Friday, May 21, 2010

barack. obama.

as i'm sure you can imagine, obama's kind of a big deal in these parts. the man is kind of a big deal everywhere, but here he's really achieved another level of popularity. he is ubiqutious. his face is everywhere here. and i really mean everywhere. people have holographic obama belt buckles. his face stares up at me from the wristwatch of the man sitting next to me on the gelly. his love for michelle is celebrated in tee-shirts of all shapes and sizes. you can get clothes made from fabric with his face printed on it over and over, a banner of obama adoration to be worn on the most special of occasions. even the beloved green tea that people guzzle here like americans and their starbucks comes in obama brand. for a slight price hike, but a small price to pay i'm sure.
and then, of course, there's the song.
ba-rack. obama.
ba-rack. obama.
there aren't really any other lyrics. but it really is a song here, and we sing it to baby Omar all the time. then we clap his little hands together for him and he laughs.
and of course, being an american, i'm clearly on speaking terms with him. i think some people even suspect i have his mobile number and am keeping to selfishly secret for some unfathomable reason. i have actually had arguments with people where they acccused me of lying when i said i didn't know him.
"but you work for the government. you have met him at least."
"no. my country is very big. many people work for the government. he can not meet them all."
"yes, but you work for him. he is your president. you know him"
and so on. it's not everyone, but i have been asked to greet him more times than i can count. now i just say okay, knowing full well that if i ever do get the chance to meet one of the most popular political leaders of our time i will be greeting him on behalf of an entire west african nation.
and of course i expect this to happen immediately after my return to the u.s., where i will fly into d.c. through an arch made of balloons with a floating banner that welcomes me personally back.
because that's what happens when you arrive in america.
we should be flattered, really, that our country has been percieved to have such a great and welcoming reputation. it's difficult to explain to people that america is great, and there are many opportunites there, but we also have many problems. that we have poor and even homeless people. and our doctors can't cure everything. that not everyone has a mansion and 3 cars and a fat white wife. and that the incredible culuture they have here, where everyone knows everyone, and welcomes strangers as you would a long-lost friend, is often lost in the day-to-day stresses that make up american life. i wish i could instill the friendliness and sense of community that comes so naturally to everyone here to the more uptight, isolated, distrusting nature that comes to americans almost by necessity. i wish we were a little less of an individualist culture, less reluctant to celebrate things we have in common, things that make us feel united, instead of competing through status symbols and constant one-upmanship. i'm not saying gambian culture is perfect, i'm not saying any culture is perfect. i'm just saying we could learn from them, just as they can learn from us.
but mostly i wish some one would greet obama for me because my host brother was playing with my cellphone the other night and deleted his number. i know he's waiting for my call.

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