I am about to pack for my trip to the International AIDS Conference in Vienna and I am having a personal crisis.

What should I pack? I know it is frivolous, but if I don’t look ‘good’ (at least to my standards) my confidence goes. And I need all the confidence I can gather to facilitate the many sessions I have been asked to. Plus, it takes lot of guts to face the 25.000 people who will be there.

All public speaking trainings I have taken have drilled into my head that 90% of communication is not verbal, and that how we look, how we move, how we sound is actually extremely important in delivering our messages. So, there you go, it is not just mere vanity.

Above all I believe it is important for me, as a woman publicly living with HIV, not to look as a victim: This is why I am thinking of packing an extremely large number of high heel sandals. How could I possibly feel or look like a victim when I am towering everybody from my 5 inches heels?

Still it is a difficult choice. I look at my (never too) many shoes and ask them: who will come with me? My golden sandals, with a cone heel at a precarious angle, those grey stiletto pumps, so chic, of my vertiginous open toe boots? They all look gorgeous and they all seem to say: “Me! Me! Me! Take me to Vienna!” I look at them and sigh. I can not. It’s impossible. Deep inside me , I know. I can not stay up from 6 in the morning until late at night, running across the endless corridors of the conference centre in those shoes. I would get blisters, twisted ankles, fall badly, need a stretcher and an ambulance.

So I turn to my wedges, to my gladiator sandals, even to the blue flip-flops and the pink Birkenstock. I acknowledge that even if I don’t feel I really belong to them, I do need them now. I stack them in the suitcase, with a hint of sadness.

There. The shoes are sorted. This packing business is going to be harder then I thought…

You can find out what really goes into preparing for an AIDS conference on Open Democracy , which is featuring a number of blogs focusing on women and HIV at AIDS 2010. .


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