Friday, March 2, 2012

Incoming

I have posted before about the effort that goes into hosting a VIP visit at post. Well, now I'm gearing up to be control officer for some P's who are even more VI than an Assistant Secretary: my family.

I feel really lucky that my family is coming. Guinea is not exactly a hot tourist destination: it takes a long time to get here, the tickets cost an absurd amount of money, and there's not a lot of obvious touristy stuff to do once you arrive. Seeing Conakry is not on anyone's bucket list. For all of these reasons most of my embassy colleagues' friends and families have said they'd love to visit them - at their next post. But I am fortunate enough to have parents with the time, money, and adventurous spirit to come out and give Guinea a try.

However, the fact that there aren't many obvious touristy things makes the visit really hard to plan. There are some historical sites in town, but there are no curated exhibits and audio-guided walking tours, often not even a commemorative plaque. Some of them aren't open to the public. There's a lot of natural beauty but it's not very accessible either. There's a notable shortage of the sort of wilderness space you get in the U.S. - reserved national parks with lodges and campsites and restaurants and gift shops and marked trails and maps and park rangers.

While I was lamenting the lack of obvious tourist activities several people said something along the lines of, "isn't it better that way, so they can get a more authentic experience?" The answer to that question is definitely no. The "authentic experience" of any place consists primarily of exactly the kinds of things you go on vacation to get away from: working, going to school, commuting, making dinner, doing chores. You aren't doing any of those things when you're visiting, and the people who live here are too busy having their own authentic Conakry experiences to educate and entertain gawking outsiders all day. Also, there's a fine line between experiencing the glory of nature in its untouched splendor and being lost in the woods with snakes.

I'm having to get a little creative, but with a lot of help from my friends I think I'll have enough activities to keep my folks occupied while they're here. And if not we can all float around in the pool or watch TV together, because those are key parts of my authentic Conakry experience.

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