Saturday, March 23, 2013

Expeditionary Diplomacy

I just spent the last week traveling with the ambassador in N'zerekore, Guinea's most remote region. It takes two days to get there from Conakry by car, but we saved some time by hitching a ride on a tiny little plane chartered by a mining company operating in the region. It was fun to see Guinea by air, though unfortunately after the long dry season most of it was obscured by a reddish haze of dust.

Part of the welcome committee
Traveling with the ambassador was wildly different from the travel I'd done on my own. Working for the embassy meant I never had any trouble getting meetings with officials and businesses and such, and occasionally there was some local media attention, but mostly my presence went unmarked and unnoticed by the population at large. An ambassador is a completely different kettle of fish. Everywhere we went the crowds were there to meet us, with singing and dancing and speeches and gifts. We were the most exciting thing to have happened to some of these places in years. Local officials competed with one another to demonstrate, in the most extravagant way possible, how very happy they were that the ambassador had come to their town. I think after this trip he probably has enough mudcloth boubous and gourds full of kola nuts to last a lifetime.

We covered a lot of ground in a few days, visiting mining sites, a refugee camp, a university, a civic center, and much more, and there were still so many things we just didn't have time for. We spent long hours on bumpy roads, though certainly not the worst I've seen in Guinea. I went to bed exhausted every night. I found the trip very educational, although all the pomp and circumstance made it harder to get down to the meat of things and really engage with the issues, and just about impossible to keep to a schedule. (As the person in charge of the schedule, this was just a tiny bit stressful for me.) But despite all the delays and surprises we got everything done that we went there to do, which was no small feat. And the boss seemed pleased, so I'm willing to call the trip a success.

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