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Obama takes HIV test to lessen stigma

Illinois senator is visiting Kenya

KOGELO, Kenya -- Senator Barack Obama pushed through surging crowds and hurtled down roads lined with screaming admirers yesterday before settling into the calm of a quiet meal with his grandmother in the Kenyan hamlet where his father grew up and is buried.

Obama stopped at his father's grave for a few moments before ending his rushed visit to the compound, a collection of small buildings, towering mango trees and assorted dogs and chickens.

``Anytime a child comes back to a parent's grave, it makes you reflect on your mortality and the next generation," Obama said, adding that he was especially happy to be able to bring his two daughters along.

Obama also spent much of the day studying the toll AIDS is taking on African families. He and his wife took HIV tests as thousands of people watched and he visited a project that helps grandmothers find the money to care for children orphaned by AIDS.

Obama's 85-year-old grandmother, Sarah, met and hugged him at the foot of the small hill where her house sits . Then they and Obama's family walked to the house amid a crush of relatives, friends , and reporters. Someone carried a huge American flag.

The Illinois Democrat began his day with an appearance at a hospital in Kisumu, Kenya's third-largest city. Thousands of people waited for him, even climbing trees for better views, as he visited a mobile HIV-testing center.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, entered the mobile lab and underwent HIV tests in an effort to reduce the public stigma associated with testing in Kenya. He said the results were good news but the most important thing was the control that comes with knowing their HIV status.

``If a U S senator can get tested and his wife can get tested, then everybody in this crowd can get tested. Everybody in this city can get tested," Obama said.

With his Kenyan heritage, Obama is getting a warm reception everywhere, but the reaction has been even stronger in this part of the country -- home to the Luo tribe, which includes Obama's family.

Kenyans have claimed Obama as one of their own, even though he was mostly raised in Hawaii. This is his third visit to Kenya but his first since being elected the United States' only black senator in 2004.

Obama's father, also named Barack, grew up herding goats and going to tin-roof schools, but he won a college scholarship in Hawaii. There, he married Obama's mother. The two soon separated, however, and Obama's father eventually returned to Kenya and worked as a government economist. He died in a car crash in 1982.

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