White House reporter Darlene Superville has covered President Barack Obama since he took office in 2009. She travels regularly as a member of the official White House press “pool” and recently accompanied him on his visit to Kenya and Ethiopia.
Here, Darlene talks about what it’s like to travel with the president along with some of her favorite moments from the trip.
The trip began, interestingly enough, in a doctor’s office.
Vaccinations are often required for travel to certain foreign countries. Since the president was headed to the East African countries of Kenya and Ethiopia, the White House Travel Office recommended getting vaccinated against yellow fever.
I left the doctor’s office with bandages on both arms after getting my yellow fever shot renewed, plus getting vaccinated against typhoid fever and Hepatitis A as a precaution as the doctor had recommended.
Until it’s time to leave for the trip, you’re reporting and writing preview stories and backgrounding yourself in the issues that will likely come up during the trip. And then there’s figuring out how to fit six days’ worth of clothing into an overhead bin-sized carry-on suitcase.
Obama’s visit to Kenya was a homecoming of sorts: His father was born there, siblings and other relatives still live there and he had not visited since taking the oath of office. So, many of the stories that White House Correspondent Julie Pace and I wrote from Kenya included a healthy dose of the family reunion angle.
I flew with Obama aboard Air Force One as part of the press pool, 13 members representing the wires, TV networks, wire and still photographers, radio and print publications. We flew from Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington, D.C., for about seven hours until we arrived at the U.S. Air Base in Ramstein, Germany.
AF1 refueled, got rid of trash and loaded fresh meals. Then it was another seven hours south and east to Nairobi, Kenya.
Kenyans had waited years for “President” Obama to visit and it was remarkable to see and feel their pride in someone they consider a local son. Upon arrival at his hotel in Nairobi, Obama went immediately went to dinner with a big group of relatives, including his half-sister Auma, some of whom had traveled great distances from their villages to come see him. The press pool was taken for a glimpse.
It was touching to see the president smiling and laughing with his relatives, some of whom we later were told he had met for the first time that night.
The visit to Ethiopia was more focused on business. Obama met with the prime minister, held an emergency meeting with regional leaders on the civil war in South Sudan, attended a state dinner and addressed members of the African Union.
It is indisputable that every presidency is historic. Obama’s presidency, to me, is doubly historic given his status as the first black man, a true African American, to hold the office.
The trip marked a number of firsts for the American presidency: It was the first visit to both Kenya and Ethiopia, and the first address to the African Union.
That I was there to report on it was very special and very humbling.