“I wasn’t worried about what was in the newspapers today,” Obama said during a visit to Jakarta, his childhood home. “What I was worried about was, ‘What are they going to write about me 20 years from now when I look back?’.”
Obama was greeted by a crowd of thousands when he opened the Fourth Congress of Indonesian Diaspora.
“If we don’t stand up for tolerance and moderation and respect for others, if we begin to doubt ourselves and all that we have accomplished, then much of the progress that we have made will not continue,” he added, in apparent reference to Indonesia and the US.
Many Indonesians view him as an adopted son and there is a statue of the boy remembered as “Barry” outside his primary school.
He moved to Jakarta in 1967 when he six. He shouted: “Indonesia bagian dari diri saya!” (Indonesia is part of me) at the crowd.
“If the rainy season came, the floods were coming and we had to clean out the floors in our house and then chase the chickens because they had gone someplace else,” he said. “Today, Jakarta is a thriving centre of commerce marked by highways and high-rises. So much has changed, so much progress has been made.”
Obama lived with his anthropologist mother and Indonesian stepfather. The couple broke up after having his half-sister, and the 10-year-old Obama moved to Hawaii to live with his grandparents.
“My time here made me cherish respect for people’s differences,” Obama said.
He said they had visited the giant Borobudur Buddhist complex and the Hindu temples at Prambanan, both near Yogyakarta, in the world’s most populous Muslim country.
During their 10-day tour of Indonesia. The Obamas with their daughters, Sasha and Malia, rafted in Bali. He met Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the Bogor Palace near the capital.
“In Paris, we came together around the most ambitious agreement in history about climate change, an agreement that even with the temporary absence of American leadership, can still give our children a fighting chance,” Obama said, in reference to Donald Trump’s recent decision to withdraw from the deal.
In Obama’s first Asian trip since leaving office, he called on Indonesia to promote democracy and continue embracing differences.
“The spirit of this country has to be one of tolerance. It’s enshrined in Indonesia’s constitution, it’s symbolised by mosques and temples and churches beside each other,” the 44th president said. “That spirit is one of the defining things about Indonesia. It is one of the most important characteristics to set as an example for other Muslim countries around the world.”
The Obamas rafting in Bali. Picture credit: YouTube