I went for a walk in the Lickey Hills country park today. Sitting on a bench in the thick of the woods, I was mesmerised by some fresh lime-coloured leaves shimmying in the gentle breeze. The earthy air felt fresh and clean after the rain. The singing of birds lulled me into stillness. And then there was the bluebell haze. I sat on that very bench in May 2007 when I saw a bluebell haze for the first time. Oh, the magic of this view. I felt transported into a fairy tale. Walking on this bluebell trail, I reflected on how each individual bluebell is special, but only together do they create this magical effect.
Today was a very special day for me. Not only because of my visit to the Lickey Hills. But because I voted… for the very first time in my life. I feel somewhat ashamed of this fact. Elections were meaningless in Azerbaijan. When I was a child, my grandpa used to collect the passports of all voting adults in the household, pop out for half an hour and decide who to vote for. In my late teens and early twenties, the power in the country was taken by military force. Even when things finally settled down and I was in my mid-twenties, elections did not mean much.
I remember a Japanese friend of mine visiting me in Azerbaijan.
‘Why are there these huge photos of the president everywhere?’ He asked me on the first day.
‘It’s the presidential elections,’ I explained.
‘Do you have only one candidate?’ He said.
‘Of course not,’ I laughed. ‘What sort of elections would that be with just one candidate?’
In reality, we might as well have had only one candidate because the participation of the opposition parties was nominal. Voting did not matter.
Shortly before I left the country, I was an observer during the presidential elections. I stood in front of a ballot box for 12 hours along with two observers, who were representatives of the American Embassy. That day, the three of us counted 798 votes. Then the ballot box opened at 8pm and the authorities produced 1111 votes, 980 of them in favour of the current president. The international organisations made some fuss about fraud during the elections, but soon everything went back to ‘normal.’
Then I was in England and, as an ‘alien’, I was not eligible to vote. It was only last year that I acquired a British passport, along with my franchise.
Today, I cast my vote. The process felt underwhelming. Two ladies sat at a table in a nearby nursery. They took my address and name and handed me two ballot papers. I made my choices and triple checked them. The whole process took three minutes. But the meaning of this event is huge for me.
It means I have a voice. It means my voice counts. It means I have freedom to choose. It means I am a part of this society. I belong.
Walking among bluebells today, I kept reflecting that we are like this haze. Of course, each of us needs to stand in our own power, but it’s only when we act together that we create magic.