The American political system is a beast. You can’t run away from it even in a tiny African nation where most people think there are only white people in America. Luckily, due to everyone’s knowledge of the American political field, I can immediately ask “Is the president of the United States white?” And, because Obama is so popular here that you can buy plastic sachets (think larger ketchup packets) full of whiskey with his face on them, they can usually tell me he is not. Obama also comes in handy when people try to tell me a white woman and a black man have never had children together (WOULDN’T WE BE SO PROGRESSIVE?! DON’T YOU WANT TO BE THE FIRST?! COME HAVE MY BABY!!) My thanks to Obama for aiding me in shutting down that unfortunate attempt at seduction.
I don’t know much about politics in Benin. I understand the basic structure, but there is much that remains a mystery. I’ve also been explicitly told by Peace Corps to stay out of politics—it isn’t our area, and it could mess up Peace Corps’ relationship with the country. I don’t know many things about the political system, or the platforms of different parties, but I do know about 5 different campaign songs.
Let me explain. Here, campaigning is not a series of televised debates and smear campaigns. Here, campaigning involves many people singing, driving around motos while holding up posters (DANGEROUS!) and running through the streets with posters taped around their heads. The cone-hats that people make out of the posters have an unfortunate resemblance to KKK costumes, which obviously is not clear to anyone here because the KKK is an American problem, but seeing a hundred black people in white cone-hats is like an image from some political cartoon.
Over the past two weeks I have been kept up at night by my neighbor’s tiny children singing songs supporting a popular candidate and blowing vuvuzelas. Although campaigning in the US can sometimes make me sick to my stomach, I have never felt rage in the same way I have here—IT IS TWO IN THE MORNING IF YOU BLOW ON THAT VUVUZELA AGAIN I WILL BREAK IT DEAR GOD YOU CAN’T EVEN KNOW WHAT YOU’RE SINGING ABOUT YOU ARE FIVE YEARS OLD!
Many people have approached me asking who I am going to vote for. They are very upset for me that even though I live here I cannot vote, which is very sweet. Many of them say I just need to become a citizen before the next election. I usually say “I’ll see what I can do!” Which is a lie, just to clarify.
I have tried to avoid all of the parades, speeding motorcades, and schoolchildren dancing in the middle of the north-south highway dodging the speeding motorcades during this time of democracy. The election was last Sunday and everything was calm in Bante when the results were announced. Good job guys, I’m proud. Now please be quiet.
(Please note there are more elections at the end of the month that promise to be even bigger than the last ones. Pray for my sanity.)