Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Ex-Classmates Applaud 'Barry' Obama

Former classmates in Indonesia reacted with pride and amazement Wednesday as the chubby little boy they knew as Barry made history by becoming the first black president of the United States. "It's just amazing, I mean we're so proud of him," said Dewi Asmara Oetojo, a lawmaker in Indonesia's parliament who was a school friend of US president elect Barack Obama at primary school here in the 1960s. "He was a very easy-going person and also very wise. At that time we were so small we never thought he had the qualities of a leader. He said 'I want to be president' and we all thought that was so funny," Oetojo said. Oetojo said classmates were excited about having the president of the United States show up to their next three-monthly reunion, but understood that Obama might be a little busy. "A reunion in the White House is not our target. Our task as classmates is to support him, but if we have the chance, why not?" she said. "He can be a bridge for the West to understand people in the East. I think that will make him different from other American presidents." The son of a white American mother and a black Kenyan father, Obama was raised in Hawaii and moved to Indonesia when he was six after his divorced mother remarried an Indonesian. He went to school in Menteng in the late 1960s, and in his memoirs recalled his time here as the "bounty of a young man's life." "It's great, it's great. Our prayers have been answered," said Sonny Imam Sukarso, a lawyer who admits he is still "astonished" a black man can rise to become US president.. "We're proud a friend of ours from primary school became president. Maybe he'll remember us and we hope he'll remember his debt to Indonesia and help Indonesia develop," Sukarso said. "When he was small, he was already the right kind of person to become president. He had the spirit of inquiry but he wasn't arrogant, he would mingle with everyone," he said. Sukarso said his support was not only personal, but also because Obama's policies were more in line with public opinion in Indonesia, a Muslim-majority country which has a love-hate relationship with the United States. "He wants to take troops out of Iraq and I really agree with that," he said. Some 250 current students at the Menteng One primary school celebrated Obama's election win with chants of "Obama wins! McCain loses!" and were already looking forward to his first presidential visit. Deputy principal Akhmad Solikhin won rapturous applause when he announced to the children that Obama would be visiting them soon, as they stopped classes to watch the election coverage on local television. Ecstatic students charged out and danced in the rain after Obama won. Solikhin said the Democrat senator was having a major influence on his old school on the other side of the planet. "We're using Obama as a tool to motivate the students to be successful. There is an emotional connection between the students and Obama," he said, adding that enrollments had increased five to 10 percent over the last year. Sixth-grader Farhan Ashardi, 11, said he now believed he could be president of Indonesia one day. "If Obama can do it so can I," he said. But fifth-grader Aisya Nadine said she had no plans to become president of Indonesia, itself a rowdy democracy of 234 million people. "It's hard to become president in Indonesia, there's a lot of corruption here, it's hard to control," she said. (AFP via MSN/ Reuters Photo via Yahoo)

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