I was sort of in disbelief that the Ambassador would come to my site, but this was huge! The US Ambassador has an extremely big profile in the Philippines. Statements she makes and events she attends are sometimes front-page national news. There is a lot of history between our two nations, and because of (or in spite of, depending on your opinions) this history, the Philippines seems to be one of the few countries in the world with a generally positive view of the United States. Plus, Ambassador Kenney is extremely popular for her warm personality and willingness to indulge in stunts like this, dancing the Papaya on national television.
We began a detailed, intense planning process, coordinating between myself, the municipal government, the Peace Corps, the Embassy, and the various other places she would be visiting that day, which included our rural health unit - also a beneficiary of USAID funding. After weeks of nailing down every last detail (including what the Ambassador would have for lunch - a ham and cheese omelet and Coke Light, if you're keeping tabs), I returned from my vacation 2 days before she was due to arrive in town and reported to work the next morning to finalize plans. The mayor sadly informed me that she most likely wasn't coming, after all. This set off a crazy day of back-and-forth between me, the Peace Corps, and the Embassy, trying to figure out what on Earth was going on. The locals were sure she wasn't coming and had even canceled lunch. We were in a position of waiting for what we assumed was a final cancellation. Then, at 3:45, I received a call that the Ambassador was for sure coming, and all the original schedule would be kept. So we scrambled to put everything together again.
The rest of the story will be told through photo captions:
Although scheduled to go right up to the municipal hall in her van, the Ambassador disembarked early to shake the hands of the many schoolchildren who were lining the road, waving handmade Philippine and American flags, as drums played and a festive mood filled the air.
As Ambassador Kenney and her support staff from the State department approached, I provided the official welcome, and proceeded to introduce her to my co-workers and the local administration.
We went through a receiving line upstairs to the city council meeting chambers. I was quite worried about the schedule, since every event had been assigned a very specific time in minutes, but the Ambassador put me at ease, and was extremely friendly with everybody, taking time to shake lots of hands and take lots of photos.
The Mayor and I presented a brief overview of our CRM program, and a summary of the major initiatives that Peace Corps and the local government are working on here.
After some photos, we proceeded to our Tandayag Marine Sanctuary to show off one of the crown jewels of our town and meet with local fishermen. A TV had been hooked up to my laptop and was showing off some underwater footage, since we didn't have time to go snorkeling. We discussed the history of the sanctuary and our hopes for developing more eco-tourism here, as well as improving fish catch for the marginal fishermen.
Ambassador Kenney gave a brief message to those assembled - members of our Bantay Dagat, Municpal Fisheries and Aquatic Resource Management Council, and the Tandayag Marine Sanctuary Managment Association, and handed out some pins featuring the American and Philippine flags together, and we headed to lunch.
PCVs from Negros Oriental and Siquijor joined for a delicious lunch at a local resort that I could hardly eat because I was still so wound-up from the day's events, and hadn't really taken a breath for multiple hours.
One last picture, with the local PCVs, Ambassador Kenney, Mayor Bentham De La Cruz, one of our SB members, and my work counterpart and supervisor.