Since everyoneâ€™s mind is on the election right now and weâ€™re coming up on the final week before it I thought I would say a few words about what the Malagasy people we live and speak with have been saying about the election and their views on America. This post isnâ€™t intended to be a piece to support one presidential candidate or the other but rather to explain what the buzz is about America and create a better understanding of what people think about our country.
Weâ€™ve been taken aback by how many Malagasy people are informed and know about the election. Months ago, while Obama and Clinton were campaigning in the primaries, people here in Madagascar couldnâ€™t stop talking about how a â€œblack manâ€ or a woman might become the president of the United States. We honestly couldnâ€™t believe the extent of peopleâ€™s knowledge about this election and sometimes even the issues being so disconnected from the world. (I joke sometimes to Erin that people here probably know a lot more than some of voters in the US.)
When we first came to site we had people asking us who our president was. We would tell them his name was George W. Bush and they wouldnâ€™t recognize the name. But they did claim to know a few other things about America; things which we, as Peace Corps volunteers, have been working to clarify â€“ working to re-paint their idea of America.
When we first arrived in our little village we were saddened that all some people had come to know about the United States was our apparent love for war and specifically about the war in Iraq. Some people even thought that if an American is hurt, for example, in a small village here in Madagascar that the United States would come and bomb their village. We enjoy laughing with people at their outrageous assumptions and sometimes hysterically false information (ie â€“ a tabloid saying that a man had a baby in the United States â€“ it was actually a woman who had undergone appearance changing operations). We end up doing a lot of clarifying about all kinds of things: American culture, American lifestyles, American intentions (ie - explaining that the vast majority of Americans donâ€™t love war and that Puff Daddy didn't kill Tupac - or did he?), and, sadly, weâ€™ve even had to explain to people that America is not going to bomb their village if an American is hurt by someone in it.
I really think with this election and the excitement that weâ€™ve seen it generate just in the small villages that we work in and travel through could really help how America is viewed in the world. Of course most of their energy is reserved for Mr. Obama because many people can identify with him. But I hope that when either Mr. McCain or Mr. Obama is elected president, he takes the energy and runs with it. Programs like Greg Mortensonâ€™s, which promote peace by building schools in impoverished and neglected areas to further peace and understanding, would be a great start. Increasing the budget (not just volunteer numbers) for the Peace Corps and similar organizations go a long way to promote understanding of Americans. As well as other programs which use small amounts of aid extremely efficiently and sustainably and focus on small groups of people to improve their lives and create understanding of Americans would also be a starting point.
I guess when it comes down to it; I find that people are beginning to change their mind about America. No longer are people talking about guns, bombs, and war; but they are talking about an election and even hope. We need to run with the hope - the buzz - that has been generated, not just here, but all around the world and use it to continue to create understanding and improve the new image of America that is beginning to develop â€“ an image of hope.