Friday, September 17, 2004

GUEST ENTRY: Visit 20 Countries in Two Hours

Thanks very much to Steve for his inspiring example.
LOCATION: Across DC in general, but concentrated around DuPont Circle TIME: Weekdays, between 9am and noon, 2pm-4pm EQUIPMENT: Yourself and friends who have a sense of adventure and lots of free time, backpack for free stuff, possibly-fake anecdotes about individual countries to gain entry OPTIONAL: Your passport, to intensify the effect

Foreign embassies are everywhere; in their ubiquity, our boredom is salved. The embassy hop-- the pub crawl for the citizen of the world-- affords us DC residents the chance to visit twenty countries in two hours. For our voyage, we the intrepid walk home with a sense of the other and a flag made of paper, the very definition of a lagniappe.

The idea was simple. DC has lots of embassies, most near each other. Embassy staffs have a great knowledge of their country and very little to do. They would love to talk to people who wanted to listen, and in their gratitude, they'd give away stuff for free. After we listened to one staff, we'd walk across the street to the next embassy, knock on the door, and repeat the process. As then-college students with a desire to travel and a schedule heavy with night classes, some friends and I felt we were in a perfect position to engage in some personal diplomacy.

(Some quick notes: We began embassy hopping in the halcyon days pre-9/11/01. While embassies have since raised their collective heckles, they are no more alert than government buildings, which remain accessible despite the government's best effort, are now. Also, I must claim ignorance on some frequently asked questions. No, I don't know why small countries have giant homes for their embassies. I don't know why some choose to bunch themselves together while one was so hidden I walked past it for four years without even realizing it was there. I don't understand why some bother to exist considering the lack of hours that the staff will open the door. All I know about embassies is that if you ask them nicely, some will give you free stuff.)

The journey is often terrifying. For instance, take our trek into the aforelinked Kyrgyz embassy. We enter, relatively new to our embassy hopping mission. Hello! We love Kyrgyzstan! We'd love a flag! We're taken into the back, where it's cold and dark. Two men, both of hearty stock, greet us. Vhat do you vahnt? Hello! We love Kyrgyzstan! We'd love a flag! We're taken into the back room off of that back room. Colder, darker. Another greets us. So, you speak Kyrgyz? Ummm, not so much. Then you speak Russian? Again, no. Why you want flag then? We love Kyrgyzstan! We'd love a flag! Forty rays on the sun represent the forty united tribes! Brilliant! We wait. The men talk, sternly (Kyrgyz: a stern-sounding language), then leave the room. Our thoughts: have we broken a law, either US or Kyrgyz? What can they do to us? How the hell did we end up alone in a back room of the Embassy of Kyrgyzstan? Five minutes later, however, they let us go, and dear reader, I'm proud to say, with free gift in hand. A flag two by three inches, this trinket makes a voyage to Bishkek seem more than worthwhile.

From this, the legend grew. We figured we had rendered our State Department expendable, as we could begin to establish a better, more private relationship with every country, based solely on what we could talk each into giving us. Australia, loved across the globe for their beer and accent? Cold-- they turned us away at the door. Greece, historical enemy of the Lacedaemonians? Take take take! Guidebooks! Histories! A flag (made of paper, yes, but a flag nonetheless)! Indonesia offered my fellow embassy hopper a $30,000 scholarship after he demonstrated a working knowledge of their language. Ireland thought we were suspicious and rushed us out as quickly as possible. Morocco...well, Morocco was the mother-lode. Yes, our entry was based on a lie. Hello! We have a friend that's Moroccan, and next week is her birthday! We thought a great gift would be a flag that was flown over the embassy! But even after we admitted we didn't have a Moroccan friend, Morocco rewarded us. Books, maps, a huge flag, a general sense of love. Thanks, Morocco, and I promise I'll make it to Fez one day.

After college came full-time jobs and the corresponding loss of free time on work days. Our embassy hopping suffered. Now, it's more an activity wistfully remembered rather than consistently perfected. The opportunity still remains. You have heard. Tell the others.


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10:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Help me Dude, I'm lost.

I was searching for Elvis and somehow ended up in your blog, but you know I'm sure I saw Elvis in the supermarket yesterday.

No honest really, he was right there in front of me, next to the steaks singing "Love me Tender".

He said to me (his lip was only slightly curled) "Boy, you need to get yourself a shiny, new plasmatv to go with that blue suede sofa of yours.

But Elvis said I, In the Ghetto nobody has a plasma tv .

Dude I'm All Shook Up said Elvis. I think I'll have me another cheeseburger then I'm gonna go home and ask Michael Jackson to come round and watch that waaaay cool surfing scene in Apocalypse Now on my new plasma tv .

And then he just walked out of the supermarket singing. . .

"You give me love and consolation,
You give me strength to carry on "

Strange day or what? :-)

3:59 AM  

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