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Inside Politics

In Africa with first lady, Jenna Bush steals the show

Story Highlights

• Jenna Bush grabs international spotlight traveling to Africa with her mother
• She lit up when interacting with children, CNN correspondent says
• She wrote book about 17-year-old Panamanian girl living with HIV-AIDS
• Bush's daughter teaches third and fourth graders in Washington
By Suzanne Malveaux
CNN White House Correspondent
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Editor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news and analyze the stories behind the events.

MAPUTO, Mozambique (CNN) -- Jenna Bush is stepping out. We didn't even know she was coming.

I first saw her at our stop at the Fann Hospital for HIV/AIDS patients in Dakar, Senegal. She was with her mother, the first lady, getting a tour of the garden that provides the hospital's patients with vegetables.

I had never really seen her close up. The only time I saw her in public was leaving the White House to board Marine One with her parents.

I had heard the party-girl reports, and saw the infamous picture of her playfully sticking her tongue out at the White House press corps from inside the limo, but I, like most of the press corps, stayed clear of her, as her parents had requested.

Now Jenna has grabbed the international spotlight accompanying her mother on their second trip to Africa. In the fall, Jenna will launch a book tour to promote "Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope," about a 17-year-old Latin American girl living with HIV-AIDS. Jenna met her while working for UNICEF.

In the hospital garden, Jenna first appeared shy. I strained to hear her, and realized I had never heard her speak. Her voice was low and quiet.

Watching her, I tried to see the president in her. She and her mother nodded in agreement, often in unison, as various volunteers pointed out different vegetables and demonstrations. She listened intently to those who addressed her and turned her back to the cameras.

But when Jenna was with children she completely lit up. It happened in Maputo, Mozambique, at our visit to a pediatric day hospital for children with HIV/AIDS.

A small group of children sat around a table waiting for the first lady and Jenna to join them. When Jenna entered, she asked "Habla Espaņol?" to the boy beside her. "Portuguese? My name is Jenna." She then did a three-part handshake with him, reminiscent of what I learned as a child growing up in African-American culture. I am told it was an African greeting. She immediately made a friend.

Jenna's Spanish and the boy's Portuguese were good enough for them to understand each other. But that happened without them speaking at all.

They held hands for a long time. All eyes were on them."That's my little girl, Jenna," Bush told the children. Jenna is a teacher in Washington for third and fourth grades.

"What grade are you in?" Jenna asked. The two seemed to be lost in one another as they did another African handshake, leaned into each other and smiled.

The boy stood up and started talking in Portuguese about why he liked the hospital. The room fell silent. When he finished, Jenna rewarded his bravery with a warm pat on the back.

He was the first of many children who Jenna befriended in her new role as public ambassador, a role she seemed to fit into with ease and sincerity.


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