Family Planning, U.S. Foreign Assistance, Youth

Kenya’s “Son”

Tamar Abrams is PAI’s Vice President of Communications.  She is in Kenya with other colleagues working on PAI’s latest documentary.

On a cool Saturday afternoon, the day before Kenya celebrates Madaraka Day (June 1, 1963 — the date the country attained internal self-rule), I and several colleagues from PAI are having lunch at the home of Rosemarie Muganda-Onyando in Nairobi. Rosemarie, the director of the Centre for the Study of Adolescence and a dear friend of PAI’s, has been instrumental in arranging logistics and interviews as we film our latest documentary. She has gathered over a dozen people in her lovely living room for a traditional Kenyan meal, many of whom work in reproductive health. Our conversations span topics from our children to USAID to Nairobi’s biblical traffic jams.

It is only after many of the guests have left and there are just six women remaining that the conversation turns to the presidential elections in the U.S. There is such passion as the Kenyan women talk about Barack Obama. “He is our son,” one states emphatically. They speak with awe of his father’s birthplace in Nyanza Province, more than five hours away from where we are sitting in Nairobi. Barack’s father was “brilliant,” a woman says. “Everyone talked about how smart he was. It is the fish they eat there. You eat the head of the fish and all the wisdom goes straight to your own head.” The women nod in agreement, assuming the senior Obama ate a lot of fish heads.

Those of us from the States are grilled about Obama’s chances of
winning the election; there is no doubt in their minds that he will win
the nomination. I ask if they would be this excited if another
African-American were poised to win the Democratic nomination for
president. Is it about race or is it about ancestry? One woman shakes
her head and says, “Barack (they almost always call him by his first
name) is special. When he was just a teenager, he made the long journey
to his father’s village. He had to ride on the back of a truck. How
many teenagers would do that?”

Earlier in the lunch, an earnest young man sitting next to me had told
me that his greatest wish is to visit the U.S. He said that he and his
friends call the U.S. “Heaven.” While I try to give him a more
realistic view of my country, he remains steadfast. His parting words
are, “Soon I will find a way to see the United States.” As these
well-educated, politically aware women talk about the positive changes
an Obama presidency would bring to the world, I am reminded once again how small our global nation can seem sometimes. And, the women say,
on the day after their “son” is elected president, we will be able to
hear the cheering of Kenyans all the way in America.

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