In Ethiopia with Former President Bill Clinton

August 5, 2008 | By Justin Sullivan | News

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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

DEBRE ZEIT, ETHIOPIA – AUGUST 01: Two boys play with a cellular phone as former U.S. President Bill Clinton tours the Godino Health Center August 1, 2008 in Debre Zeit, Ethiopia. Former President Clinton is visiting Clinton Foundation projects in four African countries over before heading to Mexico City to give a keynote address at the World AIDS Conference.

I am currently on an assignment covering former President Bill Clinton on a trip to Africa. The seven day journey began in New York (well, Newark, NJ to be exact) and travels through four countries in Africa: Ethiopia, Rwanda, Liberia and Senegal. We end our trip in Mexico City at the World AIDS Conference.

We had a rough start to the trip due to mechanical problems on the plane. For more about those issues, check out my own personal blog. But one thing that has really been impressive to me over the last three days is that nobody has complained. Not even once. Everyone has just rolled with the punches.

With three days off the schedule, I am curious to see how the rest of the trip pans out. Matt McKenna, Clinton’s spokesman and a good friend, says we are still going to all of the countries that we were originally slated for, just in fewer days – that means five countries in four days. I think we might have dropped a day off the Rwanda leg.

Either way, we are all eager to get going on the tours that are scheduled. We started in a village called Debre Zeit where Bill toured the Godino Health Center, one of the facilities that is funded by Bill’s foundation. The hour and a half drive in a tiny bus took us through several villages and towns. The imagery was incredible. There were many times I wished I could have hopped off the bus and snapped photos of the street scenes.

The village was very cool. At least a thousand villagers came out to see Bill. Kids marched in big groups down the dirt road to a field where the president spoke. They carried Ethiopian flags and sang songs. It was incredible to see.

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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

DEBRE ZEIT, ETHIOPIA – AUGUST 01: Children carry Ethiopian flags as they walk down a road before former U.S. President Bill Clinton tours the Godino Health Center August 1, 2008 in Debre Zeit, Ethiopia. Former President Clinton is visiting Clinton Foundation projects in four African countries over before heading to Mexico City to give a keynote address at the World AIDS Conference.

Bill arrived late, as he normally does, and toured the medical facility before speaking to a large crowd. It was set up like a campaign event, but didn’t play out like one. The president spoke in short sentences and his words were translated. The crowd politely applauded and waved their country’s flag after each line. There were a few nice moments for pictures.

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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

DEBRE ZEIT, ETHIOPIA – AUGUST 01: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton (L) and his daughter Chelsea Clinton (C) tour the Godino Health Center August 1, 2008 in Debre Zeit, Ethiopia. Former President Clinton is visiting Clinton Foundation projects in four African countries over before heading to Mexico City to give a keynote address at the World AIDS Conference.

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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

DEBRE ZEIT, ETHIOPIA – AUGUST 01: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton waves to a crowd after he visited the Godino Health Center August 1, 2008 in Debre Zeit, Ethiopia. Former President Clinton is visiting Clinton Foundation projects in four African countries over before heading to Mexico City to give a keynote address at the World AIDS Conference.

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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

DEBRE ZEIT, ETHIOPIA – AUGUST 01: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton greets villagers after he visited the Godino Health Center August 1, 2008 in Debre Zeit, Ethiopia. Former President Clinton is visiting Clinton Foundation projects in four African countries over before heading to Mexico City to give a keynote address at the World AIDS Conference.

When Bill was finished we loaded back into the tiny bus and made the hot and bumpy ride back to the airport. Our next stop was Kigali, Rwanda where we would be taking helicopters to a coffee plantation. However, due to even more mechanical issues (this time with a different plane) we didn’t arrive in Kigali until after dark and the helicopter ride was canceled. Instead, Bill had dinner with the press and I had dinner with a friend.

Hopefully the plane Gods will be with us tomorrow.

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  • http://firezack@aol.com Ron Ziulkowski

    How safe is this area for students to travel to? My daughter wants to travel her with a group to help out, and I am cocerned about the recent violence in the area. Could you give me some feed back on Debre Zeit. Thank you for your time.