Monday, March 2, 2009

The grind begins


Note received last night from the front desk: "This is your roommate Tenzing (Tibetan). We have only one key for the room, so if you are going out, please leave it at the front desk. I'm non-smoker & I would highly appreciate if you refrain from smoking inside the room. If If you are non-smoker -- then that's great! See you later. Tenzing."

Yep, non-smoker. Nope, my roommate is not from India but a Tibetan who lives in Afghanistan but has worked in India. And yep, Tenzing is a great person.

Today is the start of what is one of the most important, but my least favorite part, of any election observation mission: the briefing. Three days in a conference room, from early morning till evening, being briefed about a lot of stuff, from the political situation, to the election process, the political parties, to some nearly mundane things (as was the case a few years ago with another organization) like how to walk properly. Wha? These things are extremely important of course, but sometimes it gets really dull that you could sense that what everybody wants to do is just bust out of the room and be somewhere else, anywhere else. Oh there they are. The familiar sight of those two huge folders filled with information painstakingly put together by the staff, that we have to read and digest in the next two or three days, unless we want to go out in the field knowing zip about what we're supposed to do. By the end of the mission, they'll be suitcase fillers, which, I'm sure, I have to pay excess baggage for at the airport counter. (And I always bring all my folders home, because they've got information you can't get anywhere else really.)

For three days we will be meeting with the head of local and other international monitoring organizations, the Election Commission, the police, members of the media, and representatives from the UN. I was surprised to find a familiar name in the schedule -- my good friend Fernanda Lopes from Portugal, who's now with the UN in Kathmandu.

Sitting through the briefings will be an ordeal. Nepal is in the middle of a serious power crisis, with power outages a few hours everyday, which means that the aircon won't work perfectly the whole day; it became very hot earlier today that we had to open the windows. Only one elevator is working at the hotel, and this is considered a high-class hotel. What would be the conditions out in the field...?

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