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In a time of economic uncertainty, worldwide Obama-mania reigns supreme

January 18, 2009

I’ve spent much of the last week in transit. Seats of buses, trains, cars and planes have been my writing desk, my reading chair, my kitchen table, and my bed. For the next several months I’ll be making my home in Cape Town, South Africa and I had to shake a tail feather from northern to southern California to make the flight to the Mother City. Although often uncomfortable, these travels throughout the U.S. and into Africa have indicated what’s on peoples’ minds today, what people chat about in between rest stops and on 18-hour flights. And it seems that regardless of where in the world you are, two topics will dominate: the economy, and Barack Obama.

A friend and I hitch-hiked much of the way down California in order to catch my flight. Each ride would go something like this: we would introduce ourselves, thank them profusely for picking us up, chat briefly about where we were going and why, and then, after such friendly introductions, the conversation would inevitably turn. We would end up talking about what the person did for a living, or what they studied in school, and the phrase “with the economy the way that it is these days” would sneak into our conversation, interrupting stunning coastline views. Each person was worried about hanging on to their current job or whether or not they’ll be able to enter the market after graduating from university. Each person had their own bailout and recovery plan, consisting of major spending cut backs and usually a phrase or two about economic catastrophe, government screw-ups, and the greed of banks. It was not uncommon to hear apocalyptic expectations of the future: the beautiful coastline flooded because of global warming, all of us Depression-era thin from months of lack of food. Exaggeration? Perhaps. But real fear? Absolutely.

Usually after hearing such tales of economic woes, another topic would arise: Obama. Seemingly regardless of their background, their job, or their place in life, people light up upon hearing the president-Elect’s name, and are suddenly proud of the country that they slammed only moments earlier. While standing in the security line at LAX, I overheard several fellow travelers making their way out east for the inauguration. While walking through the streets of Cape Town I saw a stop sign sweetly adorned with a spray-painted image of Obama’s face.

At 22, I have never been faced with an economic situation similar to what we’re seeing today. But I also have never seen so much excitement about a politician. Heretofore uninterested and politically apathetic citizens are flocking to Washington for a promised “historic moment,” and citizens of Cape Town are relieved that the U.S. seems to finally be getting its act together. At dinner last night, I asked a South African friend why there was so much excitement here concerning something that’s happening so far away. “Those politics affect us,” he said. “We were worried about the state of America.” After 8-years of problematic foreign and economic policies under President Bush, the general sentiment seems to be that although we’ve hit rock bottom in a seemingly endless era of disappointments, we may soon be able to start pulling ourselves out. At the risk of sounding clichéd and repeating an over-used campaign slogan, there seems to be a glimmer of hope.

One Comment leave one →
  1. adamfritz permalink*
    January 19, 2009 4:22 pm

    It’s interesting. I was living in Botswana during 9/11 and the general sentiment that I found throughout the region was more of a “what do you expect” attitude. It wasn’t that long after the Kenya and Tanzania American embassy bombings and the US missile strikes on Sudan, so brand American was probably just starting its downward spiral in Africa. Makes you realize how much can happen in 8 short years. Thanks for the update.

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