There are a lot of ex-patriots living in Kenya. They come from far away, from the USA, from the UK, from continental Europe, from Australia and New Zealand and even from other African nations. Living in arguably one of the most beautiful parts of Kenya, it is not surprising that I run into ex-pats a lot, though there is also a heavy concentration in Nairobi. Striking up a conversation, people quickly realize I come from the USA or they ask and I willingly tell them (unless they seem hostile, at which point I come from Canada). I have traveled and lived abroad before, so I know the usual rants against America: the unjust war in Iraq, the foolish handling of the war in Afghanistan, the foolhardy support of Israel, etc, covering the full gamut of US foreign policy.
Recently, it has all gotten a bit more confusing to me. With the election of Obama, our overall image did get a small boost, but as Obama’s policies have come off as more of the same, that boost is slowly fading. What is replacing it is a newfound interest in US domestic policy. These past few months, I received my education on the new national health plan from people who aren’t even residents of the USA. Arizona immigration law riles up the English just as much as the Mexican and Latino citizens of the state of Arizona! Why is everyone interested?
I think there exists some perverse American dream in the minds of the ex-pats and world travelers; that our country is no longer just for Americans, it is for all the world’s citizens to mock and criticize, but to also pin their hopes to. If it happens in America, it can happen elsewhere, or if you prefer the trickle down theory, if Americans do it, eventually it will benefit us. I always felt the mocking and criticism were just side affects of the US being at the top, but the amount of effort ex-pats put into understanding my country’s domestic policy shows a whole new level of interest beyond simple scorn.
Sometimes I wonder if maybe ex-pats should stop showing interest in my homeland and focus on their own. Just as they chide me (not me personally, but me the American) for institutionalized racism and shoddy economic practices, their own homes ban the construction of minarets, forbid people from respecting their own religion, set up surveillance states to rival anything out of George Orwell’s imagination, and implement ridiculous immigration law.
What frustrates me is that with everyone focusing on the USA, waiting for us to do things, criticizing us for being wrong in so many ways, they are ignoring what is going on back home, and before they know it, they may be powerless before their own governments to live the lives they so chided the USA for living. Just frustrating.
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