Nearing showtime

About 24 hours after I pulled the door shut in Manchester I landed in Entebbe with 8 colleagues who had flown in from DC and joined me in Amsterdam. One of them is Ugandan, living in DC. You could tell he was from here by looking at the amount of baggage he carried – loads of gifts (or may be orders) for the family. He didn’t join us in the bus that took us on the 1 hour ride to Kampala. I imagine it was a happy reunion even though it was the middle of the night.

The Serena Hotel is, I am told, the best in Uganda. I certainly felt like I was gently placed in the lap of luxury, worth the long plane ride. Every room has a balcony and all the amenities you can imagine, even an electronic scale to register my pre-conference weight to be checked again next Friday.

When I stepped out on the balcony to take in the cool Kampala night air a drama was staged at the entrance of a neighboring hotel. Well-dressed men in suits who had had too much to drink stumbled out of the main entrance with a few women in tight clothes who were fending them off with high-pitched voices. I couldn’t tell whether I was watching a playful end of a party or the abuse of women that would require an intervention. But then they moved en masse out of sight and things calmed down, at least that is what I hoped, especially for the women.

With all that excitement and being beyond tired, it was not until 1:30 in the morning that I closed my eyes – such a shame to fall asleep in such a beautiful place.

Today we dotted the ‘I’s and crossed the ‘t’s by checking out the rooms, the supplies, and the set-up. The conference rooms are in a separate building that is clearly a desired place for weddings. I saw at least three brides and grooms, well-heeled members of the wedding parties and countless cute little girls dressed up in starched white frou-frou dresses. The main hall was turned into a shiny and glimmering backdrop for one of these weddings – an extravaganza that would have won out in a competition with Afghan wedding halls.

For lunch we walked over to the local shopping center, risking life and limb crossing various roads teeming with motorcycles and fast moving traffic. I felt like an old lady as I hobbled across the uneven ground and should have worn my orthopedic boot.

The mall, like all malls around the world, had a food court. It is a little different from our food courts: the moment you walk in employees of a row of fast food places welcome you, smiling and menu in hand. They seat you, put place mats on the table and provide you with all their menus. We had a choice of Indian, Chinese and Korean. The Persian place had moved or gone out of business.

After you select from one of the menus and place your order you wait for the food to be brought to your table. Only after you have eaten do you pay the bill. It’s ‘medium food’ – faster than slow food and slower than fast food.

After lunch we met with the public address system manager of the hotel who sketched out the PA arrangements on a flip chart. Then it was tea time. We had tea in the bar while it rained outside and Uganda and Angola battled each other for a place on the Africa soccer cup tournament list. Uganda apparently won by a hair. People were happy, all except the Angolans.

This afternoon I welcomed our Afghan colleagues who arrived from Dubai. They are all former colleagues of mine. I stumbled over my Dari, having forgotten the most common words. It is such a shame, considering where I was on my learning curve, just where it starts to even out and you can actually say something sensible. Maybe they’ll help me regain some of my vocabulary.

Showtime starts tomorrow at 6 PM, a little less than 24 hours away. I am about 90% prepared – missing the energy that comes from being with all the participants for the final 10%.

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