Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Addis Ababa June 13

Hectic!...It as a very long day yesterday, that ended with an unexpected diversion due to a volcanic explosion.

We woke up in Dar es Salaam, and Clinton had some final meetings including with the President Kikwete. They did a press conference at the presidential palace (see the boxed lions above)...It was kind of funny -- they had set up a normal press conference room, but reserved the front five rows for officials so the reporters were all jammed into the back. We had to shout our questions over all the official heads...silly.

Then we left for Addis. Along the way the pilots took a little diversion to give us a good view of Kilimanjaro -- snowy peak (although the snow is receding) agove a sea of clouds, with some breaks where you can see the Serengeti plan. It really was beautiful.

We arrived in Addis after a very choppy ride, and went to the hotel where Clinton changed her clothes. Then off to the AU headquarters in a huge rainstorm..everyone got "USAID" umbrellas and most of them blew out in the wind and rain, so we arrived soaking.

The AU headquarters is now an old, sort of tired building -- but next door is a brand new gleaming headquarters being built by the Chinese, topped with a huge glass dome. Hard to argue with that.

Clinton gave her speech at the AU, urging them to drop Gaddafi and promote democracy on the continent. It was a good speech, but the power cut out in the middle..leaving the hall in semi-darkness and Clinton spotlit by the small light on the podium..

Then we rushed back to the PM's office where Clinton was due to meet Meles. We were waiting around for the press conference when Philippe, Clinton's media guru, came out and told us there had been a change of plan": because of a volcanic eruption in Eritrea, we had to leave NOW to get out ahead of the volcanic ash cloud. There was a mad scramble back to the hotel, where Clinton had some rushed meetings with the Sudanese, and then back to the airport.

Weirdly, we headed for Dubai -- the plane needed to refuel, and apparently couldn't do that anywhere else. No one really understood why, but the detour took us five ours in the wrong direction. Along the way, we were told that we were then going to head to Rammstein Air Base -- and might have to hang out there for 15-24 hours because of the crew's need to get required rest. This went over like a lead balloon..we were all so tired, and the prospect of another 8 hours to Germany and then 15 hours at an air base before we could even head home was pretty grim.

We arrived in Dubai at about 3 a.m. their time, and after some persuading we got them to let us out onto the tarmac. It was hot and sweaty, but at least we could stretch our legs....but after a while we were told that, in fact, the plane had a flat tire and the spare was deep in the hold..behind all the bags. The crew would have to unpack the entire plane to get at the tire, which would take hours.

After a bit of back and forth, it was decided that we would stay in Dubai. The U.S. consulate scrambled people and they managed to book us rooms (amazing, given the hour)...and we finally checked in at around 5 a.m. I took a shower and was in bed and asleep within five minutes.