Saturday, September 17, 2011

Guinea Goggles

A while ago a friend of mine in Cameroon blogged about taking his family on vacation to a beach resort, to find that the restaurant was closed at dinnertime and the fridge, DVD player, and stove in the room were all broken. I read this post and I couldn't stop laughing, because the very thought of a DVD player in a hotel in Guinea was so outrageous. I bring this up not to denigrate his experience or to get in some kind of my-post-is-tougher-than-your-post fight, but to point out how much of a difference expectations make.

Around here we talk about having your Guinea goggles on, by which we mean acknowledging that things are different here and adjusting expectations accordingly. Hotels, for example. I haven't done that much traveling yet, but enough to know that in Guinea, especially outside Conakry, a nice hotel is one that has running water. Things like toilet paper and air conditioning bring you up to luxury status, especially if the A/C is quiet enough to have it on and still fall asleep. Would I rather be at the Four Seasons? Definitely yes, but it's easier to deal with a starker existence when you know ahead of time that's what you're getting yourself into.

My friends and I like to play a little game where we talk about Guinea as if it were the United States. Someone asks for directions to a store or restaurant and we tell them whatever they're looking for is in the strip mall with the Home Depot, right behind the Applebee's. We mention our need to run to Walgreens for breathmints and express our excitement about the new Ikea that's about to open. It sounds dumb, and it is admittedly a little juvenile, but it's also riotously funny. Trust me on this. The gulf between our new home and the one we left behind is so vast you have to giggle to imagine those worlds colliding.

Besides, it helps with the homesickness in those inevitable moments when your Guinea goggles start to slip.

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