I am sitting in traffic near St. John roundabout on Saturday, after a trip to the tailor and for lunch at Diaspora Cafe.
A gaggle of young men cluster around the car, trying to sell us the usual street-corner goodies: cheese balls, seat covers, bootleg CDs. I am a bit grumpy and my friend Marisa is on the phone, so we ignore them and wait for the traffic to move.
Then, from outside my window, I hear: “Obama air freshener.” This (needless to say) catches my attention.
I turn to see a teenager with an aren’t-I-clever smirk holding a plastic-wrapped air freshener in patriotic Red, White, and Blue. It looks like it belongs on a Chevy truck deep in Red State America.
“That’s not an Obama air freshener,” I say to him in Krio.
“Yes it is,” he replies.
“No it’s not,” I say. “Where do you see Obama?”
“His face is on the back,” he says without hesitation, handing it to me.
I turn it over. “No it’s not,” I reply. The back was simply more stars and stripes. It occurs to me that he had no way of knowing I am American, or an Obama supporter.
“Oh, but it says Obama here on the package,” he argues, pointing to the instructions (listed in at least 8 languages, starting with Chinese).
“No,” I say, now a bit peeved. “It does not.”
He pauses, not at all deterred and still smiling.
“Obama is American,” he says at last. “American is Obama.”
Ah. The logic is hard to combat. Besides, I like Obama, and love the idea that in this corner of Africa, America=Obama. (We could do worse than that particular association.) And that a man once criticized back home for not wearing an American flag lapel pin is somehow synonymous here with a pine-scented bit of cardboard in Red, White, and Blue.
I give the guy a smile for his effort, but resist his salesmanship.
“You’re not going to buy one?” he says, genuinely surprised.
“Then you don’t support Obama. If you did, you would buy my air freshener.”
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