E-day is the new D-day.

I’m not going to lie to you. Elections can be pretty boring. I mean, think about it. Many countries have a first past the post system which means 50%-1 votes are useless. Or worse, you live in the US where the electoral college dilutes your vote even further. So you get to the polls and there’s a line. Your employer has given you the legally allotted 3 hrs to vote but you’ve got dinner to make or it’s snowing or raining or you left for work late in the morning so you couldn’t avoid the evening rush at 645pm. All the candidates on the ballot suck and you drop your ballot in the box never to know what will come of it, and really who cares? I mean all the candidates say the same thing anyway and Lord knows they will be singing a different tune once they are in office. Why do we even waste our time?
Election day in Timor Leste is not too different from Election day in Canada except maybe people give a shit. In East Timor, I arrived at the polls at 6am, much like I do in Canada when working an election, but in Timor I was not the first. By 615am, there were about 25 people in line ready to vote. Polls don’t open until 7am. By 8 am 100 people had voted and there were easily another 100 in line. By noon, a majority of voters had cast their votes and election officials spent the next 3 hours finding ways to amuse themselves before the count. Timorese law dictates that the elderly can jump the queue but there was no need for queue jumping – it was the elderly who got there first. It was the elderly who survived 25 years of slaughter by Indonesian hands and hold this privilege dearly. And perhaps this is what makes our elections so boring and Timorese elections so exciting – in Canada voting is a right. In Timor, it is a privilege. Closing time is when things get really exciting. Suddenly, the calm and sparse voting area has accumulated a crowd. Transparency is something the electoral commission in Timor has taken seriously, so unlike Canada, anyone is welcome to watch the counting of the ballots. I had decided to watch the count happen at a station where 1124 ballots had been cast, which is an 80% voter turnout rate by the way. And when there are 13 candidates on an 14×11 sheet of paper, marked by jabbing a nail through your candidate of choice, and every single ballot must be read out whether valid, null, cancelled, or blank, and there is no electricity, the count can take a while. In my case, it took 6 hours. Needless to say, dinner was not something I got to enjoy on election day. But like I said before, election day in Timor is not too different than election day in Canada. In fact, election day in Timor was as free and fair as our elections, from what I could tell. People were happy to vote, understood the value, and were not afraid to do so as secrecy of the vote is something that is held in equally high regard. In Timor, elections are serious business. You don’t lose a majority of your middle aged population to waste it on laziness and indifference. 70% of the population is under 25 years age and at 80% voter turnout, there is no time to waste in building a great country. Timor Leste is making damn sure of that.

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The bees knees

I am absolutely buzzing. Today was phenomenal. I met a man from Mozambique named Miracle. I learned extensively how a polling station should function and what laws exist to enable that. I met an undercover cop who watches for people carrying concealed weapons and invited me to his home should I ever be in The neighbourhood. I’ve had countless children smile at me. I’ve learned the importance of preserving the portuguese language. I saw a little boy stand on the back seat of a car, door open, facing out, taking a wee. I was called a 10 by a dirty but sweet old man.I witnessed a parade of supporters head to a rally and in doing so stop traffic for multiple hours. This is a country that wants change and I am beyond ecstatic to help them do it!!!

Is it wrong that all I want to do is dip my finger in the indelible ink?

In less than 20 hours I’m going to be on a plane.  This is not unusual for me. I’ve been on many flights and been to a number of destinations.  But for the first time – ever – I’m nervous.  Every now and then I get this wave of nausea reminding me of what is about to happen.  In less than 20 hours I’m going to be checking an item off my bucket list. I’m going to be in the 5th newest country to date. Timor-Leste.  In this case, the destination is not what I’m going for, but the opportunity to be part of a nation’s history.  For 25 bloody years, the East Timorese were occupied by Indonesia and in 2002 they were granted independence after a referendum on sovereignty.  On March 17, 2012, the Timorese will be holding their third election to date and I’m lucky enough to be part of it.  I am going to be joining a group of Australians as election observers and over the next 8 days, I’m going to witness how a new country runs an election.

For those of you who know me, this is the big leagues.  I’ve been wanting to do this for YEARS, but I’m still nervous. I’m not afraid of the potential violence (which is very much a possibility seeing as there was violence after their last election-a fact I conveniently neglected to tell my mother). I’m not afraid of the people or the language barrier, of which the former are supposed to be wonderful and the latter is latin based and therefore familiar to me. I’m not afraid of the lack of roads which have recently deteriorated into quagmires because of all the rain.  Lord knows I like creating my own paths anyway. I’m afraid of much more minute things.  This is the first time I’ve been anywhere by myself.  Moreover, I’m nervous about what happens next.  What happens when this is all over? How do I use this experience and where do I let it take me? What if it turns out that democracy is a big sham and my entire belief in the world crumbles around me?  Ok, that might be a little melodramatic, but I am about to embark on a milestone in my life, no matter the result.  So perhaps this post is just a friendly reminder to myself, if no one else, that I have created every milestone in my life up to this date, and this, like all the others before, is just that – a milestone.  It is not the pinnacle of my life, and though I may not know what direction I’m heading in next, I’m going to soak up the next eight epic days of my life.  I’m depending on all of you to make sure I do that!

I touch down in a little over 24 hours from now.  Check back in a couple of days. You might find something good!