Thursday, October 25, 2012

Vote for Pedro!!!

Well, the political season is upon us in Sierra Leone!  As many of you may know, Sierra Leone isn’t what you’d call the most “stable” country in the world, having recently (within the last decade or so) emerged from a devastating civil war. 

Sierra Leone elects their President every 5 years.  Five years ago, the government successfully changed hands (meaning switched from one party to another) without any coups or military takeovers or leaders who just flat out refused to give up the power.  So….yeah!!!  Even so, tensions are still high here, as the election draws nearer.  People here know much better than I do, just how quickly things can turn sour.

For that reason, there is an understandable departure of a large number of ex-pats (“white people”).  I was down in Freetown the other day with my other WMTers and we were listing off all of our friends that are leaving.  The election is on November 17th.  Our conversation went a little something like this: “So and so are leaving the 12th, so and so already left, so and so are leaving the 10th, so and so are leaving the 14th.  And Emily’s leaving the 19th.”  That’s right. I’m leaving 2 days AFTER the election.  Cause I’m just that smart. 

To be fair, I specifically WANTED to stay for the election. I wanted to observe, to stand with my friends as we all prayed for peace.  I wasn’t really afraid for my safety because I was going to stay up in the village where the vast majority of people are all from the same political party, so there's very little conflict.  The hot spots are the bigger towns where different political parties are living together and don’t always play nice. 

Well, life happened (i.e. my sister started pressuring me to come home for Thanksgiving) so now I’m leaving on the 19th.  And my perfect plan to stay up country during the election is also foiled because I will need a couple days in Freetown before flying out so would need to be travelling on the actual day of the election or the day before.  Now, I think this blog has well established that I’m not always the sharpest tool in the chest, but even I know that I don’t want to be travelling long distances through major cities that close to the election.  Therefore, I'll actually be heading down to Freetown about a week before the election and staying with my friends down there.  Right in the thick of it!  

I went down to Freetown for a meeting last week. My plan was to Friday: drive down.  Sat: go to meeting. Sun: go to beach (because I don't know if you've seen the pictures I've posted of the beaches here but.....if I have a chance, I go!!)  Mon: go to town to stock up on supplies before heading back up country. Tues: go back up country.  Then we read the e-mail about the political rallies. See apparently, there’s a schedule of when the different political rallies are going to be, and in which towns.  They try to schedule the different parties for different days (smart!) so that things don’t get out of hand.  However, Monday was supposed to be BOTH political parties in Freetown.  Not somewhere I wanted to be. 

See, these political rallies can be really peaceful, people just being excited about their candidate, but they can also turn pretty quickly. We had some friends who had a soft-top jeep and during one of the rallies the crowd cut into the jeep and started stealing their stuff while they were sitting right there!  I’ve driven through a few of these rallies and there’s this sense of powerlessness as you’re forced to move at a snail’s pace and there’s just a HUGE group of people all chanting and being really excited, often beating on your car as you drive by.  One Sierra Leonean told us that political rally days are like free days. People act like there is no government, no police, etc.  It can be a little intimidating.  Throw in a little (or if you happen across them at the end of the day a LOT) of alcohol and marijuana and you’ve got yourself quite the party.  But not really a party I’d like to attend.  

So life in Freetown right now revolves around when these rallies are being held.  All your plans change depending on when and where they’re being held.  But that’s not the kicker. Yes, they have an official schedule, but that can change as well. For example, I changed my whole schedule to stay in town an extra day to NOT go into Freetown on Monday but then found out that the rally was postponed because the president was out of town and the other party wasn’t REALLY having their rally in Freetown but on the outskirts.  So all of the sudden, Monday is the perfect “in town” day.  Sheesh.  But such is life in Freetown now. 

Even though it can be a little intimidating, it's still fun to get to see people excited to exercise their right to vote.  They've been preparing for this all year and it's all coming to a culmination now!!!  And yes, we have to be wary of vandals, riots, ceremonial killings, etc. but if I had a tv and I was watching TV, I wouldn't be interrupted by a single political ad.  So there.  

I’ll be flying home after the elections but before the election results are in, so I won’t even be around during the highest tension time (when the loser has to admit defeat). And until that time I will leave all my red (APC) and green (SLPP) shirts in the closet so as not to accidentally affiliate with any team!  Blue’s really more my color anyway…

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