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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Elections

Locale for 2004 returns: U.Va, Charlottesvile VA

This past Tuesday I was faced with a dilemma. It was Tuesday. I was supposed to work the next day. I was supposed to get up at a reasonable hour, to be productive, to crank out some schoolwork. And yet, it was also election Tuesday and I love watching the returns come in. As easy as it would have been to wake up to find out who the President was it is not the same for me as watching how it all unfolds.
When I was a kid, watching the returns come in was easy. I would stay up with Mom and Dad (who, not surprisingly, have political sympathies close to mine) and would watch the news until Mom would inform me it was time for bed. The very first time I broke with this tradition was in 2004, when I was a freshman in college. 
That year I watched the news on a large television in the common room of my dorm at the University of Virginia. My principle company was my closest friend at the time - someone who remains one of my closer friends to this day - yet is my complete opposite in almost everything, including politics. 
I remember at one point looking at the electoral numbers, in which George Bush was way ahead of John Kerry, and saying, “He can still pull ahead,” and my friend responding, “Yeah, I really don’t think he can.”
Locale of second election: Kasina village, Dedza, Malawi
       I had to go a bit more out of my way to catch the next election, in 2008. At that point I was living in a rural village in Malawi with six other Peace Corps volunteers. The houses in the village were mostly made of mud and the nearest points of light came from stores along the highway around five kilometers away.       For that election we spent the night at our training director’s house, listening to the election via a wind-up radio, which we used to tune into the BBC all night long, as we colored in small maps of the United States state by state in red and blue. I remember that there was also a meteor shower that night, and that in the morning we cooked scrambled eggs and baked carrot cake for breakfast.
I remember, especially, the feeling I had at that point, of being so very far away from America, and missing home dreadfully. I was living in this strange place I hadn’t been in that long, listening to the election of my country’s next president and feeling like I couldn’t be a part of it.
Photo of Kasina from a mountain we liked to climb
Most people won’t remember it, but towards the end of his victory speech, Obama had a few lines where he said, “to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world - our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared”.  And even though I knew this message was being broadcast to millions, perhaps billions, of people, in that minute I felt almost as if I was being spoken to, remembered, and I felt more connected for it.
I understand why people get sick of politics. I understand how watching droves of negative ads can be frustrating, and make one feel negatively towards the whole process. I understand how pollsters can seem like a circling batch of mosquitos (or even occasionally piranhas). I understand, especially, how hard it is to try to maintain a relationship with people whose political views are vastly different from your own, especially now when opinions seem so divided, and passions so high.
2012 election: Scotland
But I continue to be interested in politics, because as frustrating as all this can be, it’s also part of what makes us Americans. And all the divides and fighting and opinions and barbs exchanged over Facebook statuses are really just another way of saying we care about our values and opinions, and that the decision of who will run the country for the next few years (and who will help them do that) is important to us.
Scotland again: Note the sun
This is why I really can’t understand it when people talk about not caring about politics. Getting frustrated with politics, that I understand. Not caring, though? That I do not. And this is why this past week I stayed up until four a.m. watching the elections from my bed. I streamed NBC via my computer, and cross-referenced with the other major networks and the Washington Post. I was on Facebook, Skype, and my phone, which kept me in touch with America quite well. It was a nice little re-connect. It was a way of being reminded that no matter how far I go I still have a home waiting, and that I still have active roles to play there. And even if the election itself was a bit drawn out, that feeling was one well worth staying up for. 

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