Tuesday, January 19, 2010

365 days as President

It has been a crazy week. I have sold nearly everything I own, am sleeping on a thermarest, and had my last day at AIR on Friday. Packing is taking longer than I had expected. How did I accumulate this much junk in the last year and a half? Today is my last day in DC. Tomorrow my dad and I will begin the one-way drive to Michigan, and will hopefully stop on the way to give Lynn a drive-by hug.

So, I have been sadly away from a scanning machine so will have to delay posting Lynn's card. (Lynn, has already graciously forgiven me for this by email). Instead, I am going to post an email I sent out to my dear Peace Corps friends Dick and Ed last year after having attended the Inauguration for Obama. Obama has had a rough first year, but it is a nice time to reflect on the excitement that surrounded his arrival to DC. It reads:

Dear Ed and Dick,

So ok, Ill give you a debrief. I havent meant to be elusive. I think it is more like I have been trying to find something meaningful to say, something about as big and weighty as the moment but nothing was coming so I wrote nothing at all.

It was cold. Really cold. I had gone to the concert on Sunday so I thought I had done a dry run. However, despite the fact that I was wearing nearly everything I owned, I was not prepared for how cold it would be Tuesday. I woke up at 6am and left my house at 6:30 to walk to the Washington Memorial to meet Danielle Toole and a crew of RPCVs (even people who came to Samoa after I had left!!), her co-workers, and her new boyfriend Scott. The whole day was surreal. It started as soon as I walked out of the house. There were no cars but there were swarms of people headed towards the mall and buses so filled with people that they were pressed against the glass. Before dawn, in the dark! People were laughing and walked lightly.

Waiting was no fun at all. It was a mental and physical endurance test, and I would not have survived if it had not been for the blankets Danielle had brought. We huddled, walked around, thumped our feet. I read the economist, ate raisins, people watched, pondered ditching it all and walking home. Re-watched the Sunday concert on the jumbo tron, jumped around, drank hot chocolate, watched the sunset, re-arranged my blankets in order to minimize the wind, people watched, closed my eyes and tried to pretend I was in bed, stretched, sat back down in a tight ball, read the economist, people watched, made friends with someone's dad, blew on my hands to keep them warm... you get the idea. It was biter cold.

More than 4 hours after I arrived on the mall, the event began. Early in the morning the area around the Washington Memorial was pretty much fair game. Some people had staked ground, but many more were passing through. Swarms of people. Thousands of people, moving fast, headed towards the capital. Climbing off strings of buses. Some laughed, some had their heads down, some stopped take pictures, some chanted, waved flags, and carried gear. There were people of every age, every color. There were people who were speaking English and many who were not. Tall people, short people, fat people, thin people, under dressed people, poorly dressed people, people in fur coats and patriotic make-up. People of every color. In burkas, in head scarfs, with crosses, carrying signs, wearing Obama pins. Swarms of people who just kept coming and kept passing, heading towards the mall. By the time the inaugural ceremony began the green mall had become black with people as far as I could see. Black specks. Like bees or ants.

I am sure you saw the event on TV. You know what happened on stage, but what you may not know is how the crowd reacted. People were in a celebratory mood, chatty and upbeat if not a little anxious. There was constant commentary as the politicians and celebrities entered the
stage. They cheered for the Clintons and Gores. And, I kid you not, a crowd of 1.8 million booed Bush, his family and Cheney on their last day in office. His face dropped. I kept silent. We had already won, but it was the peoples' day, really, and the people booed despite what TVs might have shown. The entertainment was nice but we were single minded. We wanted to see Obama, we wanted him to be sworn in. And when he was the crowd went wild. We hugged each other. We gave strangers high fives. We screamed: Obama! and Yes, we can! at the top of our lungs. His speech was a whole other story though, although cheers came at the appropriate times, in all people were concentrated on his words. Their eyes were closed, they looked at the ground. They listened, some with tears on their cheeks. It felt personal and theweight of the moment was not lost in all of the pomp for the people who stood near me. More than once I heard someone say, "A black man is president." and then shake their head and smile.

He had barely finished speaking though and we were off. It was cold after all, biter cold. I hugged everyone, returned the blanket. Chowed down a power bar and began the walk home as quickly as I could. It was unreal. Thousands and thousands of people who had arrived over a period of 6 or 7 hours leaving in the span of a few minutes. There were gates up. People were polite, but you could not ignore the fact that we were in a mob. There were some scary moments. People pushed, fell down, got stepped on, were pressed against fences. I was very self-aware and although I hopped a few fences, I also sometimes would choose a tree and wait it out. I am not sure how long it took, but I walked a long ways before the crowds had thinned enough that one could walk normally on the sidewalks. And even then the city felt surreal. There were no cars, people were dressed like mummies, walking with a purpose. It was still cold.

When I arrived home I did everything I could to be warm - drank coffee, ate soup, took a shower. Finally, I took a nap. 7 miles of walking plus just as many hours in the cold along with the stress of the crowds was exhausting. (Although I did manage to get up and go to an inaugural celebration on Tuesday night.... I think that people were so tired that the balls/parties were not as big as expected. The ceremony itself just took so much out of us).

So that is the dirt on Tuesday.

Can you believe I feel patriotic? I am not sure how to feel now that the government is largely on "my side." I go back to Zambia in two weeks and I can hardly wait to admit I am from the States. Obama is our president and WE put him there. It is just too cool.

I am thinking of you both and will be in touch.

Much love,

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