Wednesday, Nov. 5
“Tana,” Madagascar

I had hoped to have a good story to tell about local reaction to the American election.

But unlike the parts of western and central Africa I visited, who had all eyes on Obama, very few people here in Madagascar seem to care about the outcome.

In Tana, Madagascar’s capital, we’re a full eight hours ahead of America’s east coast, so it was in our wee hours of the morning that election results began coming in. I had asked around for a bar or restaurant where folks might be watching election news, but to no avail. Even the U.S. embassy said they weren’t aware of any American hangouts with televisions; they had organized only a private party.

So when I woke up this morning at 6 a.m., excited as a child waiting for Santa, I hailed a ca to the Carlton hotel, the most upscale accommodation in town. Surely they would have a television with international channels.

Inside the lobby, I posed as a guest and waited for the bar to open at 7 a.m.; I could see through the glass windows a beautiful television waiting for me.

The waitress and I flipped through channels looking for election news in English. None. So I settled on a French channel and hoisted myself up onto a bar stool — just in time to see them call the election! Obama had won! The anchors jabbered away in French — it took some concentration for me to understand when they spoke that fast — and I watched my fellow Americans celebrate in the streets. Their chanting was muted, but I could read the lips of the crowds who yelled, “Yes, we can!”

I won’t tell you who I had hoped would win — I’m still an unbiased journalist, remember? — but I did shed a fear tears, feeling, even a continent away, the emotions of Americans who believed the country was headed in a new direction. Then I ordered an omelette and orange juice.

It was odd being so far from home on such a historic occasion, alone on election “night” when, had I been in the States, I probably would have been working late in a newsroom, surrounded by reporters who knew the ins and outs of the electoral vote count. Here in Madagascar, it was just me, the waitress and the television.

Two other Americans eventually took seats beside me at the bar, and the three of us watched McCain, then Obama, speak to the people. We strained to hear their words over the French translation.

By 8 a.m. it was over. I took to Tana’s streets, a city just coming out of slumber, and it was as if nothing had changed at all.