Cheers heard round the world
Revelers slaughtered goats in Kenya. Partygoers danced at elegant balls in Indonesia. Bar patrons kept eyes fixed on television screens in Lebanon. And schoolgirls wearing hijabs squealed and waved U.S. flags in New York while a crowd did the electric slide in Atlanta.
It was America’s moment, the swearing-in of Barack Hussein Obama, the nation’s first African American president. But Americans shared the event with the world Tuesday as people gathered from Las Vegas to London to Kabul, Afghanistan -- inside casinos, at restaurants and on street corners -- to witness this chapter of international history.
A hush fell across parts of the globe as the 44th president of the United States placed his hand on the Bible used by Abraham Lincoln at his first inauguration, and took the oath of office on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
Inside New York City Hall, where 2,000 people had gathered to watch on a big screen, a blind man nodded his head and broke into a wide grin, a Republican war veteran in a wheelchair clapped, a gay rights activist wept, and a black seventh-grader jumped to her feet and screamed. Jean Golden, 65, a social worker, stood in the back row, singing “God Bless America.”
In other parts of the world, there was a feeling of kinship for this president, whose roots lie beyond America’s shores.
In Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, where Obama lived from 1967 to 1971, people in formal attire gathered at Model Primary School 1 in the Menteng neighborhood. “The fact that a black man is elected as the president of the most powerful country in the world is something to celebrate,” Enda Nasution said. “This is proof that we can still hope for humanity.”
In Kenya, a country where most people don’t have electricity, thousands crowded around public TVs, including the giant screens erected at Nairobi’s downtown convention center and battery-powered monitors set up outdoors in remote farming towns. The banner front-page headline in a leading newspaper read, “Obama The Great.” Dozens of cows, goats and chickens were slaughtered in Obama’s ancestral village in western Kenya.
“I feel I’m watching my brother’s inauguration,” said Fred Orina, 29, an unemployed Nairobi resident. “It’s good to be associated with the greatest president of the greatest nation on Earth. And it’s very special to see a black man now leading whites.”
Communities in Colombia with African roots rejoiced. In Turbaco, near the Caribbean resort city of Cartagena, residents acted out the inauguration using a paper scale model of the White House.
At 7 a.m. Hawaii time, about 400 students gathered at Punahou School in Honolulu to watch the swearing-in of one of their own. Obama was part of the class of 1979. When Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said, “Congratulations, Mr. President,” the auditorium erupted in cheers. “It’s unbelievable,” said seventh-grader Shannel Chong, a Korean American.
As America celebrated, those in war-gripped regions clung to Obama’s words.
U.S. Marines in chow halls, recreation centers and battalion command posts in Iraq sat riveted in front of televisions. At the Al Asad air base west of Baghdad, Marine Staff Sgt. Trent Nichols of New York paraphrased his new commander in chief. “He said it would be a long hard road and we have to endure. He knows what needs to be done, and it’s not going to be easy.”
In the southern city of Basra, about 100 guests watched at the headquarters of the Free Iraqi Movement, a coalition of black Iraqis. “This is a triumph for humanity and democracy in the world,” said the group’s leader, Jalal Chijeel. “We black-skinned people had a huge celebration on this occasion because of all that we suffered in this land.”
In the muddy streets of Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, there was a ripple of excitement over Obama. “We think he is a good man,” said Hamidullah Sharif, who was selling oranges from a wooden cart at a downtown intersection.
“And that Bush was a bad man!” a customer sang out.
Across the United States, streets buzzed with shouts of “Yes, we did!” as adults in Obama T-shirts congratulated one another. Black children raised their hands as if taking the presidential oath themselves. Workers took the day off. Schools took field trips to citywide viewing parties.
At the Las Vegas Hilton, tourists, gamblers and dealers took a break to watch. Connie Wilcox, a cocktail waitress in a black velvet uniform trimmed with rhinestones, said she has worked in the casinos for 38 years but had never seen the place so attentive to a national event -- not even during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
In San Francisco, hundreds gathered at the civic center, cheering for Obama but booing when Pastor Rick Warren gave the inaugural invocation. The founder of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest had supported Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California.
Reynolds Tenazas-Norman, 52, said she didn’t want to be anywhere but New York on Inauguration Day. She wore an “Obama Mania” button to City Hall. When President Bush emerged on a TV screen, the crowd began singing, “Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye.” When Obama took the oath, Tenazas-Norman wept. A seventh-grader turned to her with tears in her eyes too and said, “It’s OK; you don’t have to cry.”
In Atlanta, hundreds of people flocked to Centennial Olympic Park in the heart of downtown, where the inauguration ceremony was beamed live on three large screens. When Obama was introduced, many in the crowd jumped as if their team had kicked a winning field goal in overtime.
Near the end of the ceremony, Robin Cermak, 53, stood, singing the national anthem along with the Obamas. When she turned away from the screen, she was in tears.
Cermak, who is black, said it was the first time she had held a U.S. flag or put her hand over her heart. “Today, I’m proud,” Cermak said before hugging a white stranger. “Because this country has fulfilled its promise of inclusion.”
Times staff writers Richard Fausset in Atlanta; Maria L. La Ganga in San Francisco; Ashley Powers in Las Vegas; Caesar Ahmed, Saif Hameed and Ned Parker in Baghdad; Chris Kraul in Bogota, Colombia; Tony Perry in San Diego; Mark Magnier in New Delhi; Henry Chu in London; Laura King in Kabul; Borzou Daragahi in Beirut; and Maria De Cristofaro in Rome; and special correspondents Beverly Beyette in Honolulu; Raed Rafei in Beirut; and DeeDee Correll in Denver contributed to this report.