Chapter 31: X is for Nemesis
Bruno, formerly second in command in Phnom Penh for the coming election, but now our Provincial Electoral Officer, PEO, showed up in KPCC for a DES meeting to find no one around to receive him, probably because it was a day earlier than his memo had indicated. By a fluke, I was at electoral HQ and thoroughly enjoyed his rant about Raena’s incompetent failure to prepare for his arrival. Given his inability to answer a single question before I left Phnom Penh, I couldn’t have cared less about his displeasure. In addition, I had the memo clearly stating that he would arrive the next day.
“Wow, sorry that no one is around but me. But here, isn’t this notice from you?”
Bruno glared and snatched the paper from me. His neck colored and he stared down at the floor, pushing his fingers through the hair above his forehead. I almost choked to keep from laughing.
I had a list of people who annoyed me, and Bruno was at the top of my list.
The DESs gathered at the electoral office building at the appointed hour. Apparently recovered from his tantrum and failing to mention his early arrival, Bruno proceeded to announce that finding interpreters in the provinces was nearly impossible, that he would try to procure small generators for us and that, as volunteers, we were now entitled to a housing allowance of five hundred dollars per month plus two hundred more for food. I already had one interpreter, even if Nhean was unofficial, had talked the Chinese engineers into hooking us up to their generator and had acquired a house for three hundred fifty dollars per month.
Bruno capped his introduction and report by saying, “For countless reasons, there will be no voting machines in Cambodia; voters will simply mark their ballot with an X, according to the UN election protocol.” Simple enough, I thought, until Brielle leaned over and whispered, “No, no. The X, it means for poison.”
“For poison and for landmines,” I whispered back, supporting her objection to this symbol.
I complained to Brielle on the way home. “How could the UN expect Cambodians to use an X to designate their choice for a leader? How could the UN miss the cultural significance of something so embedded in the country’s psyche? I wonder if the guys like Bruno running the electoral unit have ever talked to a Cambodian, or even to anyone who had met a Cambodian, prior to writing the protocol?”
“CJ, tout à fait, the UN can’t concern itself with the basic reality—that Cambodia is an inward, family-oriented society, disposé to be ruled,” she replied. “If a democratic society were implemented, the transformation would take decades, not months.”
“The Cambodians aren’t ready to cope with the rush into a modern Western-style political fray on their own, and Untac is doing zip to help.” I took Brielle’s silence as her affirmation, or else she was simply tired of hearing me sing this refrain.