The world at his feet
The world was counting down to celebrate what is probably the biggest, and most keenly awaited, inauguration of any US president.world Updated: Jan 21, 2009 01:05 IST
Street vendors in Indonesia are cooking up “Obama” fried rice, hula dancers in Japan are ready to sway and overjoyed Kenyans are burying old rivalries. The world was counting down to celebrate what is probably the biggest, and most keenly awaited, inauguration of any US president.
The town was getting ready for an “Obama for Obama” event and stages were set up outside a Buddhist temple where hula dancers — Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, and hula is popular in Japan — will perform and local dignitaries will make speeches.
After his election, more than 1,000 people turned out for a raucus celebration. Obama, which means “little beach”, has a population of 32,000. The town’s businesses have pumped out Obama sweet bean cakes, chopsticks, T-shirts, fish burgers, neck-ties, and Obama Noodles marked “For world peace and stability”.
Restaurant owner Masami Shirai, 59, said he hopes President Obama will come to Obama City. “We already set up a co-educational hula dancing team so we can welcome him if he visits.”
Children from Obama’s former school — he spent four years as a boy here — sang at celebrations in downtown Jakarta and his former classmates gathered to watch his speech. Hopes are high that Obama will return in the first 100 days of his presidency to the tropical country where he is known by the nickname Barry.
Rully Dasaad, former classmate at Menteng 1 elementary school and fellow boy scout, said he believed Obama’s time in Indonesia shaped him as a person.
“I’m proud the next president is someone who I have shared time with,” he said. “It was a crucial time for children our age, it is when we learned tolerance, sharing, pluralism, acceptance and respect of difference in cultures and religions.”
Bulls and goats have been slaughtered for the feast. Beer has been stockpiled. Movie screens and projectors erected.
Across Kenya, neighbours engulfed in political violence only a year ago came together on Tuesday to celebrate the US presidential inauguration of Kenya’s favourite son, Barack Obama.
Among the revellers was Dr Joseph Osoo, who recalled that at this time last year he was stitching up machete wounds inflicted by rival party members in rioting that followed Kenya's disputed election.
“Our election in Kenya really had problems with ethnicity…America has shown that this doesn’t have to be that big a problem. ... Democracy can work.”
Nairobi’s famous Carnivore restaurant, where tourists dine on alligator and giraffe, said it had ordered an 240 extra crates of beer for partygoers watching the inauguration.
In Kogelo village in western Kenya, where many of Obama’s Kenyan family live, around 3,000 people congregated at a local primary school to celebrate. Women dressed in colorful printed cloths performed traditional dances to the rhythms of cowhide drums.
In the nearest city, Kisumu, a local Obama look-a-like drove through the town in a honking convoy of cars, motorbikes and bicycles before he arrived at a local sports stadium, where he planned to deliver one of Obama's speeches.
Many across West Asia heralded the inauguration but expressed reservations about how much Obama will actually change US policy.
But Obama still retains a great deal of goodwill from people who feel his multicultural background allows him to relate to the region better than past US presidents. Saleh al-Mohaisen, a Saudi who runs a jewellery store, said he was “overjoyed” when Obama was elected and will be following Tuesday's inauguration.
Al-Mohaisen said Obama’s failure to denounce Israel’s Gaza offensive made him more wary of the new leader, but not enough to change his general opinion. “I love him despite his silence. I feel we share the same blood.”
The Madame Tussauds museum at the popular mountaintop tourist attraction Victoria Peak was due to unveil a wax figure of Obama, adding to its collection of statues of Chinese celebrities like Jackie Chan, former Chinese leaders Mao Zedong and Jiang Zemin and the country's first astronaut, Yang Liwei.
Democratic and Republican groups in Hong Kong, along with the League of Women Voters, were planning an inauguration party at the Foreign Correspondents Club, to be followed by festivities in the city's downtown bar district.