Of course, every inauguration is a celebration of democracy’s power, but I don’t know that there’s ever been one that embodied so many aspirations and dreams. Not that I’m not realistic — you only have to look around to see that the U.S. and the world are in trouble — but in this moment of transition, from one president to the next, there lives such potential. I feel hopeful, I feel optimistic, and I feel proud.
The arrival of a new American president triggered joy and jubilation Tuesday in a world made weary by warfare, recession and fear. Bulls and goats were slaughtered for feasts in Kenya, toasts were offered at black-tie balls in Europe and shamans in Latin America chanted Barack Obama’s name with reverence.
From Kenya and Indonesia, where Barack Obama has family ties, to Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America, Obama’s inauguration sparked an explosion of hope for better days ahead. The ascendance of the first African-American to the presidency of the United States marks a new era of tolerance and possibility.
Nelson Mandela, the former South African president who also inspired millions, sent a letter to Obama on his inauguration day.”Your election to this high office has inspired people as few other events in recent times have done,” Mandela wrote. “Amongst many around the world a sense of hopelessness had set in as so many problems remain unresolved and seemingly incapable of being resolved. You, Mister President, have brought a new voice of hope that these problems can be addressed and that we can in fact change the world and make of it a better place.”
Alex Andrade, a 24-year-old unemployed black Brazilian, said Obama’s rise has inspired Brazil’s poor. “Blacks face so much discrimination here,” he said, standing outside the Cantagalo slum, where ramshackle shacks line steep hills in Rio de Janeiro. “Now with a black man in charge of such an important country, it might help decrease the racism in Brazil.”
In Kenya, traditional dancers performed, feasts were held and movie screens were erected so neighbors could join together for the moment, only a year after their own elections were marred by horrific ethnic violence. “Our election in Kenya really had problems with ethnicity … America has shown that this doesn’t have to be that big a problem,” said Dr. Joseph Osoo, who runs a clinic in one of Kenya’s biggest slums. “Kenyans are very happy because their son is going to be the leader of America,” he said.
In the village of Kogelo in western Kenya, where many of Obama’s Kenyan relatives live, women dressed in colorful printed cloths performed traditional dances to the rhythms of cowhide drums. At the biggest hospital in nearby Kisumu, Christine Aoko named her newborn daughter Michelle, after Obama’s wife. “I hope my girl will grow as tough as Michelle”.
In the South American country of Guyana, dozens of work sites closed at noon to let employees watch the inauguration. “As far as I am concerned, today is a holiday,” said Patrick Hazelwood, an insurance agent in Georgetown. “Today is a serious day for everybody, a historic day.”
There was also jubilation in the Colombian town of Puerto Tejada, where sugarcane-cutting descendants of African slaves had the day off and watched the Washington proceedings on a giant screen. “The people here see themselves represented in Obama,” stated Mayor Elver Montano.
In Peru’s capital of Lima, a dozen faith healers from Peru, Brazil, Mexico and Bolivia danced during the inauguration. Stomping their feet, shaking rattles and blowing smoke, they chanted Obama’s name while throwing flower petals and coca leaves at his photograph. The ancient Andean ritual is known as Jatun Sonjo, or ‘Big Heart’ in the Quechua language, explained shaman Juan Osco. “In ancient times, it was one of the rituals dedicated to Inca and pre-Inca rulers,” Osco said. “Today we dedicate it from Peru to Obama, because he is the first black president and his heart is big for the whole world.”
In Sweden, African-American singer Cyndee Peters was hosting a “A Gala for Obama,” featuring dozens of Swedish soul, jazz, hip-hop, gospel, folk and blues artists.
And of course in Norway the inauguration is on all the channels, and everyone is eagerly watching and hoping as if a miracle will soon happen. While I am not naïve enough to expect a miracle, it seems that there has never been a day in history where more hopes and dreams were placed in the hand of one man. I offer my blessings to Obama and his family this day, and pray that the world will give him the time which is needed for change and that he will succeed in being the inspiration that so many of us need. I believe that Barack Obama represents something much more than President of the United States, but the presence of a new generation and new thoughts in the White House. Thank you, Barack Obama, for making it much easier to be an American overseas.