I phoned my sister this morning. She was on the bus, from Arusha to Dar es Salaam. In the background some heavy thudding bass and a repetitive chant. Listen, she says, and holds out the phone - "Barak Obama. Barak. Obama." Yep, that was my little postmodern moment this morning - a Swahili soundtrack to the US election.
It reminded me of a waiter called Felix in Malawi. Today being the day of great import and moment that it is, we in Africa are also holding our collective breaths. Especially Felix, who gave me much to smile about on my recent trip to Malawi.
Here it is straight from my notebook:
Let us give thanks for Felix the waiter, barperson and general service fellow extraordinaire at Kuka Lodge, Lilongwe. "A most excellent man" as he himself declares in his Malawian accent with flashing mischief dimple. Who fervently knows that God is sending direct and swift punishment to the bad people of South Africa who chased foreigners away from their homes. Who joined me in suggesting to Franc the fotoman that he try the mbalane on the snack menu (small wild birds, roasted, spindly legs and all).
"I want sumsing light", muses F
"Oh, try the mbalane," I joke
"Yes. Very excellent. Most delicious," enthuses Felix.
"Um, Francois, they're wild birds. Probably endangered ones."
"Oh. Okeh. i try. Is good to try, no?"
To his credit, he valiantly crunched his way through all of them. Too bad there were no mbewe (roasted mice).
For the next few days we take mutual delight in F's increasing grumpiness. For the record - my travelling companion is a most gifted photographer. Some of his pics truly smack your breath away. But he says he's getting too old to sit in white landcruisers and bump over bad roads and stay in shitty (ie non Parisienne, non Cape Grace) guest houses working for people who don't understand his art. He says Pfff a lot. He can take a joke, luckily. He laughs when I laugh at him - the way he is so disappointed at the Caesar salad he ordered. Egg, hot lettuce, a few chicken pieces.
"What did you expect," I clutch my belly in laughter. Croutons? Anchovies?
Most times I've worked with F, there's a mild culture clash. It is not polite in Zambian or Malawian culture to express discomfort, grumpiness and general dissatisfaction. Most people go into a slight panic when they meet with F's grizzling. Not Felix. Like a kid playing with a scorpion, he says things that might piss him off, then jumps back to watch the reaction and gets a look of glee to see what he has provoked. This is making my trip a lot more fun than usual.
Felix the most excellent is ardently pro-Obama. Naturally.
"He is excellent. An excellent president. Not just for America but for Africa too. He is a good man. He will stop all the wars. He is a black man."
"Yes. He will save Africa."
"I don't know about that, Felix.I think he'll change things but he can't save the world."
He ignores me, staring at the tiny tv screen above the bar. The lodge is empty, its just me, waiting for my eggs, Felix, and CNN.
"Look at that guy." (McCain). "He is already dead."
He rushes to the kitchen with the energy of a meercat. Presents the small plunger of Mzuzu coffee, on a tray.
"I am the best coffee maker in Lilongwe. The second best in the country. There's one guy in Blantyre who is better than me."
"I see. Was there a national coffee making championship?"
"Yes!" He shows me a marketing pamphlet for Mzuzu coffee, with detailed instructions on how to make it in a plunger.
"There was a white man who taught us. I was the best."
The coffee is good. And for that I most grateful.
"I am a very excellent man," says Felix. "And so is Mr Barak Obama."
Well, I would have to agree.
Now there is a tv preacher on the box, and he is chiming along to her sermon.
"Oh praise God. Halleluja praise the lord. Hosannah. Amen."
He is a most bouyant spirit.
We are all waiting. We know, we know how easy it is to steal an election. We know also how giddy it is to pin wild hopes on one man. How hard the fall if they disappoint. But we're nothing if not hopeful. I'm not sure that hope is all its cracked up to be. Sometimes I think its a paralysing thing, a substitute for action. But today, its what we hold in our lungs.
We pray. We hope, we wait, we breathe.
Can you feel Africa's inheld breath? We have strong magic here, who knows whether it is being spun right now. Can you feel it? If the results are as they should be, you'll feel it alright.