble ways in which the Universe provides. And I made peace with the fact that at that very moment in time I was the one most in need of her help. There was not really much for me to do, but rest up and recharge my depleted batteries. But that proved to be the most formidable challenge of them all. In the silence of the void unexamined issues of my life burst forth with a vengeance. Claire helped me work through them.

After six months of stopping dead in my tracks I was ready to turn over a new leaf. I did not, however, return to the world of women‟s nonprofits and advocacy. I started over in another life, with other people, on another continent. Claire‟s help was not, however, the IWC‟s on- ly gift. I later learned that the IWC went ahead and organized a special charity bazaar to ben- efit NaNE. It was, to me, a touching example of a local act of solidarity by a community of globally minded women. Even from afar I was very grateful for it.

I had felt somewhat embarrassed for disappearing literally overnight after my very first meet- ing with the IWC and for not personally following up on my impassioned plea for help. Many years have come and gone since those heady days. And my life has taken many a topsy-turvy turn as I traveled far and wide amid myriad adventures, personal and professional alike. And countless IWC members old and new have since likewise come and gone. Yet, as an institu- tion, the International Women‟s Club of Budapest just kept on going steadfastly all these years. Whenever I showed up in Budapest I‟d always check out the English language papers‟ local community listings to make sure the IWC was still here. And it always was, it always has been for the past thirty years. I could just come by for the latest monthly General Meet- ing, do my Christmas shopping at the annual holiday bazaar, then be on my merry way again.

Though a native of Budapest, I was raised, educated, have lived and worked in three coun- tries on two continents. At heart, I am a global citizen with cultural rather than national lean- ings. I feel that as women we have more in common than our national differences might sug- gest. I love the IWC precisely because here our ability to coalesce is rooted in our common experience as women, even across divergent cultures.

How could I ever forget that the IWC is a charity, as well as a great social club? All these years later its generosity of spirit is still etched vividly in my memory. And so now it is my turn to give back as well as to enjoy. Currently working as a professional writer and journal- ist, I thought that volunteering for The Ribbon, supporting Jessica in fulfilling her editorial vision seems a good place to start.

Check out my English language author site at  zsuzsamustwrite.com

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