Reporter's Notebook: Covering Clinton in Africa

The trip begins, but the press corps has already bonded ... without me.

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Today is the first day of Bill Clinton's whirlwind six-day trip to Africa. He is here to visit some of his foundation's projects, to wish his good friend Nelson Mandela a happy birthday, and, well, to do a little adventuring.

While waiting for him to arrive in Johannesburg, South Africa, yesterday, I was hanging out with Mr. Mandela on his 89th birthday and listening to Peter Gabriel singing a capella. Not too shabby.

But the thing is, because I didn't travel with Mr. Clinton's entourage and the rest of the journalists from the US, I realized today that I missed some serious bonding on the 17-hour plane ride over to Africa. I felt that same pang of panic that attacked me way back when I missed freshman week at college.

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"Who are you?" a young aide wanted to know when I met up with the Clinton team this morning at their hotel. "Are you with us?" a fancy lady in very high heels queried. "Oh no, no! I'm just a reporter," I said, smiling meekly at everyone as I introduced myself.

The 42nd president of the United States does not travel light.

On this journey, he is moving around with two private planes and about 40 people: A dozen journalists, a handful of aides, and a group of friends and supporters who, at an auction at Clinton's 60th birthday last year, placed winning bids on joining the trip.

The first thing we do – the journalists, the aides, and the bidders, aka the donors, alike – is get on buses and head to the Nelson Mandela Foundation to hear Clinton give a speech. Someone asks to sit next to me on the bus.

Whew. I relax, feeling welcomed into the group. I settle back and look out the window and think about the days to come.

It's all just beginning.

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