And even more briefings…

Second day of briefings. Somehow there are too many people and too few chairs this morning, and we have to improvise, squeezing in even tighter, elbow to elbow. But it’s early, and we’re all still in a good mood. The air is cooler, too. Mariusz wrestles with his first task: getting us to stop chatting, and pay attention to our first task of the morning: running through the polling checklist. How and where to mark the precinct and polling place, questions 1 through 38 on whether the polling place is free from apparent intimidation, number and types of officers present, check boxes for irregularities.

John bursts in and apologizes for the interruption. Explains that he wouldn’t do this except for the exraordinary circumstances: Sirleaf has just been awarded the Nobel Prize. The room erupts into chaos. Many people in the room know her personally, but we’re here as impartial observers – no one quite knows how to react. An announcement like this four days before such a closely-watched election? Is this the international community playing its ace in the hole? (Hans: “I’m so ashamed of my country, meddling like this!” P: “It could be worse – when my country wants to meddle, we usually just bomb the place.”) Mariusz raises his voice a little louder and tries to soldier on through the checklist – we’ve got a tight schedule to keep.

We trudge through the line items – were the number of ballots verified? Did the polling place open on time?” With this group, questions are inevitable: can we split up to observe two adjacent polling places?

“You must always, always, always stay with your partner. Never separate.”

I turn to Susan: “This is going to make bathroom breaks a little awkward.”

It’s a wonderfully international group – we’ve got something like 15 countries represented among the 40 of us. I love looking at their faces, hearing their names, their accents and their stories. We go around the table introducing ourselves and our home countries: Bosnia, Nigeria, Malawi, Kenya, Poland. When Angelina, soft-spoken and constantly smiling, introduces herself as a representative from South Sudan (“The newest country in the world!”), the room bursts into spontaneous applause. At lunch, I sit with Joseph, a canon at the Uganda Joint Christian Council. He’s an older man, thin and elegant, with a beautiful light in his eyes when he speaks. He listens intently, and breaks into a wide, easy grin at the slightest provocation. Olufunto, from Nigeria, exudes the feel of authority just entering the room. She moves deliberately, speaks in a voice that fills the room (for those lucky few of you who are Buckaroo Banzai fans, visualize her declaring terms for the preservation of the earth). When she introduces our next speaker, you just know he’s going to keep to his time slot. And Miguel, and Eldrid, and and and… I could just keep writing.

But the next session is starting, and Mariusz reminds us that (in contrast to the rest?) this is the important part.

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