Thursday, November 10, 2005

Oh Happy Day?

What an exciting and strange day!

We woke up to the news that Ellen was leading in the polls, and everyone had stories about CDC friends who were shocked and confused. E-man, the boy who fills our barrels with water from the well every day, was visibly sick.

By noon, I was in town hearing jokes about women ruling, and stories about empty polling centers. Where did all those numbers come from? people were wondering. In fact, at my own polling station (St. Peter's Lutheran School and Church) I was the only voter there at 3:15 pm. Not a soul in front of me, and not a soul behind. I didn't ask, but I suspect the only excitement all those National Election Commission workers, Liberian policemen and UNMIL soldiers had at St. Peter's on Election day was the fight with me about how much indelible ink they would put on my left index finger.

By far the busiest vendors in town today were the street photocopiers. They were surrounded by people wanting copies ($5 LD each) of the three latest Election joke flyers. These ones made fun of George Weah, when before, they had made fun of Varney Sherman and others who had been so sure they would win on October 11th. (Oh, the fickleness of our people!)

I returned home hearing little murmurs of dissatisfaction here and there, and still more concern that the perceived low voter turnout ended up with such high numbers from the polling stations.

Shortly after 7 pm, I heard that large crowds were gathering at CDC. Well, off I went, just in time to see three tanks roll past the headquarters heading toward Oldest Congo Town. At CDC Headquarters, armed UNMIL soldiers stood along the sidewalk while inside the yard, groups of people stood around discussing the same thing...asking the same question: How is it possible? They were not whiny, poor losers, but heartbroken people who felt cheated after putting so much effort into the fight of their lives.

Last week, on the day I saw the small CDC group on Benson Street marching past the unimpressed onlookers (see "Dwindling Numbers?"), I came to one conclusion: that a lot of CDC people had already defected in their hearts or would do so at the polls. But tonight, when I asked the people around me if that was a possibility, they shook their heads adamantly. No way! they said, No way! In fact, they had a story about a CDC observer who was given pre-marked ballots when he was mistaken for a Unity Party (UP) observer, and that is the evidence of cheating to which they clung.

After listening to several groups, I sat on the CDC fence and joined in a conversation with some teenage boys who assured me they were indeed voting age. When one of them shook his head and said "Damn it, ba! You mean we will be toting Congo people load forever?" I thought of E-man, and tears came to my eyes. I took it as a rhetorical question, but I wish now that I had said something to assure him of a brighter future.

At about 8:55 pm, people began heading toward the stage, and we jumped off the fence and followed. A strategic meeting! I thought. (I'm not a member of CDC or the Unity Party, but I voted for Ellen knowing that in doing so, I was ultimately voting for Weah's supporters). At this point tonight though, I was on a quest for truth and justice.

The meeting turned out not to be an organized session after all, but a couple of rally cries from two partisans who stood on chairs to address us. The first, surprisingly, was a white woman in a sleeveless CDC T-shirt who told us the UP was stealing the election and would soon begin stealing all Liberia's resources. She's been married to a Mano man she said, for 12 years, and was struggling like all of us. Her language was sprinkled with the "F" word, but she did warn us not to resort to violence or UNMIL would "kill [our] black ass." The second speaker was a former member of the Wild Geese, who, in contradiction I thought, declared he was reclaiming his war name.

I came home with doubts on my mind - especially when taking into consideration my own voting experience. But then different questions began to pop up: "Weren't there CDC people observing at each polling station? Didn't they sign to attest that the count was correct?"

In the end, I figure all is as it should be: If Ellen wins we'll have a competent leader, and with so many seats in the House and Senate filled by CDC candidates, the people will be well represented. As the NEC banners around town tell us, "We Are All Winners."

Oh happy day.

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