On a cool Saturday afternoon, the day
before Kenya celebrates Madaraka Day (June 1, 1963 — the date the country
attained internal self-rule), several of my colleagues from Population Action International (PAI) and I are having
lunch at the home of Rosemarie Muganda-Onyando in Nairobi.
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, many of whom work in
reproductive health, in her
lovely living room for a traditional Kenyan meal. Our conversation topics range 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
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.
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
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 tells me that his greatest wish is to visit the
U.S. He says 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
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.