All the N’s: Norwich, Nairobi, Norwich, New York

I wrote this post after travelling to Kenya and concluded it was a rather depressing trip in some ways. The reason for the travel was a board meeting for AIDSpan a small NGO whose mandate is to watch and support the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria. I went over from the UK on Wednesday and returned to Norwich on a late flight on Saturday evening arriving back on Sunday. The flight from Nairobi to Amsterdam is longer than the one from Toronto to Amsterdam. I don’t think I appreciated that Canada was so close, or maybe that Nairobi was so far.

It had been a week of travel. I arrived in the UK from Canada on Good Friday. After I showered we drove straight up to Rawcliffe Bridge in Yorkshire to see relatives. The hotel we were staying in was cheap and adequate, with incredibly comfortable beds, but was in a very unfortunate position. As the name suggests The Hamlet is most known for the bridge. Unfortunately on the one side of the hotel was a paper making factory and on the other sewerage works. The air was fetid. However the smell did not penetrate into the building. The bar tender said the hotel was a popular destination for people boating along the canals. Hard to believe. I won’t put in details of the hotel as apart from the smell, it was good value! (Maybe because of it?) It is a bit harder to understand why there were people camping though.

The drive, with the help of the GPS, was under four hours. We had not appreciated that taking the quickest route would mean going across country, on roads we would not have expected to use had we relied on a paper map. They were, however, relatively free of traffic and spring is really in evidence in England so it was a pleasant drive. We hired a car from the airport, and were given a larger one than we had expected, although it seemed underpowered for its size. There were three of us insured to drive, which was also a new experience.

The trip to Kenya was not a pleasure. I suppose it was quite ambitious to travel from Waterloo to Norwich to Yorkshire, have two nights and then catch the 6.15am flight to Amsterdam and on to Nairobi. I did a great deal of work on the flight, had a good meal and could not be bothered to watch a film (the same selection as on the flight from Toronto), but did listen to music. We got to the airport on schedule at about 7pm. As I had only cabin baggage, it was a quick passage through customs and immigration. It was quite amusing because I was in the front cabin of the plane, a 747, where the pilots sit on the top deck. I glanced at the safety card. It was for an Airbus 340. I asked the cabin staff member where the cockpit was, she looked at me as though I was mad and said, “It is upstairs, did you think they go through the cupboard”. Shades of Narnia. “Not according to this it isn’t”, I said and gave her the card. She was appalled and brought me the right card. She came back later to tell me that mine had been the only wrong one. I told her that I was probably one of the few people who had looked at it and noticed.

In Nairobi, the driver was waiting in the melee of people, standing outside the terminal. It has to be seen to be believed. Hundreds of people outside the building holding up signs that range from illegible scraps of paper to special neon boards with the passenger’s name flashing (I made that up, but some of the hotel boards are grand). It is interesting that the meeters and greeters have to stand outside – I am not quite sure what happens when it rains. I had the whole of Thursday free and did a huge amount of work; went to the gym and generally got on top of things. I read all the board papers for the second time. The evening was spent at the hotel and then on Friday and Saturday we had the board meetings at the offices in a suburb some distance outside the city centre. These generally went well, there are six board members and we have worked together for a few years which means that we gel and get things done.

As I wrote that I remembered the HEARD team, under the new director, will be preparing for their first board meeting of 2014. I have a real sense of relief that I probably won’t find myself reporting to a board again in my working career. Sitting on boards when one has had to be responsible to them gives insight and hopefully sympathy.

So if the meeting went well, then why did I not enjoy the trip more I ask myself? There were a number of factors. Too much travel in too short a time. The hotel , where the people from outside Nairobi stayed, is not great. The Internet access was extremely erratic and the technician probably spent as much time in my room as I did. I loathe the attitude of a shrug and sense that this is the way it is and nothing can be done! The city is really busy, but is also very edgy. There were more people in uniforms carrying guns than I have seen in a long time, and I find it unsettling. People seem to have forgotten how to smile in Kenya.

On the flight over I was able to upgrade to business class. On the way back the plane was full (an old 747), there were no seats in Business Class, and the lady did not want to let me into the lounge. The KLM Platinum Elite status should get one into the lounge in any airport, and I was shocked to learn I earned that status in 1996. In all fairness the old Nairobi airport burnt down some months ago, so the whole operation is makeshift, and there is not a lot of space. I however told her I was not going to argue, went in and found a corner. Outside there are people sitting on rows of plastic chairs looking totally miserable.

It is over four months since I left Durban, and I have been in post full time in Waterloo since January. Many people ask how much I am missing the place, work and people. I have to say I am not looking back with regret. It was absolutely time to leave; HEARD is doing incredibly well; Nana Poku is already proving himself to be an excellent director; and knowing that what was effectively my baby, is in such good, visionary hands, made the transition easy.

Equally, I am so enjoying Canada. Of course it was the worst winter for decades, but because I had not got any comparison, I simply enjoyed it. “There is no such thing as bad weather: only bad clothes”. Once I had a good coat, put on long underwear, a balaclava, gloves and scarf I did not have a problem. Thank you, David Wilson, who at a World Bank meeting I went to on my way to Canada, told me where to go buy clothing. Decent boots were also essential and despite buying the top of the range I found myself flat on my back once. It was as the thaw started and I was lulled into dropping my guard and not watching my step. The only damage was to my dignity!

So for anyone who has read this far, my next posting will give details of the progress in Canada and some of my plans. I have committed to delivery dates for the two books I need to write so that makes it all more real. We are finally beginning to get staff on board in Waterloo and making everything possible. The leadership of the Balsillie School and Wilfrid Laurier University has been incredibly supportive.


Saving Mr Banks – this was a moving and intriguing film made in 2013. It is the story of how, in 1964 Walt Disney Studios, persuade the author of Mary Poppins, P. L. Travers they will do justice to the book if they make it into a film. It is centred on the visit Travers makes to Los Angeles in 1961. There are flashbacks to her youth as a child in the outback of Australia where her father is an itinerant bank official. Interestingly Travers was born in 1899 and died in 1996 so had a long and hopefully happy life. The Wikipedia entry suggest the film is not accurate historically, but it is certainly touching and there is a surprising twist at the end. I won’t spoil it but do recommend it.