My natural tendency is to be busy and to be multi-tasking. Washing on, kids packed lunch, dishwasher loaded, emails updating, data analysis, calls out awaiting response, page long to do list. I keep resolving not to be like that and it keeps creeping back.
How odd then for me to be sitting on my bed in a dingy hotel room in Kampala for days at a time wondering what to do. I had come to visit projects. i had some phone numbers. This pre-mobile phone, pre-email time made arrangements anywhere, arrangements in an unfamiliar country with unfamiliar people, a challenge. They were busy with their multi-tasking and to do lists. I had nothing to do except try to meet with them. I couldn’t go out exploring because that might be the very moment they called back and then I could lose another day. I couldn’t go and visit one of them on spec because that might be when the other one called. I waited.
Waiting by the phone, like a lovelorn teenager. Who am I kidding? Like a lovelorn any-ager.
I finished my book. I was up to date with my write up. I decided to risk a quick walk to the hotel lobby just to see some human activity and came back with what was described to me as a Ugandan harp. I had no idea how to play it. But with its four strings it couldn’t be so hard. It sounded lovely anyway. For days that harp kept me sane. The focus on a simple, organic process with no deadlines, no clear outcomes and no other people involved gave me a sense of peace. I guess it was also the one thing I could ‘manage’ in the confusing situation of feeling powerless in my environment.
In the end I did meet with all the projects and it was an uplifting and informative experience. The challenge of foreign business travel is often not so much how you do what you do as how you don’t do what you can’t do.