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With Clinton to Africa–Almost

Since leaving office as the 42nd President of the United States nearly eight years ago, Bill Clinton has become involved in humanitarian work across the world.

His William J. Clinton Foundation today employs more than 800 staff and volunteers in many countries. Millions of dollars are raised for programs that include the prevention and treatment of Malaria and HIV/AIDS, helping large cities reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promoting economic opportunity, and creating sustainable development in Africa.

Every year Clinton takes leaders and the media to Africa to look at some of the projects supported by his Foundation. A photo of Clinton on his 2007 trip to Africa is in the extended section of this post.

The trip this year starts today in Ethiopia, then proceeds to Rwanda, Liberia, and Senegal. It ends in Mexico City, where Clinton will deliver remarks at an international AIDS conference.

I am going along for the ride … if only we can get going!

All went well at the start of the expedition at Newark, New Jersey, yesterday, when a dozen or so journalists reported for the chartered flight to Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia. The friendly and efficient staff checked us in with the minimum of formalities and we waited in a comfortable lounge for the flight to be called.

We were to travel in two separate aircraft: a large Boeing 767 for Clinton and his entourage and a smaller, rather elderly Boeing 727 for press and staff.

It looked like our flight was going to be the most fun. Buffet spreads of fruit, cheese, chicken, and shrimp were waiting on the plane and exuberant flight attendants offered a glass of wine even before take-off. On every seat was a thick dossier of materials about the trip.

The 767 departed on schedule but the commander of our plane aborted our take-off while rolling down the runway because of a faulty part. A mechanic was called and there was much testing of the engines while we were served dinner on board.

Finally, after topping up the fuel, we were allowed to take off. But the second attempt to get underway resulted in an electrical short in the windshield and a return to Newark. Here we have spent the night while a new windshield has been ordered.

I signed up on the Clinton Foundation Web site this morning to receive emails from the President when he gets to Africa.

I’m not complaining about this, mind you. I appreciate that our captain is such a careful pilot. The staff and journalists in the same predicament are remarkably good-natured about it all. They’re obviously veterans of the road. 

Many people over the years have remarked how wonderful it must be to work for National Geographic and see such incredible places. There is that, of course, but not as much as one might think there is.

And as every road warrior knows, foreign trips, particularly those that cram so much into so little time as this Clinton trip does, can be gruelling and travel arrangements frequently go wrong.

We’ve learned to be cool about it. We most want to get through our assignments professionally–and safely.


President Clinton in Africa in 2007

Image courtesy William J. Clinton Foundation

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