Witnessing the electoral process unfold in Guinea Bissau reminded me how important democracy is to those who need it most, and how unappreciated it is by those who have enjoyed it the longest. As if I needed a reminder, I turned out shortly past sunrise to one of several polling stations, where not only were the officials ready to go, but the people had turned out in droves and were waiting patiently and anxiously to vote.
I'd like to say I "protected" democracy, or "defended" it. In fact, I only observed it and somewhat amateurishly, at that. But I was impressed by how seriously everyone took their civic duties, and the vibration of urgency, anxiety, and importance, with which the Bissau Guineans carried out their responsibilities. I remember well another country whose 30% rate of participation bodes poorly for engaged, conscientious population that holds its government accountable.
Ever wonder what democracy looks like? Have a look at this picture. Wondering what it does not look like? Read my Dictator's Handbook.
The wheels of our 20-seater aircraft clattered to a halt at the Oviedo airport, and we stepped out into the tropical heat. Guinea Bissau, and I was here because hell, when else would I have a chance? I reel at the absurdity of the situation, and yet Bissau was a wonderful surprise and I returned "home" a few days later charmed indeed.
Maybe it was the tropical greenery, a welcome cry from the sparse sterility of the Sahel: mangos and coconut palms towered above us and the entire city – a village of 400,000, really – was tufted with trees and plant-life. Stains on the concrete alluded to a humid life at riverside; deep concrete ditches along city streets evoked the torrents that would run through them when the rain clouds gathered and the sky blackened in the rainy season. I know those rains well from Nicaragua, and in fact the more I reflected on it, the more Guinea Bissau reminded me of Nicaragua's Caribbean coast: the greenery, the red soils, the lacustrine ambiance, the bright fabrics and dark skin.
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