Geoff Tennant - Promoting access to mathematics for all
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16/8/15: will I NEVER learn?

Good news: I'm currently in Arua, North West Uganda, one of my very favourite places to be.  More good news: I'm here to teach a course on mathematics for primary teachers, one of my very favourite things to do.  As I tend to say, if I'm teaching maths, you don't need to pay me, that's just pure enjoyment.  You do need to pay me to write documents for the Tanzanian Commission for Universities, however!  And have two great two co-facilitators for the course, former students from the Masters programme, one of whom, Wamala, was kind enough to leave a comment on last week's blog post.  And final good news: I'm writing this post from a recliner bordering the hotel swimming pool, once I've finished writing I'll indulge in a quick swim.

Bad news: I lost my bags on the trip here.  This is now the 5th time I've lost bags while flying, these incidents can be classified in a number of ways:
- 4 occasions were with the national airline of the country bordering Tanzania to the north on the coast, the other the national airline which makes me think of the main ingredient of a traditional Christmas dinner;
- 3 occasions were returning to Dar es Salaam, 2 were on outward journeys;
- 3 occasions I recovered the bags within 24 hours, one more just more than that.  This is the other.

From a number of points of view this is the most serious bag loss.  I had two suitcases with me, one broadly my own stuff and the other a whole load of stuff for teaching purposes, including pre-printed proformas for various purposes.  And, when I went to report the loss, it became apparent that I'd been given the wrong receipts for the bags back in Dar es Salaam, so making tracking them much more difficult.  This conversation was going on at about 8pm. on Friday evening, when I suggested that it would be helpful if they were able to provide a few emergency items - toothbrush and toothpaste for example - I was told that this did not happen for 24 hours.  Couple of things here: in 24 hours time I'm due to be the opposite end of the country, and I might be wanting to wash my teeth some time before then!

Fortunately the hotel I was staying in in Entebbe had a little shop where I could buy a few things, then on to Arua Saturday morning by the early flight, no sign of the bags then or clear information where they were.  I requested that they be sent on to Arua and signed permission for them to be flown here, but I have a bad feeling about this.

So, arrived in Arua to be met by a very obliging taxi driver, Ibra.  Checked that he wasn't otherwise busy for the morning and got him to take me round the town.  Firstly to currency exchange.  Now, it's the nature of these trips that one ends up carrying a certain amount of cash - hotel bills, subsidence, travel expenses for participants, etc. etc.  Relatively easy to carry in American dollars, maximum unit US$100 or UKP 60 approx, but once one goes to Tanzanian cash the maximum unit is TSh 10 000 or about UKP3.30, in Uganda the shillling is worth less but the maximum unit is Ug Sh 50 000 or about UKP10.  In either case, the sheer bulk of cash required becomes large.  And I'm very aware that the sums we're talking about here are absolutely huge by local standards.  So, basic security provisions come into play: once I've been in a bank or currency exchange shop I'm aware that I've identified myself as somebody carrying a large amount of cash - although the colour of my skin means this doesn't make a huge amount of difference, but it is something I warn students about.  Have the cash at the very least in an envelope, walk determinedly in a single direction, be as close as possible to the taxi at all times.  One of many issues here is being faithful to the Lord's prayer, particularly, "Lead us not into temptation."  Little point praying that if we are knowingly putting ourselves, or others, into temptation's way.

Next stop: clothing shop.  Part of the art in this situation is to buy things not just which are immediately necessary but which will be useful and different to what i already have.  So I have a nice shirt covered in pictures of elephants which I rather liked.  One difficulty here, of course, is not knowing when the bags will appear, if at all.  Hoping with the help of the college we're teaching at to find somebody happy to do my washing for me about half way through the stay.

Spending a certain amount of money in one go is quite fun, although the sheer number of zeroes involved - UKP1 is about UG Sh 5 000 - means that it's very easy to make mistakes by a factor of 10 in trying to keep track.  And a strong sense of a very happy shop keeper once he realised what I was doing!

Next stop a stationery shop, able to get much of what I needed, but not the pre-printed stuff, of course.  Shop assistant keen to show me the facility on the photocopier to print from a USB stick which in principle could be very useful, this is however a very expensive way of going about things when dealing with a large group.  Then a few other basics, razor, shaving foam, this kind of thing.

So, by the time I got to the hotel, still only about 11am. by this time, a rather stronger sense of things being under control than they had been.  Feeling somewhat exhausted, hadn't slept well in Entebbe for this reason and also a number of other work-related issues which are weighing heavily at the moment but I can't write about here.  In the afternoon a very good meeting with my co-facilitators as we agreed how to run the course between us, leaving them with a certain amount of work, including some further shopping which they kindly agreed to do.  Meanwhile, I'm able to relax this Sunday with nothing more strenuous to do than write this blog entry.

So, what have I learnt from all this?  It annoys me when some fellow air passengers take enormous amounts of hand luggage onto the plane, if everybody did this the overhead compartments would run out of space very rapidly.  But it does make sense, particularly on outwards journeys, to keep with you a few immediate items covering for the possibility of bags getting lost.  I try to live by the 'assume nothing' maxim but this is very difficult - and sometimes time consuming - to implement routinely, very easy to accept the receipts for the baggage without checking that the name and destination is correct.

I have previously written, eg in this blog post about a colleague's wedding, about the difficulty of working to western standards of efficiency with many reasons why this is not possible.  So, recently we had, at very short notice, to postpone for a week a course we were putting on for reasons beyond our control.  But we're busy, with many different things going on, if we've agreed to do something one week we are not at all necessarily available to do it the following week.

What general conclusions do I draw from all of this?  Not sure.  Being here is a great privilege, it is the nature of privileges that they come with challenges and responsibilities.  So I pray for the wisdom to do my job responsibly and well, pushing the bounds of what is possible whilst at the same time working in a manner which is sustainable and does not induce undue stress.  When I've learnt any more about how to achieve this I'll let you know, meanwhile, any advice gratefully received!

At the time of writing, no clear news on my bags still, I'll let you know, meanwhile have a good week and I'll be back soon!

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