Thursday, July 24, 2008

Her Excellency, Madam President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Well it has been a crazy week! We got caught in the flooded streets of Monrovia Sunday.
Monday, I was sick . Flu, not malaria, thank goodness.
Tuesday, I was still sick, and the president of Liberia dropped in for a little visit.
Wednesday, Dave was sick.
We are quite something around here! Somewhere we picked up some flu bugs that are making us miserable. I am doing better today, although very tired and light headed. Dave is fighting the chills, then fever, aches and pains, headache. Not fun stuff. Interestingly enough, those are all possible malaria symptoms! But we ran a couple of malaria tests and they came back negative, so it's just the flu.
The president's visit was interesting. Would have been better had I not been feeling so poorly, but oh well.....
Monday, we received word that she was coming on Friday for a visit, and would we have a little presentation ready for her...OK, so Joanne (our village director) called some people Monday night to set up a program (some Episcopalian Fathers, the social worker from the dept. of Health and Welfare who works with Rafiki, important people). Some decorations were planned for the dining hall, as Liberia's Independence Day is Saturday and that was what this visit was connected with, the president being out among the people of Liberia for Independence Day celebrations.
Tuesday morning around 9:30 the first truck of UN soldiers arrived to secure the site. Actually, Madam President was coming in a few hours! Forget the decorations, and forget the program! Only the Minister of Health and Welfare was able to change his schedule on such short notice and get out to Rafiki before the president arrived! Children's faces were scrubbed, songs were practiced, and clothes changed!
Soon, the site here was crawling with Liberian policemen and UN military police. There were many rifles (for the men: Dave tells me they were M16's; for the women: they were bulky, looked heavy, and really quite unattractive). Security was stationed at each building. We had our own personal policeman in our carport; he was nice; we chatted. There were men (everyone with a rifle) facing the outer perimeter of the site at all times. When she finally arrived, added to the mix were more truck loads of soldiers and her personal "SS". Dave says that was for "Special Service"; to me, it sounds sinister, like something out of World War II Germany. Too many espionage novels on my part, I am sure.
The president is a nice lady; and she loves Rafiki. From her comments, it became clear that she tours other orphanages and none compare to the standard that Rafiki has set for it's care of children. The Minister of Health and Welfare sat with her, and he spoke right to the cameras (Yes, the paparazzi was here, too) also about the care Rafiki was giving it's children. We received high praise!
The president greeted all the children, asked each one his/her name, and toured the school and one of the cottages. The children sang the National anthem for her and two other songs. They looked so cute in their school uniforms! Nice and clean, except, of course, for Benjamin, who had been running earlier, had fallen (nothing new for him!) and so his shorts were a tad bit dirty, but he's a boy, and who can resist those big eyes, that great smile and infectious laugh!
She apologized for disrupting the children's good nutrition, but she had gifts for the kids: several large boxes of candy and cookies! I love this woman!
And it was a great day weather-wise! Did not rain. Amazing.
So that was our excitement for the week. The picture included with this update is one from the Liberian press release. Dave was introduced to President Sirleaf, but I was in the back of the crowd, holding up Adam, who couldn't see anything! (Tough being only two and a half years old!)
It is just as well that I did not shake her hand. Now no one can ever accuse me of trying to sabotage the Liberian government by making the president ill!
Wishing you all a great day.
---One more thing: the biggest impression on Amos (age 6) about meeting the president? All the guns! (sigh) Boys will be boys!