Wednesday, April 17, 2024

AL GILKES: To be in Obama’s presence


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IN MY LIFETIME I have had the good fortune to meet or be in the presence of various local, regional and world leaders but would gladly trade most of them for a chance to meet President Obama before he demits office.

The only exception would be the late South African hero, Nelson Mandela with whom my good friend Sir Wesley Hall and I had the pleasure of sharing a long conversation at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg during the first official West Indies-South Africa Test match in 1994.

A few days later Sir Wes and I sat with the country’s then president, F.W. de Klerk, enjoying a few hours of another match between the two teams.

Among my paraphernalia, I have two invitations, one in English to a cocktail reception on board the Royal Yacht Britannia with the Queen and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh; the other in Spanish to one at the National Palace in Guatemala with then President Vinicio Cerezo Arevalo.

I also still have the only photographs allowed and taken by me, of former Cuban president Fidel Castro and then prime minister Owen Arthur, during a lunch meeting at Sandy Lane Hotel.

Back in 1980, while enjoying a six-week tour of the United States, sponsored by the State Department as part of my prize for being voted the 1979 Caribbean Journalist Of The Year, I found myself in the presence of President Jimmy Carter when I spent a day in the West Wing as a temporary member of the White House Press Corps, the group of journalists and correspondents stationed there to cover the president, official events and news briefings.

I was in a similar position on home soil during visits to Barbados by Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, but as I look forward I see little possibility, except by a freak accident, of being of ever being in the presence of President Obama and his most beautiful wife Michelle.

So, having accepted any possibility as an impossibility and given the brief period he has left in office, I resorted to dreaming about being the idiomatic fly on the wall during his recent meetings in Jamaica with CARICOM leaders and in Panama at the Seventh Summit of the Americas.

I dreamt of stowing away from Barbados to Jamaica under the jacket collar of Prime Minister Stuart and remaining there, except for a dart when he wasn’t looking, for a quick bite of his first-class food.

Once in Jamaica and Panama I would escape from under the collar to position myself two reasons. One would be to land on Obama’s neck while he posed for the official group photographs and would have to resist the urge to drop a deadly slap in me. The other would be to hear our Prime Minister conversing with the President in the colourful language that’s his very own, punctuated with various biblical and ancient Roman, Grecian and other old philosophical references.

Unfortunately, my dreaming saw me not making it through the photo sessions in both countries as I was awakened as if from a nightmare at the start of any conversation. I, therefore, got nothing to report about what might have or would have been said by either leader during their conversations. I might as well have stayed at home.

Al Gilkes heads a public relations firm. Email:


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