I'm pretty much finished the book and ready to send it on to someone else (Jesse gave it to Samantha, Samantha gave it to me). The last section of the book is about his getting back to his family's roots in Kenya. Here he is talking about when he lands at the airport (a woman at the airport recognises his name and asks if he's related to a Dr Obama - his father):
That [someone recognising his name] had never happened before. I realised; not in Hawaii, not in Indonesia, not in L.A., or New York or Chicago. For the first time in my life, I felt the comfort, the firmness of identity that a name might provide, how it could carry an entire history in other people's memories, so that they might nod and say knowingly, "Oh, you are so and so's son."
I can relate this to the first time I went to the UK in June 2003. When Christine took me to Rochdale and to meet her friends, children and Irene - I felt this same reassurance of identity. When we went into the Rochdale co-op museum an elderly gentlemen there assumed we were brother and sister. I felt this same comfort and firmness of belonging that Obama expresses. I've mentioned to others that I felt sharp/distinct/completely in focus in the UK. I remember so much of the time in 2003 when Jacky and I went to the Edinburgh principal conference and then went south to Christine in Bury, then back to London to stay with Paul and Tina. I know there was a special intensity at work - although Christine and I had been writing to each other for over 30 years, we'd never met and the sights and sounds of England/Scotland were so vivid and alien to us. Obama describes a special day in Kenya when he can summon up each moment in his mind almost frame by frame:It wasn't simply joy that I felt in each of these moments. Rather, it was a sense that everything I was doing, every touch and breath and word, carried the full weight of my life; that a circle was beginning to close, so that I might finally recognise myself as I was, here, now, in one place.
This is a terrific description, very poetic and very apt to my own situation.
Later in this chapter Obama comes across a British man who had grown up in Kenya, moved between the two countries a few times and settled in Kenya. When Obama asks him why he says -"It's my home, I suppose. The people, the land...it's funny, you know. Once you've lived here a while, the life in England seems really cramped. The British have so much more, but seem to enjoy things less. I felt a foreigner there."
I have the same vague feelings about living in New Zealand. For me living here seems really slow, cosy, extremely distant and really blurry (the Tim Finn line about a tyranny of distance!). I feel like a foreigner here. A stranger in a strange land. Pete and others find this hilarious, I know. Before 2003 I was firmly of the glib 'wherever you go - there you are' philosophy. Travel smavel! But then 2003 came along and we began the OE stage of our lives (mmm - 20 years after our peers).
The Obama book has hit some nerves!