Obama makes long-awaited return to Indonesia

After two years of waiting, Indonesians are finally getting the chance to welcome back their adopted son.

Updated: Nov 09, 2010, 13:56 PM IST

Jakarta: After two years of waiting, Indonesians are finally getting the chance to welcome back their adopted son. But the euphoria that swept the predominantly Muslim country after Barack Obama`s election victory has been replaced by a dose of reality.

Few here now believe he will change American policies in the Middle East or improve U.S. relations with the Muslim world. And hopes that the two countries would march forward together on the world stage have been cast aside.

While Indonesians take tremendous pride in having partially raised the American president, who spent four childhood years in the country, the plans for his long-anticipated homecoming Tuesday have been accompanied by sadness that he is not fully theirs.

He`s already cancelled two planned trips and is due to stay for just 24 hours. He will meet President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, tour the country`s largest mosque and make a speech intended to reiterate his commitment to bridging the divide between the Muslim world and the West.

That will give him no time to visit his old neighborhood in the sprawling overcrowded capital — a jumble of houses and narrow streets that has changed little since he was here from 1967 until 1971, although it is now in the shadow of luxury shopping malls and high-rise buildings.

And, he will only have a few, hastily arranged minutes with family and friends.

"I have waited so long for this visit," said Katarina Fermina Sinaga, 61, who taught the chubby, vivacious boy, then known as "Barry," in the third grade. "I know as the world leader, his schedule is tight, but I still hope to meet him.

"I just don`t want him to forget us."

When he was first expected to come in March and then again June, the country whipped itself into a frenzy of anticipation: Books and movies about his childhood were released, celebrations planned, and exhibitions mounted.

But this time, the country seems sapped, unwilling to get its hopes up, too drained to put on a big show. Even the government waited until the last minute to announced the visit was on.
Hopeful he still might make a last-minute stop to his old elementary school, dozens of third- and fourth-graders, dressed in green-and-white uniforms, spent Tuesday morning practicing a song dedicated to him.

"We haven`t been told anything," said Nasimah, the clearly disappointed headmaster. "So we don`t know how to prepare."

Though religious leaders still believe in him, they, too, have lost some of their gushing enthusiasm.
With peace talks in the Middle East moving slowly, many believe he is not much better than his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Still, there is sense, even here, that what Indonesians want most is a little attention.

"He`s not even taking time to meet with us," said Din Syamsuddin, the leader of the country`s second-largest Muslim group, Muhammadiyah, whose 30 million members had high hopes for Obama. "Even Bush did that ..."

Bureau Report