Being on the ship during the Togolege presidential elections is underscoring for me yet again just how isolating this life can be. I've always felt that we were living next to Africa rather than right in it, and the feeling has never been stronger than right now.
I mean, I understand why we're laying low, restricted to a very small radius of ship and dock. I understand the need for canceled shore leave and daily updates on the Captain's Board. In 2005 during the last presidential elections, there was widespread violence when the opposition party felt the vote was rigged. There are still refugees from that time living in a camp in Benin, so I fully understand the potential gravity of the situation.
What I can't wrap my head around is how disconnected I feel.
There are Togolese patients sitting in beds in the ward exactly forty-six steps away from me. (I counted on the way to work the other day.) I'm sure some are for Gnassingbe and others support Fabre, but we're on the ship, where politics can't touch us. The opposition party started to protest yesterday when it was getting obvious that Gnassingbe was going to win again, and police threw tears gas into the crowd and arrested several people. While all that was going on, I was sitting in my cabin, munching on fresh, homemade garlic bread and watching an episode of American Idol.
Because I can't be out on the streets right now, I can't seem to really fathom what all this means for Togo. I should care more. I should pray more. I lived in (or next to, at least) Liberia for ten months. I've seen what happens when democracy fails, when power corrupts.
But I'm lulled into this false sense of complacency, encased here in the steel hull of my world. The whole situation loses it's urgency when it's filtered through handwritten updates on a whiteboard. I'm right here, not halfway across the world, and still all I can do is read articles pulled down off a Google search. I want to be safe, but I wish it could be more than that.
As of a few hours ago, it seems that the official results are in and Gnassingbe has indeed won another term. The opposition has promised violence if this were to happen, so we'll hunker down for another day. We'll watch movies on our laptops and eat leftover pizza and drink tea with our friends.
Somewhere in the midst of all that, I'm going to try to actually understand that I'm right next to history being made. And I'm going to pray.