First Day at the Office!

Monday 9 August saw my first day at the UNICEF offices in Kampala.  However, Monday began with my first morning waking up to the local noises.  I still vividly remember my first morning in Orlando, FL after I moved there in 1994.  I had driven about 2000 miles in 2.5 days, alone, in the summer, in a car with no air conditioning.  By the time I had arrived, all I could think about was sleep.  I checked into a Holiday Inn Express in (what I thought was) the middle of Orlando and collapsed in sleep.  I was rudely awakened by what I first thought was a hallucination.  Was that really a rooster crowing outside my window?  Well, actually it was, since I wasn’t smack in the middle of the city, but in a part of town that still had a bit more of an outskirts feel to it between Orlando and the eastern edge of the city towards the university.

I had much the same feeling this Monday morning.  At least this time, though, Terra had warned me about the rooster, and the dogs that howled at the rooster, and the muezzin’s call to prayer; at least I didn’t have to worry that I was hallucinating.  Add to that symphony the use of open windows rather than central air conditioning, and no alarm clocks were needed, even given how tired I was after the flights.  Welcome to Kampala!

The drive in that morning in a taxi gave me my first glimpses of the city.  Terra’s place is located in quite a nice area of town called Kololo.  The UNICEF offices are quite near to the central business district.  The city itself is a series of hills; the office shares a hill with a (incomplete) tall hotel.  Traffic was quite a bit like India (Bangalore being my prevalent experience) without the cows or the motorized rickshaws, but with significantly more potholes, many of the car-swallowing variety.  Note to self: get the contact numbers for several different taxi services; the world does not need me driving on the streets of Kampala.

There are three major sources of transportation in Kampala (other than private vehicles, that is): the special hire taxis, the boda bodas (mostly motorcycles), and the matatus, which apparently have regular routes much like buses do in the US and are vans.  I think I’ll be sticking with the special hire taxis myself.  Apparently some companies suspend insurance coverage if you ride a boda boda; this does not sound like fun to me.

As luck would have it, this particular Monday was the right one for the MMM (formerly Monday Morning Meeting and now Monthly Monday Meeting).  Thus, I got a chance to be introduced to many of the folks here in the Kampala Office that I will be working with.  Everyone I’ve met here so far has been very friendly and welcoming.  When I consider the lifestyle choices these individuals have made, this doesn’t surprise me.  I am hoping I’ll remember all of the names, as this has never been one of my strengths.  So far so good, though.

Following the meeting was a day filled with hearing about the various projects on the go here and starting to figure out how best to insert myself, and most importantly where I can be most helpful.  We seem to be settling around aspects of three major initiatives: 1) the Uganda Portal, which will provide access to information (initially around health, education and items of interest to youth) across the country; 2) Social monitoring, an SMS based reporting system collecting information on a wide range of issues like malfunctioning water points, teacher absenteeism, availability of medications and/or power in medical clinics, etc. with a dashboard overlaying a map to show how services vary across the country and 3) a variety of m-Health initiatives, also primarily utilizing SMS.  I’ll describe each of these projects in more detail over the next several posts.

I’ve already got a couple of field trips planned to different parts of the country, and possibly even a trip out of the country to Nairobi.  I guess I don’t have to worry about being stuck in an office for my entire trip.  I am already starting to learn about the different regions of Uganda, but I still have a lot to learn.  Like remembering names, geography hasn’t been a strong suit either.  Experiences like this go a long way towards making us sometimes painfully aware of our limitations.

The end of the day found me dragging from jet lag but exhilarated from work.  In many ways, this day was like the first day at a new consulting client. There are the usual issues of where to sit, where the ahem facilities are, along with all the new people to meet and the logistics of connectivity and building access and the list goes on.  I am still very sure, though, that this experience will be an education for me.

That evening, I didn’t even realize that I didn’t eat a proper dinner, but I was at least able to sleep soundly.  Tuesday 10 August among other things will include an initial apartment-hunting trip.  The adventure continues!

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