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Obama: The Son of Many Soils

LA Watts Times, Commentary, Rema Reynolds Posted: Feb 01, 2009

NAIROBI, Kenya I sent one last e-mail to my Kenyan friend, asking her what I should expect.

I would be teaching in Nairobi during the time of President Barack Obamas inauguration. I wondered if Kenyans were excited as I wasas excited as the majority of Americansas excited as African Americans, particularly.

My BlackBerry flashed her reply just as I boarded the plane: Kenya is full of Obamamania so dont be surprised if Jan 20th is another national holiday. Kenyans are extremely proud of this son of our soil!
Another national holiday? Yes, another.

When Obama was elected president of the United States, Kenyans were granted a day off, a holiday to commemorate the occasion. As I turned off my phone in obedience to the flight attendant hovering over me, in my jealousy I thought, Now why didnt we get a day off?

While waiting in London to board the last plane of the trip, Kenyans spoke with great enthusiasm and animated gestures to Americans, pontificating with proud, booming voices on the symbol of hope that Obama embodies. They couldnt have cared less that our flight was delayed five hours more time to brag about Obama, their relative.

When we finally arrived at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Kenya, everyone even the lively Kenyan passengers seemed subdued, exhausted from the journey.

We quietly filed into our respective immigration lines. Mine read, Other Passports, and I watched as those in the Kenyan Passports line sped through with relative ease. I was jealous once again.

After about 30 minutes, I finally got to the young man handling the others. He looked very serious. Without looking up or saying hello, he thrust his hand out for my passport. I was adjusting my attitude to mirror his when, behind the young man, I spotted a large photo of Obama on the front page of a newspaper.

The text read, Obama the Great.

I took a chance and asked the gentleman if there were events planned for the inauguration. He suddenly looked up. His eyes flashed.

Sure. There is much preparation for celebration, he said, as he shot me a toothy grin. His abrupt shift in mood quickened my spirit.

Obama has a way of brightening peoples day across the world.

Settled in at my guesthouse, I turned on the television. About 75% of all that I viewed was Obama. On the news, commercials, documentaries, the weather there he was.

As we mused at an Obama impersonator, Irene, our Kenyan host, arranged for my daughters hair to be corn-rowed and asked if she would like the new Obama braids.

Its very elegant, with neat rows, very pretty, she assured us.
Hello. Obama-Mania in full effect. Braids named in his honor, I declare!

My daughters braids were intact just in time for the inaugural celebrations. To her delight, we attended a youth event sponsored by the newly formed Brand Kenya.

Brand Kenya will work with youth during Obamas tenure, using him as one to emulate, one to model.

The vice president of Kenya, Kalonzo Musyoka, exhorted the Obama Generation, telling them that with the 44th president as an example, they should know that anything is possible. The elders whooped their agreement. Musyoka lauded Obamas deep Kenyan roots as he posited that Americans have elected a Kenyan president of the United States. The enormous tent, decorated in Kenyans colors white, red, green, and black filled with members of parliament and other dignitaries, erupted with claps and shouts and laughter.

The approximately 750 youth, almost in unison, leaped to their feet and shouted Yes We Can!

The next event took us to church.

The Rev. Dr. Ndhlovu evoked the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights Movement that facilitated Obamas ascent. He, like the vice president earlier that day, noted the gift of free elections that are really free, and the peaceful transition of power without bloodshed.

America has provided the world an example by which to conduct themselves in such matters, the reverend admonished.

The church said amen.

Next, I witnessed tears in the eyes of the Ugandan man next to me as the Rev. Byrd-Ochilo thanked God for the wave of change that has swept from the shiny seas of America. She asked for change in Kenya and across the world as Barrack Obama leads the way.

The event at the St. Andrews Church saw Asians, whites, Africans, Middle Easterners and African Americans all together. I thought to myself as I looked at all the people excited about my president: This is beautiful. Look at what we have done.

Lastly, as we watched the inauguration, the Kenyans asked the Americans many clarifying questions: Who are those? Why is he saying Mr. Justice?
They were inquisitive at first, but went silent when Obama began to talk.

The silence was shattered with yells of gratitude and raised fists as Obama honored his fathers memory and village. They take full ownership of my president.

Obama is not just my president. Everyone claims him. He is the son of many soils. He is the worlds president.

For the first time while traveling abroad, I am so proud to be an American.

Reynolds is a leadership associate for Ascend Leadership and Learning in Foothill Ranch, Calif. She was in Nairobi, Kenya, reporting for the L.A. Watts Times on Jan. 19, a day before the inauguration.


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