In 1993, the remnants of the Khmer Rouge and the temporary Cambodian government’s military (who determined to win the national elections at all costs) gave rise to a lot of very real safety concerns as the first week of voting began. I was a United Nations (UN) electoral supervisor in a northwestern province called Pusat. The province had been experiencing some malicious mischief from both groups leading up to the elections. The UN military observers handed out flack jackets and helmets to UN volunteers like me.
“Nope, don’t think so,” I said as I handed back my too-large helmet and ten-pound Kevlar vest. “Really,” I sighed. “Its 105 degrees outside and, if my local Khmer poll workers aren’t getting safety gear, then how can I wear it? It would create panic and fear.”
I had already convinced the leadership to move all the polling sites out of the jungles and floating villages and onto Highway 5. This highway was a mostly paved government road that stretched from Phnom Penh northwest to Palin. We could move our equipment and military easily, whereas the remote polling sites were inaccessible to our vehicles because the monsoon rains had started early. Cambodians, on the other hand, could get to us with no problem—they had foot power, bicycles, and ox carts!
Now, in 2021, I am in the U.S. state of Georgia, working for the Department of Public Health in its Covid outreach program. We create and manage Covid vaccinations across two counties, which include a huge military base. Under Biden’s administration, vaccinations are mandatory for all military personnel. Next week we are scheduled to give shots to four hundred and eighty folks who do not want to be vaccinated.
When I heard this plan, I panicked! Although I was willing to beg, if necessary, I first suggested that my supervisor contact the base organizer and request extra security. “They are working on it,” she texted me. “Working on it” did not quell my crazy. I walked down the street to see my neighbor, whose husband is on active duty in the Army. She was out on her front lawn planting flowers. “T’Keisha,” I called to her. “Does Ernie have any Kevlar vests at home, and do you think he would lend me one on 9/11, when I’m at the base giving shots?”
Ernie didn’t think I was crazy, but he did reassure me as best he could while adjusting the jacket to fit my smaller frame. “lf something does go down, security will button it up pretty quick.”
Pretty quick? Nope, not reassuring enough. I’m going to wear the vest.