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John Lamb, Published January 21 2009

Fargo Africans anticipate Obama’s global influence

Jan. 20 was not a national holiday, but for many Americans, it was a day to observe the first African-American president taking office.

For a group of African men at SBC Halal Meat & Grocery in Fargo, it was a time to celebrate.

“Everything is possible, sky is the limit,” said a young man named Mohamed.

He came to America five years ago from Kenya, home of President Barack Obama’s father. And while the 8,000-plus mile trip was long, it was nothing compared to the journey America took to elect a black president.

As the men at this African shop gathered around a flat-screen television in the front to watch the ceremony, they said they were looking forward not only to a black man in the White House, but also to a man who can reach beyond American borders.

“Everybody has hope in Obama. Everybody is looking for hope,” Mohamed said after Obama was sworn in.

“I don’t want to work today,” Abdi Abdi said smiling, greeting fellow Africans. “It’s history, yeah?”

“History” was a key word, and “hope” and “change” were recurring themes.

“Change is coming very soon,” the Somali-born Abdi said before Obama even took the stage. “What we feel, they feel all over the world. Today they enjoy with us. … We can show America is a great opportunity country, the kindest country.”

Abdi’s Sudanese friend, Paul Agamiri, echoed the praise for his adopted homeland.

“We are grateful for America and thankful for the history being made,” he said.

“This is a most cheerful day for the world. Everyone expects a different picture,” said store owner, Abdi Farah, as he stood by the back counter where an employee served up coffee and samosas, fried pastries stuffed with ground meat, veggies and spices.

“It’s free today,” the man behind the counter said. “Today’s a good day for America.”

With no TV in the back, the men around the counter listened to a webcast of Somali radio, not unlike men in a small town cafe listening to the news.

While the men were from different parts of Africa, they all have adopted Midwestern stoicism as they sat quietly in their chairs, drinking coffee with their arms folded or stuffed into their pockets.

Only a man named Mohamed Yusuf was animated, clenching his hands in front of him as he spoke.

“The hope that he gives to people, the credibility,” he said. “We pray for God to help him solve world problems.”

But the younger Mohamed was quick to point out people solve problems differently around the world.

“It’s funny,” he said, watching Obama walk former president George W. Bush to the helicopter that took him from the nation’s capital. “In Africa, people kill for power. Here, it’s just like that. Bush is done, he’s become the former president.”

Readers can reach Forum columnist John Lamb at (701) 241-5533 or jlamb@forumcomm.com Read Lamb’s blog on www.areavoices.com