One Magical Moment

In this photo provided by the Nelson Mandela Foundation on Tuesday, June 21, 2011, US First Lady Michelle Obama centre, accompanied by her daughters, Malia, left and Sasha, meet former South African President Nelson Mandela, at this home, in Houghton, South Africa. First lady Michelle Obama and her family met with Nelson Mandela during a private visit at the former South African president's home. Mrs. Obama, daughters Malia and Sasha, and her mother, Marian Robinson, were viewing some of Mandela's personal papers at his foundation Tuesday when according to White House officials, he sent word that he wanted to meet them. It was Mrs. Obama's first meeting with the prisoner-turned-president. (AP Photo/ Debbie Yazbek, Nelson Mandela Foundation)

First Lady Michelle Obama had a chance to meet with former South African president Nelson Mandela during her ongoing tour of South Africa. Below are several dispatches from the First Lady's press pool. (Beginning with the most recent date)

US first lady Michelle Obama and daughter Sasha make an unscheduled stop at Borakanelo, a favorite local restaurant, in the village of Mochudi, Botswana, Saturday, June 25, 2011. US first lady Michelle Obama arrived in Botswana on Friday, from Cape Town, South Africa with her daughters Malia, 12, and Sasha, 10, on the second leg of a week long trip to Africa. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, Pool)

June 25 – First FLOTUS Dispatch

Garobone, Botswana — FLOTUS and family attended an embassy meet and greet Saturday morning at the Ambassador's residence here. Her host was newly minted Ambassador Michelle Gavin, who took up the post last week.

The residence was surrounded by electric fence and large white walls. Motorcade was greeted by this country's soldiers, dressed in fatigues, carrying automatic weapons. Pool held in a van outside the residence. Meeting lasted about half an hour.

It is a bright crisp day.

The meet and greet was followed by a family lunch in the village of Mochudi, northeast of Gaborone. The restaurant, Borakanelo, is a favorite with locals, who stood in lines along the road outside the small cafeteria-style haunt. A few meters away un-fenced cows roamed.

FLOTUS ordered six to-go plates of chicken, chips (aka fries) and a traditional bread. No veggies in sight.

June 25 – Second FLOTUS Dispatch

By Katherine Skiba
Chicago Tribune

Gaborone, Botswana–On the eve of her farewell to the continent, first lady Michelle Obama spotted a big game animal.

An elephant–an enduring emblem of the Grand Old Party, of all things.
The gray behemoth, distinctive for its tusk, trunk and tail, came in viewing range of the Obama’s brown eyes.

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia, react as they see an elephant, off camera, during a safari in Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa, Saturday, June 25, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, Pool)

The first lady had been rattling and rolling along Saturday a rutted, one-lane dirt road, traveling aboard a dusty, drab-green, open-air Land Cruiser.

The Toyota came to a stop.

Secret Service agents eyeballed the savannah, awash in red bush willow and sicklebush, encircled by dark, low-slung mountains.

Weather conditions: sunny and chilly, with brisk winds.

Her mother, Marian Robinson, daughters, 12, and 10, and a nephew, 19, and niece, 15, were aboard for the “drive,” as a safari trip is called.

The elephant, alas, was close to a pre-arranged stopping-off point. Huddled there was a pack from the endangered Fourth Estate, biding their time with pencils, pads and point-and-shoots. Their mission: capture for posterity the Obama’s visit to Madikwe Game Reserve, home to the “Big Five:” elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros, lion and leopard. The park is in South Africa, just over an hour’s drive from Gaborone.

Before a single shutter could open, the elephant beat an exit, enigmatically.

"Kristina, the press scared the elephant away," Obama told her communications director, Kristina Schake.

Everyone in her party convulsed in laughter, Schake reported.

The photo op resumed, lasting mere minutes.

Shutters clicked.

Scribes scribbled.

After a large wave goodbye from the first lady, she and her party clambered back into their vehicle.

The Land Cruiser headed east on the vast veld, kicking up dust until it vanished.

June 24 – First FLOTUS Dispatch

First lady Michelle Obama watches as traditional dancers perform upon her arrival in Gaborone, Botswana, Friday, June 24, 2011. At left is her mother Marian Robinson. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, Pool)

Gaborone, Botswana — FLOTUS is wheels down in Botswana. She was greeted with a traditional welcome by 25 children ages 6 to 18, who wore traditional costumes of hide and what looked like zebra skin and shells around their ankles. They clapped and danced, and sang "Obama Ye-Le-Le". Another 50 children waved U.S. And Botswana flags.

