Everyone wants a piece of the “little Barry” story


Paintings of Obama as a child hang at the President's former elementary school


Obama arrives in Jakarta today and the excitement around the city is palpable. As local media reports have been on the “Obama beat” since last week, a deluge of sensationalized stories have popped up in which local residents lay claim to Jakarta’s one-time resident.  Here’s one of my favourite stories in which two of Obama’s “old friends” wax nostalgic about the U.S. President and his boyhood virtues. “Old friend” number one is a street parking attendant who used to work outside Obama’s elementary school and (may or may not have ever) spoke to the future president. Nonetheless, the parking attendant feels the two formed a special relationship. He says:

“I really want to see him once more. Of course I’m proud of him.”

“Old friend” number two is a local pedicab driver who claims to have given Barack and his nanny a ride home on two different occasions. Although these meetings were short and superficial, the driver could sense the six-year old’s sprightly qualities that would one day lead him to the Executive Office of the most powerful country in the world.

“Obama was just like other children, but he was agile.”

Such vivid memories these old friends have of mundane events that happened over 40 years ago!

But amongst the blitz of recent of media hype, two substantial pieces have emerged that provide a clearer picture of what life was like for little Barry; a child and new-comer living amongst impoverished Jakarta as the country stood on the brink of its New Order era. This New York Time’s article provides a snapshot of what life was like, providing insight into Barack’s Jakarta neighborhood, his family life while in Indonesia (a gay nanny? who knew!), and contextual background on the political and social environment of late 1960’s Jakarta.

Equally interesting, is the below video by Associated Press’s Charlie Dharapak. The short clip was made in 2008 and provides an interesting (and less hyped) picture of Barack’s elementary school experience.

But no matter the media story, the people interviewed as the elite “knowers-of-Obama-back-then” all seem to have shared the same inclination to ask the young boy if he’d ever like to be U.S. president one day. A question to which little Barry confidently answered to all his “friends,” yes.


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