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A Remarkable Day in South Africa

Alan Fitts, Trip Director for the First Lady, gives you a look inside an incredible first day traveling in South Africa with the First Lady and her family.

It's been an incredible first day traveling in South Africa with the First Lady and her family!

I had often heard South Africa described as a country of stark contrasts, powerful history and inspirational leaders - with a culture of hospitality, warmth and song. We had a long and varied day today, and all of us on the First Lady's staff feel like we got a true taste of it all!

The First Lady started her morning meeting with leaders from across South Africa. Through various meetings, we encountered leaders from government and industry, non-profit and education. We had the opportunity to pay a visit to the Presidential Residence to greet First Lady Ntuli-Zuma and her children.  I felt inspired being in the presence of many leaders making such an impact on this country.

The First Lady and her family then had the honor of visiting the Mandela Foundation.  We were greeted by the gracious Graca Machel, wife of former-President Nelson Mandela, and a truly inspirational figure in her own right.  After having the opportunity to greet other members of the extended Mandela family, we got to glimpse the personal papers and archives of the former President. There was a remarkable array of documents and photographs laid out for the First Family's visit: the calendars Nelson Mandela used to count the days of his nearly 27 years in prison; letters home to his wife and children as he sat in his cell; the original Life Imprisonment sentence that seemingly cut short Nelson Mandela's life and political influence. Each of the items provided a glimpse into Nelson Mandela's life, courage and mind.

Graca Machel invited the First Lady and her family to visit Nelson Mandela at their home nearby. As I sat in the car outside the gates of Mandela's home, the feeling was electric - we all sensed the historical significance of the moment.  And the pictures that emerged from that meeting speak for themselves.

From the political, business and civil stratosphere of South Africa, we traveled to Zandspruit, a township outside of Johannesburg. The poverty we saw was all-encompassing and the juxtaposition from where we'd been was striking, but the meaningful visit was filled with warmth, color, inspiration and song.

We were greeted by the leaders of the Emthonjoni Community Center, and two six year old children, Ntswaki and Tinyiko - the First Family's "escorts" for the afternoon. All of us were almost brought to tears by the event that ensued - the children had an energy and spirit that was infectious. A group of 30 children, ages 3 to 6, sang songs of greeting with all their heart, and the whole group played a variety of games in circles on the grass with Sasha and Malia.

Watch the video of the First Lady visiting the Emothonjeni Community Center.

The First Lady and the girls also gave an emphatic rendition of "The Cat in the Hat;" and they all got a healthy dose of hugs before they left!  It was an adorable afternoon - and, for me, it was equally as powerful to be in the presence of those kids as it was to be with national leaders during the first part of the day.

Watch the video of the First Family reading "The Cat in the Hat".

Last, we visited the Apartheid Museum. Before we toured, the First Lady met the 75 young women Youth Leaders she will be adressing tomorrow. These women came from across Africa and are the reason we are here. These women have personal and professional stories that will blow you away - there was a lot of mutual-admiration in the room, and the First Lady made sure to tell them how inspiring these women were to her!

Touring the museum, I couldn't help but be struck by the powerful, and often violent, history of South Africa during the Apartheid era. The museum is a visual feast and provided a vibrant context and framework for everything we saw and everyone we met that day.

It was a remarkable day.

That's all for now. On to tomorrow - a full day in Soweto, outside of Johannesburg!

Visit to keep following the journey!

Alan O. Fitts, Trip Director for the First Lady