About the Author: Brian Asmus serves as a Public Diplomacy Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
The day (or rather night) that Embassy Papua New Guinea had long been waiting for -- and once had to reschedule due to the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti -- was upon us. And Papua New Guineans (PNG) were just as excited. Young and old, they lined the streets, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as she arrived at Jackson International Airport November 3, 2010.
Secretary Clinton's first stop was Port Moresby Technical College to plant a mangrove seedling. This was the site that had site leader Norman Barth from Embassy Suva most worried. A quick check showed that the tide would be at its highest at that hour. Back to the drawing board: We would arrange a symbolic planting. Windy conditions and the threat of rain were also foremost in our minds. As clouds started to darken the sky, we nervously scrutinized the weather reports. It was going to be hit and miss. If the Secretary should arrive late, a lighting storm was likely.
After following the road as it wound along the coast, Secretary Clinton and her entourage were given great views of downtown Port Moresby, which was clearly visible across the harbor, as they made their way to the mangrove planting site. Upon arrival, Benny Allan, PNG Minister for Environment and Conservation, Augustine Mungkaje, acting project coordinator of the Community Based Management and Sustainable Utilization of the Mangrove Resources in Bootless Bay and Mazzella Maniwave, the daughter of the project's late founder Thomas Maniwave and one of the project's officials, greeted the Secretary. Later, Mazzella would hand the mangrove seedling to the Secretary who, in turn, passed it to a student for planting; all went according to plan. Instead of rain, a rainbow emerged.
As darkness fell and the lights of downtown started to twinkle across the bay, the motorcade whisked off for an official courtesy call on PNG Governor-General Sir Paulias Matane at Government House. The building has wide verandahs that were designed to catch the evening breeze, sitting atop a forested hill with manicured gardens overlooking what soon will be the New Embassy Compound (scheduled for completion in 2013). Sir Paulias, Queen Elizabeth II's official representative and a prolific author, discussed the issues facing the country with the Secretary.
With every minute of her four-hour trip tightly choreographed, we had the group racing back to the U.S. Embassy for a "Meet & Greet" with the staff. After a quick group photo (I hope that nobody heard us barking orders for all to take their places), my fantastic Public Diplomacy and Protocol Assistant, Carolyn Ive, was given the great honor of introducing the Secretary. Despite enduring a bit of good-natured teasing from me during the week prior, she delivered an ace performance. The whole experience had her beaming with pride, a truly unforgettable and inspirational moment.
Next, Secretary Clinton went to Parliament House in Waigani. Completed in February 1984 and opened by HRH the Prince of Wales Aug. 7 of the same year, the building combines traditional and modern design elements. To me, it looks like a Lutheran Church from the 1970s, complete with chartreuse carpet!
What a sight! Site officer Sarah Nelson had swung into action and placed orchids throughout the venue. Excited murmurs rippled through the crowd of women as the Secretary entered the room and was greeted by PNG Ambassador Lucy Bogari, deputy secretary of Policy in PNG Department of Foreign Affairs. Mrs. Clinton spoke with new female recruits from the PNG Defense Force and with two women recognized by the embassy for their courageous work on human rights issues, Helen Samilo and Betty Lovai. During her speech, many of the women gathered had tears in their eye.
Later, Secretary Clinton held a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare and addressed members of the PNG Cabinet. As notetaker, I got to be part of the action. Secretary Clinton expressed her hope that Papua New Guinea would use revenue from its natural resources, including the large ExxonMobil liquefied natural gas (LNG) project, wisely for the development of the country. She offered the Prime Minister assistance through the State Department's Energy Governance Capacity Initiative (EGCI).
Following the joint press conference, the Secretary and her team set off for the airport, while the Public Diplomacy team raced back to the U.S. Embassy to file this brief and to upload the photos of the memorable event. Thank goodness Shane Hussein from Embassy Suva is a technology wizard! No one, however, was off the clock. We had to wait for confirmation that the Secretary's plane was "wheels up." While we waited, everyone joked, relieved that all went off with hardly a hitch.
A transcript of Secretary Clinton's remarks at the mangrove reforestation project is here; at Parliament House on women's empowerment is here; and with Prime Minister Somare is here. Additional information about the visit's goals and significance is available here.