By Dr. Anton Espira
KUALA LAMPUR, MALAYSIA, 29 AUGUST 2008 -
New Culturekiosque contributor Dr. Anton Espira, a
half-Kenyan himself, shared with us a few thoughts on the
discovery of Barack Obama's half-brother George Obama in
Huruma, a slum outside of Nairobi.
They found one of us. Finally. I know, you may not all think
this way, but back at home, we are all Obama's brothers. (And
sisters, of course. But that is for another time.) And no, we
are not George Obama's brothers but Barack Obama's brothers. It
is as simple as that.
So it came as a bit of a surprise, all this hype about George.
He is just the one who happened to be found. Was it by
Vanity Fair? What a lucky fellow. I wonder if he ever
read Vanity Fair before this "discovery?" Or maybe the
more appropriate question is, "Will he read Vanity
Fair after this?"
But I am digressing. I know he has had a hard life, what with
all that squalor and poverty for a good part of 26 years. But
he is not the only one, you know. I could easily name another
dozen. And though Vanity Fair has not yet found them,
one or another poverty-eradication NGO must have already. And
if it hasn't, it must surely have budgeted for them. At least
so we like to think.
I mean, I too have been there, in Huruma. In fact I lived
there. Maybe not exactly in squalor and poverty. And certainly
not for 26 years. But chances are that I might have shared a
bar or two with brother George some evening. We surely would
have taken the same ramshackle bus into town at least once or
twice. But that was before the days of Barack.
And now we are watching the media/political storm and
wondering, "Why didn't I marry George's sister?" (Because we
are sure he must have a sister, even if Vanity Fair
has not found her yet.) And those of us who know George better
are wishing we would have bought him that extra beer or maybe
that kilo of goat's meat when we had a chance.
The more audacious of us will even be hoping that, by some
chance of fate, we may be George's brother. Or at least half
brother. That would make us Barack's quarter brother. "Close
enough," we reckon. And chances are good.
Because if the late Mr. Obama Sr. was anything like our fathers
and uncles - and, God forbid, like ourselves - there are bound
to be a few other oats sown in the wilderness of Kenya's slums
Because for us, Obama - the wealthy one, that is - stands for
hope. Not that esoteric hope that Democrats keep yapping about,
but a more tangible and less audacious hope. A hope that things
may finally work out in the most simple way. You know, like a
job, a nice meal, or maybe a cure for AIDS - no, that is taking
it too far. A basic toilet would even be enough. Because it is
an African tradition: to hope that your relatives will solve
the problems your government has not been able to.
We talk amongst ourselves, wondering, imagining what we would
do if we were related to Barack. "Do you think he could get me
a Green Card?" or "He may be able to send me lots of money."
Those less selfish among us think of our children and the
possibility that "He may educate my kids for me" or "He may
help them get a visa to study in the US." So I don't envy him -
Obama the wealthier. Any of my brothers who has been to the
States and come back home can testify to the pressure of being
the one who can finally lead the clan out of poverty.
But I am surprised by the conservative bloggers' attacks on
poor Obama. (The wealthier one, I mean - forgive the
confusion.) Suddenly he is a shame, an embarrassment, a
hypocrite because he hasn't helped his brother. They have never
lived in Africa, these pro-McCain bloggers, have they? Because
if they had, they would surely be writing something different.
And it got me thinking. Maybe I can find my own way out of
poverty? I could start hunting down all of Obama's half
siblings. And cousins. And uncles once or twice removed. If I
found enough, the pro-McCain lobby might even pay me a bounty
for helping to bring Obama the wealthy down to his knees in a
storm of controversy.
Of course, I could also come out and claim to be Obama's
brother, for my dad's and his dad's clans are neighbors, and in
fact my cousin is from the same village as Obama the senior. Do
you think he might then get me a Green Card and a job at the
World Bank? After all, if Wolfowitz could do so much for his
girlfriend, and George Bush the Elder could get his son a house
on Pennsylvania Avenue, imagine what Barack Obama might do for
Edited by C. Davis Remignanti
Dr. Anton Espira is a young, Russo-Kenyan research
zoologist based in Kuala Lumpur. He holds a Ph.D. from Oxford
University in Tropical Ecology and writes on science, culture
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