After days of speculation, the police officer in the elevator at the Yangon International Airport informed me that the first U.S. President to ever visit the Republic of the Union of Myanmar would be arriving 50 minutes before my scheduled departure of 9:50 a.m. and close the airport for an indeterminate length of time.
On the way to the airport at 5 a.m. our taxi was swarmed by hundreds of police on motorbikes signaling our car to stop. That’s ok, the sun wasn’t up and it was only 90 degrees so I jumped from the taxi and joined the hundreds of other ex-pats and locals speed-walking in the relatively cool air exercising and hoping to see Obama. It was only a ¼ of a mile to the airport. My driver made me get in my car again because I looked too sweaty so we jumped in line behind the motorcade like ambulance chasers.
The odds must be slim of having such a closely timed rendezvous with our newly elected President on this historic mission to this country after the departure of its military junta who ruled for decades. So with 200 other global travelers stranded at the closed Yangon airport we pressed our noses to the glass and watched President Obama deplane from Air Force One onto the red carpet greeting Myanmar President Lein Sein wearing a traditional longhi ‘sarong’. It was all a bit surreal after spending 3 weeks in one of the poorest countries in Asia to see Obama, secret service and hundreds of global press agents and staff wearing suits pour out of the underbelly of a Boeing 747.
Some other events with a low probability of occurring also happened while in Myanmar. What are the chances that my left leg would plunge into a deep hole in the sidewalk walking to find a pharmacy the night before Obama came? Or the chances of having violent food poisoning two nights earlier even though we ate at the nicest restaurant in Yangon? Dave got sick too, but Merry Jo did not; hmmm? What are the chances of being in Mandalay last week for four earthquakes in one day measuring over 6.8 on the Richter scale?