I saw this woman during an election in the Republic of Georgia in 2002. I described her in my report about it:
She hobbled into the polling station at Mtskheta leaning on a cane, clutching a brochure from a candidate in her gnarled hand. She was running a fever, yet still had managed to walk to the polling station. Less than 5 feet tall and wispy thin, her head covered with a worn scarf, she was nearly invisible in the irritated crowd pressed up to the table where voters were trying to sign in.
Eventually, as the chaos untangled itself, she managed to get to the registration desk. But then she was turned away – she hadn’t brought any identification with her.
“I’ve lived here all my life,” she said, bewildered. “Everyone knows me.” The elections commission member was apologetic, and offered to find someone to give her a ride home to get her identification.
The woman refused, and walked out slowly. I don’t know how far she had to walk, but an hour later she was back, old Soviet passport in hand. She took her ballot into the curtained booth, and cast it in the transparent box.
I will never forget this woman’s determination to exercise her legal right to vote in a free and fair election – a right that she had waited for during seven decades of Soviet rule….
It’s true: I never forgot the woman. Only recently I rediscovered the report that began with this narration of her story.
The report was buried in some training files that I had copied from the computer of Rob Eure, a trainer I’d worked with in Egypt and Afghanistan. Rob had never mentioned to me that he had this report, but he kept it with him during our work on elections in Egypt in 2005.
Tragically, Rob died of a heart attack in Cairo during the project. I still miss his humor and good sense, as well as his thirst for a good story and his heartfelt desire to help other journalists. He was one of the best trainers I ever worked with. I like knowing that he valued something I wrote enough to keep it.
I was glad to rediscover this report, because it includes so many details that I had forgotten – about the journalists, about the difficulties, about my philosophy of training journalists.
I put much time and thought into reports on projects, in the hope that project planners and funders will replicate what worked, and avoid what didn’t work. It’s also a chance for me to assimilate what I’ve learned as a trainer, for each assignment has its own challenges and I draw on past experience to cope with them.
This report describes one of three assignments I had in Georgia from 2000 to 2002, and though a decade old it still includes timely lessons.
Download it here: Georgia Elections Report 2002