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Women Try to Take Foul-ups in Stride

August 30, 1995

HUAIROU, China (AP) _ Sitting among unpacked cartons and unconnected phone lines, Joan Ross-Frankson was doing her best to sound optimistic.

``We don’t let anything faze us,″ she said. ``We say OK, this is a dump. So what do we do with it?″

The ``dump″ is the compound in Huairou, a village north of Beijing, where thousands of women are attending the forum of non-governmental groups that is being held in conjunction with the United Nations Conference on Women.

They are here to lobby and pressure the official conference, which starts Sept. 4, and also to make contacts among themselves.

On Wednesday, a few hours before the forum formally opened, Ms. Ross-Frankson, of the International Women’s Tribune Center in New York, had still not received the telephone line she needs to keep her head office informed of developments.

Next door, a Latin American group that broadcasts to women on short-wave radio also was stalled for want of a phone line.

The makeshift restaurants on the site had little or nothing to offer.

But things were gradually coming together. Banks of pay phones and faxes were up and running in the telecommunications center, and employees of Apple Computer Inc. were on hand to help people get access the Internet.

So people like Ms. Ross-Frankson were able to reach the outside world after all.

Bottled water, vital in the baking heat, was abundant.

The long rows of open-fronted tents came to life as various groups set up shop _ disabled women, older women, youth, lesbians.

In one of them, several East African women burst into a song about first-born children, a parable about the continent’s young, struggling nations.

Where the Chinese services fall short, the women are coping for themselves.

Two Kenyan women jokingly traded tales from the trenches. Alice Muhonja Kirambi described getting lost one night and being unable to find a Chinese who spoke English.

``They kept running away from me,″ she said, ``but eventually I found my way back by myself.″

Dinah Gucuku Kivuti worried about disease-carrying mosquitoes and the Chinese food. Nobody could tell her what was in the dishes so she was sticking to chicken and rice.

The real work begins Thursday, with 300 workshops covering everything from sexual harassment and discrimination to domestic violence and women’s rights under Islam. Japanese feminists will decry beauty pageants, and black American women will give their perspectives on the O.J. Simpson trial.

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