Monday, December 05, 2005

IVP Batch 2005 in Omaha: Journey with the future president of Guatemala

Omaha, Nebraska was a revelation to me, for so many reasons. The word Nebraska sounded like “rural America,” of endless rows of corn and soybean patches. Having been to “TV America” like Washington DC and New York, I was prepared to see a different environment. I was amazed to learn later that Omaha is actually an economically dynamic city. Val McPherson (Kiwanis Club of Omaha) who volunteered to see us around told Reem Khalifa (Bahrain), Martin Rodriguez (Guatemala), and me that Omaha’s problem is not about creating jobs; its about getting in the work force to man those jobs. It’s an observation that I later confirmed after talking with the Omaha Chamber of Commerce. I can sense the city is having an image problem of its own. The Chamber guys said many skilled young Americans seem to prefer California or Florida than “rural Nebraska.” It’s unfortunate, they said, because Omaha is fast growing, buoyed by the rapid growth of biotechnology, medical research, insurance, and information technology.

It’s there where, maybe, Martin Rodriguez got his epiphany about becoming President of his country, Guatemala. He may have harbored that dream all along but it’s in Omaha where I heard it straight from the horse mouth. It’s not farfetched because a lot of great guys now like Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, and others were once part of the US State Department’s Visitors’ Program.

It happened one dinner time with Val, Alpha Barry (State Department), Martin, Reem, and me. Fine wine was abundant during that cold evening in Omaha’s old market, courtesy of Val and Alpha’s exquisite tastes. The conversation seems to have gone this way: “Martin, would you be working as a journalist for the rest of your life?” asked Val.

“No. I’m giving myself a few more years. After that, I’ll enter politics. I want to become the President of Guatemala someday,” said Martin, smiling and with great confidence. “I’m giving myself thirty years [to achieve it].”

“Thirty years? That’s too long,” countered Val.

“Okay, maybe twenty five years,” said Martin.

“Still too long,” said Val. “Why not twenty years? Or Seventeen.”

“Okay, twenty years,” Martin said finally.

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