The Secretary of State stopped by Amman today for a quick visit - his ninth so far. We've been calling it "9.3" because it's been cancelled several times, but finally the stars lined up and he made it to town.
Now maybe you've never worked an "S" visit before and you don't really know how much work it entails. I can tell you, as a 9.3-time expert: it entails a lot of work. An incredible lot. Especially as it's never the most - dare I say it? - organized process.
Part of the disorganization is, I'm sure, coming straight from the top. I'm assuming he's a last-minute sort of guy, making decisions and then wanting them carried out ASAP. Part of it is the nature of the process - when you're shuttling between various parties in different countries trying to get them to come to some sort of agreement, well, I don't know, but I'd guess it'd be hard to keep to a strict timetable.
This visit was no different, with the dates changing and the times changing, all the way up until yesterday evening. It turned out I had to be at work at 5:45 this morning - no easy feat with 4 kids plus a sleepover guest in the house.
Somehow I made it to work on time. It felt like I was the only person awake in all of Amman - I encountered not a single other car on my way in. But when I got there, I ran right into the hustle and bustle of a motorcade being staged: not just us press people but DS agents and protocol people and visa folks and airplane people and drivers and, and, and.
We all piled into our cars and took off for the airport, lights flashing in the dark night sky.
One nice thing about waking up early - perhaps the only nice thing - is the opportunity it affords to view the world in a different light. Driving down the airport highway as the sun rose in the sky to our left, we watched as the normally beige buildings took on a pink hue. The Bedouin tents glowed from electric lights strung within - and who knew they had electricity? The camels were nearly invisible in the dim light, and even my friend Ruba, who has lived here all her life, said she didn't recognize her own city. Beautiful. But odd.
Ruba and I were there to wrangle the press. You know those photos you see on the news, showing VIPs like the Secretary waving from the door of the airplane? Someone has to take those pictures, and someone has to be there to help the people who need to take the pictures.
This visit was a little bit different, because the Secretary only planned to be on the ground for a couple of hours - just long enough to meet with the King. He landed; our journalists took their pictures and left. But we stayed on at the airport, waiting for the motorcade to return and the plane to take off for its next destination. Then we hopped back into the motorcade for the more-ordinary daylight run back to the office, back to our regularly scheduled workday.
These visits can be a bit annoying sometimes. They happen so frequently, and take so much work to organize, that it can be difficult to keep track of your regular work when S rolls through. Then, too, it's hard to explain to the kids that, yes, I'm working on a weekend/holiday/evening again. Though I imagine the kids will forgive him for this fact if S ever decides to schedule a "Meet and Greet" with the kids (hint, hint, Mr. Secretary - they've met President Obama, both Presidents Bush, Secretary Clinton, Secretary Powell and Secretary Albright, but haven't yet gotten a picture with you. Perhaps during visit 10.1?)
So yes, sometimes it's annoying in the lead-up to the visit. But always - always! - it's cool to see that big ole plane rolling up, to know that the USG is trying to make a positive difference in a tumultuous region. I don't know if we'll ever reach a solution to the situation that satisfies all parties. But it's good to know we're trying. We can only do so much, I suppose, before the people who are directly involved need to make some hard decisions. But I'm sort of proud of our government for trying.
And that's the most you'll ever hear me say about peace in the middle east on this blog! You want to know what really happened in Amman today? There were plenty of big-name journalists travelling with the Secretary - go read their stories. They can tell you.
Meanwhile, here are a few pictures of my morning.