They were calling for people to observe in polls throughout the country. Since I live here, I thought it would be fun to help out. I emailed the Alianza to inform them that I lived here in San Pedro Sula and to ask how I could help out. They asked me to fill out an application to be an observer. Shortly after, I received an invitation from the TSE, welcoming me to observe the elections. Then I heard nothing for several weeks. This past Monday, I received an email that essentially said "see you in Teguz this weekend!" oh, ok. I has assumed that I would be doing stuff here in San Pedro since that's where I am, but a trip to the capital sounded exciting. The real issue was that they didn't say when or where they would see me, other than "this weekend" (that spans a couple days) and Teguz (the largest city in Honduras). I shot back an email asking for some details so I could figure out my travel plans.
Friday afternoon around 2:30 I received an email informing me that I could pick up my ID badge and other credentials at the training session 5:00 that evening in Teguz. So now I knew "when" but not "where". Another issue had arisen with this new information, as well: with current road conditions, Teguz is a solid 7 hour drive from SPS. Not even the lack of enforced speed limits in this country would get me there in time. A couple emails and a phone call later, I hit the road for the capital city. Apparently there would be another training session in the morning at the Hotel Maya. I could stay there for a discounted rate and get my credentials in the morning. Good deal.
I checked into my hotel at 11:30pm. The fanciest hotel I have ever been in. The kind of hotel where they carry your bags to your room, even if you try to take it back from them. And even with my "discount" my three night stay was almost as much as a month's rent. But heck, it's kind of like a vacation, I guess. And the conveniece of not having to drive around in an unfamiliar city that doesn't believe in street signs seemed worth it. The woman I had spoken to earlier was unsure if the training was at 8:00 or 9:00 the next morning, so I got downstairs at 7:45am and looked around. No one was there, so I went to look for a spare tire (I know, mom. But it isn't my fault...apparently no one in Honduras has rims for a Mitsubishi Lancer...I tried 5 different places in Teguz. nada) and got back to the hotel a little before 9. It seemed strangely quiet for a hotel that was about to have a training session for hundreds of international volunteers. I asked the guy at the front desk where the training was going to be, and he told me that he had no idea what I was talking about. cool. So I called the woman I had spoken to the night before. No answer. awesome.
Two choices were ahead of me: wait around the hotel for some sort of word, or explore. I opted for the second. Tegucigalpa is a beautiful city, and it was so fun to look around. I drove up to the zoo, which I had heard was the finest in the country. It had very nice parking facilities and a beautiful entrance gate, but that was as far as I could get legally. There was a beautiful park nearby that I got to check out. This park is home to el Cristo de Picacho, a statue of Christ looking over the city. There was also a musem, but it was also closed. Around this time, I received a phone call from my contact at the Alianza. The meeting that morning had been canceled (which I had kind of gathered) but there was a luncheon for the observers at 1pm and she would bring my credentials there.
At this point, I did what any grown woman in this situation would do. I called my daddy. After a quick little pep talk (good job, Dad! it really helped!) I jumped back into the game. It might have been better if I had gone in knowing that I would be the most unimportant person present. But it seems that learning things school-of-hard-knocks style is my lot in life. Everyone there worked for a senator, or represented a prime minister, or they were a prime minister or ambassador. And if they weren't, it was because they were CEOs of companies, or presidents of organizations. Or they were me. All around me were people rubbing elbows and passing out business cards (oh, right. I was also the only person who did not have a business card. Here, let me write out my contact information for you on this cocktail napkin. Yeah, I'm just a science teacher. Well, I've never heard of you, either! Fortunately not too many people I know read your little "Time" magazine or whatever.) And many of these people were confused that a random science teacher, completely unaffiliated with anyone important, would be invited to do something as important as this. Confusing it may have been, but I had a poorly translated letter from the president of the TSE. I had just as much right to be there as anyone.
