My brother, Marc Sommers, is an expert in the field of "Youth in Crisis," which means that he does field research on the needs and conditions of youth living in conflict zones, then makes program and policy recommendations to the likes of USAID, UNICEF, the World Bank, and other NGOs. The application is for development: development of education, gender equity, and economic opportunities.
Much of Marc's work has been concentrated in the African countries of Rwanda, Congo, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tanzania, and Burundi. This year, a project took him to Burundi two days before U.S. citizens voted for their (our) next president. He shared his perspective from the ground, and through the eyes of Burundians, in a letter to his family. I thought it was so terrific that I asked for his permission to share it publicly and, lucky for the rest of us, he said yes.
I thought I'd say hi from Bujumbura,
and tell you how memorable it's been to be here during the elections.
I got up at 5:30 this morning to watch CNN (couldn't sleep). It was thrilling and a huge relief, of course.
But more interesting was what Burundians have been telling me about Obama and the election. Several Burundians today told me that they were so worried about Obama that they stayed up all night, watching CNN and BBC, listening to the radio, waiting to hear the results from Nevada, Ohio and so on. In fact, the first conversation I had here in Burundi, with a security guard at the airport, was whether I had voted for Obama before I came to Burundi. The security guard said (it was about 2:30 am when we talked), "Here in Burundi, we really love Obama and we are worried that he might lose. We know his father is a Kenyan, so we are hoping he will win and help us in Africa." The emotion people have had about the election has been stunning.
Another thought: I recently read that less than 2% of Burundians have access to electricity. It's been sitting in my imagination ever since. Then, flying over Rwanda and then Burundi, very late on Sunday night, I could only see small clusters of lights (except for the capital cities). But mostly, it was absolutely pitch black across both countries. I had never really 'seen' that before..."
Perspective is a beautiful thing.
We hardly know who we are,
or what’s important without it. Marc’s letter gives us that, from the ground
and from the air, from a reality very different from most of ours,
though deeply linked.
Then, from a more recent note, Marc describes Obama-mania, Burundi-style. It depicts the cultural (and economic?) significance of Obama’s presidency for people in this part of the world.
"I hope all are well in the U.S. BTW, I regularly pass "Obama Shops" here in Burundi towns. There is Obama bubble gum, Obama keychains, and much, much, much more. I am thinking of going on an Obama shopping adventure later this month. Should be kind of fun (I still remember the 'Obama' men's underwear in Sierra Leone -- it had Obama-Obama-Obama all across the waist band). Obama is an absolute sensation in Africa, and it really can be fun."
Note: photos, below, are not Marc's, but scavanged from other posts (hover over image to see source)