Early in March, on a bright and sunny Monday morning I received a call from our HR Manager. It went something like this -- "Fran! I just received a call, the President is coming to see us on Wednesday!"
I did the math -- in 48 hours, the President of Honduras was going to come a-callin' and I had nothing to wear.
Ok, perhaps that wasn't what was going through my mind -- right off the bat. What I was really thinking was a bit more dramatic -- Are you kidding me!? What do we need to do?! We have just 48 hours to prepare?! A paralyzing panic swept through for a few minutes and then wild prep mode kicked in.
Now, I've never had a President come to visit ... well, I almost did in the Philippines in 2000, but I turned down the request due to security reasons. Yes, I did that. We'll talk about that another time.
So here we were, less than two days out and we were waiting for an agenda and information about what lay ahead.
You know. What are we supposed to do. What are the proper steps to follow? Will there be any kind of security clearance? Where can we take him? What does he want to see? Who does he want to speak with? Questions...questions...questions...
Information came to us in bits and pieces and on Tuesday afternoon I was told I was expected to deliver a speech and presentation for my TEN MINUTE slot on the agenda!! Ten minutes? Have you ever heard me speak? I'm a Jersey girl, we don't have time to waste, I speak in short staccato bursts and get what I want to say out with barely a breath.
And what do I say to the President? I'm not qualified to write a speech to deliver to the leader of a country, am I?
"Oh, but Fran, she likes to write, she writes a blog, this will be a breeze for her, says a colleague."
So, a day of banners being ordered, tables, chairs and food being planned for and some housecleaning and preparations for mi jefe to come to town the morning of the visit turned into night -- late night. The team had done a fabulous job coming together to see that everything was prepared and we were ready for the event.
There I sat, the night before the big visit behind the computer with Michelle across the desk, helping me finding my voice as I worked feverishly to tap out a few pages that would make sense and be meaningful.
Wednesday morning, the Special Forces team came to check out the facility and as we walked the floor, they handed a cell phone to the Chief of Security for the business park and asked to get a photo with me. What? A photo with me? Is this some sort of hazing thing for a Presidential visit newbie? Or do they quickly upload the photo to check it against some Interpol database to make sure I am not some kind of national security risk dressed in a pretty Talbot's scarf dress and lightweight sweater with black flats? Yep, I thought about the outfit just a little bit.
They came back later in the afternoon, just before the event to sweep the floors, looking for anything that could be a security concern. The dog checked out the floor and the assessment room and everything was just fine. The President could come to visit.
After the tour of the site, visiting with the team and seeing how our recruiting process works, we all headed down to the lobby for the speaking engagements.
After the introductions and benediction it was my turn. I got up, walked to the podium and made my way through just about 10 minutes of speech. Having to have a translator helped to buy about 3 minutes to the 7 minutes of text I'd written.
After attending an event the week before my powers of observation came in handy. I thought -- OMG! The thank you's at the beginning of the speech. I need to at least attempt do that part in Spanish. It's the least I could do to prove I am trying after almost 2.5 years in Honduras. It's the polite thing to do.
At least the President was paying attention. ;) And he was taking notes. He seemed to like the, "It's not a job, it's a career," slogan we use as it turned up in a quote in the paper the next morning.
The event ended without incident. Well ... almost. Perhaps the most exciting part of the day was at the very end. All the guests at the table stood up, the press approached and the President and his cabinet members had their time on camera. I was standing a few feet away from the President when suddenly an incredibly loud sound came out of nowhere. It's difficult to explain how it sounded. Was it a plane? A bomb? A fire sweeping through the room? As it was happening, I felt a hand on my waist and one on my head and before I knew it I was headed in the direction of the floor!
I saw a rush of guards and in front of me a swarm taking the President down to the floor in front of me as the thoughts -- Are we being attacked? and This can't be happening! Swept through my mind. A few seconds later the noise stopped and I was allowed to stand up. No one was hurt. I suppose this is what you want your body guard to do -- protect you, but it was about the strangest feeling I'd experienced in Honduras and in the aftermath, back up in the office, we all had a good laugh. I think some of that may have been the fact that 48 hours of extreme stress had passed and as relief washed over us laughter took root. Good. From the belly. Muscle pulling, breath-taking laughter.
This was the highpoint of my two-plus years in Honduras so far. My team and I hosted the President and Vice President, I wrote a speech and delivered it without tripping over myself and we waved him off after none of us were hurt by a crazy loud speaker from the sound system having some kind of mid-life technical crisis. We all went back to work, like "normal."
Excuse me while I go find a pen and scratch this off my bucket list.
For a look at the speech, click here.