Our photo with The President

It’s Obama’s last week in office…hold on, I need to let that sink in for a minute. And maybe rock back and forth while I contemplate the degree of suckage we’ve got in store for the next four years. Anyway, while I’m doing that, enjoy this photo we got of Liam with the President. You’ll remember, back in November, right after the election, we got to meet, or rather, stand in the same vicinity as him.

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Let’s see, where’s Liam, where’s Liam…hmmm. Oh, right. Here he is.

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Ah, yes,  I remember hearing about all this pushing and shoving, and there was much boo-hooing about it. His friends are standing nearby trying to help him up — I was sure to thank them and their mothers after I saw this photo. Just to confirm, I showed Liam the photo and asked if this was the top of his head.

“Yeah, mom. That’s me. That’s when I fell down and I didn’t get to shake hands with Obama and (incoherent noises and crying…)”

Oh, geez, here we go again. Guess I won’t be putting this on the ol’ mantle, then.

Learning to say, “I’m sorry.”

It’s amazing how much Greek I’m starting to pick up with minimal effort on my part. I have my Pilates instructor to thank. It turns out Greek Pilates is a perfect immersion learning class. I know the words for up and down, I know that “Daxi” means ok (as in, do you understand what I just told you to do?), and I can count to about seven before I run into problems. Oh, and I know the word for butt. Ha! My wonderfully agreeable and chatty teacher tells stories in class, and I can follow them about 0% of the time. But I was delighted that I understood “big ball” and “all fours” all on my own.

After every class I have a little chat with her, asking her how to say certain words, or asking what certain words that I heard her say in class mean. I know most of the pleasantries– please, thank you — but what should I say if I accidentally bump into a stranger?

Sygnomi. That means “sorry.” SIG-NO-MEE. Got it.

On Thursday, I asked her again because I didn’t quite have it right. My teacher smiled. “Amanda, what do you need to say ‘sorry’ for?”

“TRUMP!” I replied. Everyone in the room laughed.

Thursday was November 17, a day in which protesters march from Polytechnic University to the American Embassy every year to commemorate a violent uprising against the oppressive Junta regime in 1973. Many protesters were injured and killed that day, and while American involvement is a bit sketchy, anti-American sentiment runs high on this day every year. Liam’s school closed early, and the US Embassy closed and sent everyone home by 2 PM. Streets around the embassy were barricaded off, and police stood by to intervene if things got out of hand, which has happened in the past. As an added twist, this year Obama’s visit just days before the event apparently kicked off the riots early. We were advised by the Embassy to stay home for the rest of the afternoon on the 17th.

I guess I’ll have to add this to my list of signomis.

I asked my Pilates instructor if she thought all this political business with Trump would exacerbate the riots this year. She said from her perspective, the real issue for Greeks is their dissatisfaction with their own prime minister, and the embarrassment he’s brought with his handling of the economy. This article seemed to support her view. Here I am, lamenting the whole Trump phenomenon on Facebook, but here it’s barely a blip on the radar. And for good reason. The Greeks have enough of their own problems to worry about.

I found myself at the Embassy that day at two o’clock, and as we departed, I could see the police setting up their barricades. Motorcyclists argued with police at one intersection, choosing to drive on the sidewalk to get around. Business as usual! James received updates on the riot via text message. Nothing out of the ordinary, apparently. Another day, another protest in Athens.

Time to meet Obama

One of the many perks of working for a US Embassy is the opportunity to hobnob with the President when he (or she!) comes to your host country for a visit. This was my first time, and I was completely star-struck.

Did I say, “Hobnob?” That might have been a teeny embellishment. I’m just a spouse of an embassy employee, so our family was invited with all of the others to stand around in the cold for a chance to see Mr. Obama give some remarks and shake as many hands as he could get to in 10 minutes. But still! I was…nearly adjacent to Barack Obama!

This was no easy feat. We all got up at 5:30 AM — even some of us who didn’t have to (ahem, Violet) — in order to make it to the embassy for the shuttle bus. Initially I was going to bring Violet along, but when James said he couldn’t make it because of work, I decided it was best she spend the day with the babysitter. Wise choice. It suddenly got very cold today, and I knew the event was going to be outside.

The venue was a hotel down by Gylfada, a lovely area near the beach. No swimming today, though! We went through a security screening — bags checked, bodies “wanded” — and then on inside. Then we passed another security checkpoint right near the bathrooms, with instructions that we’d have to pass back through security if we needed to use the restroom and come back. And the only food and water allowed in were for children. Some adults actually had to give up their apples because they didn’t have children with them. Secret service don’t mess around!

Then it was time to wait. And wait. We still had two hours before the President was due to speak. Thankfully, a bunch of Liam’s school chums came along, and they had a hearty game of tag on the lawn. And they could take in the view.

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We had to keep the kids from rolling around in the grass — not only was it wet, but numerous poop bombs littered the premises. I was told the hotel wasn’t actually open for guests, so this was presumably from stray dogs. Because…Greece! One would hope they at least picked up a bit around the podium. Sheesh.

Finally, it was time! They ushered the children onto a platform they had constructed for the occasion. Many of the adults had been standing by the ropes for the entire two hours, hopeful they would get to shake the President’s hand, but I had to keep on eye on my roving child who has a tendency to need attention and flips out when he can’t find me. Some of the children waited patiently on the platform for two hours, mostly the older girls. Were that I had a patient child!

Then we waited another half an hour for the President to arrive. Thirty children confined on a platform for thirty minutes…yeah, it was starting to turn into bedlam. But then the President walked in and everyone stood up! Yeah! Except, I had been standing behind the children (which included some teenagers), and I suddenly lost my clear view. Dammit!

Ambassador Pyatt introduced the President, and then Obama gave a short speech about his gratitude for US embassy employees and all the work they do representing our country abroad. Then he walked over to the kids’ platform, posed for a photo, and started shaking hands. Poor Liam did his best to get near the front, but there was a lot of pushing and shoving, and Liam doesn’t do too well with pushing and shoving. I’m not even sure he made it in the President’s photo. 😦

Meanwhile, I angled my way back to the where the adults were standing.  I heard people ooing and ahhing. Obama was holding babies! I only know this because one of my friends was standing in the front and filled me in later. She got some great photos, like the ones above, and a handshake. I was in the back row holding my Nikon up like a moron, wildly snapping in the President’s general direction.

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I tried to snake my hand in there for shake, but Liam came up behind me in tears. He was all upset about the pushing and shoving, he hadn’t gotten to shake the President’s hand, and the crowd was getting to be too much for him. In hindsight, I wish I could have popped him up on my shoulders for one last look, and maybe he could have gotten that handshake. I didn’t get one, either, which was a little disappointing for me, as well.

But maybe, just maybe, if we move back to DC after this…and maybe, just maybe, Obama is still living there…then maybe, just maybe we’ll run into him at Ben’s Chili Bowl or something. Just like my Grandpa Marvin used to run into ex-president Truman back in Kansas City. One can dream, right?