As soon as I left Entebbe airport and was securely seated in the front seat of my guest house's car, my driver had one question. It had clearly been burning on his tongue since he had greeted me, 10 minutes earlier. He was having a hard time containing himself. "So," he said with excitement, "I am hearing that you are from the American capitol, Washington." Yes, I said, I live in DC. I smiled. I knew exactly what was coming next.
"How is the one, Obama?" he launched in. "Are you knowing him? Are you seeing him? He is so smart. I am reading about all Obama policy. His wife, she is also so, so smart. What is she like in Washington?”
Since arriving one week ago, it is not an exaggeration to say that I receive a version of this same, enthusiastic question at least once, if not several times each day – usually, as soon as people learn that I am from DC. I am frequently asked about the president’s personal habits, what they “take for lunch”, and, most often, about the well being of “the ones of Obama” (i.e. the family), and how they are doing.
The funny part is, I am expected to hold a knowing answer, like a cousin. I do, afterall, live in the same city.
Yesterday over lunch, a colleague here raised the O question for the first time, admitting she had wanted to for some time, but had been waiting patiently. “Well,” I told her with a sly grin, “my husband works across the street from the White House.”
“Ahh!” she shrieked. “You are not serious!!! He must be a very important man…”
In our beading cooperatives, the interest is most assuredly on our intelligent, compassionate, fashion-forward first lady, a committed mother, like our beaders. They connect with her. They love her. They want to know why I haven’t yet personally delivered one of their gorgeous paper-bead necklaces to Michelle Obama, perhaps over tea. They have spent hours imagining which of their creations would best compliment her neckline, her coloring, her style. “But you live in Washington! So close!!” they say with exasperation. “You take it to her house.”
I explain that it is much more complicated than that, but that yes, I would also love to see Michelle Obama wearing one of their necklaces, elegant paper jewels made from the rubble of camp life, made from the hopes of women who are just now, 20 years later, reconstructing their lives and returning home after so much war. Too much war.