Iraqi Elections in Vancouver
Written by
Elen Ghulam
March 2010
Written by
Elen Ghulam
March 2010
I will gladly show my stretch marks to anybody. They don’t look pretty, but they symbolize an honoured passage into a magical kingdom that can only be entered the hard way. As I write this I have a purple index finger. My finger looks like it has been tortured or perhaps suffocated by restricted blood circulation. However, I want to stick my finger in everybody’s face and say “Look! ... I voted in Iraqi elections today”.
As my right index finger was dipped into semi permanent electoral ink, to ensure that I wouldn’t be able to vote more than once, how happy I was that I didn’t have an expensive manicure to ruin. Turns out the dye lasts on your finger for days and on your cuticle for months. Even if I was the type that indulged in manicures, I would ruin my nail investment and soil the beauty of my nails in order to have the opportunity to participate in Iraqi elections. Forget about winter Olympics, 2010 was the year that Iraqi elections came to Vancouver. It was the first time an election poll was opened .... not exactly in Vancouver, in Coquitlam but driving distance from Vancouver. Close enough for me. In past years, I considered travelling to Calgary, the closest polling station, expense and time away from family and work deterred me. I watched the news with envy coveting the purple finger sported by my fellow Iraqi citizens. How I wanted to assert my sense of belongingness and join in the hopeful effort to build a new country. So when I heard a polling station will be opened in the lower mainland, I greeted the news with unabashed excitement. Soon the excitement gave way to disarray. There are over 80 political entities that I need to choose from. I spent evenings studying the election ballot and researching the different options. I want to take my voting obligation seriously and place my vote in a worthy candidate. However, given my experience with Canadian election, my vote seems to be the kiss of death to political parties. I participate in all federal, provincial and municipal elections. I am yet to vote for a candidate that wins. I even voted no for the Vancouver winter Olympics and we all saw what that caused. Given my jinx effect, I consider the idea of voting for the candidate that I want to win the least, but then I remind myself that this whole exercise is about hope and if I want to be cynical I might as well not bother to vote at all. O I remember the excitement I felt when I became a Canadian citizen. Like a starved person that eats too much when he encounters food, I tackled my new democratic rights with a ravishing appetite. Never missing a chance to express my stand . Not only did I vote in whatever was available, I participated in probably hundreds of demonstrations. Anti-war, anti-poverty, anti-occupation, anti-whatever. I signed petitions, mailed letters to my MP, chanted slogans and stood in the cold on street corners handing out leaflets to my new fellow citizens. My dad came with me to one of the anti-war rallies and ridiculed the whole effort. “This isn’t a demonstration, this is a street party” he exclaimed. “In my days in the old country, going to a demonstration meant that you were willing to say goodbye to your life”, he continued. After a long day with chanting slogans and handing out leaflets, I would go to sleep self satisfied with my hearty effort. But once sleepiness would take over my mind a different sensation would pop into my mind. I would imagine the Canadian Prime minister standing over my head looking at me with disapproval. “Elen, you are such a coward” Jean Christian would say. “You criticize my policies and call me all sorts of names today”. With a menacing disapproval Paul Martin would popup next to him “Back in the old country you would never dare say a peep”. That is when Steven Harper shows up and says with an evil grin “How I wish I was the prime minister of the country you came from Elen. I would stick you and all your riffraff friends in a nice cell in Abu Ghraib prison and teach you all a lesson you would never forget. Poor me I get to be a prime minister of Canada, where every idiot thinks he can tell me how to run the country”. At that point I would delve deeply into a nightmare, that no longer pertains to democracy. This is different. This feels like grown up business after child’s play. Like a lush oasis that pops up suddenly in the middle of the desert, you are not sure if it’s real or your own imagination. This is same but different. Awkward but comforting. Surreal but common. New yet old. This is Alice falling into the rabbit hole and finding herself outside of the Matrix to hear Neo telling her that the Matrix isn’t real. This is so so different. After doing my research, I head to my safety deposit to get all Iraqi documents: Passport, birth certificate and citizenship papers. These papers have been lodged into dark box and sat there neglected, filling no purpose in my life, for I had shiny new papers from a new and more welcoming country. Here they come in handy for the first time in 18 years . I look so young in all the pictures, so much has changed on my life since those pictures were taken. With my brother and father I take the one hour drive to Coquitlam to find the voting station. In a true Iraqi fashion, there is a line up for women and a line up for men. Also there is a group a men standing outside smoking cigarettes. I am immediately ecstatic, there are so many people. Young and old, men and women, children in strollers and children jumping up and down and around. Where in Canadian election you walk into am quite room, spent 5 minutes to sign up with a bored volunteer and be done few minutes later. Here the scenario is different. After standing in the line-up for about 20 minutes, I am greeted with a woman in traditional Kurdish dress. She inspects my documents and then directs me to another line-up to register my name and details before I can vote. Inside the room there is celebratory atmosphere. People are chatting and joking around with each other. Other woman standing in the line exchange smiles with me. The two women behind me are chatting in Kurdish, the women in front of me are chatting in Arabic. I see women in long dressed and scarves on their heads and others in jeans and t-shirts. Child birth is terrible business. When I arrived at BC Women’s hospital to give birth to my first child, I could hear a woman screaming in the birth room next door. I asked the nurse who was helping me get settled in the birth room assigned to myself:” Why is she screaming so loudly? this doesn’t hurt that much”. In a cold and monotone voice the nurse answered me “Your contractions will get much more painful in a few hours”. A bolt of panic though my spine, I looked into the nurses eyes hoping to see any signs of jesting. “How much worse?”, I asked her . “About one hundred times worse” was her answer. I tried to calculate one hundred times of the pain that I was feeling at that moment and found myself unable to come up with an answer. “You are joking ... right?” I was pleading for a smile, hoping that I was dealing with a prankster nurse, amusing herself by scaring a first time child birth-er. “I am dead serious” came her answer in a matter of fact manner, not even a hint of a smile on her face. “You will be screaming like that woman in a few hours” was her final contribution before she left the room to attend to patients of greater need than myself. O I know things are messed up in Iraq and my little purple finger won’t make a difference. Giving birth to a nation is even messier than giving birth to a child but the results are sooooooooooooo beyond worth it. I refuse to lose hope.

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