So the beginning of this week brought good news...I was parasite free. I had decided a few weeks ago that I really, really needed more raw vegetables in my life. I think this is likely the first time that I have ever, really, really missed a good salad! I carefully brought produce, washed it as I had been instructed and devoured blissfully. However, it is likely this that introduced parasites into my system. After a quick visit to a lab and a meeting with a very nice doctor - who prescribed an anti-parasitic medication and told me I needed to buy disinfectant for my veggies, I am back on track. With the help of other foreigners at CIS, I tracked down the disinfectant - soaked my veggies this week and so far all is good gastro-intestinally speaking! Salvadorians don't generally use this product because the don't eat raw vegetables. Jonathan, my 23 year old housemate sat me down this week and explained me to how this wasn't Canada and I really shouldn't eat raw food. I explained to him, that I really needed to. Now every time he sees me eating something raw he asks if it has been disinfected!
This has been a busy week for the Elections Team. We had two special meetings. The first was with the Sub-Comandante of Public Security at the PNC (El Salvador's National and only Police Force). The meeting was in the administrative headquarters - a breathtakingly beautiful building known as "el castillo" (the castle). From the outside that is what it looks like. Inside the tile work and ceilings were exquisite. Unfortunately I forgot my camera that day, so there are no pictures! It is like no other building I have ever seen in El Salvador.
The Sub-Comandante talked a lot about the role of the police during the election campaign and on election day. Protecting International Observers is one of their 5 main roles! He also talked about how residential voting is a huge logistical challenge for their department. Significantly increasing the number of voting sites means that the force will be more divided up on election day. In another blog I talked about the problems of caring for the "Election Boxes" that contain all the materials for the polling stations (including ballots, voters lists etc.). Apparently, the Police are not allowed to actually touch the boxes, rather they can only provide security. The boxes cannot travel in Police vehicles, rather they are escorted. I have to tell you, I am constantly reminded of how little I know about the logistical details of our elections! It was an interesting meeting and I am thrilled because I am actually understand a lot of what is being said.
An interesting note, the PNC reclaimed "el castillo" when the National Guard was disbanded after the Civil War. This building served as the headquarters of the National Guard and was the site of many brutal interrogations that included torture and often resulted in death. It is said that this building is very haunted at night and that it is possible to hear screams of people suffering and mothers weeping looking for their sons. There is almost nothing that I have experienced in this country that is not somehow linked to the war.
Later this week, we also met with a staff member of the government agency that protects humans rights. This too was created as part of the peace accords. This agency will have volunteer observers, who like our team of observers, will watch and note but will not have the power to intervene. They will also have staff teams who will be able to intervene if human rights violations occur on voting day. The most common type of violation is refusing to allow someone to vote. This happens most frequently in smaller places where everyone knows the party affiliation of everyone else.
We also took a field trip and visited the three municipios where I will be co-ordinating teams - San Isidro, Guacotecti and Sensuntepeque. We visited the police stations and with members of the local election boards and with the provincial election board. No matter where we went this week, everyone was glad to hear that there would be observers and offered help in whatever way we needed. In fact, generally everyone we met with asked if could also cover additional areas. Sadly because of the number of volunteers this likely won't be possible.
In fact that has been one of the most moving parts of this week for me - how welcoming everyone is of observers. Interestingly, my sister's Christmas package arrived this week after 2 months in the mail. The woman at the post office is never happy to see me. She cannot figure out why a "tourist" would be receiving packages. While she begrudging accepts my Canadian Passport as ID she is not happy about it. Last time she made me go down the street and have my whole passport photocopied so that she could attach it to her official "post office book". This time, I happened to be wearing my "official Observer ID badge". It is made on a computer at CIS. We will get one from the Government but that will be much closer to the actual election. This time, she asked to see my badge, said "oh" and then filled out the paperwork and gave me my package with no questions. Apparently being an "observer" has its privileges!