The World-Uniting Force of a New American President
Commentary by Molly Mayfield Barbee
There we were, 50 or more of us—mostly men on their way to Abuja, Accra, Cairo, Johannesburg, or Nairobi, and me—crowded around the 8-inch television screen over a bar at the Addis Ababa airport. On any other day it would have been a football game (or “soccer,” as our US readers call it) that gathered such a crowd. But yesterday was no ordinary day. It is, in fact, A New Day.
Inauguration Day 2009 found me wrapping up from meetings in the UAE and making the journey back home to Sudan. Because of the, shall I say, interesting restrictions and flight patterns to Khartoum, my route took me back through Addis. And that’s how I found myself standing on tiptoes in that bar, stretching for a glimpse of CNN and the most important proceedings to take place in the United States for many years. We stood, watching the elated faces of many Americans and holding our breath while we waited together for Barack Obama to make his way up to the stage and take his oath of office.
We had just seen Hillary Clinton take her place when an Ethiopian Airlines agent bustled over and called out urgently for all passengers to Khartoum to board their plane now. Disappointed, I pulled myself away from the smoky bar and my chance to witness the swearing-in of the 44th President of the United States so I could get home . . . where I knew I could find late night activities from Washington, DC still being broadcast live in what would be my morning.
And now here I am on the couch in my living room, glued to CNN as it goes over Michelle Obama’s fashion choices, Chief Justice Roberts’ bumbling the lines of the oath, and the ongoing (for me) festivities of the inaugural balls. I am overcome by the feeling this morning, as I have been since election day, that it is a proud, proud time to be an American abroad.
Over the New Year holiday my husband and I were traveling in Southeast Asia. At first we didn’t understand what we heard people calling to us as we walked the streets, but as the shout outs became more frequent, we recognized it: “Obama!” In Phnom Penh and Bangkok, people who recognized us as Americans called out, “Obama!” Yes! As soon as we understood what they were saying, yes! They weren’t calling us names. “Obama!” was becoming a new international greeting.
People all around the planet were finding the occasion of this transition to a new president of the United States a uniting force for hope and joy. Even if we didn’t speak the same language, people were looking for a way to reach out to us and express their good wishes. “Yes, Obama!” we’d smile and cheer back.
During the run-up to the election we had seen t-shirts with Obama’s face and phrases of support in the local languages of Kenya and Ethiopia. Now that he’s elected, we find that people who peg us as Americans are bursting to connect with us and our new president. In Khartoum now there’s even a new Obama barber shop.
The departure of former president George W. Bush from the White House has not been missed in the world’s recent analysis of American politics. In the days leading up to this week’s inauguration, I was in the UAE reading the local papers. Along with their profuse coverage of the war in Gaza, and reports on how the current economic crisis is affecting booming development in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, commentary on the end of the Bush presidency was a daily recurring news item. The relationships between the United States and Middle Eastern countries will certainly be some of the most important for President Obama to improve and rebuild, so his words addressed directly to the Muslim world were heartening.
Now, what does this big day mean for the women and men of Peace X Peace around the world? Well, we’d like to hear from you directly. What are your reactions to the inauguration? Has anything changed about your perception of the United States in the world with the election of this new president? What are your expectations? What are your wishes? Have you been tuning in to “Obama Fever” or do you have other things at the front of your mind? Have your say right here in the comments section of this blog and/or share your story on our home page. You can post it yourself or send a photo (.jpg) and your text to firstname.lastname@example.org.