What a glorious day it was that first day, Jan. 26, 2009, when I set foot on American soil. It was a dream come true, being here at last.
After years of hearing all the negative things that were being said about America and Americans (fortunately, I chose not to believe it), I was pleasantly surprised by the overall atmosphere of peace and goodwill. Surprised by a nation that placed a high value on life, on accepting others and allowing them the freedom to be who they are.
What I found most wonderful is the visible and invisible unity as a nation, the American flags proudly flying and the welcoming nature of the people with whom I came into contact. I absolutely loved it, loved being here and I wished to be part of it. To be part of a united country — what would I not give to be so blessed.
The country I am from, South Africa, is in desperate need of this unity. If we could only overcome our differences in favor of our nation as a whole and unite, then we might have a chance to survive the cruelty and lack of reverence for life on the African continent.
Soon after my arrival on my second visit here, Nov. 4, 2009, I sensed an atmosphere of division. I was deeply saddened by it, for this wonderful country with its wonderful people seems to be on a path of creating separation, which will affect the nation on all levels and lessen its power.
As an outsider who comes from a country where there is no unity at all, and having had the wonderful experience of my first visit, I clearly see the danger ahead.
Yes, as far as American politics are concerned, I am ignorant. I do not favor any one group over another, but what deeply saddens me is the way President Obama and his wife are being treated by some who claim to be intelligent.
How can those who see themselves as intelligent make videos in which they take one sentence, totally drag it out of proportion and place it on the Web to sow destruction?
Do they not know that by breaking down the character of another person they are breaking down their own person, and by breaking down their country, they are breaking down their own futures?
On the other hand, how can an intelligent person believe the slanderous things being said? Are you not thinking for yourselves or is it because you choose to believe it? Which leads to the next question: Why would you choose to believe it? Remember, the fact that you or anyone else believes it does not necessarily make it true.
I believe that after the death of Princess Diana, the world was in desperate need of another idol. The Obamas were chosen and placed on a pedestal, not just by the Americans but by the whole world and, especially, Africa.
The reality is that they are a normal human couple. They cannot single-handedly solve the mess left by the previous administrations. If only given a real chance, and with all of America working together (not against each other and progress), success will be inevitable and America will again be a nation of note.
On Outback Bowl Beach Day on Clearwater Beach, I was privileged to be standing among true Americans in "union" while singing the national anthem. It was unbelievably beautiful — so beautiful that I could feel cold shivers run down my body. Experiencing again the unity and seeing the expressions of truth and honor on the faces of young and old gave me hope. Hope in America. Hope in the land of freedom.
Before it is too late, stop and think about what is important. Forget the ego, forget who has done what in the past and appreciate your blessings, your beautiful country, your citizenship as Americans (not just African- Americans or Asian-Americans) and pull your weight, together.
If I and my three hard-working children had been privileged to have been granted citizenship, we would have been honored to be called Americans. And to show our appreciation, we would have been loyal, hardworking, model citizens.
You have so much to be thankful for. Please, it is not too late. Do not mess it up!
Erica Grobler, 54, was born in South Africa. An artist and mother of three adult children, she is visiting friends in Clearwater for six months.