34 days: One Poet Laureate, two Prime Ministers and a Princess.

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The poet laureate of America Tracy K Smith  invited me to  Princeton University. I arrived on February 15th. A melting  heart from Valentines day awaited me in the square of The Nassau inn

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A welcoming photo of Michelle Obama as a young smiling Princeton student.

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Lunch in The Lewis Centre with a selection of the finest poets in America  from Patricia Smith to Sonia Sanchez.

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I talked to about my friend the South African poet Lebo Mashille and how we  had seen an electrifyiing poet who won The Grahamstown Festival National Poetry Slam  in  2014.

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Koleka Putuma leaned forward with a wide smile  “It was me” she said.  She had been invited by Tracy K Smith too.

"African Poets are the future" said Caribbean poet Kwame Dawes.

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After the conference on  17th February I travelled to  Potomac outside Washington DC to stay with my Godmother Ethiopia Alfred.

Just before catching a  plane to South Africa on 1st March I received a call “can you write a poem about the foundling museum to be unveiled by a VIP”  said the caller “Who is it for?” I asked  “I can’t tell you”  said the director. It was for The Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton.  I flew to South Africa  I love Cape Town.

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I was to read the poem to HRH Kate Middleton on 19th March.   On March 3rd  I performed at  Artscape for Design Indaba.

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Here are Four incredible Women who were also at Design Indaba including Lebo mashile.

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It is a world class Design festival. This is Faith47 from Los Angeles.

This is Ane Crabtree the award winning costume designer for The Handmaids Tale.

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This is Neil Harbisson. The World's First Cyborg. He is "The man who hears colour". He is completely colour blind. The camera attached to his head allows him to translate the sound he hears when he hears colour.

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With permission at design Indaba I used the artwork of International Ethiopian Photographer and Artist Aida Muluneh's inspiring work

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The full Design Indaba crew from all over the world

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My second engagement was for the International Conference of The Young Presidents Organisation (YPO) at Cape Town International  Conference Centre. Trevor Noah flew in from America to headline. MoMa curator Paola Antonelli was another speaker.

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The Tagline of The conference was "RE:"

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The audience was the largest gathering of CEO’s on earth with a combined wealth of over three trillion.

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I shared my story with a visual representations that I've never shown before.

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The presentation ended with  a standing ovation led by The Prime Minister of Rwanda.

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I met the Grammy nominated Choreographer, dancer and philanthropist  Sherrie Silver who runs care for Rwandan children.

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I knew the late poet Laureate of South Africa Keorapetse William Kgositsile.  He died in September 2018. My friend  Lebo Mashile  should be the next laureate of South Africa and I told her as much.  By sheer coincidence  Lebo hosted both design Indaba and YPO.

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I left South Africa, a place I love and  flew to Ethiopia on Ethiopian Airlines..

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In Addis I  stayed at the majestic Hilton Hotel which I dearly love

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not least because of the staff and the warm natural spring water of the swimming pool.

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Boeing caused the Ethiopian Airline crash and plunged the country into mourning. Thanks for the many messages I received.  157 passengers and crew died. My father died in an plane crash in the early seventies. Of both flights the airline was blameless.

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I was pleased to see my Godson  at the new Hyatt regency Hotel in Addis.

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I was pleased to see him and his mother my good friend Meseret Fikru

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On 12th March I gave a reading for  Aster Zaude for a Celebration of Blind Women.

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I love that the event was called a friendraiser. The idea for the name was hatched by  disability rights activist and national  treasure  Yetnerbesh Nigussie

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A moment of silence and prayer for the victims of Ethiopian plane that crashed last sunday.

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The event was in a new restaurant overlooking Meskel Square.

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I took a new friend whom I met at YPO in South Africa. Her name is Anna Kim.  Anna was in the country for business. Ethiopia loves Anna Kim.

Yetnerbesh Nigussie is winner of the alternative nobel in Sweden and held court on the night. She is a national treasure.

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I spoke of how we use blindness to describe the human condition  ("I was blind and now I see")  and yet we are 'blind' to the needs of the blind.

Aster had the idea the audience should be  blindfolded for my poem.

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It was beautiful.

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While in Addis I did a lot more. I visited my friend Anna Getaneh: Her  design warehouse is on the outskirts of addis.  This is reception downstairs.

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This is upstairs

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Downstairs again

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Back in Addis I performed an impromptu set of poems at The Ras Hotel.

