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The hype given to this referendum was unbelievable. Listening to the media you would think we are going into a war zone! So yesterday I informed my staff, who all come from Upper Egypt, that they will be coming with me to cast their ballots at the special stations set up for those away from their home towns. A few minutes before 9 a.m. we were on our way. The fog on the road was not too bad and we made reasonable time to the area we had to go to. The directions I had found on the internet were a bit vague, but as is the case in Egypt, you go, then nearer the area you ask for directions. Also, as is the case in Egypt, nobody says I don’t know, they all give you directions, often contradictory ones, in an attempt to help you get where you want to go. Of course you end up in a totally wrong place, but that’s OK, everybody’s been so “helpful”, you cannot really resent that.
So we finally found the right voting station for the boys. The queue was pretty long. We parked nearby and I took off on foot to try to find my voting station which, as usual is a school. It has been quite some time since I’ve been on foot in such an area of town. It was quite an experience.
First I went in the direction from whence we came. I kept going towards a building that looked like a school, which turned out to be a Governmental administrative building of some sort. So had to ask for directions. The one person who looked reliable enough for that was a street vendor selling oranges. I must say the oranges looked great, all shiny and beautifully displayed in a pyramid. When asked, he pointed me to the area where the boys had gone to vote. So I thought my best option would be to go back and ask there. On the way back it was so tempting, but I stopped myself, twice, from flagging down one of the Tok-toks buzzing around like flies. They are such happy, noisy, colorful little bicycle-like three wheeled rickshaws, it was with great restraint that I did not jump into one of them just for the sheer fun of it. But after seeing the way they drive, I thought it would be safest to enjoy the view from OUTSIDE, than inside one of them. Each one of them had a radio blaring at ear splitting levels, all different songs. Each is colored a very bright color, mostly yellow and red. They come and go with no regard whatsoever to the way traffic is supposed to be going, so quite often they are against traffic. As they are not licensed, they feel free to break as many traffic laws as they like, and they do. What a circus! By that time the fog had lifted completely and the sun was out, which somehow intensified the colors, the noise and the holiday atmosphere.
Going back to the school where the boys were standing in queue waiting to cast their votes, I went up to the gate and asked one of the army soldiers assigned there for directions to the school I was assigned to. A very young soldier, with a baby-face and the sweetest smile ever, very politely gave me very accurate directions to reach the school I wanted. I thanked him and headed in that direction. In less than a minute the school’s brick wall fence came into sight. To reach it I had to cross an empty lot with a mound of dust and a lot of debris, but with a beaten track in the middle where cars crossed. I did that and on turning the corner, there were the queues. The women’s queue was pretty short, maybe around a dozen. When I reached the end of it they all kept shooing me to go through. I said I could stand in the queue for the elderly and they just smilingly kept egging me on. I really must look a wreck! But it got me through. Inside, the same. I reached the door of my assigned voting station, which had three stations inside. The queue at the door was reasonable, but the man at the door asked me what my station number was, when I told him he just told the people to make way and I stepped into the room. There was nobody at my station, I had my number on the list, gave it to the man there, he took my ID card, compared it to the name and number on his list, filled in the last two digits on his list, had me sign, then gave me the voting form. I took a couple of steps towards the voting table, behind a slight screen, checked the pertinent circle with the pen provided there, stepped out and dropped the paper in the transparent box that was already one quarter full. Then dipped my index finger into the red stain, was given my ID card back and was out of there having done my civic duty in less than a minute.
Off I went, back towards where the car was parked to wait for the boys. Crossing the mound of that vacant lot again, a large four-wheele Chevrolet stopped by and the driver offered me a lift. As my car was literally one street away, I thanked him and declined. If it had been a Tok-Tok I am not sure if my answer would have been the same. But two minutes later, I am now sitting in the car, writing this, waiting for the boys to cast their votes and come back. I am sitting here watching and listening to the circus and enjoying the holiday, feast-like atmosphere.