What is outside of Obama’s world in this excerpt–what is foreign, Indonesian, what would be frightening to a child–is written in an extraordinarily matter of fact manner. When Lolo wants to show Obama where his dinner is coming from, Obama recounts the incident in a terrifying manner “its head lolling grotesquely against its side, its legs pumping wildly in a wide, wobbly circle…the blood trickling down to a gurgle….” (35). Obama, however, appears to maintain a distance from seeing this. It happened. That’s where the chicken stew came from.
It’s when Obama speaks of America, or of his race in America that we see his matter of fact manner disappear. Although, through most of the chapter Obama keeps us in Indonesia and shows us how he has come to be a part of that culture in learning the language quickly and learning how to take care of himself in that environment, it still remains at a distance and somehow separate from his self. We are more aware when Obama takes us into his mother’s mind in the chapter of how she feels in this place than of how Obama feels. The bookends of the chapter, however, bring us into his confusion and his insecurities. It is when he realizes he is a foreigner in his home…in the country he was born in that Obama become anxious. “There were thousands of people like him, black men and women back in America who’d undergone the same threatment in response to advertisements that promised happiness as a white person. I felt my face and neck get hot. My stomach knotted; the type began to blur on the page.” (30).
In stepping into this chapter it is Indonesia that should make the reader feel uncomfortable or out of place. Obama depicts hectic street scenes, fights where he has had rocks thrown at him and religions that are separate from what he’s ever known. He describes things he knows will make the reader uncomfortable–he tells us things he would not tell his grandparents in letters, “I didn’t tell Toot and Gramps about the face of the man who had come to our door one day with a gaping hole where his nose should have been: the whistling sound he made as he asked my mother for food.” (37). But Obama is an observer of these scenes because he is still outside of this world. It is not where he has come from. Instead, Obama uses place–a foreign place–to show how he does not feel like he belongs to where he came from. It’s the glimpses of America Obama gets in Indonesia that truly make him feel foreign, such as the Roebuck catalog and even his own mother.