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I visited The Girl Effect offices in Addis

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DId an impromptu fast photoshoot with Bemnet Yemesgen

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Attended the launch of Yegna  the first Television Teen Drama season on Ethiopia TV.

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Gayathri is The Country Director of Girl Effect

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Ethiopian Filmmaker and producer of Yegna, The ever cool Aida Ashenafi.

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I had been making notes for the poem for The Duchess of Cambridge but it wasn't easy.  I spent time with my compadre International photographer Aida Muluneh.

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The most moving part of my time in Ethiopia  was with a woman who knew my mother. Her mother was my mothers confidante.  My mother spoke with her mother about me when I was a baby. I saw my mothers father and wife for the first time - my grandfather.

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March 24th the next morning  I received a message from The Prime Ministers Office through Meseret Fikru. Meseret knows everyone.  Was I available to come to meet the prime minister?   After a security check I sat in an ultra modern bright white room amongst other ethiopian artists including  Bewketu Seyoum.

First The prime minister’s aide spoke for ninety minutes. It was a transparent and open  explanation of how the government came to be. He outlined Dr Abiy Ahmed's journey to become prime minister and his future vision for openess, dialogue and  democracy.  But  I didn't inform his office that I couldn't understand or speak Amharic.

Then we were chaperoned outside and around the grounds. For the first time  government is opening the palace  grounds to the public including The Majestic refurbished Menelik hall."The 40,000Sqm palace has been undergoing a massive renovation with an investment of over two billion Birr. Its progress has reached 70pc, with a plan to finalise it early next Ethiopian year, according to people familiar with the project. When completed, it is expected to incorporate a zoo, a children's playground, a museum, cultural villages and a public reading area." all of which we saw. All of which will be open to the public for the first time later this year.

Does this symbolise The Prime minister of Ethiopia: to be open to the public for the public to be open to him?  His actions are clear. He acheived fifty percent gender parity in ministers.  He appointed a woman president, Dr Abiy brokered peace with Eritrea and  released all journalists and bloggers from jail. All this in his first year as prime minister.   Finally we met him in what I beleive was the cabinet office.

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We were encouraged to ask a question.I did ask a question but it was the wrong question in the wrong language. The question I should’ve asked was “What more can I do to serve you by helping repatriate The Ethiopian Prince who is buried outside the crypt in a coffin at Windsor castle in England.".  instead I asked about the possibility of an international literature Festival in Addis".    I wanted to understand and speak  Amharic more now than ever.  The Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed  was gracious and answered me in  English.

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We were there for five hours. He shook the hand of every single one of us. Meeting the prime minister of Ethiopia is a highlight of my life.  We will repatriate Alemayehu.

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Back at the hilton hotel and two days before leaving  Ethiopia I  sent the poems to The Foundling Museum Director Caro howell.   Two four line poems.   We had 24 hours because the chosen one would have to be cleared by the palace.  I am not going to explain them. Once you understand the museum you understand the poems.

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I flew back to England the next day on 17th March:  If a country is a family then its pilots and stewards are the daughters and sons. The chosen poems was being framed in London.

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I arrived back in England picked up a suite and two changes of clothes.  On 18th March I travelled to Brighton and stayed at my favourite hotel there - The Artists Residence

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On 19th March I awoke in Brighton to this view.

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I gave the keynote address at a celebration conference for Social Workers at 9am.

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The taxi waiting outside raced me to Brighton train station at 10am and direct to London (12 noon) for The Duchess of Cambridge and  The Foundling Museum. But I left my blue suite jacket in the taxi!.  So I have a jacket and suite trousers and shoes. Alan Partridge casual.  Every other male was  in a suite.  This is Chineke!  artistic director Chi Chi who has recently become a fellow of The Foundling Museum. It's great news.

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Meanwhile Princess Kate Middleton met  care leavers working in other parts of  The Foundling Museum and spent time talking and workin with them. Wonderful.

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And then after touring the Museum The princess entered the room.

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I read the poem to The Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton and the audience of trustees, artists and all The poem which had been finalised in Addis and hung on the wall behind me. Then the princess spoke (excerpt)

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Then the princess spoke (excerpt)

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The day when a member of the royal family shows concern for  looked after children is a day to remember.

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Exciting news:  Superkids, my documentary on looked after children and poetry has been nominated for a BAFTA. The awards ceremony is on May 12th. I wrote this blog for my memory in lieu of family.

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