I was thrilled to find that a slightly obsessive, unconditional love for Barack Obama was something I had in common with most Balinese people. Upon saying you’re from the United States, the common reaction you get here is, “Oh! Obama land!” Because of his Jakarta connection, people here seem to adore him. It is not uncommon to walk into an Ubud artist’s gallery and find traditional Balienese paintings of rice fields and beaches and flowers next to a life size portrait of Barack and Michelle at the inaugural ball.
A few days ago, I became even more a part of “Team Obama.” I had been talking with some other travelers in Ubud about splitting the cost of a guide and driver to do the infamous hike up Mt. Batur. To my own good fortune, and my aching thighs misfortune, this idea materialized on Friday.
Mt. Batur is an active volcano that sits on a lake in the northeast part of Bali and is a popular destination for brave (or crazy?) travelers like us who are willing to climb up in the dark to see the sunrise. By 2am six of us were huddled into a car and driving away from Ubud to get to the mountain. There was un unmistakable Christmas-morning kind of mystery as we surreptitiously met up with our flashlights and fleeces while the rest of the city was asleep. Around 3am we got to the base of the mountain and stopped for some banana pancakes and coffee.
When we got to the base of the mountain, we met our guides, Ketut and Komang who would help lead us up. Although Batur is a non-technical hike, and not too difficult if you’re in decent shape, it is a volcano, and in recent years a few tourists have lost lives falling into the larger craters (I’m only admitting this to my mother now that the hike is over). All things considered, it’s good to go with guides (and they are more than happy to take your money to do so).
Ketut and Komang were very excited that five of the six of us were from America and promptly decided to refer to us as “Team Obama.” They loved the Michael Franti song and would yell the chorus from the mountain at various intervals. For the most part, the rest of us were too breathless and sweaty to sing with them for long.
After two hours of some exhausting climbing in the dark, we reached the top where groups of tourists were gathered waiting for the sunrise. Unfortunately, we were met by a very cloudy sky. Komang and Ketut made us banana sandwiches and eggs by cooking them in steam coming from a volcanic vent. When finished, they broke through the crowds with a massive tray for us yelling, “Breakfast for Team America! Obama breakfast!” (We may have been a little unpopular with the other tourists).
Just a monkey hanging out on top of a volcano.
Little bit of sun coming up.
The (foggy) inside of the largest crater.
We stayed at the top for a while and explored there, wandering around some of the largest craters and feeling the steam coming out from the volcano.
And then, on the way back down, the sky opened up. For the first time, we could see where we were and what we had done.
(All the black rocks are from when the volcano erupted in 2000!)
And although the hike really had nothing to do with my project, in retrospect, there is a way of looking at names themselves as a common language. Because whatever the name Barack Obama connoted to me in my sophomore year of college as my friends and I rocked out to Michael Franti & Spearhead, it connoted something similar to Ketut and Komang. I know this is more about Obama’s values and personality than his name itself, but because of him, his name will always have these connotations. He is an example of someone who has so clearly given a name such a distinct personhood and its own definition. His relationship with his name has always been interesting to me as the former Barry, now turned Barack, struggled to be popular with Americans despite an unpopular American name. The outrage many Americans had upon learning his middle name was “Hussein” was fascinating to me as I watched how names themselves (even middle names) can have such strong connotations that lead to prejudice and ignorant assumptions based on title alone. But just as his name has carried skepticism with it, it has also carried so much joy. If Kenya were not currently on the state department warning list, I would love to visit this year and meet all the three or four year-old Barack Obamas who are toddling around in the wake of his election.
And although my opinion of Obama today is not quite as overwhelmingly positive as it was during his election, it seems to me that because of the values and beliefs his name now carries with it, “Obama land” actually stretches far beyond the borders of the United States.
Triumphant at the bottom.
Team Obama was back in Ubud by eleven. Yes We Can.