Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Historic Night

I wasn’t sure where I would go on election night, but I knew for sure I’d be in Asuncion and thought my friends and I could find a place at the Embassy with a TV so we could watch as results came in. The Peace Corps librarian – and “knower of all things,” Marianne told me about a party that the Paraguayan American Cultural Center (CCPA) together with the Embassy was hosting. Peace Corps Volunteers were invited along with Embassy staff and staff and students (the CCPA teaches English among other things) of the CCPA.

I left for Asuncion very early, leaving my house at 6am and after meeting Julie in Altos, we hopped on a bus and got our trip under way. Later, in Asuncion, our friends Karen and Courtney also met up with us. We treated ourselves to a nice dinner at a Mexican restaurant (very expensive but oh so worth it!) and then walked to the CCPA which, as luck would have it was close to both our hotel and the restaurant we dined at.

We were among the first people to arrive and we ushered in through the VIP entrance (which we noticed most people were using, but still). Our names weren’t on any list but we were assured if we showed our Peace Corps id’s we’d get in without a problem – and so we did. There were three big projection screens up – one was connected to a laptop and was showing the BBC’s election home page, which displayed a map of the country and as the night wore on was colored in either red or blue depending on which candidate won the electoral votes from that state. The other two screens had live feeds from CNN International (in Spanish) and the BBC.

My friends and I mingled about for a bit and cursed ourselves for eating so much at the restaurant as waiters walked around with delicious looking little appetizers. There were also waiters circulating with glasses of soda and wine (and we of course availed ourselves of the wine). There were as many – if not more Paraguayans, there as Americans and so the air was filled with Spanish and English (as well as a bit of Spanglish).

We decided that what we really wanted was to just know what was happening so we parked ourselves in front of the screen showing CNN. What we discovered was that we wanted to know what was happening but we preferred to do so in English, so we moved over toward the BBC screen. We stayed there throughout the rest of the evening. One of the local Paraguayan television stations had a reporter at the party and my friends and I found ourselves on television periodically throughout the evening. I didn’t realize they had captured us until my mayor’s wife (the mayor from my home town of Loma Grande) texted me to say she had just seen me on TV! There were also photographers around and the following day my friends and I saw a photograph of us all in one of the local papers!

A few interesting things (aside from news of the results) happened throughout the evening. We met and spoke with the US Ambassador to Paraguay and later she spoke briefly to the crowd at the party. We also saw the Vice President of Paraguay at the party (and in fact, he was standing right next to us while the Ambassador spoke). A group of Paraguayan students who take English classes at the CCPA also gave a presentation. They sang the Star Spangled Banner for us and it was very very sweet. They did a great job with a not-very-easy-to-sing song and it really touched the Americans at the party especially, I think.

As the results started coming in my friends and I were on the edge of our seats. The four of us all represented so-called battleground states: Karen is from Ohio (OH – IO), Courtney and Julie are from Virginia and of course, I am from Florida. As Florida and Virginia were too close to call for most of the evening we concentrated our efforts on Ohio and helped Karen celebrate when the final tally came in. I’m sure we amused most of those around us as we high-fived one another and held our breath as each new result came in and the numbers shifted. We explained to our fellow party guests all about where we were from, and what was meant by a battleground state. We explained (as well as we could) about the Electoral College and spoke to people about how we had all voted (absentee ballot). Another amusing thing was the fact that each of us had our cell phones in hand and were constantly texting groups of our friends with results. Not many of our friends were able to come in and of those, most have no access to television or radio. In a normal day I probably send out about 5 or 6 texts. In the course of a few hours I probably sent out about 20 or 30!

Karen and Julie, exhausted decided to go back to the hotel and watch from the television in the lobby. I didn’t want to move until the results were known. Unfortunately, the CCPA wasn’t counting on either the contest going on so long or that anyone would want to stay until the bitter end and as such began taking screens down and turning sound off around 12:45. So, Courtney and I also headed back to the hotel. We changed into our jammies, grabbed blankets from our bed and headed down to the lobby to continue our watch. We didn’t have to wait very long. Within 30 minutes of coming down, Obama’s numbers climbed to over 270 and so sealed his fate as our next President. We were able to hear McCain’s comments as he congratulated Obama but of course, it was all translated into Spanish. We were eager to hear Obama’s comments also, but by now it was closing in on 2am (we are two hours ahead of the East Coast of the US) and we were exhausted. We also realized that we’d prefer to see Obama’s words as he said them and not through the voice of a translator so we went to bed with dreams of change in our heads.

The next morning we all sat in the lobby (where there are also a few computers connected to the internet for guests) trying to find friends and family that were on-line so we could chat with them and the few of us that had laptops were scouring for updates and news of reactions. I found Obama’s speech on you tube and began the long process of downloading it (the internet connections are slow so it took about an hour to get the 20-ish minute speech to download completely) and then we all gathered around my laptop and listened to Obama’s comments.

I’m not sure how the others felt, but it was important to me to feel connected to this process. We all voted via absentee ballot, but that was, for most of us, weeks ago. I really wanted to see and feel my vote the way I would if I had been there to cast it in person. I also wanted to feel the energy, anxiousness, and excitement of the evening. As a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay, it was great to share the evening with my new host-country friends. That was something I hadn’t thought about and wasn’t counting on when I thought about the evening. During election night and the following day I got to speak to a ton of Paraguayans about the US, about our government, the campaign process, the electoral college about the candidates – just a varied number of topics. One of Peace Corps’s goals is intercultural exchange and I was happy and proud to be fulfilling one of those goals. Election night was memorable, but not just because of who was elected but because of how I spent it and who I spent it with.

1 comment:

liz said...

que gusto Laara no sabia que tenias tu blog...ahor lo descubri e ire tratando de traducirlo...besosss