Everybody’s President? (News from Nairobi)

On the flight to Nairobi, already Obama buttons and shirts were everywhere.  My taxi driver James tells me that today has been declared an impromptu public holiday:  civil servants and others will have the day off.  Later I learn that the abruptness of this irks some of these servants in Nairobi, because it doesn’t allow them the time properly to plan to be with relatives on this occasion, and disrupts things like administering exams to students!  But Obama talk is everywhere:  “(words I don’t understand)… Obama <…> Obama <…> Obama <…>”  At a cafe, the menu has an insert, featuring a color photograph of the president-elect, the flags of Kenya and the US:  “The management and staff at Savanna congratulates Barrack Obama on becoming the Forty Fourth President of the United States of America.”

I arrived in the late evening so I had missed the news of the day.  I arrived during a downpour, and raced to the TV once at the motor lodge — cause I wanted to know just how large the victory was.  First channel:  Tyra.  Second channel:  Football.  Third Channel:  Football.  Fourth Channel:  Al Jazeera!  Al Jazeera calls the victory ‘convincing,’ and I see a blue Indiana, and a blue Virginia, and a blue Florida, and I think that Chris Matthew’s famous ‘chill up the leg,’ might have been a chill felt round the world, cause I get goosebumps.

People are talking of course, the bartender hands me a Tusker and wonders if Obama can deliver; in the Luo areas of Kenya things are quite ecstatic… Al Jazeera quickly shifts the discussion to what Obama will be able to deliver and who will govern under him (will, e.g., Robert Gates continue on as Secretary of Defense), and emphasizes that while Obama’s statements on Israel have hewed pretty closely to standard US policy, he is, by virtue of his unique background, capable of ‘talking to more people’ than, by implication, Bush was or just about any US politician would be.

I was still at the Starbucks in Dublin airport when Obama’s speech was broadcast live after the election was called.  There was Oprah crying, and Jesse Jackson.  An anthropologist friend and I exchange text messages.  I note the giant glass walls on the stage.  He txts with characteristic brilliance: ‘teardrop guards’.  Yes I’m tearing up, especially when — this truly thrilled me — especially when Obama talked to people ‘listening to radios’ in remote parts of the world.  I thought to myself, who but Obama on this occasion would bother to remember those folks and to speak to them?  This man can be a president of a different order altogether.  Perhaps the often jingoist phrase ‘leader of the free world’ might gain new meaning, might be resignified, for a new generation…

(UPDATE:  Radio says it is ‘Obama day’ but most people have actually decided to ignore it and go to work anyway.)

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