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?