A few weeks ago a mysterious envelope appeared on my desk – it turned out to contain photocopied pages from Guinea Weekender: A Collection of Essays on Travel to the Interior of Guinea. This series of travel vignettes was written in the mid-‘90s by Paul Pometto, then Embassy Conakry’s Management Officer and now back at the Mothership after a stint as DCM in Djibouti. The copy I have (posted with permission) seems to be missing the verso pages so some of the stories are incomplete, but it’s enough to get the flavor of the place.
It was fascinating to compare Pometto’s Guinea with the Guinea I know today. He was a much more adventurous and wide-ranging traveler than I have been so far, but many of the places he wrote about I have been to as well. Some things have changed, both for better and for worse. Inflation has eroded the Guinea franc to the point where Pometto’s prices all look like they could use an extra zero. Many of the hotels and restaurants he visited are now long gone, but others have arisen. The roads have probably improved overall, though perhaps not by much, especially during the rainy season. Electricity supplies have probably declined, at least in Conakry. My friend Alfred* has a photo book of Conakry from the same period, and it’s amazing to see photos of places that I know, but with the buildings brightly lit, freshly painted, and standing tall instead of dark, mildew-stained and crumbling at the edges as they are today.
Other things haven’t changed at all. The beaches, mountains, and waterfalls are still much as Pometto left them. The stories he tells of rattling over washboard roads and camping out in upcountry hotel rooms still resonate. Mali still has an annual potato festival, and Kindia’s market still bustles. In Conakry local pirogues still ply the waters to the Iles de Los, where drumming lessons and fish kebabs are still on offer, just as they were 15 years ago. And Guinea’s people are still every bit as friendly and generous as Pometto describes.
It’s strange to think that when I leave Guinea next summer I’ll probably never come back. It’s not the kind of place you tend to find yourself without a really specific reason. I’ll be gone but time will go on, as it always does. Who knows what Guinea will look like 15 years from now?
*Not his real name, but he picked it out.