Friday 9th September
12:30pm. Two cases are crammed packed full of things for the children; games, footballs, cones, sewing machine, microscope, fossils, crayons, paints, chalks, football kits; you name it, it was in there. My clothes for the 8 days I am spending with the Charity, Retrak, are in a small bag.
I may have snuck in a bottle of African inspired Elephant Gin, too. Well, I will be celebrating my birthday in Uganda so it would be rude not to. I am now ready. Our flight leaves Gatwick at 21:45 and I just need to get myself there from Coventry. In the bag, I thought.
At 1pm, I discovered that my car had been booked into Heathrow, instead of Gatwick, by mistake. PANIC STATIONS.
A call to the car park company resulted in them telling me that nothing could be done and Gatwick was full. I had explained the purpose of my trip and they offered a very expensive meet & greet with 20% knocked off. I would rather have chucked that money in my fundraising pot and walked the 140 miles to Gatwick; if I left now, I may just make it!
I had another plan. Find a hotel, with parking, and just not stay over.
My landline rang. There’s only two people in the world with that number, or so I thought. It was the car park company. Jake tells me he has a plan; find a hotel, with parking, and just not stay over. Jake is a genius! 10 minutes later, not only had he refunded me the cost of the Heathrow parking (a goodwill gesture which I suspect may have something to do with a system error on their part, but a gesture gratefully received nonetheless), found a hotel with parking and still gave me a 20% discount. Jake at Holiday Extras, you saved me from having a proper melt down. Thank you!
2pm. I roast a chicken in the oven. Well, I don’t want hubby and the cats to starve now, do I?
3:30pm. I’m pacing. I feel sick, anxious. What did the next week have in store? What would I learn? What could I actually do to help and support Retrak in their vision?
At 4pm I leave home in Coventry; the car is full, my brain is overloaded with questions and I head for Gatwick. The M40 had a closure, the M25 was it’s usual joy with a lane closed and the M23 had a car fire. Waa I destined not to make this flight? I finally arrive at the hotel, flapping like a good ‘un, and they take me to the airport. Arrival time 7:30pm.
I check in, clear security and What’s App my travelling companions, Kate Griffiths-Lambeth and Katrina Collier. I spot the football and a bar; like a moth to a flame, I’m there. Pink fizz and the game. And breathe.
Kate and Katrina arrive and we begin chatting; getting to know one another better and discussing the adventure that lies ahead.
I then have a sudden thought that I’ve forgotten something. Yes, my print of of my Ugandan Visa documents for the immigration officials on the other side. There were expletives. I did a “Challenge Anneka” around the airport looking for someone with an email address and a printer. No joy!
Kate to the rescue. I am elated that Kate had lounge access. Document printed. And breathe.
21:00. Boarding time. Oh no, I don’t think so. Have yourselves a 2 hour delay courtesy of the plane having to divert to Heathrow for re-fuelling. What?! Thoughts of holidays and trips gone by where the exact same thing has happened to me; every trip, no exaggeration, something has gone wrong. I’m bloody cursed.
We head to the only place to offer solace; Tim Martin’s place and the “go to” place in every airport. Weatherspoons. A beer and Gin tasting later, we learn more about each other; we laugh, we go deep, we open up, we share.
Saturday 10th September
00:15. The plane does indeed take off but we know that we will miss our connection in Dubai to Uganda. The hashtag #acomedyoferrors was born.
A little more time sat in Dubai airport (2hrs) and breakfast. Yum.
We did make it to the hotel. What a view.
Kate to the rescue again. Well connected in the UAE, having worked in the Middle East and almost relocating to Dubai, Kate sends a few messages just before we take off. Upon arrival in Dubai, a message back from someone who Kate used to work with over a decade ago. Craig Austin responded, offered to pick us up from our shell of a hotel (it really had no life in it at all, unless you count the dude selling your name written in a bottle full of coloured sand) and take us to his home, to meet his family and enjoy their hospitality.
WHAT A DAY.
We chatted, we laughed, we shared, we opened up, we were vulnerable. We also had Gin. And a pool. In 45 degrees. It made any worries disappear. We had no bags, no toiletries (Craig bought me a toothbrush) but we adapted and had a brilliant day.
Oh, and #ConnectingHRMiddleEast was born. We had a fabulously productive first meeting. I am so thankful to Craig and Amanda for opening up their home and their hearts to people they didn’t even know. It really did make a difference for me. For all three of us, I’m sure.
Sunday 11th September
5:30 am. ALARM. Yep, like that’s going to happen after a night of freezingness. The air-con wouldn’t turn off and I ended up wrenching the sheets from the other bed to make a tee-pee of warmth. It’s fair to say I didn’t sleep much and was a grumpy cow this morning.
But there was a plane, and we had seats on it. It also took off and landed where it was supposed to. Hoorah!
We had fun and games in the airport; Kate and I were moved to a more appropriate queue for immigration and it was a bun fight for bags. But at least they arrived. I have toiletries. I can be clean. It’s the small things.
Tonight, we met up with the rest of the Connecting HR Africa Team, superbly led and organised by Ian Pettigrew and Laura Ambler from Retrak. Thank you both for all of your hard work, for bringing us together and for supporting us during our fundraising activities. Our team has raised over £18,600 so far. £1,400 to go and we have achieved amazing things. This money will help over 50 children off the street. Every penny is precious. Please consider donating, here.
Tomorrow, I will meet the children that Retrak support for the first time. We will also be walking into the slums to see, first-hand, where the children who Retrak help and support come from. It is going to be hard, judging by the emotional feedback from the team who arrived yesterday. How do I prepare for that? I don’t. I’m not sure I even can.
Thank you for continuing to support us, encouraging people to part with a pound for this fantastic cause. Planes, trains and automobiles brought us to this place, Kampala in Uganda. Great work, amazing people giving back, a lifetime of memories and friendships forged. All of this began with a hope to make a difference to just one child. We will leave having made a positive difference to over 50.
I’m proud to be a part of #ConnectingHRAfrica. Together, HR have made a life-changing difference. Thank you.