Wednesday, January 25, 2012

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I just got back from a four-day visit to the Fouta Djallon, Guinea's central plateau region. This was a work trip, my first since a thorough tour of Guinea's bauxite mines back in July. These trips can be a little exhausting - long hours on rough roads and nights spent in hotels that may lack running water or electricity or both - but I enjoy the chance to get out of Conakry and see some more of the country I'm living in and supposed to be an expert on. The Fouta was lovely, all beautiful hills and plains and cool enough this time of year to break out a sweatshirt in the mornings, a rarity for Guinea. The people were very friendly, the food was excellent, and I had a very nice time.

However, one thing about these upcountry trips that I find just unspeakably weird is that when I go to Labe or Pita or Timbi Madina or another town or village in Guinea on official business I am suddenly an Important Person. I am not accustomed to being Important. In everyday life I tend to be something of a wallflower, and in my job in Conakry I play a minor supporting role while the ambassador takes center stage. But in these smaller towns in the interior my presence is a big deal, an occasion for photographs and reporters and ceremonial dinners and such. It feels very strange, being Important, and I'm not terribly comfortable with it yet.

But when the reporters and the local government officials and so forth turn out to meet me they aren't really there for *me*. They show up for THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Which, despite rumors of decline, is still kind of a big deal. It just so happens that at that particular moment, at that particular potato farm or hydroelectric dam or artisans' cooperative, THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA chooses to make itself manifest in the form of me, hiking boots and messy hair and all. (Note to self: in the future, THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA really ought to remember to bring her hair straightener on upcountry trips.)

It's a tricky thing, learning to stop being me for a moment, or at least learning to be me and THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA at the same time. I don't think I'm very good at it yet, but I guess that's part of the reason I get to go on these trips, to practice. Any gaffes I may happen to commit in Pita or Labe are unlikely to do much damage in the grand scheme of things and will help train me up, so if I am one day called upon to be THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA on a somewhat larger stage I'll be able to do the job creditably. I hope.

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