the american election from abroad

i’m sitting in an internet café in kigali and banging my head against the table cuz the connection keeps coming in and out. why bother? because today is the american election and it’s hard to be thousands of miles away and not know what’s happening. of course, i have options. first i could find a radio, since voice of america and bbc are surely carrying it. second (and what i’ll most likely do as soon as i finish this post) i could walk across the street to one of three bars with a television and join the masses of rwandans who are also following the election.

surprised? did you think that only americans care who wins today? you’re wrong. one of my students called this morning to tell me obama was speaking on the radio. then the prefet des etudes asked me what i thought would happen. then at the doctor’s office, the nurse asked me if i had voted. a friend sent an sms to see if i’d heard any results yet. the moto driver from town to vso gave me a thumbs up and said ‘yeah, obama.’ and that’s just today. i’ve had obama posters up around the house for a month and everyone who comes by the house smiles when they see them. months ago, when it was obama and hillary, i was getting a play-by-play from the students with radios (i stupidly don’t have a radio- not sure how i managed for two years without one). the day hillary conceded i heard about it from the dean of students, who stopped me in the road to tell me. i hooted and jumped and ran back to the house to tell sara.

so despite being on the other side of the globe, in a tiny country in the heart of africa, i feel almost as though i’m back home in new york, submersed in obama-mania, with the added bonus of not having any mccain fans in the vicinity. oddly enough, most of my rwandan friends love george w. bush. they think he’s a powerful man and motivating speaker (perhaps his english is easier to understand) and they totally buy his war on terrorism. my non-rwandan friends feel differently on the subject. but when it comes to obama, there’s no dispute. rwandan and non-rwandan alike, everyone here knows that an obama win today will change the world.

i remember in 2004, some well-thinking europeans sent letters to random americans saying how important the american election was to the rest of the world, and how bush’s policies and his war had an impact beyond our borders. and the recipients of these letters were outraged that non-americans would attempt to influence the results of the election. but being abroad today, among non-americans (i don’t have any american friends here, though i think it’s just that i run in different circles), i understand what those europeans were thinking. because (and don’t let this go to your heads), this election does affect them. america is a ‘superpower’. american policies ripple and resound world-wide. our economic disaster has overflowed into economies around the world. our government subsidies and ‘free trade’ agreements make or break my farmer-neighbors’ livelihoods. our biofuel cars take food out of hungry mouths over here. the results of today’s election matter just as much here as they do at home.

i’m not sure that many americans are thinking about people in other countries when they’re pulling that lever today. but maybe, just maybe, the interests of americans and the interests of non-americans will align on this day. just maybe.

i’m going over to the bar to watch cnn. it’s almost 9pm here, which means that i’ll be getting the first real results at about 3am my time (on country director mike’s tv i hope). it’ll be a long night, but we’re making pancakes in the morning. none of those funny european pancakes. real american (ok north american) pancakes. to celebrate.

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~ by aliciawolcott on November 4, 2008.

2 Responses to “the american election from abroad”

  1. WOO HOO!!!

  2. there have been obama parties all over east africa – in kenya which i’m sure you all saw on tv, and here in zanzibar (where there is a huge muslim population incidentally). if we were looking to send a positive message to the world, it’s done.

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