MY FIRST BUSINESS TRIP FROM AFRICA TO THE UK WAS IN 1981
It was an official business trip and it was my first time to travel by air.
The trip was for collecting special consignment from a business company in UK London.
As it was my first trip, I did not have a passport by then.
So I had to process a passport. The institution I work for gave me a letter of recommendation to the passport office.
The authorization by then had to be cleared by the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) Within one week I had got my passport.
I had to apply to get a visa at the British High Commission.
At the time the offices were near the current Stanbic Bank IPS branch.
You had to go very early in the morning, at around 4.00 am, because the line of people used to be very long.
For me I had no problem as I had official clearance from the institution I worked for and they had also catered for my funding.
So, I just took an official letter from my institution confirming that I worked for them and that the funds for my trip had been approved processed.
After my visa interview I was requested to collect my passport and visa after two days.
After approval of my money in the former Exchange Control Department of Bank of Uganda, I was served with the funds from the commercial Bank.
At the time, Uganda Commercial banks had to request for cover from the Central Bank before issuing foreign currency.
During that time, however, there was a flourishing parallel Foreign Exchange market called the KIBANDA MARKET.
This was the Black Foreign Exchange market but it was issuing genuine forex at the proper market rates against the Uganda shilling.
When you received funds, you could secretly look for the kibanda market rate in order to get good value for your money.
But this was illegal and if were caught exchanging money on the on the Kibanda Market, you would end up in jail.
I had to get immunizations for yellow fever and cholera. To be issued with a health certificate.
The Health certificates were issued by Kampala City Council.
But at the time of my travel I had to get these from Dr. Gibbons who was a reputable medical practitioner.
Dr.Gibbons had his offices near the British High Commission.
Booking my Air Ticket from Uganda to the London
My Air tickets were purchased for me through a reputable Travel Agent of those days.
They were paper tickets and I had to pay an extra USD 20 as airport tax at Entebbe airport.
Thrilling events in Uganda just before The Business Trip.
On the day, we were supposed to travel, as we were two officials and other passengers;
We went to the airport after passing through the famous road blocks at kitubulu near Entebbe air port.
We reached early and then checked in.
At that juncture we were informed that the whole plane which was scheduled to travel to London had been off loaded to enable the same Uganda Airlines take some government officials including cabinet Ministers.
These government officials were to going to visit President of Uganda who had under gone surgery in Rome Italy.
We were informed that we had all been transferred to a plane which would travel in two days time.
You can imagine the disappointment for all the passengers especially those who were connecting...! But that was the situation.
After the 48 hours delay.
On the morning we were supposed to travel, the official vehicle which was supposed to take us to the airport had got a problem;
A senior official had been assassinated in it while arriving at his home.
So it was still held at a Uganda police station. I actually had to leave my other colleague behind because he couldn’t arrive on time.I got into a friend's car which took me to the airport.
There was still a big road block full of army guys at Kitubulu as we were nearing Entebbe airport.
At this road block you were requested to open all your luggage for searching.You would also be requested to show the money you had and where you had got it from.
If you had no proper documentation the army men would take your money from you.
You had to have an identity card clearly showing who you are. If not, you would be arrested and taken to be a rebel a.k.a Muyekera.
Procedure at Entebbe Airport.
At the check in, you would show your passport and health certificate and they would weigh your luggage and tag it to the destination.
Mine was tagged Entebbe-Gatwick.
Then you would fill in the departure immigration forms and also pay the airport tax of USD 20.
The immigration would stamp in your passport and retain the filled in card and then I entered the transit lounge where there was also the duty free shop. But this was very small then.
Then time came for boarding. But as I was boarding, I was able to wave to my family who were on top of the airport building,there were no glasses then.
So, I could see them very clearly until I entered the plane.
It was a Uganda Airlines Plane.
Flying from Entebbe Airport to Gatwick
Inside the plane, it was comfortable and take off was smooth.
I could see Lake Victoria below for a long time after take off.
The food served was good and drinks were being offered at various intervals.
As we were about to reach Gatwick airport, we were given cards to fill in if we wanted to buy some duty free products.
Arrival at Gatwick International Airport
I arrived at Gatwick International Airport at night.
As I entered the airport, I was checked for the health certificate.
Then I filled in immigration forms and declaration forms for the Amount of Foreign Exchange I had.
While passing through immigration, I was checked for a valid UK Visa. Had I not had a valid visa, this would have been the end of my trip and my passport would be Black Marked with a stamp.
During that period of 1981, passing through the immigration and customs was hassle free unless you had a problem.
One of the people I knew from Uganda was however stopped at the customs as he had a briefcase full of cigarettes as he was a chain smoker.
So he was queried and I stood waiting for him!
Because this was my first time to travel, I waited for him, until the customs officials requested me to go.
I left him but he was also later released.
Outside Gatwick Airport
Outside Gatwick, international Airport, I found a gentleman who had a big poster with my name and the name of the other official I had left in Uganda.
I explained to him what had happened and he took me to the car parking and then he put on his drivers cup and drove 50 miles, from Gatwick up to Washington Hotel where our Business counterparts had booked us.
It was a very lovely ride, seeing very nice roads and advertisements and nice buildings.
At the Hotel
I checked in the hotel which had been booked for me by the Business counterparts for the trip.
They had sent me the information by Telex and by landline phone.
I had only a very small handbag which had the essentials I needed to use immediately I arrived.
I expected to buy all the things I needed for the trip from UK the next day.
So when the porters asked for my luggage after I had been given the keys to my room, there was none!
The room was very big and spacious. It had a very big bed, a TV screen, and a telephone with a nice carpet and air conditioning.
