election expectations

You know how web pages detect things about you and use the information to tailor their ads toward your apparent interests, location, etc? Some people might find this considerate or helpful; Personally, I think it's creepy. However, I can't help but be fascinated by this technological phenomenon that I don't understand.

Gmail does this to me: I write an email about a race I ran--Voila! The ad bar tells me about an online running store. The longer I lived in Viet Nam, the more my ads started to appear in Vietnamese. I even had ads asking me, "Do you speak Tieng Viet?" At first I was really excited--I knew what Tieng Viet meant! Later, I hit a block in language classes and decided that the ad was trying to rub it in. Of course, sometimes even technology can be wrong, like when my ads ask, "Single and bored? Chat with Alyssa (insert picture of large-chested woman) at singleandbored.com!" Yeah, not so much...

Last night, Gmail was half-right. It told me, "Vote for Charles-Henri Baker!" I guess someone was observant enough to pick up on my location, but neglected to detect my nationality. I laughed, thinking, I just can't escape these upcoming elections, can I?

The Haitian presidential elections that are coming up the weekend of Thanksgiving are all around us here. It was actually one of the first things I noticed when we arrived. On the way home from the airport, I noticed that the street walls were plastered with campaign ads. When I mentioned them, Jean-Claude was off and running--introducing us to a few of the 19 (!) candidates (with his opinions on each, of course), and relating stories of past elections--manipulated or accurate, violent or (rarely) peaceful--and the demonstrations that went along with them.

People have rearranged trips to make sure they are in the country to vote. Even young people are interested. The other day at lunch, Jean-Claude's fifteen-year-old daughter Sophie asked everyone present who they were planning to vote for.

With 19 candidates, I don't know about all of them. But a recent poll revealed the main players, people whose names I have become familiar with over the last two weeks:

Mirlande Manigat--this female candidate was on the top. Both she and her husband have been involved in Haitian politics before.
Jude Celestin--this guy is backed by the current president and his party. Apparently, no one had heard of him until six months ago; people laugh at the interesting coincidence that he happens to be very good looking.
Michel Martelly--this guy is more commonly known as Sweet Mickey. He is a famous entertainer/musician who doesn't have any background in politics, but who was involved in various social issues even before he began his campaign.
Jean Henry Ceant--I don't know much about this guy.
Charles-Henri Baker--the guy Gmail told me I should vote for. He seems to be pretty well-respected, but he is very light-skinned, a factor that many think will go against him.

Even more interesting to me than the actual election (I must admit, I'm pretty much politically illiterate) is the anticipation about the upcoming events, and what this reveals about Haiti's history, a history that affects how Haitians--of all classes--think and live.

Elections are something you have to prepare for. I don't mean that you just have to research and decide who you are going to vote for. No, you have to plan your life around the event. When you plan for election weekend, you plan for the unexpected.

Last night, Jean-Claude and Annouck came back a little late and brought a lot of groceries. After they put them away, Annouck gave a satisfied sigh and said, "Good! I have enough to last through election weekend, so I won't have to go out."

Mom and I went out to listen to live music Saturday night, and people told us that it will be the last night it's advisable to be out until the elections are over. During the week prior to the event, no one goes out more than they have to. It is not that anything bad will necessarily happen; things could be completely quiet and peaceful. But people know the history and plan accordingly, because no one wants to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

You might say, "At least all this planning for uncertain events only lasts a short period every few years." But with so many candidates and the Haitian laws regarding elections, it is more than likely that there will have to be a re-vote. To win, a candidate must receive fifty percent of the votes plus one. In the poll I mentioned, the most anyone received was 30 percent.

And all of that is, of course, dependent on whether the election is fair or rigged--a big question in everyone's minds.

I guess it just goes to show that, even in our technological age, there are some things that even Gmail can't predict.

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