I have mentioned previously that I had no intention of voting. After all, apart from the dual citizenship, transfer of Kenyan-hood by females, and abortion clauses, I had no interest one way or the other. I got a new voter’s card because it’s what people do.
As late as last night, I still hadn’t decided if I was going to vote. I told my better half that in theory, I was aware that it’s important to vote, but that I simply wasn’t motivated. I didn’t see how my one vote would change the price of sliced bread, and I’d much rather stay in bed…
My dad argued, ‘What if everyone reasons like that?’ I replied, ‘That’s just it. Everyone doesn’t reason like that. Everyone is at the polls. So it’s still just me and my one vote. Makes no difference.’
But today I woke up in a good mood, and blissfully unaware of this fact, I threw on my red jumper and headed to the polls. I’d planned to carry my radio phone, but the battery died during the night. Meh.
A few minutes later, I found a queue. It stretched from the polling station at Uhuru Gardens Primary School to Jambo Estate, which is where I joined it.
Damn, should have charged that radio phone battery.
I thought about leaving and coming back later, but it was already 7.30, and the line was moving quite fast. By around 7.45 I was at the entrance of the school, where I was instructed to join Stream 1. We were not told that the streams were selected alphabetically, though we all assumed it.
Instead the clerks explained some jargon about voter card numbers, and explained how to confirm that we were on the right line. The clerks at the gate had already explained what line each voter should join, but the school compound was a mass of queueing people, so some still ended up in the wrong place.
My stream, unfortunately, was the longest. I need to change my baby’s name to something that starts with Z.
The guy in front of me was a Master Whiner, and I kept wanting to stuff my fist in his mouth just to shut him up. He complained about the slow-moving line, the clerks, the weather, the people conversing in front of him, the space between the doors and the voters… by the time he threatened to leave and go home, I almost offered pompoms to show him out!
There were a few frustrating moments. Like when the twins got into Stream 4 and left minutes later, even though I had been on the queue for an hour before they showed up. Or when the guy in the yellow construction hat drove past me in the queue, found a parking spot, strolled in, was directed to Stream 8, and walked out again in seconds.
Also, why was he wearing a yellow construction hat?!
There was security all over the place – armed cops including one in glasses [I’ve never sen a cop in glasses] and military officers [or were they KWS people?] in green. Mothers with babies were given priority, so were old people. One lady with a toddler strolled to the front of the line with a look that said ‘I dare you to stop me.’ The Lady Guard at the front had this intimidating look on her face, but she tried to make nice with the toddler, who was probably too afraid to respond.
Another lady stood quietly with her husband and her baby until Officer Intimidata went to help her cut the queue. She followed the Officer to the front, while winking at her husband who now had to wait it out alone.
A sweet old lady came to the front with a male Officer and begged us to let her cut the line. The Officer said it was our call, but when he saw us hesitating, he reminded us that mothers with infants and citizens over 55 had priority. Then he stated, again, that it was our choice. The lady got through.
Eventually, I got to the polling point. The clerk wasn’t very polite, probably from hearing a million complaints that morning. He asked me to put my left thumb on the slot, then got upset when I put on my right one instead. *russumfussumombogodirections*
They gave me the ballot slip and asked me to fill it. I tried to get back my ID and voter’s card, but they told me to fill the paper first. Bad idea. I always get nervous when people hold on to my identification. My mind refuses to function. I get flashbacks of immigration drama.
I stood there looking dazed for a while, wondering why they wouldn’t give back my ID. Then I walked in a small circle looking for a pen. I didn’t find one, so I came back and picked one of the purple markers. It looked like a pen…
The clerks were horrified! They pointed me to the privacy booth and said I’d find a pen in there. Ok.
I got to the booth – which, lo and behold, was marked Voter’s Booth. Why hadn’t I seen that before? *russumfussum*
In the booth, I looked at the ballot paper. I wanted to read every word, but there were people waiting, so I zoomed down to the Yes/No space. I though about the stories of old women being told, ‘Kama hutaki huyo, weka X kwa jina yake‘. Unlucky voters had previously been misled. They had been advised to put a cross against the person they opposed.
I thought about putting an X on the red, then decided to put a tick on the green instead. I turned over the ballot, but I don’t remember what was on the other side, because the others were giving me weird looks. I just pray I didn’t somehow spoil my vote.
I looked for a Yes and No boxes, but saw only one. Confusing, but good. Nobody can be harassed because their neighbour saw them put a slip into the ‘wrong’ box.
I started to put my slip in, but I was asked to fold it first in a rather startled tone. I was so nervous by now that I almost dropped it. This is legal, right? Because only lawbreaking should make anyone this nervous…
I saw the clerk stamp something on my card, then she drew some purple squiggles on my little finger and returned my ID. I walked out smiling, though I have no idea why.
As I was heading home [and noticing that there was absolutely no queue], I started to think about things. Our population is over 30 million. Only 10 million of us have voter’s cards. The other twenty either didn’t bother, couldn’t get one, or didn’t know any better.
The ones that registered are enlightened, educated, politically motivated, or maybe it’s just because they care. Either way, having a voter’s card means you’re smart enough to know what it means.
As I walked and saw random bartenders and street vendors, I wondered whether they had cards. The purple today was subtle, so you couldn’t see it unless you grabbed a pinkie to look, literally.
Some people haven’t bothered to vote because they don’t care, and they don’t know how important it is. But now that you did get a card, why not speak for the three people that can’t?
I had argued that in a country of over 30 million, my one vote doesn’t count. But those 20 million don’t or can’t vote, because they don’t know what voting means, or how it works, or how it affects their lives. So for those of us who do know, don’t we owe it to them to make an informed decision?
If your child plays with fire because they don’t know it can hurt them, you pull them away. So we who can vote should pull fellow citizens away from the fire. It’s all we can do.