The bathroom was equally good. There was a bible and a telephone directory for UK and a directory for the hotel use, showing what times breakfast, lunch and dinner is served, laundry, how to call reception and outside etc....
I had a sound sleep.
The next morning I went for breakfast using the directory.
Everybody seemed to mind their own business and nobody was saying hello.
In the restaurant everybody was white and I seemed to be the only African at the time.
So what I did was to try and I identify a table for two people as most of the other people seemed to be a family.
The person I sat with was coming from Turkey and we really struck a very good conversation and I enjoyed my breakfast.
I had continental breakfast this was a full breakfast with every thing... Juice, Cornflakes, fruits, Eggs, sausages, bacon, irish potatoes, Toasted bread and Tea ,coffee and milk.
After about 30 minutes I had my name announced on the loud speaker of the hotel to inform me that my transport had arrived.
The factory where I was going was at quite a long distance and I told the driver that I would sit in the front seat so that he could explain to me all the places as we moved on.
This he ably did, and we passed through River Thames and The bridge, e.t.c...
At the Business Premises
On arrival at the factory, I found the Uganda flag and the flag of the company were already outside on very long poles blowing in the air recognizing my presence a Ugandan official.
I was given a golden chain with my name on it and it was put in my neck.
After that, I was taken to the Chief Executive of the Company so that I could pay him a courtesy call.
While there, the CEO offered me very strong coffee with milk in small Chinese cups.
I just remember that the coffee was really very bitter for me.
From there, I was taken and shown a film of the company’s activities after which I was taken around the factory its self and I also met with the workers.
I was taken for a special lunch in a special historical place where there was an old spinning mill in water and was very interesting to watch.
The restaurant was French. So I could not understand the menu very well.
I requested the officers who had accompanied me to interpret for me in English.
I remember the official who took me there asked for frogs’ legs and I was shocked because in Uganda, we don’t taste frogs.
But when frogs legs arrived, the dish looked like chicken and was appetizing.
For me I asked for Salmon fish. But when it was brought, my!!
It was so big that I could'nt even finish it.
A bottle of Champagne was opened and we toasted for my health and then drank.
This was a very memorable lunch of a kind.
Back to the Hotel
On arrival at the hotel, I requested for my hotel keys.
To my surprise, they informed me that my room had been allocated to somebody else since the cleaners had found no luggage in the room!
I found this very funny and odd. I think what had happened was that the hotel had been overbooked and they had many tourists who were just spending few hours before catching their next flight.
While still at the reception, I found other Ugandans who were on another mission in UK were facing the same problems like me, They had also been given another room.
The hotel officials realized the problem, and within 30 minutes we were allocated fresh rooms with apologies.
After that, we all went out for dinner somewhere else, the Ugandans I found were more versed with London than me.
The next day, the driver came and took me to several interesting sites in UK.
I visited several historical sites, Bucking ham Place, and other shopping malls.
I saw big shopping centres, many cars, wide roads and so many other attractive items.
More Business Travel Days
On the third day,
we went back to Gatwick international Airport and collected my counterpart who had been left in Entebbe.
We went through the same procedures at the factory.
On the fifth day,
Because my counterpart had been to UK before, he took me to Shepperd Bush Market where I found many things to buy and at very reasonable prices.
At that market, I saw all the local foods from most of the African countries including Matooke from Uganda a.k.a edible bananas.
While in the UK, the only means of communication I had was the direct telephone lines and the telexs and that is what we all used while on this trip.
Flying Back to Uganda from the UK
We had to pack our luggage well in advance.
We borrowed a weighing machine to ensure that our luggage were within the acceptable weigh limits for the airline.
Checking in & Departure from Gatwick
At the Gatwick airport, we were among the first people to check in.
This was because we had some official cargo which we had to inspect before departure.
At check in, I showed my ticket and a sheet was pulled off and then my luggage was tagged for Entebbe.
There was an immigration card I had to fill and a form showing how much I had spent in UK.
My passport was then stamped for exit.
At customs, there was no big deal. I didn’t have to open my luggage because the airline was not very strict on the hand luggage.
Arrival at Entebbe International Airport
On arrival, you had to show your health certificate and some body would be verifying it is proper for all arriving passengers.
If not, you would be immunized on arrival at the airport.
Then you filled in the immigration forms and your passport would be stamped for Entry.
At the immigration, there were three sections; Ugandans, East Africans and Others.
From immigration, one would go to customs, there, you would have to fill a declaration form if you had any foreign currency left with you.
This would be in duplicate. A copy remains at the airport and the duplicate you go with it while exchanging at the official rate at the banks.
After that, you would wait for your luggage. At the time, in 1981, there were no conveyors like now.
You would identify your luggage and then go through customs.
The customs officer would check you thoroughly for everything in your luggage to see whether there is anything you need to pay taxes for.
Especially electronic items in those days.
After that, your passport would be checked again before you were allowed to go out.
My case was different because of the special cargo I was bringing.
The customs officer checked all our passports at the terminal on the ground of the airport and then we put our suitcases in the official cars and left Entebbe Airport.
At kitubulu, ordinary people still stopped at the road blocks and they would again be checked thoroughly.
Some of the items would be taken by the army officers if you were not lucky.
People had to hide their money very far on their bodies, e.g. breasts for ladies, socks for men or inside bikoyis if they were in traditional wear.
This was because, if the army men found you with foreign currency you had not declared, they would steal it and change it at on the Black Market.
I enjoyed this trip very much as it was the first time for me to fly in an aeroplane and to visit the United Kingdom.
It was a memorable experience and I had so many stories to tell my family when I arrived back in Uganda.
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