Obama and Oprah in Africa
Our only black U.S. senator Barack Obama arrived in South Africa on Saturday to begin a two-week, six-nation trip. This will be his first time in Africa in fourteen years - and his first trip as a U.S. senator. He will be writing dispatches from the trip on his site and after South Africa, he will visit Rwanda, Congo, Djibouti, Chad and (of course) Kenya, where his father was born and where he still has a ton of relatives, including his grandmother Mama Sarah Obama. She had this to say about the impending visit of her grandson:
"I don't see why the heavens should come down just because Barack is coming to Kenya and Kogelo," Mama Sarah Obama said. "Our culture demands that when a grandson goes visiting his granny, he should eat a lot of eggs and that is what we will prepare for him."
Okay... I am loving Mama Obama...
The gentleman pictured with Obama is giving him a tour of Robben Island - and he is not just any tour guide. His name is Ahmed Kathrada and he spent 26 years in jail at Robben Island along with Nelson Mandela. Mr. Kathrada, who has also guided dignitaries and celebrities like Bill Clinton and Denzel Washington through the former prison, told Obama that skin color dictated what prisoners could wear and how much food they were allowed. For example, Mr. Kathrada was classified in the apartheid system as Indian, which made him "superior" to black South Africans. Thus, he was allowed to wear long pants (wearing shorts was considered a humiliation) and he got bigger portions of food than his fellow black prisoners. Would you believe that the prison wouldn't even tell them about Neil Armstrong landing on the moon in 1969?
After his release, Mr. Kathrada became one of President Mandela's top aides and now heads the Robben Island Museum.
The senator was also hoping to visit Sudan, but the Sudanese government (surprise, surprise) repeatedly delayed granting him a visa. Looks like they're afraid of any more truth about the atrocities in Darfur coming to light!
Amandla to y'all too...
One thing that I found interesting among all of the hype on Obama's trip is his own trepidation about the impossible expectations being laid on his shoulders. The Chicago Tribune noted that he was worried that his visit had "mistakenly raised expectations" that he could bring sudden prosperity to impoverished parts of Africa, especially Kenya. "There is a sense that somehow I can deliver the largess of the U.S. government to that region and I can't."
Meanwhile, Oprah is also in South Africa. She went to announce the first students who will attend the school she built there, the Leadership Academy for Girls. The 73 girls announced Saturday - many of whom are orphans - were selected from over 3,000 applications and screened by Oprah herself. They will attend the school free of charge and begin classes on January 2, 2007.
Since they were going at the same time, Oprah offered her pal Barack a ride aboard her private jet - which he wisely declined. He told reporters, "She offered but I told her we don't take rides on corporate jets!" He was also asked why he wasn't planning to spend any time with Oprah in Africa and he answered, "I see her in Chicago."
Good move there Senator!
Can you imagine the field day reporters would have had with that one? Forget Africa - the focus would have been on Oprah and Obama chilling in her private jet!
Update: Sen. Obama has announced that he will "lead by example" and get an HIV test next Saturday. African AIDS activists praised his announcement, saying it could help wipe away the stigma of getting tested.
I think he deserves a ride back to Chicago on Oprah's jet for that one...
* pictures via The Chicago Tribune.