I'm on Aeroflot flight SU242 from Heathrow to Moscow. It is exactly 48 hours since the first plane hit the World Trade Center in New York. As we take off, I attempt to banish thoughts of what passengers experienced aboard the doomed US planes by concentrating hard on a new book called Albania and the Albanians, a selection of articles and letters written by M Edith Durham from 1903-44. Durham's remarks on the inability of peoples in the region to live peaceably together seem highly prescient.
On Sunday, the book's editor, a London-based Kosovan called Bejtullah Destani, and a couple of other friends travel to my home near Lamberhurst in Kent for lunch. The journey from Charing Cross to Paddock Wood, usually a leisurely hour in nos- talgic 1950s-style rolling stock, takes nearly two hours. Connex South East blames the delays on refugees walking on the tracks towards London. A case of the wrong sort of Kosovans on the line.
Shortly after the bombing stopped in 1999, I spent three months in Pristina with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe as deputy director for democratisation. The induction course included how not to step on an anti-personnel mine - a useful skill in a world where the Great Powers refuse to follow Norway and Canada in eliminating these maimers of mainly women and children. One lesson I hope I never have to attempt was how a woman can pee out of a vehicle without putting a foot on terra firma with potentially explosive effect.
It's Friday and I'm in Moscow to conduct a workshop for women's non-governmental organisations. The women have been fired with enthusiasm by Gorbachev's daughter Irena to train and support women candidates for local elections. The group from Carelia, northern Russia, presents me with a bottle of local vodka to keep me warm in the long cold Kent winter. The Irkutsk group gives me Siberian herb tea. They have photocopied and distributed my materials in 15 cities throughout Siberia. I guess that's the NGO version of a McDonald's franchise - minus the megabucks.
Sunday. I'm homeward-bound aboard a spacious Aeroflot Ilyushin from the Soviet era - loads of legroom plus cathedral-like cabin space. How the mighty have fallen - and not just the Soviet empire. There was a time when the British Conservative Party leader made front-page news in Russia. Iain Duncan Smith's victory gets six lines at the bottom of page 11 of the Moscow Times.
A letter from a friend, Marisa Sarda Waite, is waiting for me. She has been released from Brockhill prison. Her crime? Refusing to accept a series of court rulings over assets she and her husband jointly owned before he went off with another woman. A few years ago, she led the Fair Shares Campaign and got the law changed so that, in divorce cases, spouses are entitled to a fair share of the pension. This time, Marisa feels the judge got exasperated with her Spanish volubility and sentenced her to 14 days in jail. She has plummeted from living comfortably and working as a partner in a business with her husband to being homeless and penniless, and watching her husband make a bonfire of her belongings on his front lawn. He still lives in a big house and drives a smart car. Statistics show women are much worse off than men after divorce. In Brockhill, Marisa complained loudly about the treatment of female prisoners compared to men. After four days of her sentence, she was asked to leave. David Blunkett should invite Marisa for a cup of tea to hear her suggestions for reforms.
Tomorrow morning, I fly to Accra to join a team helping to train women journalists. It seems that coalition forces may attack the Taliban while I'm in Africa. Has anyone thought about what will happen to Afghan women? I spend part of my Sunday trying to get a message through to No 10. The switchboard says no one is there on Sunday.
The BBC reporter Kate Adie once told me that a little-documented aspect of the Afghan war against the Soviet Union was the high casualty rate of rural women. The men had taken up positions in the surrounding hills. Traditional restrictive laws meant that women were forbidden to leave the women's quarters. Attacks by Russian helicopters bore down on villages killing thousands of women. It is believed that more women than fighting men died in that war.
Back to the UK in time for the party conference season. Under the auspices of the "Time for a Change Network", women will lobby the parties to introduce equalising action for women candidates. There are still four men for every woman in the Commons. If Lib Dems don't vote for a radical quota system, I may put my membership on the line. Lib Dems have about the worst ratio of men to women in parliament of any progressive party in the western world - 47 men to five women. I've been telling successive leaders what structures work and what don't for 20 years. Enough is honestly enough.
Quote of the year? Ken Clarke during the Tory leadership race against IDS: "We should reach out to women and the Welsh." Am considering a speech in Bournemouth about reaching out to men and the Moldovans.
Lesley Abdela is a partner in Shevolution consultancy