Thamk you, signed Barack Obama

Obama’s signature, characterised by a looping B and O, is penned beneath the modest farewell.

These are not the only imprints Obama left behind when he stayed at the upgraded hotel, complete with a new luxurious suite for America’s first black president.

His charm, intellect and easy friendliness also left a mark on the few privileged staff assigned to the president’s entourage, including Hilton general manager, Ali Khan.

Khan, who was born in Pakistan, felt honoured to receive Obama and his more than 200-strong White House staff, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at his hotel for the Fifth Summit of the Americas which took place from April 17 to 19.

“I was very sentimentally attached to him because right when he arrived, I was absolutely captivated by him. When I first touched his hand I got this amazing feeling, it is very hard to explain.

“And when he put his right arm around me....something you don’t expect....and asked ‘Where is the photographer?’ I felt absolutely flabbergasted. I was so nervous but he put me in such a beautiful feeling. It was like breaking the ice and then I escorted him up to his room.”

The room was a spacious 2,000 sq ft presidential suite, accented by local teak architecture and furnishings.

Every convenience was easily available to Obama. There are three telephones in the suite, which includes internet services, a 42-inch plasma screen television and cd/radio/ipod connectivity, even in the dining area.

The living space was very comfortable.

A four-poster king-sized bed was complemented by a pair of single chairs.

Local paintings and sculptured figurines adorned the walls and tables of a separate sitting area of two single chairs and a small couch.

Murals also added a contemporary texture to the marble-tiled bathroom, featuring a shower and tub. Perhaps, the highlight of the suite was not inside but outdoors; the now famous terrace where Obama held a televisied press conference for the White House press corps. It overlooks the St Ann’s hills and is now known as the Obama terrace.

Khan shared some insights into Obama’s routine during his weekend there.

A 5.15 am each day, Khan would take up copies of the local newspapers to the President.

His breakfast included a special tea, local fruits and juices.

Khan, who was the only person allowed to be in constant contact with Obama at the hotel, stated the President’s two personal chefs supervised each meal prepared by Hilton’s head chef Carlos Gomez for him.

Needless to say, security around Obama was tight, and the teams of Secret Service and Marines kept an eye on things in and around the hotel via hi-tech equipment and monitors set up on a floor. Obama even had someone to carry his briefcase.

The planning for Obama’s stay was precise, Khan said, with so many people behind the scenes to make the security of the visit a success.

Khan revealed the entire time Obama was at the hotel, it was only on the Sunday of his departure

that he walked through the lobby and met with other local staff, since he used a secret entrance to get to his room.

While Khan, and even many in the country were in awe of Obama, there was one local celebrity the president was keen to meet: Cricket’s world record holder Brian Lara.

“When the press conference was finished I took him down to meet Brian Lara.

The White House had requested that meeting because Obama wanted to meet the Michael Jordan of cricket. Within 24 hours, things were put in motion through the US Embassy and in about four minutes, Obama learned to play cricket,” Khan said.

Then it time for the president to check out and head to the airport to fly back to Washington aboard Air Force One.

“Right after that I escorted him all the way from the lobby and up to his car. I was not expecting that at all. I was very honoured. You don’t normally get the opportunity to greet him that way, this was unprecedented.”

Before he left, Khan presented Obama with gifts to remind him of his stay in Trinidad: “The Multi-Cultural Cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago”, between known as the Naparima Girls cookbook, chocolates made from local cocoa, a CD “Sounds of Tobago” by Jenny Baboolal, souvenir mini steelpans, which the president requested for his young daughters, and two books on the history of Middle Eastern Asia.

“You know I need to read a lot and I need to understand that part of the world a lot too,” is what Obama said about the history books, according to Khan.

Obama did not forget Khan’s hospitality and gave him cuff-links of the US presidential seal, two bottles of Korbel champagne and tins with chocolates.


"Thamk you, signed Barack Obama"

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