First, Bush came upon a clutch of elderly women dressed in brightly colored traditional dress from the 19th century. Influenced by German colonialists,they wore what looked like modified ball gowns. Rather than the brilliant colors of other African nations, these women expressed themselves through the clash of bold checks and even more striking patterns. Dresses banged against shawls, which ricocheted off their headdresses, synched tightly in a "T" of fabric perpendicular to their faces and resting more than a foot in length on their foreheads.
Next, Bush turned the corner and greeted one of two marimba bands wailing away at their instruments. Groups of singing children and the marimba bands were all performing their own pieces but the combination sounded somehow unified. In the middle of the entourage, young dancers, dressed in the tiny leather scraps of traditional dress whistled, clapped and stamped their feet. The seeds wrapped around their ankles rattled like beans in a coffee grinder.
The President's familiar black limousine prepared to speed away after thearrival ceremony but stopped almost as quickly as it had started. Bush emerged and made his way to the bleachers where the audience of a couple hundred erupted in cheers. He worked the front rows just as he would a domestic political rally. Then, as he came to the end of the line, he suddenly locked in on awoman standing a few feet away. As if rushing to catch a closing elevator he quick-stepped towards her, crouched and grasped her hands, looking intensely into her eyes. As fast as he had taken the pose, he popped out of it and shook a few more hands.
The object of his brisk movement was over the moon. "I did it," screamed a woman stamping her feet. "I did it." Her friends crowded around her. "Don't wash that hand ever," said one." Another chimed in: "Don't wash it until his term is over.”
The celebration matched the beauty and buoyancy of the location. Botswana is one of Africa's economic success stories and looks it. Modern and clean in many areas, it benefits from the world's largest diamond trade. But, as with even Africa's prosperous nations, the picture is mixed. AIDS is rampant in the Texas-sized country. Of the roughly 1.7 million residents, nearly 40% are infected, which is the world's worst ratio. Quoting former President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia who called the disease the continent's "deadliest enemy,"Bush promised that "the first thing I wanted the leadership in Africa to know is the American people care deeply about the pandemic that sweeps across this continent."
After his meetings, the President took a whirlwind tour through a nature preserve, spending less than an hour viewing long-horned kudus (antelopes), birds, warthogs, and an adult rhino and a baby rhino. Leaning on a raised seat on the bed of a pickup truck with his wife and daughter Barbara, the President seemed to be enjoying himself though he breezed past a pair of cheetahs that were supposedly docile enough to withstand petting.
He could not bypass the elephants though even if he'd wanted to. As the First Family came upon a group of three pachyderms, a male seized the moment to make an amorous move. The engagement was protracted. The President's pickup had to just sit there. Bush turned once to smile at the press pool following behind him and after the two animals separated, snapped his baseball cap on his head as if he'd just come out the other end of an unexpectedly brisk carnival ride. "It's the heavy petting zoo," quipped one reporter.
White House correspondent John Dickerson is on the road with George W. Bush in Africa, from where he'll file reports throughout the President's five-day, five-country tour.