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Monday, November 10, 2008

Obama: already spreading hope and faith in America

I received an email on Saturday about a person's experience abroad as the U.S. election came to a close and Obama won.  She's connected to me through family and a college professor I once knew.  Her story itself is inspiring, but a person on Daily Kos (who also got the email) made the story much more poignant by discussing her travel abroad experience from 2003 as a prelude:

In 2003, was beginning my round-the-world trip after having left my corporate publishing job in NYC. Just ten days prior, Bush had just shaken up the world by invading Iraq with the infamous "shock and awe" bombing of Bagdad. The anti-American feelings of confusion, anger and hate were reflected back to me so clearly during my trip.

My connecting flight took me into the heart of Asia and my first stop was the same Kuala Lumpur airport as the young traveler below describes.

In a restaurant at the KL airport, I noticed the young Muslim table-seater and waitresses, wearing light, flowing gowns and headresses, whispering and looking suspiciously at me. I ate my meal a little self-consciously and tried to be inconspicuous throughout.

As I paid my bill and started to leave, the young table-seater approached me and asked "Why is your country going to war against Muslims? Why does your country hate us?" I turned my eyes down, here it was, what I feared, right in my face. I paused, took in a deep breath, thinking, how could I possibly explain?

Finally, I looked up at her and said with my deepest sincerity and humility, "I'm so sorry about what my country has done. I don't agree with my government. There are many American who don't agree and don't like what our President has done in Iraq. The best thing we can do is love one another and pray for one another, because all people really want is peace."

She looked at me as if she understood. I stood there for a moment looking back into her dark eyes, eyes that were seeking to understand. I walked away feeling that I had no answers, no solution or resolution to what was happening. I held that thought of love and peace as I continued my travels and strangers questioned me or stared at me suspiciously whereever I was in that year -- Australia, Korea, Thailand, India, Germany, Italy and England. All the while the bombs, missiles and machine guns kept falling and firing.

So five years later, we finally have change and the hope of, at long last, a new, brighter day for everyone in the world:

November 4, 2008

My dear friends,

Today I have had to travel from the island of Borneo...from SABAH and the town of Kota Kinabalu.  Then to Kuala Lumpur where I had a 5 hour lay over and finally arriving very late at night in Bangkok.  The election has already begun....

Today, in honor of the election, I am wearing an Obama '08 button on my lapel.  If the treatment and reaction throughout my day is any indication of what our world might become....I am overwhelmed with optimism.  First, every single place I went, someone noticed the button and called out, "OBAMA!".  There were international administrators from across the region at the Hotel.  Many of them nodded and smiled, and even the non-Americans who reacted with huge enthusiasm.  One man from Australia stopped me to talk politics for 10 minutes.  The crew working behind the desk all gave a thumbs up...the taxi driver did not charge me for taking me to the airport.

I must explain that, once at the airport,  I am one  of very few Americans among Asians from all over this region.  I might possibly be the only blond in either airport I have been in so far today, and won't see many if any Americans until Bangkok.  I do not speak the language...thank goodness they speak English.

Upon seeing my button, everyone, without exception, smiles.  I have received preferential treatment all day long. They didn't make me pay extra for a heavy bag, they treated me in short, like royalty. The stewardess told the pilot, who stood up in the cock pit to give me a thumbs up.  Even the immigration official barely looked at my passport.  He was much more interested in knowing an Obama supporter and what I thought would happen today.

When I was buying dinner at a very American McDonalds (the only place to get something to eat), the entire crew behind the counter (not one American) came to say kind words to me.  The man who exchanged my money asked how I could do anything so far away from the USA.  I told him, with some amount of pride, that I had voted by absentee ballot.  He took my hand and said, "thank you so much for voting for Mr. Obama."  There were actual tears in his eyes.

While waiting at the airport in Kota Kinabalu and girl about 9 years old saw my button. She smiled broadly.  I said hello and she asked if I wanted Obama to win because she did and her whole family did and that that morning they said a prayer that he would.  I  told her that I thought Barack would like that a girl all the way in Kota Kinabalu said a prayer for him.  She asked could I tell him that they were praying for him and I said I would send an email to his headquarters.  She was so excited that she ran to tell her parents.  Her father came over and asked me if I knew Obama.  I told him I had seen him speak, but never met him.  He said that his whole community was praying for Obama and that he appreciated that I would write an email to tell him.  He took my hand and said, we are praying for all of the American people too.  This was the second stranger to take my hand today. It was my turn to have tears in my eyes, because this man, who I didn't know, was completely sincere.  I thanked him.  He said, "all of us, you understand?"  I said, "All of us together."  We parted...smiling!

I write this as I sit in the airport at Kuala Lumpur waiting for hours for the plane.  The women who guard the doors have on muslim headdresses , orange pants outfits and lime green jerseys.  They are shy and reserved, yet they give me the thumbs up, and quietly whisper, "Obama" as I walk by. There are Thai and Chinese, and Indonesians and Indians surrounding me...The languages, dress, foods are all interesting.  And sitting right next to me is a Buddhist monk, in just his orangish/yellow robes and shaved head.  He smiles broadly when I look at him.  He says frankly, "I like Obama."

The man behind the counter is Malaysian.  He asks if I voted and when I confirm I have he laughs really loud and says something to the other official sitting next to him.  This man laughs too.  They both look at me intently.  The one, fighting to find the right english begins, "This is (something in Malay).  I smile saying I don't understand.  He looks at his colleague and rattles something in Malay...The man says just a minute.  He gets out a book.  It is an english translation book.  He says something to the man and hands him the book...pointing to a line on the page.  The 1st man turns back to me and says..."this is fan/tas/a/ do you say?"  I tell him, yes, he is right "Fantastic".  They laugh again at their attempts.  I laugh too.  He stamps everything forcefully, "wham! wham! wham!"  And then he says something none of these officials ever take time to say,  "We hope you will come back and visit our country!"  "Of course," I say, "of course."  I don't quite know how to explain the full meaning of his invitation.  Americans haven't been at the top of the list for quite awhile and traveling around, it isn't hard to sense.

Our leaders reflect who we are as a country/nation.  I have always been proud of my family and Oregon.  I have not always been proud of our leaders and the choices they make.  Today I am proud...I am proud of our country and I was tearful watching a top French official trying to explain to the BBC reporter why the whole world is watching this election and praying that Obama will become our president.

Well, thank you for letting me share.  Tomorrow at 7am we head to the American Embassy gathering to watch the election results come in.  We are attending with world leaders and diplomats.  We are to dress 'smart casual.'  It should be quite the I hope brings new hope to our country and the world.

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