Barack Obama's Grandmother in Kenya Is Counting Days Until U.S. Presidential Election

Mama Sarah's house in a rural Kenyan village has become ground zero for Obama-mania.

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KOGELO, Kenya—As Sen. Barack Obama makes his final courtship with American voters in the presidential campaign's homestretch, his 86-year-old paternal grandmother, "Mama Sarah" Obama, has been holding court at her homestead in the rural Kenyan village of Kogelo.

The seemingly endless 2008 election season has been almost as long for the proud matriarch of the Obama family as for the candidate himself. For the past year, she has been host to a near constant stream of well-wishers, favor-seekers, and foreign journalists at her modest, tin-roofed home.

 "I love the visitors, especially since they are coming because of what Barack is doing over there," Sarah Onyango Obama says, as Barack's Uncle Said translates. "Barack represents very many people—he's a global statement. Many people also feel what I'm feeling." 

On the eve of the election, faith in her grandson's ascendancy to the world's highest office is cautiously optimistic. "We are leaving everything to God. We know it's been a long wait, and we hope, God willing, that everything is going to be OK."

 The living room walls of Mama Sarah's two-room home, on the outskirts of this small village in western Kenya, surrounded by corn and cassava fields and just down the road from Senator Barack Obama Secondary School, are decorated with Barack Obama memorabilia and family portraiture.

A life-size photo cutout of the senator stands in one corner of the room. A black and white photo of Barack Sr., who is buried outside in the family compound, hangs near an image of Barack's daughters, Sasha and Malia, watering a seedling in front of a Masai tribesman as their dad snaps a picture.

There is also a signed poster from Obama's Illinois state Senate campaign. "He loves me so much," Mama Sarah says, beaming. "Every time he watches me on television or reads what I've been saying in the newspapers, he feels good about it."

By the front door hangs a small framed photo of the senator as a young adult, during his first visit to Kenya, shouldering a sack of vegetables beside Mama Sarah. "Barack is down to earth," she says. "The way he helped me carrying vegetables to the market is the way he's going to serve the world. I see him promoting peace in the world and economic development.

 "Barack is somebody who pays attention to the plight of people, as shown by his work as a community organizer," adds Mama Sarah as she walks outside to the shade of a mango tree, passing a couple of pecking chickens. "He is also a good listener. With those kinds of attributes, I think Barack will be in a better position to sort out the problems that are bedeviling the world. I think he's got all it takes to be a world leader."

The global reach of Obama's support hits new heights here in western Kenya, where the prospect of an American president who traces his roots to this piece of land along Lake Victoria has reached a fevered pitch. "We are praying for him," say many locals, who have closely watched the debates, tracked poll figures, and receive regular updates on the race from Kenyan media.

They are also selling him: Obama's likeness appears on watches, clocks, T-shirts, calendars, and even decoratively on the exteriors of public buses. CDs with songs about Obama are hawked by music vendors; local schoolkids have also created their own.

 "I will feel good about it and so very happy," Mama Sarah says about a potential victory on November 4. "But not me alone. Everyone in Kenya, and elsewhere in the world."

 Would she travel to Washington for an inauguration? "He's the one who will guide me. If he says that I go, I will."

  • Click here for a photo gallery from Obama's ancestral home village.
  • Click here for more on Campaign 2008.