"How would you like to travel with former President Bill Clinton through Africa for a week?" my boss, the foreign editor, suggested, in his trademark "nothing, not even a whirlwind week on a private plane across Africa with Bill, is that big a deal" calm tone. I was eating Chow Fun at P.F. Chang's in Boston at the time and almost choked.
But being that I am a seasoned-and-serious-and-unflappable reporter, I replied with equal nonchalance, that it sounded "interesting." I could write, I suggested, something about the phenomenon of Western superstars – be they Mr. Clinton or Angelina Jolie, Bill Gates, or Madonna – taking on Africa's problems. I was, I guess, willing to do this.
Ha! Willing is, well, a wild understatement ... for this is a DREAM assignment, especially for someone like me, whose love for Africa (I was the Monitor's Africa correspondent from 2001-03) and the people of this continent is only surpassed by my total starstruck love for anyone remotely famous. I once saw Lyle Lovett in a cafe in Paris and practically fainted.
Anyway, I was so excited about the glamorous journey ahead that I arrived for the meeting with Clinton in Johannesburg a day and a half early. As it turns out, I had plenty of other megastars to gaze adoringly at today, as a group of world leaders gathered here to help South Africa's beloved former President Nelson Mandela celebrate his 89th birthday. Come along, I'll tell you all about it....