I have to say that Keith is the most amazing graphic artist ever. He just reaches into his creative depths and pumps them out. How cool is this?? We plan on making the Huffington Post again, as well as the other major news carriers, so keep an eye out for live feed from Cambodia! (and I’m angry with Ben for planning his dinner party on the same night and without me!!)
That was hands-down the most amazing party I have ever helped organise! The entire wing of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC-Phnom Penh) was packed with expatriates, with best guesstimates of around 400 by 9am!
Just as they declared a winner my friend hollered into the microphone: “AMERICAAANS!!! RAISE YOUR HANDS!!!”
…and that’s when the dam broke. Fists shot up through a rain of confetti and the roar of cheers. Expats from various western backgrounds turned, tears of relief flowing, to hug strangers next to them. All the world had reason to celebrate, not just Americans, and to celebrate on several levels.
The greatest part was the turnout of so many Americans! We don’t normally congregate outside of rare embassy events since that’s asking for trouble. Those hands signaled change already occurring, since no expatriate could in his right mind volunteer that s/he’s American for the hostility it invites, no matter how proud to be an American s/he is and no matter how festive an event in a safe environment. Until now.
Remember when people actually looked to us in friendship, with admiration, in our travels? Instead now we’ve had to avoid looking conspicuously American. We honed instincts for keeping a low profile and watching our backs: no talking loudly, no sneakers, no baseball caps, handle the blue passport discreetly, dodge the “where are you from” question and thank you lucky stars I can pass for a non-American.
As Americans living abroad far off the tourist tracks, we rely on a rational approach to global relations. We are the frontlines for the wrath caused by our government’s ill-informed unilateral activities that have intensified threats to America and its expatriates. In meetings, even when my capacity is to represent not USAID but another bilateral, I am targeted for the ire about my government’s policies that I don’t even agree with. Even Keith— who rarely raises his voice or argues— has on occasion had to defend himself against a barrage of assaults and needed his friends’ physical interventions, for the simple fact that his all-American looks makes him a target. We’re reduced to apologists, defending ourselves for being American, alone with no one taking our side, especially in this post-9/11 world where our government squandered the outpouring of goodwill towards us by wanton engagement in war while options still existed, all the while hypocritically preaching “Christian values”.
And we aren’t all tree-hugging development wonks out to rescind the Gag Rule (Mexico City Policy) on abortion either. Our guests included Americans both based here and passing through from different walks of life– businessmen, developers and investors, corporate attorneys for Microsoft and entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley, regional officials from WHO and the UN system including the World Bank, foreign diplomats, pastors, even our US Ambassador to Cambodia joined.
And today, when we woke up, that tender of global goodwill was somehow back. America as an ideal, and America as a country, has defeated a campaign and reign built on cultivating hatred, fear and ignorance. Internet blogs, editorials, and opinion pages from all over the world are swelling with positive energy that includes us now. Strangers stopped to congratulate me and Keith on the streets and in the store when they heard our American accents. Khmer colleagues eagerly debated their rudimentary understanding of US democracy with me. Against all odds, they told me, it happened in America and maybe one day it can happen in our country.
No matter your political inclinations, this event was a triumph of the grassroots that is the foundation of a democracy. Amazingly, the complete and utter absence of southern conservative anti-intellectualism in Obama’s winning formula is a statement that marginalises the under-educated, impoverished, whiter South and bible belt’s centrality to national politics. Even if nothing gets accomplished in the next four years I applaud the hope this outcome has inspired all over the world. And I am glad that now, once again, logic and reason will take its rightful place in governance, even if only for the next four years.
Tomorrow the country holds its 4th national elections since the 1991 Paris Peace Accords were signed, ending decades of civil war and foreign occupation. In the runup to this weekend our counterparts in the Ministry of Health and all health professionals were required to partake in campaigning for their parties. (This meant that all activities agreed upon were essentially put on hold for two months).
I asked one of them, a hospital director, what it is he does when he goes out to the villages and communities to campaign. “I teach people how to vote”, was the response. Really? How do you teach them how to vote? “I show them which box on the ballot to check”. Do you like to do that? [[He hesitates, then…]] “It doesn’t seem right… But it’s good for CPP to win so that we won’t have violence again. And I’m a doctor and I have responsibilities so I should vote for CPP.”
The dominant CPP party had to settle for a coalition government with FUNCINPEC because they didn’t win the required 2/3 majority in the 2003 elections, and the PM has taken steps to ensure that won’t happen again. CPP’s campaign was largely about threatening violence if CPP does not take a majority.
Needless to say, people in a generally subdued mode…