Entebbe adventure anniversary


Today is the ten year (bloody hell how is it ten years!) anniversary of one of my most interesting work escapades.

I was coming to the end of my time at the Medical Research Council – though that was not public knowledge – and I was asked to visit one of their Research Centres in Entebbe, Uganda to help them get set up with a WordPress website, teach them how to maintain it themselves and do a bit of social media training.

It was a really exciting opportunity and not one I was about to turn down – I’d never been to Africa, had done very few international work trips and this was at the height of my WordPress advocacy. It was however at a pretty full-on, stressful time work wise. I was knee-deep in a difficult and controversial project, was having major issues with a member of staff and – like I alluded to earlier – hadn’t told anyone I had accepted a role elsewhere. So anyway I said I’d do it on the basis that all the logistics and admin would be handled and all I needed to do was put together the training materials, the workshop and be ready to help them spin up a prototype website.

This was a mistake.

I started to realise that nobody had a grip on things when it emerged that despite all the assurances to the contrary I had not been booked in for anti-malarial meds and ended up having to arrange it myself with a last minute trip to Nomad.

Then my flight details arrived and I discovered that the route selected included an seven hour layover in Dubai going out and eight hours returning…on what was already an odd route to get to Entebbe when there were direct flights available or changes in Amsterdam or Brussels.

It was also a middle seat…still it was exciting so I bit my lip and went with it. Eight hours in a packed airport when you aren’t drinking – oh yeah I was off the booze as well – was a challenge but I got through it.

Then the airline lost my luggage…and because this led me to be delayed at baggage claim my driver gave up and left me there.

I got to the hotel fine but when I got there I discovered the hotel and not been prepaid for as promised and I needed to pay on arrival. This was my pre-consultancy days and I was not exactly flush! I managed to scrape enough together but it was painful.

Then I discovered there was a security alert so I was not allowed to leave the hotel compound which meant buying a change of clothes and toiletries from the hotel shop. This amounted to an Ugandan football shirt and a tee that it turned had a graphic that was local slang for tourist – it was not positive slang!

Anyway the hotel was lovely – it was just suffering rolling blackouts – and I got picked out by a driver the next day and taken to the research centre – which was a US CDC compound with armed guards. After amusing the local team with my tales of woe I went to a very impressive theatre space to give my intro to WordPress workshop. I had no attendee list and did the classic ‘if you aren’t supposed to be here leave now’ intro but nobody did so I dived in. I seemed to go well and people were really interested with lots of great questions and engagement. It was only at the end of the day that I found two people in the room were in the wrong place and didn’t want to be rude by leaving! More recruits to the WordPress cause 🙂

My meeting with the local Director that afternoon was interesting as well – he was not expecting a prototype but a fully functioning website…in the four days I was there! Now we had established WordPress themes and standardised navigation but it was a big ask – but I didn’t feel in a position to say no. So I found a quiet corner with decent wifi and got my head down. I had help at home in the UK with the content migration etc – and we had a bunch of tools to help – but it was a real rush job…but also great fun as the local team started to put their new found knowledge of WordPress to use as soon as I had put the foundations in place. I miss this kind of work sometimes – it is all so big and formal these days. This was chaotic and messy but important and useful.

One of the highlights was the daily communal lunch in the grounds, under a tent with the monkeys on the prowl for leftovers – or just left unattendeds – where I chatted to people from all the areas of the lab – mainly the universal topic of Premiership football to be honest!

My luggage arrived the morning of my last day and then I almost missed my flight due to underestimating the time it would take to get through security. I was literally the last to board – getting glares from everyone – and was a sweaty, stressy mess. I did not check my bag this time though so at least I got to change into clean clothes in Dubai!

I spent the eight hour layover working on finishing the website – which helped with the boredom and then the final leg of the trip I spent helping my seat mate deal with a trip long panic attack (given how bad a flyer I am/was this was an odd experience.)

Upon finally getting home I had a delayed and severe reaction to the anti-malarial meds and ended up bedridden for five days…so all in all it was quite the adventure and despite all the craziness it was a brilliant experience that I am really thankful for.


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