Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"McCain'sh": Obama-Mania in Rabat

One of the things I have missed most here in Morocco is a sense of connection with the outside world. It has been difficult to keep up with world news here, and I have felt a little out of the loop, especially with regard to the US presidential campaigns, which I had been following closely. And so this feeling of distance became especially acute with yesterday’s long-awaited elections. This was such a historic moment, carrying with it such huge possibility and promise, and I wanted to be part of it. I am not allowed to vote in the United States, but I felt involved. I live there, I identify with the country, I love it, and its future affects mine. I contributed to Obama’s campaign, I watched his speeches, listened to those of McCain as well, and would so much have liked to follow the election results live, as they came in.

Sadly the 6-hour time difference, the rain* – which messes with the satellite reception – and my host family’s predilection for Turkish soap operas made that a virtual impossibility. I watched Al Jazeera International when I could, and caught a glimpse of Obama casting his vote, but by the time polls closed it was storming too hard and time to go to bed. I felt strangely lonely, somehow; Manal and Khadija – the only ones home yesterday – did not realize it was election day, did not know who Obama was, and kept switching the channel from Al Jazeera to their soaps. Why was I watching the news when we could be catching up on what happened to the Turkish girl who got pregnant out of wedlock? No one shared my excitement – but when I explained to them what was going on they did show genuine interest, and they asked me all about the two candidates. They understood this was important to me, and at 7 this morning Manal actually came to wake me up because she had turned on the TV to check the election results, and had heard Obama had won. I already knew at that point – my parents had called me at 4.30 this morning to share the good news – but it touched me, the fact that she had thought to do that for me – and it made my mood today brighter yet.

Right now I cannot stop smiling. I am so incredibly excited, relieved, hopeful and proud at the news of these elections. I still wish I could have been in Chicago, at the epicenter of the action, but I had my own private moment of involvement as I sat in an internet café, sipping coffee and watching the video of Obama’s amazing victory speech on CNN. As I listened to him speak, and as I watched footage of celebrations all over the US, people with tears in their eyes at the historic weight and hope of these results, I felt pleasantly swept up by this current of emotion.

This afternoon Manal called me downstairs so urgently to see something on TV that I worried for a second that the results had been reversed. But nothing of the sort; the Moroccan news was simply reporting on the US elections, and Manal had thought I would be interested. The story included a brief report on Americans voting at the embassy in Rabat. The reporter interviewed two Obama-supporters who had made themselves T-shirts bearing the slogan “McCain’sh” – a creative use of Moroccan Arabic, as they themselves explained. “Ma kaynsh” in Moroccan Arabic means ‘he/it isn’t here’, or ‘there isn’t’, and its pronunciation sounds pretty much like ‘McCainsh’. A joke, then: ma kaynsh McCain – as president!

* It has been raining non-stop for at least two weeks. It has by now crossed the line from a useful blessing into completely debilitating. The country simply cannot absorb it all. The north has flooded; two weeks ago all train traffic to Tangier had stopped (it is up and running again now), and thousands of people from there to Nador have been displaced, their homes and businesses ruined.

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