Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Happy Obama Day! (literally)

I got to my election day gathering at 5:00 this morning, thankful to have been spared the angst of waiting for the first returns to come in. Within two hours, Obama was being declared the winner, and we were watching John McCain give an admirable concession speech. Like many, I find it hard to express the joy of this day, the revitalization of hope, the amazement that all of America's struggles in the last century have brought us to a place where this is the man that we would choose to lead us.

To be an American in Kenya right now is to see our country as the world sees us. For so many years when I've traveled I've been forced to acknowledge the fading admiration of the U.S. by those beyond its borders. Today, I walked the streets of a foreign nation with my head held high as an American. In recent years I have had to carry my pride in our country and the dreams it has fostered much more closely to me - sharing what I can of our strengths while often taking responsibility for the increasing abuse of power and valuation of profit over all else that has tarnished our image as a land of equality, innovation and potential for all.

This election is, of course, especially poignant for Kenyans who see Obama as their native son, "our brother." President Kibaki has declared a national holiday tomorrow in celebration and mock voting was conducted in his ancestral village. If you look closely and put nationality aside though, it is the unity that Obama as a candidate stands for that is reflected in the Kenyan response to the elections. In the midst of general revelry during our first class this morning my classmate Gladys said, "we are all Kenyans." This statement may sound simple, but following the deeply traumatic post election violence in this country and the almost forgotten tribal tensions it unveiled, this statement carries so much hope. Kenyans support Obama because he is a Kenyan - not a Luo, a Kenyan. In America I hope we take this to heart - we are all Americans, we are in the midst of our own crisis and this must be a time of unity to address it.

I have been cautioning my classmates and other Kenyans that they cannot expect too much from the U.S. in the near future simply because Obama is now at the helm - we simply have our hands full with our own present crisis'. Further, I've reminded them that the Bush administration has greatly increased aid to Africa - which the new administration may need to cut in order to get the budget in order. I was touched by a classmate's comment to this as she admonished us all to "Never celebrate aid. These are our problems, not donor's problems." As we discussed things further (there was a brief debate with one student suggesting it wasn't right to put Kenya's economy on hold to celebrate an American victory) it was wonderful to realize that the joy we all feel is not because of false promises of an easy road ahead, but because there is so much hope in this leader and the reflection of our history and future potential that he represents. As another classmate said enthusiastically, "This is the first black American president...of Kenyan origin!"

One of my professors also shared how one of the things that stands out to him about Obama are the pictures and stories shared by his Kenyan family of how, during visits, he would rise early every day to help them bring their vegetables to market. For Kenyans, to see someone become president of the United States that has taken that early walk in an effort to support their family, is a great source of pride. For many Americans who have worked their butts off to put themselves through school, to gain success or who have committed their lives to making the country a better place - there is the same pride in seeing the American dream embodied in an Obama presidency.

As I said, there aren't words to convey the joy or hope of this day. I know there are those whose feelings are different than mine, who feel John McCain is a more qualified leader and will better protect Americans interests. With this in mind I pray that our newly elected leader will fulfill his commitments to unify our country in the hope that one day we will all look back and see this day as a turning point in the history of our great nation and the world as a whole. I will reflect further as I start to share some of my studies and how I am confident that a change in policies will ultimately improve the most fundamental of problems throughout the world - most significantly, poverty.

For anyone who has ever marched 'We will overcome,' or rallied to 'Si se puede!' it is a day to rejoice and know that the world celebrates with us. For me, this is the essence of this day:

"To those -- to those who would tear the world down: We will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security: We support you. And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright: Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope."

Amen, furaha!


S'Mat said...


S'Mat said...

ps. here too in canada, a country of relative peace and acceptance, people are ecstatic. a collective sigh of relief passed through us last night, and we seemed to all drop our critical stewardship and admonishment of our southern brethren (canada's identity is pretty much 'not-american') and celebrate the US for the first time in a while.

nicole said...

What a beautiful and articulate response to yesterday's victory. I wanted so badly to celebrate last night with you! But we did together along with millions of others across the world. Love you Megs!

Allan Wills said...

Congrats Megan! Yes, America can hold its head high today!

hobolobo said...

The feeling here is so positive, but there is a sober nature to it that I find as exciting as the jubilation. People know how hard it will be to get the country back on the right path. I'm happy that your contemporaries there share the same cautious optimism.

Thinking of you!


Lisa said...

It must have been so completely amazing and overwhelming to be in Kenya for Obama's victory. I love that the entire world is excited.