Between Hope and a Hard PlaceJanuary 21st, 2009 © by Susan Swartz
An Argentine grandmother used the word “esperanza,” the Spanish word for hope, when I asked her about Barack Obama. A Russian traveler said she planned to find a bar with a television along Lake Atitlan to watch the inauguration.
In the week before Tuesday’s big day, I was traveling in Guatemala. Most of the time we were in a news blackout zone – no CNN, no English language newspapers. But we all knew what was ahead.
Obama was on our minds. The whole world has been between hope and a hard place for a long time and maybe there’d be good things ahead with this new guy in the White House.
The women in my travel group toasted Obama more than once. When we gathered with a shaman in the Guatemalan highlands and threw offerings into a fire my automatic prayer was for Obama. We discussed Obama with our Mayan guide in the jungle at Tikal. The Guatemalan economy is hurting. Tourism is off, he said. Whatever good Obama does for the American economy will surely help his own.
Flying back to California on Monday, the day before the inauguration, there was a kind of Christmas Eve giddiness in the airports. Maybe I was projecting my own thrill over getting home in time for this historic day. Maybe it was the Obama button I was wearing on my new hand-woven purple Guatemalan poncho. It got a lot of smiles and thumbs up, even at George Bush Intercontinental in Houston.
When Tuesday came my husband and I ended up celebrating with a roomful of little kids. Our daughter is a second grade teacher in Santa Rosa. She had the TV on and her room decorated with red, white and blue streamers. The kids in her class are the same age as Sasha, the younger Obama daughter. Sasha’s father is now their president. When they look back on their youth it will be the Obama Years.
We brought cookies covered with sprinkles. My daughter poured cups of milk and we all wished each other Happy Obama Day. After anticipating how best to mark the day, the perfect place turned out to be a second grade classroom with a rainbow of Sonoma County faces in a school threatened with budget cuts.
Another daughter was one of the million people on the National Mall in Washington. She heard and watched the real thing and called into her sister’s classroom with an on-the-scene live report. She told the kids she was wearing long underwear, two pairs of gloves and two pairs of socks and had never been so cold in her life. She also told them it was the most exciting day of her life and that when she and her friends started hugging after those words “Congratulations, Mr. President,” a stranger came up and said she needed hugging, too, and jumped into their group embrace.
A lot of pundits this week were recalling Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. But I was thinking about another one of his – the “How Long, Not Long” speech he gave in Montgomery, Alabama in 1965, after the march from Selma for voting rights.
On Tuesday Barack Obama answered the “How Long?” question. Now, the question is “How Far?” do we still have to go?
After time out on Tuesday to celebrate, wars and worries didn’t end. People didn’t wake up the next day to new jobs. But there is hope. Esperanza.
As the guy next to me on the couch said Tuesday, “We have a chance.”
Photo credit: antiguadaily.com