Friday, October 7, 2011

Congratulations President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf!

Covering the inauguration of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in January 2006 was an awesome experience and a highlight of my career as a journalist.
Johnson Sirleaf is a longtime United Methodist who loves her church. Bishop John Innis, the United Methodist bishop in Liberia, is a good friend of hers and he invited a delegation of U.S. United Methodists to attend her inauguration. He arranged for me to have an interview with her just three days after she took office. I will always be grateful to him for that.
I won’t go into detail but just getting to Monrovia, Liberia, in time to be at the inauguration was a nightmare. It seemed the whole world was trying to get to that remote location in a city without electricity, paved roads, limited numbers of hotels and restaurants, and very sketchy Internet service.
I got to my hotel sometime after midnight and was visited by two people (and not at the same time) from the Liberian Conference to tell me I needed to be ready to leave at 3 a.m.
The press had to be at the site at 4 a.m. to be counted and verified for entry into the press area. Two buses were on hand to transport us to another site for a quick breakfast before letting us into the “pit.”
The more experienced members of the media rushed to be on the first bus. I didn’t understand at the time why they were rushing but it became painfully apparent after I boarded the second bus and got to the “pit” a few minutes later: They had all the seats and all the good spots.
Laura Bush, then first lady, and Condoleezza Rice were among the dignitaries from around the world that came to see the first woman elected head of state in Africa. The White House press corps had reserved all the front and center seats.
I staked out my small spot next to the fence where I could stand on my tiptoes and have an almost clear angle on the proceedings as long as no one stepped in front of me or pushed my elbow. And let me tell you, I had to fight to keep my spot. As the day wore on, I got meaner. I would not be moved.
From 5 a.m. until I think around 2 p.m., I stood in that spot. No food, no water, no bathroom breaks. To this day I really don’t know how I did it except by the grace of God.
Of course now I wouldn’t give anything for the experience and the memories. I am so thrilled today that she is receiving the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. I am as proud of her as if she were a close friend. In my heart, I think she is.

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