Living in Africa has brought me some unusual, unique and often once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, but I was still unprepared for the phone call that came near the end of November when Tom and I were invited to be part of a small group of Americans that were able to attend a cocktail reception for George W. Bush and his family right here in Zambia.
Tom and I traveled down to Lusaka Thursday by bus. I’ve been sick (my darn ulcer again!) but nothing was going to keep me from that trip. Thankfully, I took some medication and slept most of the way down.
In preparation for our first ever meeting with a head of state, Tom and I both purchased President Bush’s latest book Decision Points. Tom got the audio version and I got the Kindle version. Tom listened to President Bush read his book for seven hours straight--a perfect way to pass the time on the bus. I only managed to read the first couple chapters with all the sleeping I did, but I was really impressed by what I read. President Bush spoke clearly and honestly about his faith. This came out later when we met him as well.
Friday afternoon we got dressed up. This presented a challenge: the invitation read ‘business casual’. According to the internet this was khakis, polo shirts, business dress for women with a scarf or jewelry added. But, we know that here in Zambia people tend to dress up a bit more. Tom decided to wear his three piece suit with the knowledge that he could strip off layers if needed. I wore a simple, longish black dress with red belt and scarf. I was glad we dressed up a bit—all but a couple men had on suits and the women all had nice dresses. Whew!
We left for the reception 1 and a half hours early for the 6 PM event because the invite said that the doors would close promptly at 6:20. Tough! Of course we were 1 hour early so we popped around the corner for a small pizza—later we were glad we had because we were way too busy networking to eat any of the hors d'oeuvres.
Arriving at the location for the reception was exciting. We were just a short time away from meeting our former President. It was such an interesting combination of formal and friendly. Our invitations and IDs were carefully checked and we were escorted to the outdoor area, but inside everyone was friendly and helpful.
There were so many dignitaries! Former (and first!) president of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda, several high ranking ministers from the cabinet and parliament, and our U.S Ambassador to Zambia. The room was filled with leaders in the charitable organizations community. Tom and I were able to do some fantastic networking.
Soon, there was a buzz in the room! President Bush was on the move. A crowd gathered around him as everyone flocked to meet him and get a chance to shake his hand. Tom and I moved over to one side knowing he’d eventually get over there.
Then, right in front of us was former First Lady, Laura Bush! We got in line to meet her. She was so gracious and chatted with us for several minutes. After explaining what we were doing in Zambia she asked if we were a faith based organization. We mentioned our love for her hometown of Midland(Odessa) and we spoke of the current drought happening there. She said she had just been there for Thanksgiving visiting her mother. Too soon, her assistants gently moved us along, “everyone wants a chance to meet her”.
Just as President Bush came along to our side of the room, it was time for his speech. He stood directly in front of us as the Ambassador welcomed all the special guests and introduced him. Before he got up to speak, one person after another came to stand next to President Bush for photo-ops. Since we were directly behind him, we probably showed up in tons of photos. I tried to have a picture-perfect expression on the whole time. ;)
Finally it was time for President Bush’s speech. His reason for being in Zambia is to kick off his new health initiative which is pairingup his very successful AIDS aid with cancer work. His speech was inspiring as he praised the work that small, especially faith-based organizations do on the front lines in fighting HIV/AIDS.
At the end of his speech, he talked about meeting a group of AIDS orphans in Rwanda and how after speaking with these 50 young people he threw out the phrase, “God is good!”. Without hesitation, the young people chorused back, “All the time!” He said that if children who have lost their parents can say that, how much more should we, who have so much more in our lives, shout that out. God is good! All the time!
I loved seeing how open and genuine President Bush is about his faith in God.
After the speech President Bush shook a few more hands on his way out of the room. Thankfully we were right in that path!
Tom introduced us and we told him what we do here in Zambia. He was very sweet and thanked us for our work. I told him that I had read in his book about his decision to follow his calling to be president despite his girls’ concerns that he would ‘ruin their lives’, and how he told them he had to ‘to live his life’. I told him how much that meant to me as I’ve often struggled with what my kids might be missing out on by living in the bush with us as we follow our calling. He leaned over to me and said, “And, you’re teaching them how to serve”. Yes!
Later on, I spoke with Jenna Bush and gave her a copy of our promotional DVDs and a brochure. She thanked me for what we do. Who knows whether this small contact will grow to anything more—it was just an honor to have been part of such an esteemed group of people.
The entire Bush family seemed so genuine, and so concerned for the welfare of people around the world. I’m so grateful we got to meet them.