Right in at the deep end – but I can float!
The day before I left the UK, my NGO Supervisor made contact and asked me if I would be agreeable to a change of plan. Originally, I was due to arrive on Thursday followed by a few days to recover and adjust to my temporary home before a 2-week induction at the Kampala office of Cheshire Services Uganda (CSU). However, key colleagues at CSU were leaving for a field trip that weekend for stakeholder meetings and to celebrate 2 graduation ceremonies for PwD (Persons with Disabilities) in Northern Uganda and I was invited.
It was clear that this was far too good an opportunity to miss and sometimes the best way to accelerate one’s learning and in turn adjust to a new situation is to simply jump in, so I quickly said, ‘YES ABSOLUTELY’.
In preparation, for the upcoming trip I visited the Kampala office on the Friday morning to get sense of CSU and to meet (albeit briefly) as many new colleagues as possible; a meet and greet. I was met with friendly enthusiasm and even though it was a lot of information to take in (including 60 odd new names that my little grey cells will no doubt need time to retain) it was all good 👍 😊.
It also made me appreciate that although I have never considered myself an ‘expert’ as such, my work at GSK over the last 14 years has given me knowledge and experience that I’m confident will make a difference to CSU and their beneficiaries in the coming months.
The afternoon was devoted to getting my work visa formally embossed in my passport at the Interior Ministry. After waiting for an hour or so, the clearly stressed out official explained that the ‘system was down’ and that I would have to come back next week. I lingered as I thought it was odd that some people were being processed. Ten minutes later I asked again and was told that it was for ‘East African’ passport holders only and that all others had to return at another time. The irony is that since I was born in Tanzania, I did once upon a time have an East African passport! However the key thing was that I’d got into Uganda so waiting for this formality wasn’t a worry
Finding myself in central Kampala, I decided to sort out practicalities, i.e. getting some cash, buying toothpaste and a local SIM. I pottered around finding my way, it was fun checking out the malls and of course I deliberately went to a big supermarket which I loved! For those who know me well you know that is often the first thing I like to do when I go to a new place (as well as check out listings at estate agents!) It is a great way to understand the local culture and gives brilliant insight into behaviours and of course eating habits.
Buying the SIM was hilarious, I was directed to Nicholas, a young chap who was clearly not engaged; kind of a like a human version of ‘the computer says no’. Poor Nicholas had to deal with me and his colleague who kept repeatedly haranguing him loudly with ‘help the man Nicholas’. Funny enough it didn’t really seem to work but eventually 30 minutes later I was finally the proud owner of a Ugandan PAYG SIM. I asked to purchase some airtime but was told it was not possible to buy in the shop (even though it was a proper outlet of the biggest Ugandan mobile network). Realising that I had got the best of Nicholas and that he had maxed his productivity for the day 😉 I decided that airtime could be purchased another day!
I walked back to my guest house from central Kampala. I love walking in new places, it’s a great way of orientating yourself, finding out more about the location and of course people watching. Also, since I am part of the Global Challenge (Virgin Pulse), important that I don’t let my team down and maintain my physical activity levels. It was a solid 6km walk back, but fantastic. The temperature was perfect with a cooling breeze and I got to see how complex the city is as well as that it’s located on 7 circumferential hills. I even stumbled across a park that felt so British and for a moment reminded me of being a child playing in my local park in North London.
My day ended with a quiet evening at the guest house reflecting on what I had learnt, reading on all the background material I had gathered and starting to think ahead of all the possible ways I can make a difference while here…..