Chapter 15: Disorder
Our cohort of UNVs was like an army of soldiers preparing for deployment. We were ready, but those in charge of us were not.
Sitting in the ballroom of the Cambodiana Hotel, Phnom Penh’s only four-star hotel—replete with fitness center, tennis courts and a crystal-clean pool—I fidgeted in my chair, rubbed my arms against the chill and concentrated on the little ribbons that blew like windsocks from the air conditioning vents.
The microphone let out a screech and whistled, which got my attention. The words of Bruno Milnes, the UN’s second-in-charge of the election, were chilling if not memorable.
“You should know that, despite our best efforts, you may or may not have what you need when you leave next week. But UNV and electoral staff are doing their best to get supplies out to you, as quickly as they can. I can tell you, um, that you won’t have generators . . . or um . . . well . . . or office supplies or registration materials. However, I assure you they are coming. Oh yes, bottled water. You really need to drink eight glasses a day minimum, so I suggest you stock up here as our water supply isn’t in place yet in most districts.” I heard someone say ‘donkey-butts’ from the rear of the room.
Loud snickers erupted until Bruno continued. “You will be the point persons for the election. You will have a certain amount of autonomy, room for creative civic education and supervision of registration. Any questions?”
I seized the opportunity. “I can’t think of anything that requires a useless or downright wrong answer.” Bruno glared at me. I had made another enemy in the bureaucracy. I hoped that we would not cross paths again.
Our support staff didn’t know what they were doing, so they were going to leave figuring it all out to us. We were expected to spend our first few weeks settling into our districts, identifying recruits, and finding housing, and doing civic education—all on our own. I let the information and lack of information slip away into a back room of my brain with a host of other worries. More important were the team assignments, which were due out at any time.