At the airport FLOTUS was also greeted by Dr. Gloria Somolekae, Assistant Minister of Finance and Development Planning; Daphne Kadiwa, Chief of Protocol; US Ambassador Michelle Gavin. (all standard stuff)

The weather here is chilly but sunny. Quite a bit more pleasant than Cape Town.

Her first stop here was the Botswana-Baylor Adolescent Centre of Excellence. There she joined the center's "Teen Club" completing a mural at the construction site that will become the adolescent center. The center is affiliated with Baylor University's Pediatric AIDS initiative. (go Texas!)

The Teen Clubs are a kind of support program for HIV infected children and teens affected by the virus. Some of them have lost their parents to the disease. The kids are considered survivors. Over 80 percent of children with HIV don't live past the age of six. The center at Baylor here provides treatment for 4000 kids with HIV/AIDS and their families. It started in 2003.

FLOTUS painted a sun on a panorama of scenes of children playing, homes and blue sky.

By the way, at the red carpet farewell in South Africa she was seen off by Consul General Dr. Alberta Mayberry, Ambassador Don Gips, his wife Elizabeth Gips, Nate Holt – Deputy Principal Officer (US Consulate) and Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South African Minister of Foreign Affairs. Gips, who traveled from event to event with the first lady and her family, had hugs for all.

Speaking of red carpet, FLOTUS began the day wearing an orange pants suit with a graphic belt by designer Tory Burch, according to an aide. (She changed into a more casual outfit for the mural painting. Heather gray top, gray slacks with paint splatters and gray converse.)

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama comforts a woman overcome with emotion as she greeted her at a multi-generational women leaders luncheon at the Sanitas Tea Garden in Gaborone, Botswana, Friday, June 24, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, Pool)

The entire Obama fam joined in the painting. FLOTUS was hesitant to leave not having had time to blend the paint on her portion of the mural.

Her next stop in Botswana is a women's leadership lunch, continuing the theme of empowering young women. FLOTUS is expected to speak there.

June 24 – Second FLOTUS Dispatch

Gaborone, Botswana — After meeting with HIV infected teens at a clinic here, the first lady headed to Sanitas Tea Garden, a place known a the "green diamond of Botswana."

The garden, which contains and array of plants and colorful pots. Some of the the plants for a garden here are used in organic ingredients in it's lunch offerings.

FLOTUS ate a healthy lunch with a group of 23 young women and their mentors and family members.

She told the women that their country embodies a "vision of Africa on the move." The remarks were similar to those she gave in Soweto earlier this week, encouraging young women to work hard and succeed to lead their nation.

Next the first lady is off to meet the president of Botswana, Lt. Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama.

June 24 — Third FLOTUS Dispatch

First lady Michelle Obama meets with Botswana's President Lt. Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama in Gaborone, Botswana, Friday, June 24, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, Pool)

Gabarone–If it's Friday, it must be Botswana. First lady Michelle Obama met this afternoon with President Ian Khama, a session that ran about 40 minutes, or five minutes longer than scheduled.

"A courtesy call," the exchange in his office was billed.

The U.S. ambassador, Michelle Gavin, sat in on the session, which she characterized as "terrific." Gavin, 37, who arrived in country June 15, did not divulge specifics.

Afterward, a lightening-fast photo opportunity saw Khama and Mrs. Obama pose side-by-side astride the U.S. flag and Botswana's, a blue, black and white emblem of a nation that won its independence from the British in 1966.

Khama's office featured a long wooden conference table, a laminated map of the world by National Geographic, floral arrangements of roses, daisies and mums, plus several woven baskets and an oil painting depicting an ostrich and guinea fowl.

Pool is holding at a local hotel-casino complex landscaped with palm trees, now swaying in a gentle breeze, and large grassy expanses. In the distance, drab green hills rise under cloudless, sunny skies.

June 23 – First FLOTUS Dispatch

Cape Town — First Lady Michelle Obama will not visit Robben Island Thursday as planned because of high winds and rough waters.

Aides said Obama was looking forward to the trip, where she was planning to tour the cell where South African icon Nelson Mandela was held for part of the 27 years he was imprisoned. Obama and her family would have been given a tour of the prison by a former inmate, who served time while Mandela was there for opposing apartheid.

Instead, she is touring District Six Museum, which pays homage to the history of a sector of Cape Town. The District, which was established in 1870s as a racially mixed area, was forcibly segregated in the 1970s. Non-whites were removed to barren outlying areas.

June 23 – Second FLOTUS Dispatch


U.S. first lady Michelle Obama listens to Ahmed Kathrada, left, former political prisoner on Robben Island and anti-apartheid figure, as she visits the District Six museum, in Cape Town, South Africa. Founded in 1867 as a mixed community of freed slaves, merchants, and immigrants, the apartheid government in 1965 declared it "white" and forcibly removed 60,000 residents and bulldozed their homes. Also pictured, from third left: her mother Marian Robinson, daughters Sasha and Malia, niece Leslie Robinson, nephew Avery Robinson. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, Pool)

Before the District 6 museum visit, FLOTUS met with local Embassy officials at her hotel on the waterfront.

