March 15, 2013

Port Stanley, Falkland Islands

By Marcos Brindicci


That’s the word in the Falkland Islands these days.

Islanders held a referendum to stay under British rule and almost unanimously (98.8 percent) voted YES, with 92 percent of voter attendance. YES was also the first picture I took upon arriving in Port Stanley, the word formed with vehicles up on a hillside.

I first came to the Islands exactly one year ago, but the feeling now is different. It feels like the word YES is also in the spirit of its residents, as they seem much more positive towards foreigners and Argentines in general; I get the sense that they separate Argentine people from the Argentine government’s position.

A year ago, it was difficult for me just to talk to some of the islanders. Many Argentine war veterans were coming to visit the islands and they were not at ease about it. But now, they’re receiving journalists from all over, and the attention that they wanted to get, which is the main goal of the referendum. I knew that it was going to be different this time but I was not expecting to witness such a show of their patriotism.

Residents arrived at the polling stations wearing suits, wigs and dresses with the Union Jack colors, and T-shirts embossed with words that spoke their minds. And they were happy to show them and pose for the media.

I did not expect at all that people were going to line up outside the polling station in this kind of weather, changing from rain to sunshine to snowfall and sunshine again, and then rain again, all within an hour.

I ran into a woman who I photographed last year, as she was waiting to vote. She was really happy to meet me again and gave me a big hug. I immediately remembered that, when she approached me at the supermarket a year ago, she asked me if we Argentines were going to invade the Falklands again.

It was all red, blue and white everywhere: Land Rovers all around decorated with the Union Jack and Falkland flags. They even had a parade with cars driving around before the referendum and another one, called the “victory parade,” the day after.

As soon as the ballot results were known, people exploded in emotion. They gathered outside the Anglican Cathedral and waited there for the final tally. I guess the beer helped them resist the cold, because they had started drinking earlier; This is a place where drinking seems to be a local sport, and now they really had a reason to play.

Unlike last year, when we were advised not to photograph children, this time they didn’t seem to have any problem.

But the emotional week ended and a couple of days after the referendum, everything began to return to what I had remembered from the first visit. Though people still seem friendly, the feeling is that during the “referendum days” their excitement and the fact that they could all be united gave them the confidence to act more openly towards foreigners.

As an Argentine, coming to the Falklands (or “Malvinas,” as we call them) for the first time had an emotional feeling to it, bringing back memories of the war and everything I learned since I was a little boy. Coming a second time still makes it a special trip, but I get the feeling that I can put aside all the things I had thought of the Islands before and really get a better idea of what living here is like and how the Islanders are.

As we wait for the weekly return flight, many colleagues are bored and eager to leave right away, but not me. It’s always nice to spend a week in what feels like the end of the world.

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