The American President with a Connection to Indonesia

Dec 302008

By Dedi Irawan
SmartFM, Indonesia

Barack Obama's name has become so popular in Indonesia, far away from his U.S. presidency. It’s because Obama spent three or four years of his childhood in Indonesia.

Obama’s popularity in Indonesia can be clearly seen from the news in each national newspaper and on radio and television. Most of them supported Obama from the time he competed with Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primary until he finally beat John McCain to become the first African-American president of United States of America.

When Obama lived in Jakarta, he studied at Menteng public school together with regular Indonesian people. His parents’ house at Menteng, South Jakarta, was not in the downtown area. But now, it’s one of elite areas in Jakarta. Obama lived with his mother, who was divorced from his father, Barack Obama Sr., and remarried to an Indonesian man named Soetoro. At that time, there was no sign that the young “Barry” would become a very well known person in the world. But the idea that the president of most powerful nation ever lived in my home country has made for an emotional relationship with the Indonesian people, including me.

This emotional feeling was in my mind when I finally arrived in the United States, to participate in the Visiting Journalists Program to cover the 2008 election. This program was funded by Foreign Press Center of the United States State Departement and organized by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). Fifty journalists from all around the world were invited to participate in this program, to be an eyewitness to the U.S. election process, to get to know how the major U.S. media cover this special event and how this election influenced American citizens.

I can tell that this program was extreemly successful, and I am very lucky to be a part of it. I had many good chances to meet with U.S. political analysts, campaign advisors, experts in many different disciplines of knowledge, etc. I can see how good the preparation was for this election. I saw transparency that I’ve never seen before in several elections in my home country, which is one of the democratic nations with a direct election.

Also, I saw the enthusiasm and maturity of the American citizens to accept and deal with the whole process of this election. I had the chance to talk with people on the street, in the subway in Washington, D.C, and just with a taxi driver who drove me back to the hotel, and many other chances to talk with American citizens. All of them led me to the conclusion that this is one of the most interesting elections in American history, with so many people participating compared to several elections earlier.

But off course, the most special moment for me was when I had a chance to directly visit Obama’s last rally at Manassas, Virginia, one day before election day.

I arrived at Manassas around 7 pm local time, join with 100,000 people and hundreds of journalists from America and all around the world.

Obama finally arrived at Manassas about midnight, much later than the 9 pm promised on the schedule. But everybody forgave him. Nobody seemed disappointed, even though they all look tired and frozen.

Watching Obama make his speech in front of thousands of people was probably the best moment for me that night. I must admit that he's an incredible person and an extraordinary speaker. So many people in my country admired this man, and I think I know why. No wonder he was finally elected as the 44th president of the United States of America, after beating John McCain, who was also an excellent candidate.

The writer is a producer/reporter for SmartFM Radio in Jakarta, Indonesia.