NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 26 – US President Barack Obama addressed Kenyans at the Safaricom Indoor Arena in Kasarani on Sunday morning beginning with a moving account of how he traced his Kenyan roots to Kogelo and achievements made in Kenya so far.
Obama remembered well the first day he landed in Kenya more than 20 years ago during which time he lost his luggage at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) and how his sister Auma Obama drove him in an old Volkswagen Beetle.
“As Auma was saying, the first time I came to Kenya, things were a little different. When I arrived at the Jomo Kenyatta Airport, the airline had lost my bags. That doesn’t happen on Air Force One… they always have my luggage. As she said, Auma picked me up in an old Volkswagen Beetle and I think the entire stay I was here, it broke down about four or five times. We’d be on the highway, we’d have to call the jua kali; I slept on a cot in her apartment instead of eating at fancy banquets,” he recounted.
Speaking while introducing him, Auma described Obama as a down to earth man who blended right in and did justice to the saying that ‘when you go to Rome, do as the Romans do.’
“He was not lost when he first came to Kenya, he was with me and he fit right in. He ate ugali, chapati, mandazi, githeri otherwise also known as nyoyo, nyama choma, rech (fish), omena and we can go on and on and on. He ate with us on multiple tables because we are a big family as he did also this Friday as he celebrated family and for this we give him a tick, he has done very well,” she stated.
She explained that the family was really proud to be associated with the American President.
“He gets us. He is one of us and we are happy to share him with the world because he is not just ours and on behalf of our family and on behalf of all of Kenyans, I would like to thank the American people for trusting Barack who is our son,” she pointed out.
After his introduction, President Obama recalled that when he came to Kenya, he had to go through what he terms as minor inconveniences though he says these paled in comparison to the sense of belonging that came from knowing his family.
“We were drinking tea and eating ugali, sukuma wiki. So there wasn’t a lot of luxury. Sometimes the lights would go out. But you know, there was something more important than luxury on that first trip and that was a sense of being recognised and seen. I was just a young man and I was just a few years out of University and I had worked as a community organizer in Chicago, I was about to go to Law School and when I came here, in many ways I was a westerner, I was an American unfamiliar with my father and his birth place really disconnected from half of my heritage,” he said.
He explained that the first time someone recognised his name at the airport was the start of him tracing his roots to Kogelo where he met his other relatives.
“At that airport, as I was trying to find my luggage there was a woman there who worked for the airline and was helping fill up the forms and she saw my name and she looked up and asked if I was related to my father whom she had known and that was the first time that my name meant something, that I was recognised” he stated. “And over the course of several weeks I met my brothers, aunts, uncles; I travelled to Alego, the village where my family was from, I saw the graves of my father and my grandfather and I learnt things about their lives that I could never have learnt through books. In many ways, their lives offered snap shots of Kenya’s history, but they also told something about the future.”