Friday, January 13, 2012

Seeing Canada Through Fresh Eyes

Okay, so it is true, I have been enjoying the feeling of being competent this week.  I am one of the people that the "newbies", the new volunteers seek out for information about a variety of issues related to living and working in El Salvador.  I have taken to leading groups to different  places for lunch.  For those of you who remember how directionally challenged I am will know what a feat this is in a place where there are rarely street signs and everything is sorted out by landmarks.

I have also been reminded of how much I have changed this year.  I look at the fresh faces of the new volunteers at CIS who want to "do things" and to "be competent".  They haven't yet figured out that we are going to look foolish a thousand times here -- in what we say, don't say, do and don't do.  They also haven't figured out that people here don't have the same expectation of perfection as we do at home.  They truly do appreciate effort and kindness.  They are also struggling with being in a new place, with new people and trying to do a new job that they only "kind of" understand.  I find myself saying some of the very annoying but true things that people said to me.  "Don't worry, you haven't been here that long" - "It will all work out" - "Your Spanish will get better."  I see my culture in these folks and I am reminded of home.  I wonder when I come home if I will turn back into one these people or if I will be somewhere between the laid back, relaxed Lynn I am here and the person with an enormous "to do" list I typically am  in Canada.

In order to be Election Observer Co-ordinator I am learning a lot about the government and electoral system.  Like everything here it is complicated.  People have a much higher loyalty to their political party than the system of laws.  All of the people working on the elections are from a party.  Since in general people from the left wing party and the right wing parties don't agree on anything, it takes a long time to get things done and things get very complicated.  For example, 3 days before the election,  the electoral committees in each city/region will receive "boxes" with all of the stuff that each table (polling station) needs.  For 3 days people from each party and Police Officers stay awake and "care" for the boxes, no one trusting the other not to open the boxes and steal ballots.  People do not trust each other or the Police to act with integrity.  Everything needs to be checked and double checked by people from all the parties.  While there are 4 main parties, there are in fact 9 parties participating in these elections.  For every committee each party has a representative and a "vigilante", someone who watches to make sure that everything is done properly.

I have no idea who looks after the election boxes in Canada, but I can bet that there is not a group of people staying awake for 3 days.  If it is the role of the Police, we'd basically trust them to look after the boxes.  Not here.  The more I understand about the history of El Salvador, the more I understand this behaviour.

Our program coordinator Vicenta (a very politically involved Salvadorian), finds it hard to believe that none of us really know how voter fraud is prevented in our countries (Canada, US and England).  We just basically say, that we don't really think it happens very much.  There is not a huge group of people who want to vote twice.  The political parties in Canada aren't out rounding up Americans to cross the boarder with fake ID's to   have them vote for them on election day.  Every day I become and more and more thankful for our politicians and our political system.  While not perfect, I appreciate its benefits a lot more.

Finally, an update about the girls.  Nigeli the older girl has experienced a significant improvement in her eye function as a result of the surgery she has this summer.  It was a long road and she had eye and ear infections as complications from the surgery, but all is well.  Unfortunately, her younger sister Katherine continues to battle lung issues.  Despite a wide range of medications, made possible by the generosity of Canadians, there has not been a significant improvement.  As a result, she has not been able to have eye surgery.   Everyone continues to be hopeful.

I have also learned this week, that 5 friends from Canada will join the Election Observer Team here in El Salvador in March.  I am very excited about this development and look forward to welcoming people here to do this important work.  Thank you, all of you who read my blog and who support my journey in so many ways.

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