Ivy Maina was born and educated in Kenya. She is currently on ActionAid's 'Get on Board' epic bus journey from Johannesburg to Scotland. Collecting messages from African people to take to the G8 summit in Edinburgh in July, Ivy reports back to TheSite on her experiences along the way.
Ivy begins her gruelling schedule around Britain and has 'butterflies' when she meets Tony Blair at his famous London address.
I spent my Sunday in meetings and training in preparation for our big meeting on Monday with Tony Blair. It's surprising, now when I look back, that during the course of the day it never registered in my mind that I was meeting the Prime Minister of England at his famous London home.
I was more nervous about the press interviews after the meeting than meeting Blair himself. Studying some journalism has made me paranoid about what journalists ask and how they ask questions.
Monday began very early. I was up at 5.30am. Between that and 8.30am or 9am when we were expected to meet Blair is a blur. We were instructed to wait inside the bus outside 10 Downing Street by an aide. The idea was for us to casually alight from the bus once Blair stepped out then to meet and share greetings with us by the bus, followed by a quick photo session, before going inside
We waited and waited for what seemed like hours. In the end it was only about 10 minutes. It was just the anticipation of meeting him, I think, made us so nervous. It also didn't help our nerves when we kept hearing the 10 Downing Street door open, only to see only staff walking in or out of the office. And then he appeared!
He just waltzed out of the door so casually like he was walking out of his house to meet old friends, while saying 'allo!' (not hello). Emma Thompson then introduced Blair to everyone. They seemed to know each other very well, unless hugs and kisses are a common action with a Prime Minister. Then I handed him a copy of the book of messages we had collected on our journey.
As I stood there explaining to him briefly what the books about, I couldn't help thinking 'gal, you're speaking to Tony Blair and he is LISTENING to you!' He has a very powerful presence and yet you don't feel intimidated by it at all. He looks straight at you maintaining eye contact all the time. Confidence is a very attractive quality and for one moment there I decided I was in love... OK maybe not, but the guy has charm. Everything else worked like clockwork. We had the photo shoot and then he led us inside.
Since we had only been allocated five minutes to address him, we spilled our guts out on what we wanted him to do for poor people in Africa in relation to more and better aid in the area of education and HIV/AIDS.
We asked him to push for full debt cancellation for all African countries and to seriously push for fair trade rules for Africa. The whole time we spoke he never interrupted. He stood there and listened but didn't offer any specific commitments. The whole conversation between us and Tony took about 15 minutes and it would have gone on, if it was not for his aide who whispered to him that time was up.
I must say that before I walked into 10 Downing Street I felt rather sceptical about Tony's intentions and actions. I had viewed his recent Commission for Africa project, though a remarkable effort towards addressing the poverty situation in Africa, as a political stunt to gain back his crippled popularity among the English voters due to his actions in the Iraq war.
I now think that he is truly committed towards fighting poverty in Africa. And if a guy with a bad flu can stand for 15 minutes (and probably more) instead of five minutes listening to problems of people who are normally considered insignificant, then he has won me over. I do know that he is a politician and if he was playing 'politics' with us in his office then he must be a damn good actor.
I remind my self of what Anna Tibaijuka, the UN Habitat Director and a member of the Commission for Africa project, said when we met her in Tanzania during our journey.
She said that if Tony fails to follow through with his promise for Africa, then history will judge him very harshly. So Mr. Blair, I hope you are sincere or else we all will judge you harshly.