The US election fever has taken hold of everyone here in Liberia, as it has all over the world. With Liberia’s strong (albeit dubious at times) connections with the US, with so many Liberians with friends and family in the states, and with the large number of Americans living and working here and with so many Liberians living in the States, everyone feels very invested. I was definitely a bit bummed about not being at home for all the craziness – all my friends in DC and on campaigns were having big parties, planning on going to the balls if Obama won, etc.
There were election night parties set up all over town – the US Embassy (stuff diplomats), different Ministries, and more. I was amazed by the number of parties planned, given that Liberia is 5 hours ahead of EST, and 8 hours ahead of the West coast…Some friends from the Carter Center organized an election night party that we decided to go to – they had two big screens set up with CNN projected, drinks, and a full breakfast buffet they had catered. I hadn’t watched CNN in a long time (no TV for Jenny in Liberia), and it took me awhile to get used to how cheesy and self important the ‘reporters’ are, but once we got into it it was fun. The crowd was a mix of expats from all over the world and Liberians – really cool to see how excited the non-Americans were. I had never realized how difficult the whole Electoral College thing is to explain until I sat there with Nick trying to make it sound logical to a South African, along with all of our other quirky rules! There was actually a lot of tension and nervousness running around – in retrospect looking at the margin by which Obama won it was needless, but given our experiences over the last two elections (mostly 2000) it was scary to think that Americans might make such a bad choice again! It was a really great atmosphere to watch the returns in – most development workers tend to be more left-leaning than the average American (well, except the military/defense contractors…but they weren’t at this party!) so nearly everyone was rooting for Obama. We stayed until the bitter end – cheering when they called the race for Obama, making a champagne toast when he gave his speech. It was 3am when I got home, and after a couple of hours of sleep…SO tired the next day, but so worth it!
One of my fav Liberian phrases is ‘tryin small’. When you ask people how they are doing, that is the stock answer – often coupled with ‘it ain’t easy-o, it ain’t easy’ if you probe a bit further. (I’ve never heard anyone try big…) During election fever here (as everywhere else), the best t-shirt I saw was the image of Obama that was everywhere with a caption underneath – ‘tryin small’. LOVE it. Wish I had a pic – a guy I know Jon designed it but they sold out right away!
You may have heard that Bush has just completed his ‘victory’ tour of Africa. His las lap was here in Liberia today – George, Laura and Condy spent 7 hours total here visiting the US-funded armed forces and police training, talking to beneficiaries of the USAID funded education programs, and generally being treated like a ‘white hero’ (as I heard one man proclaim on the street this afternoon).
His visit wreaked havoc on this small city. The entire town was closed down today – I had to work from home because the one major road, which connects my house to the office, was closed from 6am to 4pm. All of the Ministries were shut down, and most businesses closed. But my favorite – the US told all fixed-winged aircraft that they had to vacate Roberts International Airport. As there are really no other safe places to park an airplane overnight, the Red Cross, the UN and the World Food Program (the only ones who have fixed wing aircraft in the country) were effectively kicked out of the country for two days! Can you imagine Bush traveling to London and telling all aircraft they have to vacate Heathrow? And come on, they’re humanitarian services!
I decided to take a walk this afternoon and see what was going on. I stopped and listened with a bunch of guys to a radio broadcast of Bush’s speech from the Army barracks. The Liberian people are so hopeful that this visit, the first American head of state for 30 years to come to the country, will bring all sorts of unimaginable benefits. I also walked down to the barracks, just a few minutes from my house, to check out the crowds. I happened to arrive just as Bush was leaving, and saw the ridiculous motorcade they had – I lost count at about 25 giant black armored SUVs, and even a limo, all imported from the states, along with a ton of other stuff. Ah, US taxpayer dollars at work.
But to be honest, I thoroughly appreciate President Bush’s visit to Monrovia. For one, his route from the airport to the capitol is also my route to work…the Liberian government spent the last few weeks frantically finishing up the road resurfacing for his motorcade, so I now have a relatively pothole-free ride to work! And considering what the ride used to be like – well, let’s just say there is a little less road rage in the mornings 🙂
I just finished watching the movie ‘Bobby’. What a powerful film.
Not only was it enormously well done, with amazing characters and moving stories – it introduced me to someone I am surprised I new so little about. He was a man who people believed in, in whom they saw a new future, a new country. Someone who embodied their hopes, who gave voice to their fears. It made me think about what the US could have been like. How different it might be today if he had lived. It makes me wish that I had lived at that time, when I might have had faith that politics was about something real, about the possibility of change. In many ways I can’t see past the apparent naiveté and idealism of the time, a clear sign of my own mindset. I simply cannot imagine not being cynical and mistrustful of politicians and politics. It is just a part of the game, right? I consider myself a fairly optimistic person, and to realize the depth of my pessimism about our country (and maybe even world) frightens me. To see someone who clearly inspired people out of that deep, ingrained cynicism is moving, especially coming at the time in the US’s history that he did. Will there be anyone who can inspire people like that again? I’d like to think so, but in all honesty I don’t believe it. The world and the US have changed too much. He would have been torn to shreds, crucified on his own ideals well before he ever even got as far as he did. It’s a shame.