Jakarta schoolmates hail Obama

Old memories: Children from the SD Besuki 01 primary school, where new US President Barack Obama went to school during his time in Indonesia in the late 1960s, sing during a ceremony in Jakarta yesterday.Picture: AFP

Thursday, January 22, 2009

US PRESIDENT Barack Obama's former classmates in Indonesia brimmed with pride and expectation yesterday after the chubby kid they knew as Barry became the most powerful man in the world.

Dewi Asmara Oetojo, a lawmaker in Indonesia's parliament who went to primary school with Obama in Jakarta in the late 1960s, said her old classmate was a peacemaker with a "global" vision.

"For sure we're very proud and grateful that Barry, who was part of our childhood, has been elected president of the most powerful country in the world," she said the morning after Obama's inauguration.

"We're convinced that he'll be able to bring change because even when he was a kid he already had a 'go global' attitude.

"It will be easy for him to bridge all the differences between West and East. He will bring peace to the world."

Obama's ex-classmates, who have followed his rise to the presidency, gathered yesterday at his old school in the leafy central Jakarta suburb of Menteng for a party to celebrate the inauguration.

"We all want to congratulate Barry, his wife and his daughters and we will have a party here at our former school to celebrate his inauguration," Oetojo said.

US Ambassador Cameron Hume joked in a speech to the gathering of former and current students of Menteng One primary school that he hoped to see Obama "shooting hoops" at the school on a visit to Indonesia soon.

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.

In his memoirs he recalled his time in Indonesia as the "bounty of a young man's life."

Onny Padma said he was "very, very, very proud" of his old playmate.

"It never crossed my mind that my friend, an Afro-American with a chubby face, would be elected as American president," he said.

"He has a good understanding about Asian people. When he lived here he learned a lot about our culture. It will be easier for him to build better ties between Indonesia, Asia and America."

AFP