Fortunately I found some people who didn't mind that I wasn't important. We shared a delightful buffet, and then I finally found the elusive woman who had my credentials. Or at least thought she had my credentials. We headed out to her car, but they were not there. Fortunately, there was a training session that night at the hotel, and she would give them to me there. Oh, not the hotel they told me about...the other hotel. So much for my convenience plan. I was about to go hail a cab when a bus full of pirates unloaded in front of the restaurant. For one whimsical moment, I thought maybe a group of representatives from a pirate nation had come to do their part in upholding democracy. Then I realized how retarded that was and followed them inside to see what they were doing. They were a Garifuna dance troop, come to do the mandatory cheesy/touristy native drum and dance routine for all the visiting big-wigs. I love Garifuna music, and the dancing was pretty interesting. I stayed for a couple songs and then headed back to the hotel to freshen up.
Saturday night: I drove to the Marriott to pick up my ID and do a little training. It takes me some time to get through the door because I don't have my ID yet. So that was fun. Then I set off to find the lady with my stuff, but she was no where to be found. I gave her a call to discover she had already left, but she gave my stuff to "the guy in the coat". Oh, you mean the guy in Honduras with the coat? The one with a name? No, no name. But the lady up front would know who I meant. Only she didn't, so I was taken to the conference room on the 11th floor. You needed a special key to get on the floor. It was pretty exciting. The woman in the room was not very pleased to see me. I soon discovered it was because she had been told that I had lost my stuff. That misconception was soon set right, and we started to get my stuff together. She had a difficult time finding my paperwork, so we began to input the information for my ID without it. The information was no problem, but it was apparently very inconvenient of me to not carry around spare passport-sized photos of myself in case of just such an emergency. Further searching in the computer got my picture, and we were good to go. ID...check. Shirt...check. Hat...check. Vest...we're out, but you don't need one. OK. See you tomorrow morning at 8 in the lobby.
By the time we finished, the training session was nearly over, so I headed back to my hotel to get some sleep. 12:30am, my phone rings. It is the Alianza. Some people want to go watch the polls get set up, so we are leaving at 6am instead. See you then!!!
A few (very) short hours later, I arrive at the hotel, ready to go. I am the only one there. A few (very) long hours later, the last of the people we are waiting for arrive, and we pull out of the hotel parking lot at 8:30am. During this time, the woman who was supposed to give me my stuff has managed to get me a vest. She made a very big deal about it, and said it was because I looked so depressed that I didn't have one. Not at all why I was depressed. But what's a couple hours of sleep when you have a sweet vest?
We hit up 6 different voting stations in Teguz and the surrounding areas. It was fascinating to get to watch their voting process. If you live in Honduras and have a citizen ID, you are registered to vote. They give you a card that tells you what station and room you have to go to, and you cannot vote anywhere else. A volunteer matches your ID to a book they have with a copy of the ID of every person who can vote in that room. Then they hand you your ballots. The ballots are sheets of paper with the candidates pictures on them so that people who can't read can still vote. The backs of the paper are stamped by the president of the TSE and signed by the person in charge of the particular poll you are at. You take your papers behind the little booth and mark the square of the person you wish to vote for. Then you come back out, give the papers to a person who verifies that it is a legitimate ballot and marked correctly and stamps it. Then you drop it in the ballot box, sign and fingerprint under the copy of your ID in the book, and the last step is getting your pinky finger stained so you don't try to vote again.
Polls were supposed to close at 4, but remained open an extra hour due to high voter turn-out. As an international observer, I was allowed to see the call room where poll results were phoned in through the new system Honduras was testing out this year. It's a really neat system, very high-tech, and they are the second nation in Latin America to put it to use. That evening the TSE declared Pepe Lobo, the candidate from the National Party, Honduras's president elect. Zelaya is, of course, causing a fuss and declaring that the vote was not legitimate. Hopefully people won't listen to him.
I am so proud of the people of this country. And I am so honored to have been able to see democracy at its finest. Viva Honduras!