Sunday, November 9, 2008

Beans, Beignets, and Barack

Wednesday morning was my most memorable breakfast yet in Cameroon. I’ve never before intermittently thrown my hands in the air and yelled out the name of my new President-elect at 6:45am while sitting on the sidewalk waiting for my beignets to fry. And I wasn’t alone.

I was in the capital city of Yaoundé during elections. About 28 of us Peace Corps Volunteers were assembled there for various meetings. At the PC transit house, we had access to a television, cable, and thus CNN in English!! Pretty monumental. Even the US Embassy’s deputy chief of mission had donated popcorn and a microwave for our election watching festivities.

For better or for worse, the PCVs that night were gathered in unanimity. Not a soul of a McCain voter to be found. Don’t get me wrong, I respect McCain and this blog is not the place for me to get into why I voted for Obama (making that absentee ballot work!) but every single PCV present was rooting for Obama last Tuesday.

Pre-dawn election suspense at the PC house in Yaoundé

The enthusiasm was contagious. We literally stayed up all night until Obama gave his acceptance speech at 6:30am Cameroon time. I feel lucky to have been able to watch history… from Cameroon.

At this point, we couldn’t help but hit the streets, exuberant and semi-delirious from fatigue. The sun had risen during Obama’s acceptance speech, and the news was already on the awakening streets of Yaoundé. About eight of us went for breakfast to the bean and beignet stand on the nearest street corner, and cheered and greeted all the passers by, who seemed equally enthused and amused by our antics. Many of them shared these nassaras’ excitement, with big grins and salutations of “OBAMAAAAAA!!!!”

As a few days have passed, I’ve thought a bit more about the significance of that Wednesday morning celebration.

This hits particularly forcefully as I write from a country that has had the same leader in power since roughly the year I was born. No Cameroonian my age has ever seen a democratic change of power. In fact, no Cameroonian has ever seen a democratic change of power since this country’s independence in 1960. Only two presidents have held office, the second of whom assumed power without the benefit of an election and has held onto that power through some seriously questionable means throughout the last 26 years. (Cameroon does not rank number 141 out of 180 on Transparency International’s worldwide ranking for nothing.)

My neighbor Martine came by tonight and I told her about our elections… “My country just elected a new president, his father is actually from Africa…!” She was clueless, unaware. It was the blank look on her face that really made it hit home: the concept of elections, a word that has a very different meaning here in Cameroon, where my friends believe doors are closed, and old men in suits negotiate to divvy up the seats of their representative bodies.

So whether you are for Obama or McCain, (and being from Louisiana, I know my fair share of loved ones might well be for the latter...!) I ask only that you share in my excitement in our ability to change. And if this is not the result you had hoped for, maybe in four more years you can have a beans, beignets, and candidate-of-your-choice breakfast. I don’t say that to sound snarky, but because as Americans we are able to act without fear or intimidation, to cast ballots that mean something. Meanwhile millions and millions of others watch us, our sidewalk celebrations or our disappointment, and can only wish for such options.

1 comment:

Nick said...

I was in Vancouver, BC.. having to explain to numerous Canadians why they kept showing three diffrent sets of numbers and how they were related (Electoral, Senate and House). There was a pretty high level of awareness and interest.. not really down to an individual issues level, but at least in a summary, "Don't F this up (again)!" kind of way. In that vein, lots of congratulations from said Canucks once enough results were in to call it for good. ;)