First lady leaves mark on Africa

MADIKWE GAME RESERVE, South Africa — It was an African safari Saturday for Michelle Obama and her family.

The first lady, joined by daughters Malia, 12, and Sasha, 10, along with her mother, Marian Robinson, and a niece and nephew, climbed into an open-air Toyota Land Cruiser in search of lions, giraffes, elephants and other animals on the sprawling Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa.

"Let's go see some stuff," Obama said before she and her family returned to the vehicle after listening to a park guide's explanation about the mountains off in the distance. "Let's go."

They had seen at least one elephant by early afternoon.

The group, including Obama's niece and nephew, Leslie and Avery Robinson, age 15 and 19, were spending the night at a lodge on the reserve.

Obama has been in Africa all week, promoting youth leadership, education, and health and wellness in South Africa and Botswana. She returns home to Washington on Monday.

On her trip — part official diplomatic mission and part personal pilgrimage — she has displayed her version of soft diplomacy. She completed 20 events, along with stops at a few big tourist attractions.

Obama has styled herself as a global mom in chief, offering hugs to poor children in Johannesburg's sprawling Zandspruit Township; as a drop-in mentor to high-schoolers from disadvantaged communities in Cape Town; and as a playful children's health advocate doing flat-as-a-board push-ups with former Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

During her week in South Africa and Botswana — her most ambitious solo international visit — the first lady offered a rare glimpse of other aspects of her personality. There is the stern parent, who famously told the White House cleaning staff that her daughters would make their own beds, and the modern-day girl-power feminist repeating a mantra of the South African women's movement. "If you hit a woman, you hit a rock," she said in her only keynote speech of the trip.

In an interview with reporters traveling with her, Obama called being first lady "a big bright light" and said she sees her role internationally as "empowering future leaders."

"If they're not ready, then the struggle continues," she said. "But we also know that a lot of young people need to know they can do it. . . . And sometimes hearing it from someone that they look up to ... gives them a little more of a boost."

The first lady's good rapport with the people of South Africa and Botswana has been covered by newspapers. A Johannesburg newspaper said that she had a pitch- perfect pronunciation of Xhosa and Zulu names that she used throughout her speech. A reporter attending one of Obama's events declared, "She's gorgeous," as she walked into the lobby of the Nelson Mandela's archives for a photo op.

The former president allowed her family a rare visit to his home. Obama described it as a kind of family gathering with lots of cousins.