Wednesday, August 3, 2011

All That Glitters

Today I do not love my job. Today my job was to look a very sweet man in the eye and tell him that in all likelihood his life savings were gone and never coming back, and there was really nothing we could do about it.

The gentleman in question had found himself ensnared in a gold scam, an all-too-common occurrence in Guinea. He came to the U.S. Embassy with a folder full of documents and a heart full of hope. He was sure the United States of America could make this right. And I wanted to. I wanted to so badly. I wanted to summon Captain America and send him downtown to punish the evildoers and get this nice man's money back in the name of truth, justice, and the American Way.

Unfortunately, in real life red-white-and-blue superheroes are a little thin on the ground. In real life when Americans find themselves in trouble in foreign countries their only recourse is whatever judicial and law enforcement system that country has to offer. We are not in charge here. Our laws and law enforcement do not apply. We cannot just call someone and make it all better. I wish we could. In real life pretty much all we can do is give you a list of local lawyers who can help you through the local legal system, if that's what you want to do. You're not in Kansas anymore.

So I told him this, although not quite in those words. He was perfectly polite about it, which made it even worse. The look of defeat in his eyes just about killed me. Short of telling someone about a death - which I may have to do next year in my consular capacity - this is about the toughest news I can think of to have to break. But it's my job, and I did it, as professionally and compassionately as I know how. At least he didn't argue when I told him his life is more important than the money; these things have turned violent before.

He went home disappointed, and I went home angry and swam laps until I couldn't swim anymore. I'm still angry, angry that bad things happen to good people and that I can't do anything about it. But I guess that's a bigger problem than just gold scams.


  1. That had to suck. Just found your blog and am really enjoying it. Is it okay if I link to it? Best,

  2. Sure, it's a free internet. Glad you like the blog.

  3. Just found your blog. I'm a JO also and Conakry is on my list. Any tips? After living there, would you say it's worth it? I'm trying to decide where to rank it.

  4. Roysie - Two months in I am very happy I came to Conakry. I love my job (except for events like the one above), my bosses and colleagues are incredible, my house is very nice, and I am having a good time. Of course, picking a post is a personal choice - the things that I like about Conakry might not appeal to you, and the things I don't like about Conakry you might think are deal-breakers. If you want to get more specific you can email me at cheerfulstoic11 (at) gmail (dot) com. For another perspective you may also want to check out Adventures of a Freckle-Faced Girl (, the blog of an EFM here in Conakry.