“No Escort Required?”

On my About Me page, I alluded to the possibility of writing about my experience traveling in Africa – to add an entertaining counterweight to my more analytical rants and musings on the events unfolding on the continent. The following is a story about an awkward experience I had while trying to get an interview for a project some years ago:

In the District of Columbia, one normally needs an appropriate badge, or even an escort, to access some U.S. government facilities. This is the world with which I am most familiar – and the world that, for better or worse, I project on my experiences entering foreign government facilities.

It is for this reason that I failed to ask for directions when I was doing a drive by of a national security establishment in African Country X in an attempt to make an appointment to interview someone. After showing my passport and explaining to the front desk why I was there, I was directed to walk across the yard to my left and into one of the identical white buildings. I was like, you’re just going to let me wander around your premises? I don’t need a badge or an escort? And the guy was like, that sounds about right.

So wander I did.

I stopped at Ambiguous White Building #1. Looked for signage. Seeing none, I opened the door to what appeared to be a kitchen. I continued to Ambiguous White Building #2. Looked for signage. Seeing none, I opened the door to a non-descript storage area. Frustrated, I wandered around that upper left quadrant of the compound where the front desk guy had told me to go and weighed the merits of returning to him for idiot-proof directions.

Finally, an important looking guy and his entourage spotted me. From that distance, I couldn’t tell what he was saying, but I assumed it was the vernacular equivalent of “What the (insert expletive here) is she doing?!?” The entourage summoned me over and I explained why I was this random American wandering around their national security facility. They directed me to Ambiguous White Building #3, which was not a kitchen or a storage area, but the office of the minister I was stalking attempting to interview.

This, my friends, is how I learned to always ask for an escort to avoid such shady appearances – even if one isn’t required.

 

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