At the museum she and her family took a leisurely hour-long tour through the District 6 museum, where they saw a map of the community. Tour guides described the forced segregation that occurred after 1966 when District 6 was declared a "White Group Area."

Tour guides were: Bonita Bennett, Director Noor Ebrahim, ex-resident and storyteller; Prof. Crain Soudien, chair of the museum's board of trustees and Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University of Cape Town.

After touring the exhibits, she and her family (mom, daughters, niece and nephew) sat down with Ahmed Kathrada, former political prisoner on Robben Island and anti-apartheid icon. Also a former Member of Parliament.

Michelle Obama drew her children and niece and nephew into the conversation as Kathrada told them his story.

The exhibits they viewed included photos of family life before apartheid was enforced and what appeared to be a replica of an old beauty salon. At another exhibit, there were hop-scotch markings on the ground that Sasha jumped in.

After the museum visit, crowds gathered awaiting the family. One woman had a peach t-shirt with an outline of the African continent on the front that she wanted to give Obama.

The family stopped at The Kitchen, a two year-old cafe in the Woodstock neighborhood. Owner Karen Dudley described it to Obama as part of a revitalization in the neighborhood. Food is fresh and organic. Dudley showed the family an array of salads and sandwiches.

"So, it's all healthy," Obama said, smiling.

"I'm sure they will want sandwiches," she said of the children.

Next stop, University of Cape town.

June 23 – Third FLOTUS Dispatch

First lady Michelle Obama hugs a high school student after answering their questions at the University of Cape Town in Cape Town, South Africa. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, Pool)

At the University of Cape Town, the first lady began her conversation with girls and boys selected from nearby townships at about 2 pm. The 55 students all attend high school. There were more girls than boys selected. They wore school uniforms.

FLOTUS wore navy blue pants and a leather jacket.

She told the students, "Whenever I travel as first lady, my priority is to meet with young people like all of you because number one: you are beautiful and handsome and really cool. Every time I visit with young people I come away inspired." (They giggled.)

"I can see the same promise in all of you, as I do in my own girls. When I see them, I see you. When I see you, I see you them."

Obama also told the students not to look at the University as a foreign place.

"You can fit in here too. This is a place for you," she said. "Getting into a school like this isn't some kind of magical process. There is no magic dust that helps students succeed. Nowadays it is really about how hard you are willing to work."

Then she told them her story.

"I grew up in a little bitty apartment in the second floor of a house."

She talked about her realization that "success isn't about where you come from."

"It's about working hard and believing that you can do it," she said.

She then turned to Q&A with the students who asked how she defined success, whether she felt pressure being first lady, who her hero was and how she met her husband.

Before she came into the room, there was operatic singing from a trio.

In addition to the time with FLOTUS, the day-long program also included a welcome from the vice chancellor, tour of the campus, meetings with student mentors and faculty in science, health science, commerce and engineering.

Speaking directly before FLOTUS was Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, Former Vice Chancellor of UCT, and Vice Chancellor Dr. Max Price.

FLOTUS gave hug after hug to the students after her presentation.

June 23 – Fourth FLOTUS Dispatch

First lady Michelle Obama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu bump fists after they participated in youth activities raising awareness for HIV prevention at Cape Town Stadium in Cape Town, South Africa, Thursday, June 23, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, Pool)

Cape Town–Archbishop Desmond Tutu had his star turn Thursday with first lady Michelle Obama in this scenic coastal city's new soccer stadium, built for last year's World Cup play, including the semi-finals.

The 55,000-seat playground was to be their stage for a program spreading the word about HIV/AIDS and encouraging young South Africans to turn to sport to stay healthy. Several youth groups were to be on hand.

From the retired cleric, to the first lady: "What do you feel? How are you feeling being here?"

Obama answered, gesturing to her two daughters, a niece and nephew: "It's not about us now–it's about them."

The first lady is here with Malia and Sasha Obama; also, Avery and Leslie Robinson, her brother Craig Robinson's children.

Obama puts her own "Let's Move" campaign into practice Friday, when the family jets off to neighboring Botswana. They return Sunday to the U.S.

Note to soccer fans: Some stadium seats added for the World Cup play have been retired, hence the resultant number, 55,000. NB: The finals, last July in Johannesburg, saw Spain triumphed the Netherlands, 1-0.

