Indonesia’s Very Own Barry Obama
In the spirit of the good ol’ election season in America, I thought from the other side of the world I would write about a boy who was once known as Barry. Barack Obama spent several years of his childhood living in Indonesia, specifically in Jakarta. Little Barry ended up in Jakarta because his mother, Ann Dunham, married an Indonesian and worked in Indonesia for many years as an anthropologist. A few months ago I read A Singular Woman by Janny Scott. The book was a thoroughly researched biography of Obama’s mother who was much more than the white, single mother from Kansas, as she was often described during the campaign. She did groundbreaking anthropological work in Indonesia, spoke excellent bahasa, and really loved Indonesia and its people. I especially enjoyed the chapters that described Jakarta in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
When I first meet people here and they find out that I am American, they almost always say “Obama” with a smile and then ask if I have been to the school he attended in the Menteng neighborhood. I can now say that I have walked by the school and seen the statue of Obama as a young boy complete with outstretched arm and butterfly.
The statue of little Barry was quite controversial and many people didn’t think a statue of a foreign president needed to be in Jakarta. Here’s an interesting Financial Times video that looks at remembrances of Obama in Indonesia.
This past week a story about Obama’s former transgender nanny in Jakarta was published and was a top read piece at work, read it here. So whether or not people like Obama here, there is still a fascination surrounding the years that he lived in Indonesia.
Obama remembers certain words in bahasa including nasi goreng (fried rice) and bakso (meat ball soup). It’s always interesting the first words you learn in another language. In Jakarta, the first few words I learned were terima kasih (thank you), macet (traffic jam), jam karet (rubber time, being flexible) and hujan (rain). Those first words are always very telling.