A Special Day in Arusha

By Halina Schiffman-Shilo

Jumping out of bed before the alarm sounded, I caught a beautiful view of the sun rising over the hills. I usually lie in bed until the very last minute, trying to eke out every second of slumber I can before facing the day.  But this morning was different.

I wondered if I usually slept through this kelele, or if it was louder than usual, but had the feeling that the chickens were clucking rather vigorously, and I thought I could hear people hollering loudly, too. My neighborhood, or rather, my neighborhood bars, are colorful places at all times of day, even at sunrise, so I should not have been surprised. But in my early morning fog, I took all these sounds to be a “sign.”

By the time my alarm went off at 6:04am, I was already racing to throw on my running clothes. I had planned my morning the night before. Get up and jog, come home, shower, get dressed for work, and then head to town with my roommates. It seemed like a good plan the night before, but in the morning I realized it wouldn’t do—I was just too excited for the day. I could skip showering, shorten my usual run, and head straight to town to meet my friends at one of the hotels that shows American news. Sure, I’d be sweaty, but it was worth it.

Today was, in Tanzania time, Wednesday November 7, and back home, in Eastern Standard Time, it was eight hours earlier.

I have yet to meet one Tanzanian, or East African for that matter, who is not an Obama supporter. Frequently, as soon as someone learns I’m American, the first question asked (assuming he or she speaks English) is whether I support Obama. Answering in the affirmative, I am consistently greeted as an old friend.

I scribbled a note to my roommates telling them my new plan and was out the door. I made it out of the front gate and saw a bus idling, with the driver listening to the news. I went up to his window to ask for the election results. It was at this moment, and not a second earlier, when I realized I had no idea how to say “election results” in Swahili. Undeterred, I asked in English. He didn’t understand so I sing-songed “Obama,” hoping I could convey my question with gestures and the tone of my voice. No dice — I was answered with a blank stare.

I continued to the soccer field where I run most mornings and greeted the regulars. Everyone seemed particularly cheerful and I felt they were nodding at me knowingly, silently transmitting their congratulations to me, the American Obama supporter. One man even gave me a thumbs-up. Why else would he give me a thumbs-up if not for Obama, I asked myself. These were clearly more signs.

I couldn’t wait any longer and ditched running laps. I took the dirt roads into town, passing by schoolchildren and village women with baskets of vegetables piled high on their heads. I got to the hotel in ten minutes, a record speed, for me. . Half-gasping, I asked the front desk where the café was. Three flights of stairs later, I flew through the glass doors and announced loudly, “Obama!” It was 7:12am.

It was only after my proclamation that I saw my friends, and noticed other patrons in the café, staring at me. Dripping with sweat, I saw the screen (the first TV I had watched in over two months) streaming CNN, and realized that the official results were not yet in. My friends confirmed that it was too early to call the election. I was deflated. What were all those earlier signs about anyway? How could we not know the results yet? Thus began the waiting game.

So we sat and waited. And waited. CNN showed pictures of other cities like New York, and Los Angeles, and Dubai, and even Kenyan villages, all anticipating the election results in a mood of merriment and camaraderie. My American friends and I sat anxiously on our chairs, staring at the TV.

Work was starting soon, but we weren’t moving.

When CNN projected that Obama won reelection, we were too apprehensive to celebrate. My friends used their phones to cross-reference the results on Fox, just to be safe, and sure enough, Fox projected Obama as well. But still we worried. After all, Romney hadn’t conceded yet and what if something happened?

I couldn’t take the waiting anymore and decided to go home for a shower, and then come back to the hotel. On my way home I ran into other interns who were heading into work. They broke the news: Romney had conceded, and Obama won the election.

We high-fived and happy-danced in the street for a few minutes. I got back to the hotel just in time to hear Obama’s acceptance speech.

Once it was over, we all walked to work, exhausted but pleased. And to every person who caught my eye, I gave a silent message of congratulations.


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