6886 Miles from the White House

Four years ago, I sat five blocks from the White House watch Wolf Blitzer excitedly rearrange his holographic electoral map as each state reported. Then as history was made, I joined by peers in running to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for a very memorable going-away party.

This year, after my team “The 2%” (bonus points if you understand the team name) was eliminated from the corn hole tournament at our Election party, I sat 6886 miles from the White House. I was with a dwindling group of PCVs watching Brian Williams hypothesize the route to 270 votes (thank you MSNBC Live Streaming and Camtel Internet!) early on November 7th. There was no dash to the White House, instead there were embraces and small celebratory outbursts mixed in with yawns as the results were announced. It was 8am in Ngaoundéré , after all, and most of us were in bed before the President took the stage for we had heard what we needed to hear to get a good night’s (day’s?) sleep.

I awoke a few hours later to a handful of missed calls from people in my village. With each call returned, I received a “Felicitations!” on Obama’s victory (impressive considering Lokoti hasn’t had electricity since a few days before the election). The congratulations continue to this day as I walk through town (part of me wonders what people would shout at me if Romney was victorious). Most of these people could have preemptively congratulated me because anything other than a second term for Obama did not seem possible to them.

[It should be noted here that there are many Cameroonians (especially in larger towns) who follow polling data and watch France24 coverage of the election as much as your average GW student (replace France24 with CNN) and therefore they fully understand the ebb and flow of the months and days leading up to the election. However, the average Cameroonian is more akin to my friends in village, whose confidence in a second term for Obama was nice, but completely overstated.]

There same people were puzzled when I could not tell them with certainty which candidate would win. The response is quite understandable when taken in context. Cameroonians live in a theoretical democracy with presidential elections every seven years. However, even with a field of 15 or more candidates, the question is never who will win, rather by how much.

On November 6th, as Americans were lining up (in very long lines, I hear) to vote, Cameroon was celebrating Paul Biya Day – commemorating President Biya’s 30 years in power. Even though the night of November 6th into the day of November 7th was nailbiting for us, Paul Biya Day made me appreciate all the more that 8 years is not a given and that the 22nd Amendment was ratified and is followed.

Discussions about mandate limits and more confusing ones about the Electoral College were the least of the interesting conversations I got to have with Cameroonians during the run up to the election. Whether it was during the late, late night hours when we were waiting for the debates to come on TV or over a cup of chai mid-afternoon, I thoroughly enjoyed being able to discuss the campaign, explain U.S. government and listen to my friends’ insights. I’d put any of my Cameroonian friends up again a AP U.S. Government student!

There is nothing quite like being in the nation’s capital on election night, but there is something equally as memorable in spending an election season abroad – memorable in the sense that I’ll never take an Election Day for granted.

[The 2% refers to the percentage of Americans polled that thought Mitt Romney’s full name was Mittens. God Bless You, America.]

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