Were the Elections Rigged? Monday Musings

Several years ago I was thrilled to check off  a place on my bucket list I have always wished to see: Kenya!  On this trip I not only experienced luxury tented safaris, I was also able to spend some time in a couple of local Masai Mara villages.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Masai Mara National Reserve is in the southern part of Kenya bordering Tanzania. And it is quite a magical place; furnishing  you with nature up close and personal, gorgeous landscapes and stars that can be seen into eternity.  The luxury tented camps offer a throwback to the classic exquisite grandeur from movies like “Out of Africa”.  They deliver all the modern amenities like warm running water, electricity, luxurious bedding, swimming pools, and endless first class service. And as a bonus you get to hear lions roar in the night.

We had a cinematographer and professional photographer on our tour.  And it was an honor to mirror some of his wildlife photography work he was creating to ultimately publish a coffee table book from various African safaris.

The first time (or second or third time, frankly) you see an elephant or giraffe in the wild you scramble for your camera with overzealous excitement.  Then you come to realize they are all over the reserve. And by day 3 or 4 you think, oh, another elephant….Whatever. Then you hope for the cats….Cheetahs, Lions, Leopards.  Then you wish for a kill.  I was fortunate to see it all over the course of 12 perfect days. It is an incredible way to lose yourself in nature, as there is not much of a way to stay connected. And it is also a great way to learn patience. Waiting on animals for you to click the ultimate photo can take hours. My experience became even more interesting as the time passed….

Being a citizen of one single country my entire life, I have only seen the election process from my home country of the USA.  Sure, I have seen video of new democratic voting systems, such as in Iraq.  However, I never saw any actual polling place in person besides my home country.  As it turned out, my timing in Kenya was perfect.

The general elections were held on 4 March 2013. … The presidential elections were ultimately a contest between Uhuru Kenyatta of the National Alliance (TNA) and Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), with incumbent President Mwai Kibaki having served two terms and not being eligible for re-election.

On election day I asked our guide, Mithu, if he would take me to their polling station in the Masai Mara so I could see what it was like inside.  This was their first election after Kenya’s new constitution and I felt it would be fascinating to see this process of electing a president on the African continent.   Mithu laughed thinking I was kidding with him.   I loved when mithuhe laughed because he had a beautiful smile and black-as-night skin which made a stunning contrast. I tried my best to make him laugh or smile whenever possible because he lit up a room. ..or tent, in this case. But this time I was not kidding. And once we established that, he honored my request.

He drove me to the polling station that afternoon across the African plains in our safari jeep. I thought to myself, who passes elephants and giraffes and zebras on their way to vote? This was truly extaordinary. We arrived after a 20 minute bumpy, dusty journey.  Mithu exchanged a few words with the guard holding a machine gun and then they gave me the motion to enter the small bare-bones, colorless cinder block building. And just like that I was across the threshold into the secret realm of voting, reserved only for Kenyans.

I was taken aback for a moment when a man working there said “Hello Miss Evans”.  I did not recognize him and I was pretty certain no one knew me at the Masai Mara polling station. Or ANY  Kenyan polling station. Then I realized he worked at our safari camp.  I explained to him I was interested in seeing their voting process.  It was a slow time at the station, so he took his time and showed me the ballot.  I was astounded to see over 20 candidates. I had chatted with many locals (I do not know of any citizens anywhere in the world who do not like to talk about their upcoming elections) and found that the race would come down to Kenyatta or Odinga.  From the folks I visited with, Kenyatta and his family pedigree was the better choice (his father Jomo was the first Kenyan president).

So I cast my “vote” for Kenyatta.  Of course, I was told that the ballot card would not go in the giant plastic tub where the rest of the voting community had placed their cards.  But for a split second I though I saw a wink and a quick smile.  But I cannot be sure.  I was ushered to the next2013-03-04-16-14-13 table where a lady took the cap off a special indelible marker and covered my left hand pinky nail with black ink to symbolize that I had voted in the election. The team bid me a fond farewell in English and Swahili “kwaheri na asante” and sent me out past the machine gun guy.  Although I could not take a photo inside, I did get a snap of my black colored pinky nail at the exit.

Voting results in many countries can take days or weeks to be finalized. However, the announcement was finally made several days later that Uhuru Kenyatta would be the next president of Kenya.  Shortly after the announcement, Raila Odinga cried foul and announced to the media the election was rigged.  Mr. Odinga’s lawyers claimed there was a conspiracy. They had argued that because Mr. Kenyatta skirted a runoff by such a small margin,

kat-and-candidates

Visiting with some of the candidates

(some 8,000 votes out of more than 12 million), the errors that had been discovered were enough to mandate a new election.  Ultimately the Kenyan Supreme Court ruled on 30 March that the election was indeed fair and they would not have a re-election.

