Sunday, February 15, 2009

Nairobi and Obama with a Big Delay

It's been nearly a month since I attended the boring and quite poorly-delivered financial system training in Nairobi. Although the course was tough to sit through (the new system they were training us on was still full of bugs), it was nice to meet colleagues from the other country offices in Africa. There were people in attendance from Kenya, Mozambique, Ghana, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Swaziland and South Africa - a very international crowd.

The highlight of the week was definitely Obama's inauguration. I was excited to be in Nairobi for that historical moment, and spent the evening watching CNN from the hotel bar with a group of colleagues, eating Indian food and absolutely crying my eyes out. Never has a moment made me feel so homesick! It was really incredible to be watching Obama's speech in the midst of a group of people I'd just met, and having one of the most emotional bursts of recent memory.

After watching the speech at the hotel, a group of us headed out to the streets to get a feel for how Kenyans were commemorating the event. We were lucky to be staying within walking distance of the University of Nairobi, site of the biggest public viewing of the inauguration in the city. The students turned out in hordes, and had set up several projectors and big screens showing CNN. There were Obama imitators and mock debates going on, as well as partying all around.

When my colleagues and I walked into the main campus courtyard and started taking photos, the students went wild. I was literally bombarded with people waving American flags, chanting "Yes we can!", all vying for me to take a picture. Had it been under any other circumstances, I'd have feared for my purse and my decency. Getting surrounded by a group of young, inebriated men generally doesn't fare well for a female, foreign tourist at night. However, this was no ordinary night. The vibe was very positive, inspiring and exciting. After a round of pictures, my colleagues managed to drag me out of the middle of the crowd and we walked through the campus watching all the crazy antics going on around us - people sitting down in the middle of busy highways and successfully stopping traffic while waving an American flag, cheers and chanting, handstands and other acrobatics, screaming, etc.

It was definitely a memorable night, not just for the partying, but for the conversations I had with my diverse group of colleagues, discussing how they saw the election, what Obama meant to them - if anything - and what they expected going forward. The main sentiment, heard from the mouths of Kenyans to South Africans to Mozambicans, was that they hoped Obama would serve as a model and inspiration for their African leaders...but that sentiment was many times tempered by cynicism and the belief that "unfortunately things are different here."

Time will tell, né?


Gui said...

Brilliant! History in the making, right?
I've stood in that same general area and after reading this, can picture quite well the vibe you experienced.

Gui said...

Oh, and Rico is indeed brave to go through all that w/ just local anesthesia. I asked to be knocked out...

Linda said...

Isn't it great to feel proud of America again? The whole world seems energized and full of hope.

Marilyn said...

I'm holding out praise on the new president, but watched the entire inauguration with more interest than ever before. Great that you could be in Obama's home in Africa.

Noticed you are growing your hair out and although it was cute short, like it better long...the shallow part of me commenting!

Love reading your posts. Continue to write as you seem to just let it flow like a stream of consciousness.

Poor Rico. I worked for dentists in my 20's and had all my wisdom teeth taken out also...the swelling was tremendous!

Enjoy life in the beauty of "Mo- town."

Marrilyn in Ohio

Ali la Loca said...

~Gui - When were you in Nairobi? It was madness at the Uni that night, unforgettable for sure. Rico was very brave - I also asked to be knocked out when I had my wisdom teeth removed.

~Linda - It is a new feeling to announce that one is American overseas, that's for sure. Now we need to back up the euphoria with hard work and good values - and not just at the government level.

~Marilyn - I'm also reserving judgment for a while. This is a mammoth task Obama is facing, and there will be no clear indication of his success before a few years have passed.

I am growing my hair out - I also prefer it slightly longer, though it never looks good much more than chin length because it's so fine and thin. It's been over 2 years with a pixie cut, and I'm loving the fact that I can now get my hair into a ponytail!

Rico is completely recovered from getting his teeth out. I'm glad it's over, for both of us. :)

Hope you are well, enjoy Ohio!

Safiya Outlines said...


I've got to have a wisdom tooth out soon. I'm not looking forward to it.

I've found this article from Racialicious by and American working in Brazil. Let me know what you think:

Ali la Loca said...

~Safiya - I feel sorry for you, but since you made it through Oreo's arrival, I'm sure a little tooth will pale in comparison.

I looked at the article, and there is a lot to comment on. In general, my response is most aligned with Jess in her first comment, I believe #19.

Ali la Loca said...

~Safiya - I just re-read Jess' comment, and there are some points I would clarify and others that I would add to what she wrote. If you want to know more about my response, I can email you...

Safiya Outlines said...

Ooh yes please!

I think Brasil is a fascinating country and one that's very misunderstood.