June 22 – First FLOTUS Dispatch

Johannesburg–Speaking from a Soweto church thrust onto the front lines of the fight against apartheid, first lady Michelle Obama urged young South Africans to conquer hunger and AIDS and to end violence against women.

Addressing a crowded Regina Mundi Church, she singled out 76 young women from across Africa here for a U.S.-sponsored leadership forum.


U.S. first lady Michelle Obama speaks at Regina Mundi Church and addresses the Young African Women Leaders Forum, in a Soweto township, Johannesburg, South Africa, Wednesday, June 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, Pool)

The Catholic church, still wearing battle scars from the 35-year-old Soweto uprising and ensuing protests, is named "Regina Mundi," which is Latin for "Queen of the World."

She was introduced by Graca Machel, wife of former president Nelson Mandela.

Obama, here for a weeklong official visit, met the 92-year-old Mandela Tuesday. Referring to the U.S. first lady, Machel said from Regina Mundi: "We welcome you as a daughter of Africa–and we can call you the 'queen of our world.' "

Obama told those gathered to work to eliminate poverty, inequality and injustice, ending the 34-minute address by reprising her husband's 2008 campaign slogan, four times exhorting them: "Yes we can.

"Yes we can.
"Yes we can.
"Yes we can."

The Young African Women Leaders Forum, the first of its kind, is being sponsored by the White House, State Department and other U.S. entities.

The 76 women taking part are from 24 countries and work in education, health, business and the media.

A White House official put the crowd count in Regina Mundi at 2,000.

June 22 – Second FLOTUS Dispatch

Johannesburg–First lady Michelle Obama paid homage Wednesday to a 13-year-old boy killed by police in 1976 after he was swept up in the spasm of a street protest triggered by a law requiring students to abandon local languages and study in Afrikaans, the language of the descendants of Dutch settlers. Even some exams were written in Afrikaans.

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, right, stands with Antoinette Sithole, left, after laying a wreath at the Hector Pieterson Memorial in Soweto, South Africa Wednesday June 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

Thirty-five years later, Hector Pieterson lives on as an enduring symbol of the bloody clashes that came before the slow death of apartheid.

The teen's slaying spawned the "Soweto uprising," local demonstrations that caught fire across the country.

Pieterson is immortalized not least because of a photo showing an 18-year-old student carrying his lifeless body as Pieterson's distraught sister runs alongside.

That sister, Antoinette Sithole, accompanied Obama as she laid a wreath at Pieterson's memorial, located in Soweto a few hundred yards from where he was gunned down.

The first lady and five family members with her on a weeklong trip to Africa later toured the adjacent museum that lets the world know about his short life and bloody death.

She is with her mother, daughters Sasha, 10, and Malia, 12, and a niece, 15, and nephew, 19.

–Katherine Skiba, Chicago Tribune

June 22 – Third FLOTUS Dispatch

FLOTUS held two events this afternoon. The first were drop in visits on a forum set up by the state department to encourage leadership among young women in Africa. The 75 forum attendees, who were chosen to participate by the US government and photographed with FLOTUS yesterday, also attended her speech at Regina Mundi church this morning.

First lady Michelle Obama laughs as a boy, foreground, asks her to join in a dance as she visits a community service project at Vhuthilo Community Center in Soweto township, Johannesburg, South Africa, Wednesday, June 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, Pool)

Three breakout sessions were held where the young women were led in a facilitated discussion by an African woman who helped write the country's constitution and others who made significant achievements. The groups sat in circles in different rooms at the Rosa Parks American Library in Soweto, which is funded by the US Embassy here. Flotus dropped in on their conversations which ranged from the need for child care for working women to domestic violence at schools. She listened, interjecting only to nod approval or give an affirmative finger snap with the young women who used the snaps to show their approval for a positive solution. She asked about a program one woman said she has instituted to help young women get on corporate boards.

FLOTUS sat in each of the groups for about 15 minutes. "I'm just here to listen," she said.

The young women in the groups have been recognized for such things as starting NGOs, achieving academically and working in community development. (several are journalists).

FLOTUS left the library after about 45 minutes.

Next stop was Nanga Vhuthilo Center, a community center in Soweto that serves 300 family. FLOTUS and less than a dozen of the women from the leadership forum did a volunteer project at the center.

Several of the young women who were tasked with planting spinach were not sure how to get the spinach buds out of their plastic pots. Obama harvested carrots, spinach and then looked at a mural a group of students from the center had painted. Some of the children danced. She hugged those who asked for hugs. Obama's mother, daughters an niece and nephew were present, as well. The children at the center, who appeared to be middle school age, sang the family a "goodbye song" and danced the Setswana dance.

FLOTUS is off to cape town. Wheels up soon.

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