Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Tonight, on American soil, I watched the 44th president of the United States take office. There had been a buzz around town all day, advertisements of special dinners with live television feeds, and several drop in visitors each with the name Obama on their lips.

This morning, over our breakfast Deutsche Welle broadcast loud and clear that the world was waiting for this president and waiting for the sun to rise in the West.

Rob and I voted early before we left Georgia, were in D.C. on election night, and I could think of no better place to be than the embassy for the celebration this evening. As most other 20s and 30 somethings our age, I voted for the hope of change, the revoking of fear, and the promise to move America forward. Politics aside, the magnitude to me of this inauguration of an American President was so much greater than I had experienced before.

As I watched CNN pan the steps of the Capitol, I thought, I’ve been there before. I sit here in Africa on this little patch of grass and I’m watching this event take place from outside the borders of my home. It felt strange to know that world so well, that place so well and be so far away in a foreign land. Here on my little patch of grass, watching on a small television outside in the cool of the day, I shared the experience with people who a few months ago were strangers, yet tonight and for the duration of our time here, people who have become our American family.

I felt the pangs of homesickness as I heard English so loud and clear and saw the faces of America bundled up in hats and scarves against winter’s chill. I saw the signal switch between crowds gathered in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Memphis; America. Home.

I’ve never particularly felt American. I’ve never fully identified. I’ve often felt like we were a people without a culture, a hodge podge of immigrants. Perhaps this comes from being part of a generation which has grown up without a Great Depression, without World Wars, and without the memory of mother countries fresh in our minds. A generation that feels no ill effects from being at war and no knowledge of what it feels like to be without the freedom we enjoy or comprehend the price at which was bought.

But tonight, it felt different to be American; whether it was the romanticism of being away, the tears of homesickness welling up inside, the hope for a new era of America or a self discovery brought on by expatriate living, tonight I felt American. Being American no longer felt like an absence of culture; but a frame of mind. Not an absence of a common heritage, but the belief in a common ideal. I felt that by claiming American, I was claiming a land where people believed in hard work to achieve a better life for their families and their neighbors; where people were up for the struggle of doing what’s right in their world. Listening to Obama’s speech, excitement stirred inside as I wondered what America would do next. How fast will America rise again, in technology, innovation, and as a friend to the nations? What will ‘free men and women achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage’?

It was not just to those on the Mall or to Americans scattered all over the world that Obama spoke this evening. He spoke to Rwandans as well. “To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.” A Rwandese man behind me elbowed his friend’s side and excitedly whispered, “That’s Rwanda, He’s going to help Rwanda!”

As the evening concluded, I reflected on this amazing feat of a peaceful transfer of power; I sat quietly and in awe. On a continent where the transition of power is rare, if ever peaceful, I thought how amazing it is that our leaders voluntarily hand over power to the newly elected. It’s not even a question. What a gift that is to its citizens.

1 comment:

  1. Danielle,
    You have such a marvelous gift in expressing your thoughts and the depth of your insight. Your Inauguration blog brought me to tears.
    With much love and admiration,