Tuesday, 9 March 2010
Iraqi Elections 2010: UK chapter
I've had a tiring few days, but I did what I wanted to do, so I feel a sense of personal pride. Kind of.
I wasn't expecting the majority of the voters to be kurdish, but they were. I loved how many girls came dressed in traditional kurdish attire, which is flowing, glittering and sparkling. The guys on the other hand shouted and danced enthusiastically to the skilled sound of a beating drum. It felt like I was at a carnival, and I enjoyed it to be honest. The round thumping of feet, waving of flags, and steady beat that roared above the usual sound of talk and cars.
Thats about it really. The large gathering of people caused the inevitable impatience, gossiping and general chit chat.
A lot of people carried iraqi flags, but more carried or wore the kurdish flag. One particular guy had folded in his arms, perhaps the largest flag i'd ever seen, the orange star in the middle being bigger than my fathers stomach.
He sauntered in amongst shouts of encouragement and surrounded by a gang of leather clad teens. Then the iraqi arabs got annoyed by this, with one guy shouting 'why the hell do you always want to separate yourself from us'. The natural arm waving, shouting and general splitting into ethnic/religious groups ensued. Oh and the women took also helped in this effort by the regular tongue clicking, annoyed head shaking, and of course the patented 'dirty look'.
I felt disappointed at my country people. Then again, my grandfather once said that sometimes the only thing that links you to your nation is the chance that you were born in the same area of land.
Apparently on the faithful news network, the london polling station had closed, because the sunnis/shias/kurds had been biased and unfair in the voting. Each channel showed its own version of 'undercover footage' of cheating, bribes and corruption, with the truth being, it got shut because of Iraqis' biggest failure - a lack of patience and an affinity to anger.
A lot of people didn't have the right documentation, or did, but weren't allowed in because the invigilators deemed it not good enough. Every election officer seemed to have their own opinion of what was allowable and what wasn't, which can only mean a failure in training (although they all had to sit exams to become election officers..:S)
I remember hearing an anguished woman cry out in arabic, as people looked on ' we all left without nothing..when you run for your life you don't remember to bring all the papers...' and the sad truth unveiled further and further, with the officers refusing to cooperate with the voters, and with each other.
( i saw some officers arguing amongst each other...one of them had stamped all the voters papers only on one side, which meant their votes will not be counted...the paper has to be stamped on both sides for the vote to be counted).
All the testosterone was just too much, and the existence of a few scattered journalists, meant tensions ran high amongst the guys. What i can only describe as 'gangs' of young men began picking on one another - i didn't stay long enough to see it escalate. But the funny thing was walking past the incredibly long queue on the way out... people were literally huffing their chests out, banging on walls, fences or windows, and everyone was blaming everyone else.
The kurds blamed the arabs, the sunnis blamed the shia, and the shia blamed the kurds.
I managed to get a video of the riot police storming in, just need to find a way to upload 3GP. :D
I couldn't help grinning. Especially as i overheard their often ridiculous conversations.
The line was so long, it was unbelievable..i could have queued up there for a day, and still not made it, And the doors remained firmly shut. I resolved it was early, and i could always travel to a smaller city to vote tomorrow.....
surrounded by coaches filled with young kurdish guys from around the country, and a police helicopter whirring overhead, this all felt a little bit weird. A fight had broken out, and the center had closed for unknown hours. Naturally this caused restlessness, and more annoyance.
The clear thing here was that there were 2 sets of kurdish voters - ones carrying the blue flag with a candle, and those carrying the flag of kurdistan. Guys stood on the fencing, and i walked into a sea of iraqis.
A group bearing the flags of blue passed and when they did, roars errupted around especially amongst the guys standing on the fencing...i assume they were shouting/insulting the blue flag wavers, who in retaliation screamed back, and waved their flags and held their head high.
An hour in, police rushed in, none seemed to happy to be interfering, and they blockaded everyone into 2 sets. They were pushed around, and I felt shame as i saw their yellow fluorescent jackets swaying, as the crowds pushed and shoved at them.
I saw a few prams being carried over people's heads, and a few guys started hitting and lashing out at each other as well as the police.
I was ridiculously under dressed. Everyone had come in satin suits, and most of the the girls looked like they were going to a wedding party, with sequins, with brightly coloured clothes and bold make up, catching my eye often, as i tried my best not to gawp geekily.
There was an hour left until the center closed, and over 100 in front of me, and 300 behind me. I walked up to a policeman and asked what was happening. After answering my questions,the poor police guy asked if i needed help..'why?' i asked quizzically...'Cos they look like they're gonna murder ya honey'. I turned around to see around 10 guys intently staring at me like i had commited a crime.
Large groups walked away, as the realisation hit me, they doors would close before I could vote.
I reached here with an overbearing sense of nostalgia and annoyance. The tv stations and internet had shown me how Baghdad and Basra had been more organised than the previous 2 places I'd been to.
I got spotted by old acquaintances who recognised me, but had forgotten my parents name, what had happened etc, but i was too preoccupied to talk to them properly. A few guys from a nearby iraqi restaurant were giving out small cups of tea for the endlessly long queue.
I saw yet another friend, and the rest of the time were spent making fun at, and laughing at pretty much everything, though her hard laughter at what i was saying, made me worry that she hadn't been laughing as much recently. She confided to me like we had never been apart, and I was surprised slightly at how so many of my friendships can pick up at where they left off, without the awkward stage that i always anticipated.
The hour waiting in the queue went quickly, compared to the previous hours I had spent queueing. As my time came up, i couldn't help feeling regret of tiring myself out so much for something which at times seems trivial. I'm going to remind myself only to do something if it makes me happy, and at that precise moment I didn't feel happy. But i instantly cheered up when i walked out to see the bright masses. It had been fun to see that the stubborn mentalities of iraqis will follow them to the ends of the earth.
I can't wait to spend the next few days and hours experimenting with what will take the stain off. My bets are on paint stripper, though i'm pretty sure that its going to sting...