Yes We Can. -Barack Obama, Elected President of the United States
I feel that I should talk about the way that Barack Obama and last night’s Presidential election has had an affect on my life in these past few months, and few weeks especially, living as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cameroon, West Africa. While I will state that this blog does not reflect the views or perspectives of Peace Corps or the American government, it’s just the way that I have been seeing/living history from this side of the world.
Cameroonians LOVE Obama, many of them just for the mere fact that he is partially black- and partially African. It has been a conversational game in these last weeks, villagers asking me who I voted for, and if I could even vote. When they tell me that they want Obama to win, I ask them why, and some of them don’t even know why. And even when I tell them that Obama is for abortion (its illegal here), against the ban on gay marriages (homosexuality is illegal in Cameroon; we have legalized polygamy, however, which can be used as a great discussion tactic to compare the two), they still remain supportive of him. Why? I think because Barack Obama represents the American dream. In just one generation, his father immigrated to America, just like most of our ancestors did, and he was born into a life of that allowed him to be nurtured to be the dynamic, well-educated, inspired for change, and multi-cultural person that he is. He is somehow understood by everyone, and I hope that this will change America’s image for the better. I tell Cameroonians that Obama has been compared to John F. Kennedy, the creator of Peace Corps, for his eloquent and inspirational speeches, and another level of pride comes about. Perhaps Obama has already changed our image for the rest of the world.
I will admit that I considered skipping the ordeal of voting by mail… a Volunteer had to bring my ballot from Yaounde, so that I could fill it out and send it back to the Peace Corps headquarters by a travel agency (bus). When the Director received it, he had to find the name of the county judge for me, since I didn’t have the information and couldn’t get online to get it at that time. But in the end… I was very glad that I did, just for the mere fact that Cameroonian citizens are interested in my involvement as an active citizen for the United States, and I have enjoyed telling them that I voted, how I voted, and educating them on the issues that have been presented. They are proud too, and in some way I think that the volunteers that live among them represent them (“we are together”), and to know that we voted is, I think, somehow like they took part in this election too. This election has not been just about Americans though. This is about the world, that seems was destined to give Obama this opportunity to make peace among everyone.
On Monday, I held a special class lesson in which I gave my students an educational, biography-like text about Obama, and passed around Newsweeks so that they could look at pictures. Many of them had never seen what he looked like, and like many others, supported him without knowing much about him. They were very receptive, and I was happy with their class participation for those two hours.
Then Tuesday came- the day everyone had been waiting for. I mean everyone. People were yelling out Obama at me in the streets, and everyone was talking about the moment that would soon arrive. I even guilt tripped a few villagers into saying that they would buy me a drink if Obama won (this is completely acceptable in Cameroonian culture). I decided to stay in my village and to experience watching the elections with other Cameroonians, but at 3A.M. it ended up just being my best friend here, Ernest, the guardian of the building, and myself, sitting in the bar watching and waiting for results over palm wine. The streets were empty. We had watched documentaries about Obama and the clips of both candidates were entertaining, but the results hadn’t yet arrived and we were falling asleep in our chairs. And all we knew was that Obama was doing much better than John Kerry had done. So they walked me home and I went to sleep, with my alarm ready to wake me up in the next hour, to beep Richie for an update.
Let me take a moment to explain beeping in this culture. In Cameroon, and in most of Africa I believe, we will dial someone’s number and let it ring once or twice, with the intention of hanging up before the receiver picks up. I have learned that this can be a wonderful communication tool when used correctly! For example, Tim knows that I am en route to Nkongsamba if I beep him. Mom knows that I want to talk to her if I beep her once, and that it’s only urgent if I beep twice. If my counterpart Sintia asks me a question in a text, I will beep to positively respond, or as to say yes or ok. Other times, Cameroonians will simply beep so as to say, I’m thinking about you or How are you doing? I typically beep back so as to say, I am doing well, thanks, and I am thinking about you too!
But everyone knew what this meant this morning at 5:30 when the final results came through. Next thing I know, I am waking up to a beep from Autumn, a text from Richie that says Obama won the votes in almost all the states, then from Sminu that says he’s got it, and finally from the Peace Corps Director of Cameroon: “Congratulations to Barack OBAMA!” What else was I to do but beep out my enthusiasm to friends and family?! Volunteers began beeping me, and so that is how it became one big beeping, election results party in my bed!
I am happy with the way I celebrated Obama’s victory, and along with the rest of the world, I look forward to being a part of the history of these next four years with him- and continuing the celebration by drinking the beers that my fellow villagers owe me!