 

However, it did get me musing. Especially after all the election questioning that had happened with the USA election of 2016.  Was it possible? Was my vote one of those 8,000 mystery votes that made it into a plastic tub illegally? Did I actually vote in Kenya? Is it possible there are sketchy polling places everywhere in the world? I will never know. However, I had that indelible ink on my pinky finger for months until it gew out….reminding me of a democratic system in a country far away from my homeland…and an indelible place in my heart for Kenya forever..

Monday Musings. Have a great week ahead.

 

 

 

 

The Orphan Who Changed my Life: Monday Musings

I volunteer for a foundation that helps orphans in India called The Miracle Foundation.  I have been going to India since 2005 on “ambassador” trips to work as a volunteer at various orphanages for a week or so.  We have varied targeted projects when we are there.  Usually we are a group or 10-12, mostly folks from the USA, since the foundation is headquartered in Austin, Texas, USA.

Some of the people on these trips are first timers. And many return again and again.  The experience is tragically difficult and absolutely life-changing at the same time.  India has a way of assaulting your senses the moment you arrive.  I have traveled all over the world and have never experienced someplace so “foreign”.

The sights of color and filth, the smells of curry and sweat, urine and flowers, the stifling heat and smog from burning trash which wraps itself around you like a boa constrictor and takes the life out of you certain times of year.  The cacophony of sounds screaming all around you all day long….the call to prayer at the mosque, the children cheering during a cricket match, the constant horns on rickshaws and automobiles raging all day and night. And the crows. I find the crows haunting.

India punches you in the gut and then wraps her arms around you in a loving embrace.  Oh India, you gawd awful seductress.

On one particular trip, we were at an orphanage in a remote area of one of the poorest states in the country.  So far from civilization that most Indians are shocked when I tell them not only do I know of it, I have been there.

Our assignment on this trip was to paint the children’s home with focus on their bedrooms. You see, in most Indian orphanages it feels more like a jail than img_2162a home.  There is little color, little air circulation, and sometimes little hope.  The house mothers are even called wardens at the government homes. Fortunately for a home under The Miracle Foundation’s care, there is a lot of  hope and happiness.   Our job on this trip was to make it feel like a true “home” with colorful paint and hand prints of all the kids on the walls painted to turn into butterflies.

Each volunteer had their own “family” of children for the week. They varied in age and sex so it felt like a family…usually made up of approximately 8-10 children. This group would help us with each of our projects throughout the week.

There was one gorgeous little girl of about 10-12 years old who stole away my heart.  We were connected from day one. She had coco skin, deep soulful black eyes and an incorrigible little smile.  The entire week she would run to me when we arrived each morning from our little girl-with-hoopnearby hotel.

She would put my arm around her and melt her little body into mine.  “Auntie, Auntie, COME” she would call out and take me off to see something. A drawing or a trick or her bed or some kind of small accomplishment of which she was proud.  She learned to master the hula hoop from me with rapid ease.

We got on with our projects all throughout the week, painting walls, painting hands and virtually painting their names across our hearts. There was also plenty of time for play. Time for games and crafts and even a field trip.   It was exhausting and exhilarating.   They blossomed under our love. And we, of course, grew extremely attached to them.

On the last night the kids performed on “stage” for us and then it turned into a Bollywood dance party.  We were so proud of them, our hearts swelling with adoration. After the show, they came out to get all of the volunteers to dance with them.  Holding hands, swinging them around, laughing, singing, dancing.  The evenings do cool off and you can see the stars forever.   The breeze kisses your skin and the earth feels like it sends vibrations through you from the ground. This exceptionally img_2210magical feeling of India is something I have never felt anywhere else in the world.  It is like an out of body experience.  It is so hard to describe, like the Grinch’s heart growing three sizes on that extraordinary day.

The last night is always the trickiest.  That inevitable goodbye happens without knowing if you will return to see them again.  The children asked us to promise we willimg_2214 back next year.  But how can you make such a promise when you live on the other side of the world? One never knows where life will take you.  And then your tears start to mix with theirs as you cry for happiness that it happened, yet sadness because it is over.

Keep in mind, most of these children are orphans. Unwanted! The “untouchables” in their culture. We constantly reminded them how important they were by giving them hugs and kisses and holding their hands.  Remember, all they own are a change of clothes (when one outfit is on, one is being hand washed by a house mother and sun dried in the courtyard), a school uniform, books for school and a plate for meals.  Most other things are shared.  The girls have little bits of jewelry made of plastic or a cheap metal. Because let’s face it, what is an Indian girl without bangles???

On that magical last night after dances and endless hugs, my girl pulled me aside from the madness. I crouched down to talk to her and she made me open up my hand and put it in front of her.  She tugged the little heart off her plastic beaded necklace and placed it in the palm of my hand. She closed my fingers around it and put her little hand over my fist and said, “Auntie, auntie, so you will never forget me.” I was choked with emotion in a way no other child had ever made me feel. Like I would EVER forget her??  I hugged her close and whispered in her ear a “thank you” which came out like a croak, I was so overwhelmed with sentiment.2013-03-11-11-01-51  When someone who owns NOTHING gives you something, your paradigms shift in the most powerful way.  That day I realized she did not have “nothing”, she was filled with love. And she passed on the best lesson I could ever learn.

