The election in the U.S. was obviously the biggest event at the beginning of the month. We did vote - many weeks in advance and with fingers crossed that the APO system got our ballot into the Colorado election commission in time to be counted. While our normal election night plans would have been to sit at home and channel surf while the returns came in, this year we had a slight change of plans. The Ambassador held an election night event at the Residence (ambassadors don't just live in houses, they live in Residences that are the foreign service equivalent of a mini-White House). We joined about 1,400 of his closest friends, political and business contacts, diplomats and American ex-pats to view the election results in his back yard while having to behave our diplomatic and non-partisan best.
The set up was very typical of a Peruvian party setting with a few variations. Parties here often occur outside. It never - and I do mean NEVER - rains in Lima and the temperature is pretty consistently in the mid to high 60's this time of year so an out door event is really quite comfortable. To add class and protection from the chance of mist - which Peruvians consider to be rain - they set up large Toldos. A toldo is a very large tent, often without the side panels. They can be quite fancy and in this case it was also enormous. We were in the back yard of the residence under a white toldo about one-third the size of a football field. American flags were everywhere as were a dozen or so large screen TV's and a few jumbotrons. We had CNN International, CNN US, CNN en Espanol, BBC and some other local language coverage. Cocktails and a buffet were available and we spent the evening mixing with the crowd and serving as diplomatic representatives of the U.S. It was tough not being as emotional as I might otherwise have been, particularly when Obama was named the winner. But it certainly felt historic and a terrific way to demonstrate to our Peruvian and other diplomatic community members how stable and orderly our election process really is.
This election really has captivated the world. Throughout the campaign the local Peruvian newspaper ran editorials, front page articles and special sections on the candidates. While watching the election night coverage Richard was corrected by a Peruvian guest regarding the number of electoral votes in California. My maid was regularly checking in with me regarding rumors that she had heard about either Obama or McCain. The one piece of shared information that disappointed my Peruvian friends is that we are not required to vote in the U.S. In Peru elections are held on Sunday and it is mandatory that everyone vote - if not they are fined a pretty hefty sum.
We finished off the week with another gala event by attending our first Marine Ball. This is the annual, black tie event put on by the local Marine contingent to celebrate the service men who stand guard at the embassy. I'm honestly not sure how many we have at this embassy but it is not a small number and they are truly clean cut seriously looking folks. Their celebration provided us with the opportunity to get all dolled up and then boogie with the embassy community. And here are the lovely couple in their black tie best:
And again, the lovely couple in the lobby of our apartment building.
Then at the end of the month we had the opportunity to experience up close and personal an international trade summit with 21 heads of state visiting in Lima. APEC (the Asian Pacific Economic Conference) was held in Lima from November 16-23 with the world leaders arriving for the last weekend. All of the major hotels were booked with diplomats, ministers, security and press personnel. The Marriott, a few blocks from our apartment, was home to the U.S. delegation so we had President Bush and Laura and enough of a White House, Secret Service, Press and security detail to fill the entire hotel.
So what is security like when the President comes to town? Well that would mean lots of military, police and other security folks plus tanks, troop carriers, dogs and a big battleship out at sea. The good news was that our apartment was within the radius that required pre-screening to enter. So once we got through the security we entered a quiet, peaceful, no taxi zone. Given the generally crazy traffic environment that was lovely.
The entire embassy was involved in some way with the event. I actually had a part time job back in February on one of the pre-meetings and there have been many such meetings since then. Foreign service officers have security clearances so can be used in lots of ways, mostly clerical, to support the delegates that swoop in to deliver reports that have actually been painstakingly prepared over the many months preceding the big event. Richard is currently working in the ACS (American Citizen Services)section so was able to miss some of the all night shifts and other such exciting action. In order to ensure that Americans would always have someone available to help them with any crisis - even during a presidential visit - the ACS section kept on running through the whole event. The visa window and other embassy services, however, were shut down for the week.
In order to keep traffic (a common negative theme here) sane, the government of Peru made Thursday and Friday federal holidays. So - the good news was that there was very little traffic as folk stayed home or went to the beach. The bad news was that our empleada was one of those folk staying home and we actually had to cook and clean for ourselves. I tell you, we have become totally spoiled. Another feature of federal holidays here is that all buildings, including personal residences, are required to fly their Peruvian flags. Wonder how such a requirement would work back home?
We also had the Peruvian police patrol protecting our neighborhood. The looked pretty classy but created a bit of a mess on our local streets.
At the end of the APEC meetings the embassy held a "Meet and Greet" for the embassy community to meet with President and Mrs. Bush and Secretary Rice. Of course in embassy speak the president is the POTUS and the first lady is the FLOTUS - you've gotta love government speak. Since the president's scheduled time was pretty full we were alloted the 8:00am slot on Sunday morning and had to be in place by 7:00am. So much for sleeping in on Sunday morning. We attended though and stood in a crowded ball room for an hour and a half to hear the ambassador and president speak for a few minutes. It was interesting seeing the portable presidential seal come out to be placed on his podium - something that I guess I have seen a lot but never paused to think that it was carried around as an executive accessory.
It was also interesting to watch the special treatment that the children in the embassy community receive. They had a special section and received most of the time from Laura Bush and Secretary Rice, including special photo ops. My photos were from a couple of rows back but here they are. We are now really hoping that President Obama comes to visit us in Brazil.
This is Ambassador McKinley introducing the president. The ambassador's wife is to his left.
The whole leadership crew:
And the President speaking to the embassy community: