Friday, November 7, 2008

We are sisters now?

I’ve gotten a lot of questions regarding my election experience here in Kenya, so here it is...

Kenyans are the most politically aware people I’ve ever seen. It’s sadly ironic, considering that such an engaged and active population is stuck with such an unresponsive, old, and bigoted government. Kenyans don’t believe in their system anymore (how can you when people sell their vote for loaf of bread so that they can feed their children?), so they’ve been focusing all of their excitement on the U.S. election. To have a black man running the U.S., much less a ½ Kenyan, is the most exciting thing that’s happened here in decades!

For election day the students in my program were invited to the U.S. ambassador’s house, where he was having a huge party starting at 5am on Thursday (note time difference). They set up huge TVs all over the place and had food, drinks, and a mock election. We camped out in front of a TV and watched the results come in while explaining to the Kenyans sitting next to us what the electoral college is and what happens if there’s a tie. When Obama was announced the winner, everyone went crazy, shouting and jumping and hugging, Kenyans, Europeans, and Americans alike. As he gave his acceptance speech, we were crying. (Kudos for McCain’s classy concession speech, btw). Exhausted from staying up all night, we went for a nice American breakfast; as we walked through Nairobi, people cheered as we passed and shouted Obama! That night, we went out to celebrate, all wearing red, white, and blue. Anyone else who has lived abroad can understand how crazy that is; before that day, one would never ever even consider doing that. How freeing.

As I was walking to my internship later that day, an old Kenyan woman approached me, a “mama” as we call them. She quietly said Obama!, and I responded Obama! She smiled, held my hand, and said, “We are sisters now”, and walked away.

Yesterday was National Obama Day, so there was no work or school. Only in Kenya, seriously.

While I’m so happy that this barrier to understanding has dropped here in Africa, I’m quickly tiring of Kenyan’s narrow minded support of Obama. In reality, they would hate him if he wasn’t African. Most Kenyans think that gayness is an American disease and doesn’t deserve the time of day in politics, and that they don’t deserve rights (there’s an 8 year prison sentence for being gay here!). Obama disagrees. Most Kenyans don’t believe in abortion, and several thousand women die here every year due to poorly performed illegal abortions. Obama disagrees. It’s obviously so important for them symbolically, but I’ll be curious how they feel two years down the road when they realize he’s pro gay and women’s rights and when they realize he’s American first, not Kenyan. We’ll see.

In conclusion, this was an amazing experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. I’m so glad I decided to peace out of D.C. for the semester and have this once-in-a-lifetime event. And I’ll be back for inauguration in the spring yay!

4 comments:

Emily McKnight said...

that's awesome, I'm glad you had such a great pres experience. It was definitely a great choice to go to Kenya during elections!

Gary said...

Nader!

g and g o. said...

THANK YOU, ERIN, FOR THE VERY NICE PICTURE POSTCARD OF THE GIRAFFES. WE ARE ALWAYS HAPPY TO HEAR FROM YOU, WHETHER BY " SNAIL MAIL" OR ELECTRONIC MEANS. ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL WOULD BE AMAZED TO SEE HOW HIS INVENTION HAS PROGRESSED! CONGRATULATIONS ON ALL OF YOUR WORTHWHILE AND ENDURING ACCOMPLISHMENTS THERE IN THAT GREAT LAND. YOUR HOMECOMING IS DRAWING NEAR AND A JOB WELL DONE! LOVE FROM G AND G O.

My Name Is Jonas said...

2 weeks since you've updated....