Friday, October 3, 2008

Obama and Africa

A couple of years ago, I was in Kenya on one of those ubiquitous matatu's (minibuses, the lifeline of most developing countries) holding on for dear life. Most of the 50 or so people (in a bus that should hold 13) crammed in around me were poor farmers and herders. I had a chicken coop shoved between my legs, several babies drooling on my shoulders and pulling my hair, and nearly everyone trying to figure out what I was doing there in the middle of nowhere. The questions, as always, started (I have a lot of stories about conversations with locals on public transport) and they excitedly found out that I was from the United States.

Suddenly, in the middle of our journey, the minibus riders became very animated. Even the rider pulled over so that I could have a better view. They pointed out a village in the distance and said "that's Obama's village." Sure enough everyone on that minibus knew somebody who was related to Barack. Some claimed to have seen him during a visit (when pressed, one said that she had seen the car in which Obama had ridden!). For the next 1.5 hours, I had an interesting discussion about U.S. politics with people who couldn't read or write. They had more hope that the United States people and government would save them, than their own...something that made me incredibly sad and yet more responsible at the same time. They told me that they got most of their information from the radio or friends who could read. The whole thing was absolutely enlightening. (After that, I happened to have a lot of work in the area, so I got into these types of discussions quite a bit!)

Yesterday, I saw this interview of David Letterman and Barack Obama. Here, Obama talks about his thoughts on Africa and his visit to the region. Having heard one side, it was nice to hear the other.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this post. The video shows Obama's depth and how as the session goes on Letterman starts to be thoughtful himself. In many ways our culture seems to make ignorance contagious but here is someone who has an ability to do the opposite.

One of the things he said hit me as an "aha" moment. He was talking about Haiti, recently hit with successive hurricanes, and said we have to remember that New Orleans is still struggling also.

I always think, when I hear people say why spend money overseas when people are hurting here, that they are being jingoistic. At some level a suffering person is a suffering person wherever they are and because people are so much more vulnerable in places like Haiti a hurricane produces more suffering. The way Obama put it together though made me realize that our ability to be able to heal other societies is dependent on our own health as a society. So I think it is a great video to spread around.

Thank you again. Please keep the posts coming!

pragzz said...

Thank you for your very incisive comment. We are so glad that you are enjoying our posts. I fully agree with the healthy comment. If you see the Hans Rosling post (from September 13), you will see that hard data shows the same thing. Interesting stuff!

Thank you again!