It got me musing today….wondering where is that beautiful little girl?  Her particular home is not under the same partnership with the foundation, so they no longer take volunteers to work there. But maybe I can return on my own one day? She is a teenager now.  Is she still filled with love?  Is she happy and healthy? Do her deep soulful eyes still have the sparkle of hope? Does she know I often think of her? Did I help change her life as much as she did mine?  I hope so.

Monday Musings. Make this life count. Have a great week ahead.

Is one cancer “sexier” than the others? Monday Musings

Before you get all up in arms about me using the words “sexy” and “cancer” in the same sentence, calm down. I don’t believe there is anything sexy whatsoever about the C-word. It is a horrible disease in every form. Read on and you might understand my point here.

As we close out the month of October, I reflect on a season when weekends are not really my own. Yes, in the USA that means  “American” football season. And if you follow a team as a true fan, you are there at every  game you can see. These are the days when you and your friends and fellow fans do all the football traditions.  You tailgate at gawd-awful hours for the morning.  You wear your lucky _________(fill in the blank…socks, underwear, T-shirt, earrings, whatever). You eat too much tailgate food and you often drink too much ______ (yep, fill in the blank again with your alcohol of choice…beer, wine, whiskey, tequila shots).  You travel to away games to cheer on your team, while spending lots of money for hotels, dining out, etc.  Autumn is the season, for me, which leaves little time for other weekend activities.  It is also a time of year that brings you together with a whole bunch of crazy, fun people cheerilonghorn-fansng for the same thing; a WIN!  In an extremely polarized country at this time in history, it is the one thing that brings democrats and republicans together.  They sit next to one another, they cheer, they high five, they hug; even though their religion and skin color and politics might be polar opposites.  That comradery is one of my favorite things about following a sports team.

A few weeks ago I was watching a pro football game (Indianapolis vs. Houston) on TV and I noticed the players were wearing hot pink gloves and socks and towels as part of their uniforms.  Not a particularly masculine color. What’s with all this pink?  Ah right, October is breast cancer awareness month. You would have to live under a rock not to know that. Not only is pink all over social media, we find it on product packaging for the month in grocery stores, we see it on buttons and stickers and flags, and we see it all over one of the most masculine and difficult sports.  Football has really embraced this breast cancer thing, it seems.

And it got me musing about breast cancer.  I cannot think of a cancer that gets close to this much attention (or funds). There are other cancers, of course, which claim lives every day.  Do we shower attention and public service announcements and money towards cervical or ovarian or bladder cancer? How about colorectal?  Who wants to talk about rectums?  Beyond your proctologist, I just do not see it as cocktail party conversation.

To be fair, breast cancer is the leading diagnosed cancer for women.  Not far behind it is lung cancer, colorectal and uterus.  But the number one leading cause of cancer death in women is NOT breast cancer. It is lung cancer. Fairly far ahead of breast cancer deaths.

So why do the other cancers not get their fair share of voice in all the clutter? Is it that  breast cancer is the “sexy” cancer?  It because all these other cancers happen to organs hidden within the body?  Are we a society generally so obsessed with breasts that the otb-cancer-tata-tshirther cancers do not deserve the same research and attention?  What about men’s cancer?  The number one cancer for men is prostate cancer. What about testicular cancer?  Yes, there is a testicular cancer awareness month. It is April.  But I bet most people have no clue about that.  There are no blue flags and towels and ribbons. No T-shirts emblazoned with “Save the Balls”.  And if you wore one, no one would take you seriously anyway.

And then there is the stigma about some other cancers.  I was recently reading about a woman who had lung cancer and was going through horrific rounds of chemotherapy that ravaged her body and made her hair fall out. She was wearing pink in the grocery store and a seemingly well-intentioned woman came up to her talking about how she had survived breast cancer. She wished her well with her fight. When the woman explained she was going through lung cancer treatment, the woman recoiled and tartly said, “Oh, well you must have been a smoker.”.

What happened to “keep up the fight” encouragement ?  You see, some other cancers have a stigma and are often judged.  Liver cancer? That is what you get for all that heavy drinking. Lung/tongue/throat cancer? Well you never should have smoked.  But no stigma with breast cancer. What if a woman had to live without her breasts to survive? Oh the horror.  As if a woman is not a complete human being without them.  When in reality they are pretty worthless as a functioning organ (except for feeding a baby, of course).  Besides, there are plastic surgeons to recreate them. Try to live without your liver or lungs or pancreas. I am pretty sure there are no fake livers or lungs that can keep you stay alive.  So why not donate for more research to invent those?

I would love to see a general cancer awareness month.  Educating people of all the deadly cancers out there. Why can’t fundraising be shared for all cancers? Like some sort of national cancer fund?  Don’t most cancers cells work in a similar fashion anyway? If we were sharing the wealth, perhaps a cure could happen quicker for all.

Monday Musings. Have a great week.