So I wake up in my seedy little Dili hostel on Monday morning to the sounds of … nothing.
It’s election day in East Timor. A year after riots and security-force rebellions nearly tore this tiny country apart, it’s got a chance to prove it can behave like a proper, civilized democracy. And it’s got 3,000 Australian and New Zealand troops and U.N. police to help out.
But based on Thursday’s street fights between rival political gangs, I had my doubts. So NOT waking to the sounds of violence was a pleasant surprise.
I took a stroll, happened upon an Aussie foot patrol (“Hello, mate!”
“G’day on ya!” “Good onya!” – I love these guys) and followed them to a polling station where the locals, their thumbs ink-stained from voting, were sitting around drinking sodas. We media types were as thick as flies, swarming around the Japanese ambassador who had dropped by for a visit. He said today was a good first step towards rebuilding East Timor. And he pointed out that my camera was made in Japan. I politely didn’t point out that his government was made in America.
Now it’s 4:00 p.m. There are rumors of demonstrations to take place this evening after the results are in and when it’s not too hot. I’ve got my camera ready and my running shoes on, just in case.
Iraq, January 2005. Now THAT was an election: mortar bombs in the street, explosions in the distance. Terror threats, gunfights. Timor is right tame in comparison.
(Update, Tuesday: No riots yesterday evening, perhaps thanks to all those foot patrols. Things might pick up on Friday when election results are announced, but I’ll be sipping Margaritas in Washington, D.C., by then.)