Monday, December 17, 2007

Obama's Grandma Keeps Him in Touch With His African Roots

Africa Features

Obama's grandma keeps him in touch with his African roots

Dec 13, 2007, 12:39 GMT

Kogelo, Kenya - Sarah Obama is a typical African grandma, still out in her field every day, tilling and hoeing and selling her crops in a nearby market - even at 85-years-old.

While appearances show her to be just like everyone else, Sarah is a celebrity in this tiny village in western Kenya, not least because her grandson may become the next US president.

As Obamamania has swept Kogelo village where Barack Obama traces his roots, his grandmother Sarah has remained in the modest house she has called home for decades, shrugging off the fame that has come with being who she is.

'I'm used to this kind of lifestyle,' said Sarah, speaking in her native Dholuo tongue, and adjusting her kanga, a traditional fabric used as a skirt. 'I don't see the need of looking for something that is going to set me apart from the rest of society.'

But like it or not, Sarah is definitely singled out these days.

On a visit to Kenya last year, Barack was welcomed by the kind of fanfare usually reserved for celebrities, drawing scores of neighbours, journalists and well-wishers out to her home, cheering his name and sporting his photo on t-shirts.

A secondary school was named after Senator Obama and Kenyans drinking a local beer called Senator began calling it Obama instead.

And once Barack made his bid for the Democratic Party presidential candidacy early this year, journalists from far and wide began dropping in on his grandmother, seeking a glimpse into the history of her rising-star grandson.

The homestead is somewhat more upmarket than the ones around it. The house has a tin rather than thatched roof and there are spare cottages on the grounds.

A water pump mere feet away from the home is definitely a luxury in such an impoverished country, but Obama does not have public electricity and relies on solar power thanks to a panel purchased by her son.

The hangings on the cream walls of her one-storey home reveal a close relationship with Barack, which began when he first visited in 1987, five years after his father Barack Obama Sr was killed in a road accident.

A signed Senate campaign poster with Barack bearing a politician's finely-tuned smile reads 'Mama Sarah. Habari (a Swahili greeting)! And love.'

'In the past he used to sneak into the village and very few people took notice of it,' said Sarah, clutching a photo of the two of them from that first trip showing Barack lugging a sack of produce to take to the market.

The visit was a sad one, Sarah said. This was the first time he would meet his paternal family, but without his goat-herder-turned- Harvard-graduate father whom he had met several times in the US.

Barack Sr lies interred on Sarah's lawn, as is customary in ethnic Luo tradition, a few feet away from Barack's grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama.

Sarah is not Barack's blood grandmother. She married Hussein after Barack Sr was born, but she raised him, paying for his school fees and walking with him the nine kilometres to school.

And while Barack grew up in the US with his American mother, he still calls Sarah grandma.

Like any other grandmother, Sarah wants nothing but the best for her grandson and has some insight into his potential position as president.

Should he make it to the White House, Sarah insists Barack's humble background will guide him in thinking about poor Americans and also developing countries, including Kenya, where half the population lives on less than one dollar a day.

She also advises him to always keep in mind the people who elected him should he become president, considering that politicians in his ancestral home are notoriously corrupt.

But above all, she said she urges Barack to follow his dream and, even if he loses the Democratic nomination to his closest contender Hilary Clinton, to keep his eye on the White House.

'I never knew it could reach this extent,' Sarah said, overlooking her papaya and avocado trees. 'Barack is not only a famous person but he is eyeing to be at the helm of the world. I am very happy.'

2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur

No comments: