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Originally published July 2, 2013 at 6:18 AM | Page modified July 2, 2013 at 2:26 PM

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White House notebook: Obama kicks the SOCCKET ball

President Barack Obama had to kick the SOCCKET.

Associated Press

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DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania —

President Barack Obama had to kick the SOCCKET.

It looked like a soccer ball but has a hole for a charging cable. Obama took one and tossed it several feet in the air before upping the risk factor by letting the ball drop toward is feet. He kicked it back up into the air and topped even that by bouncing the ball off of his head, all while wearing a buttoned-up suit jacket and tie.

Obama's playfulness was part of a demonstration designed to show off an invention by two Harvard graduates that's seen as a way to help bring electricity to rural areas that don't have any. During the trip, Obama announced a U.S.-led effort to help bring electric power to large swaths of sub-Saharan Africa.

The SOCCKET ball has a pendulum-like mechanism inside that creates kinetic energy during play and stores it. Its maker says 30 minutes of play can power a simple LED lamp for three hours. The plan is to distribute the ball to kids across Africa, where soccer is a popular sport. During the demonstration, Obama helped attach opposite ends of a cable to the ball and a cellphone.

"I thought it was pretty cool," said Obama, who played soccer growing up in Indonesia. "You can imagine this in villages all across the country."

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Martha Washington once said being first lady is like being a state prisoner, something the two most recent holders of that title don't entirely dispute.

Michelle Obama and her predecessor Laura Bush appeared together Tuesday at a summit on promoting the role of African first ladies in bringing change to their countries and spoke about their lives in the White House.

"There are prison elements to it," Mrs. Obama said.

"With a chef," Mrs. Bush interjected.

"It's a really nice prison," Mrs. Obama said. "You can't complain."

They spoke of the quick changeover of the executive mansion right after their husbands took the oath of office.

"During the inaugural parade, one family moves out and the next family moves in," Mrs. Bush explained.

Mrs. Obama described it as a startling experience. "I remember walking into that house and I didn't even know where the bathrooms were. But I had to get ready for a ball. I'm thinking, `I've got to look nice?'"

"You can't find your toothpaste. You don't know where your kids are. So that's day one," she said.

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It wasn't just the first ladies promoting female empowerment in Africa. Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete opened the summit by calling for new resources for women across the country.

He said investing in women can lead to prosperity for their families and their nation, but African traditions are holding women back as men take the money they earn and deny women equal access to education. "They are told the woman's place is in the kitchen," he said.

"We have to change these cultures and traditions that oppress women and deny women their rights," Kikwete said. He called for more access to education, health care and financial credit for the hard work they are doing.

"In Africa, it is a statement of fact that women work more than the men," Kikwete said. "I don't know where the men are or what the men are doing while the women are working. Perhaps they are enjoying their bottle of beer."

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The American first ladies said they try to avoid criticizing their husbands' work, or there can be consequences.

Mrs. Bush said she once told her husband as they were arriving home after a campaign event that his speech wasn't very good. "He drove into the garage wall," she said, sparking hearty laughter from Mrs. Obama.

Mrs. Obama said she tries to provide her husband an escape from the pressures of the presidency.

"I am a very opinionated person, as my husband will tell you," she said. "But in these jobs when the stress is so much and there's so much coming at them, I've come to realize that there has to be a soft place to land."

Both women said their daughters weren't always so gentle to their fathers. "There are times when Malia's like, `So what about climate change?'" Mrs. Obama said.

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Laura Bush says the work she and her husband are doing in Africa has earned them each a namesake.

The Bushes have made three trips in the past year and a half to help open clinics that screen and treat breast and cervical cancers. Mrs. Bush said last summer in Zambia, they heard a woman was giving birth next door to the building they were helping refurbish.

"Somebody told me that the new mom had named her baby Laura," Mrs. Bush said to applause from her summit audience. "When our painting was finished, I hurried next door to meet the mom and the baby. And just so you know, the city of Kabwe also has a baby George."

She said that boy came on the day they were cutting the ribbon to open the improved facility.

"I'm not going to try to predict the future for this Laura and George," Mrs. Bush said. But, she added, "I believe that all new babies on this continent can look forward to lives full of good health, hope and opportunity."

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Follow Nedra Pickler on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nedrapickler

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