[I’m putting these posts up in sequence, with a one week delay from realtime.]
The line stretches through the iron gate of the Kenya Technical Teachers College and half a mile out, to the main road. We thread our way in slowly, headlights disappearing into the pre-dawn mist. The car’s more of a hindrance than help here, so Oley and I continue on foot, excusing ourselves as we negotiate the quiet, patient mass of Kenyans who have come here, wrapped warm against the cold, to cast their vote.
We find our way to the block of classrooms that will be KTTC’s polling stations and are met at the entrance by Doreen, her round young face beaming beneath a red beanie cap. She introduced herself as the presiding officer for Polling Station #4 and welcomes us inside, then excuses herself to finish recording seals on the ballot box.
It’s 5:59 by my watch when she decides that all is in order and calls the rest of the polling officers, also young men and women, together. They hold hands in a circle and lower their heads in prayer. Doreen asks for a peaceful election, one that one is free and fair. One that reflects the will of the people, and the will of God, amen. Then she turns back to the doorway and raises her voice: “It is now six o’clock. I now officially open this polling station number four.” And the queuing officer lets the first voter in through the door.
Outside again, in the mist, I speak with another young woman – a soldier waiting on the small rise that separates the classrooms from the road. She is square-shouldered, almost as tall as me, and the rifle at her side looks like a toy by comparison. Beneath her cap, her face is framed by a checkered scarf.
Habari gani? I ask – how’s it going?
Mizuri sana, asante. Mizuri sana. Very well, thanks. She smiles broadly, and we both stand there, looking out over classrooms, the line, and the mist-covered hillside disappearing into Karura Forest behind it.
I ask: “Long night?”
“Yes, and it will be a long day, too.” She leaves it unspoken that this long day will be followed by another long night, and we stand in silence together another minute. Then she adds: “But it does not seem hard. When you are doing what you are here for.”
I steal a sideways look at her. She is confident, happy – proud of the scene playing out below us, and pleased that I am here to witness it. I roll her words over in my mind and realize that she’s not just talking about this morning. No, it is not hard at all. Not when you are doing what you are here for.
[Alas, no pics of our soldier friend. I asked if I could take a picture of her – it’s always a good idea to ask first before you take pictures of someone holding a gun – and she shook her head nervously. No, no please.]