It’s not every day that one has dinner with an ambassador. It’s certainly not every day that a digital degenerate such as myself has dinner and sits right next to the ambassador of the United States. I can also say this with absolute confidence; it’s not every day that people from any other country get to be the loudest at the table when there are Americans. And it certainly isn’t every day you share a table with an ambassador (Donald Gips), a national radio DJ, a talk-show host, youngest advocate in the country, an editor, a professional comedian and an advertising executive. (That sounded like the beginning of a joke.)

The next table had a poet, a TV-show host, a VJ/radio DJ, government official, a banker/risk analyst, two advertising executives and the US consul general, Andrew Passen (he’s fluent in Siswati by the way, we couldn’t even gossip about him which sucked. We did gossip about the other white people, he happily joined in. Ok, kidding about the gossip).

I was invited to the dinner due to my activity, if you can call it that, on Twitter. Ambassador Gips comes from an IT background which would explain his interest in the online activity in South Africa, I also believe it has a lot to do with president Obama’s use of social media during the elections and the continued use of this tool after his victory.

We were hosted by the consul general (funny enough, he has a very specific job) and his wife, Jeane Harris. Andy introduced her as the owner of house. They have a freckled and Mohawked son. Chicks are so going to dig him in the not too distant future. Gentlemen, lock up your daughters. Just saying.

While the ambassador spoke, thanking us for coming and telling us what a great country we all live in, we interrupted him, all in good spirits of course. It was a very relaxed affair. Please read Chris Roper’s account of the evening here http://chrisroper.co.za/2010/01/18/empire-tweets-back/

A vast majority of the people there are also on Twitter. There was much debate. Not to say that I doubted there would be, I just didn’t think there would be that much talking. I expected everyone to put in their 140 characters worth. For people who are used to expressing themselves in 140 characters they sure talk a lot. For a comedian, Trevor Noah can get pretty serious, he could run for president while making fun of his political opponents. And that’s a great thing because a lot of ideas and opinions were expressed. “The Young and Fearless”, I think that’s what this group should be called. I don’t know if we could call it rude but the debates got so heated at times that these young punks would interrupt each other (yes, they’d interrupt the ambassador too!) Yet he would politely wait for them to finish talking before continuing with his point, perhaps it is the wisdom that comes with age.

The one thing that struck me about the ambassador was how humble he is. As the one person who happened to know everyone at dinner, I would introduce him as “Ambassador Gips” and he’d introduce himself as Donald. I never did get the hint. Just like I don’t get it when a girl likes me or when she hates me (the latter happens far more often though). I couldn’t bring myself to call him by name. Maybe I’m still a little old school. I’m going to practise saying Donald in front of the mirror in case there is a next time.

I used my opportunity next to Donald (still feels wrong not say Ambassador Gips) to ask him how he got involved. He told me that he worked in the White House for former US vice-president Al Gore. He left politics for a while during the Bush era. What struck me though is what he told me about President Obama. He, like me, first heard him speak at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, but he had heard about him before, and he’d heard that he was good. After hearing him speak he called around to find out about him, one of the people he called is a FOO (Friend of Obama) and he asked this friend if Obama was as good as he sounded. The voice on the other end of the line said he’s even better. By the sounds of things the president is the same person we thought he was during the election campaign, a man with the markings of future greatness.

Not forgetting Elizabeth who worked tirelessly to make the whole evening happen. Then there is Steve Stark, no relations to Iron Man. Once you meet these people you start wondering whatever happened to the suspicious America we got used to the last eight years.

At one point someone said “you people”, I do believe it was Chris, not in the context that one would think. Anyway, when someone says that it always gives one an opportunity for rich comedy. Comedian Trevor Noah quipped “I’m half offended by that”. We roared with laughter. Then the ambassador said he was going to give it to President Obama who is also of mixed race. I expect the president to make this joke at the next White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

At the end of the dinner I felt inspired by my fellow South Africans, people who are not in politics. When I saw and heard them speak I saw what South Africa could be and will be. These aren’t just thinkers and talkers, they are young people who are leaders in their fields with real ambition, not just for themselves but for the country. They are visionaries. They don’t apologise for taking bold steps. I know we will be OK because there are a lot more like them. And like any dreamers worth their salt they don’t dwell in reality because reality only sees what is, dreamers see what could be and boldly go out there to make that dream world real. In the end, when they sit on their porches ages from now they will be able to tell better stories.

Follow other people who were at the dinner (Stolen from Chris Roper who stole it from Iain Thomas):













http://twitter.com/sentleste
And of course the embassy itself,

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Khaya Dlanga

Khaya Dlanga

Khaya Dlanga* By day he perpetuates the evils of capitalism by making consumers feel insecure (he makes ads). For this he has been rewarded with numerous Loerie awards, Cannes Gold, several Eagle awards...

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