10 Big Bags and 12 Strong Men

10 August 2017

This is part 1 of a series of blogs, to be published over the coming weeks.

It was 8 o’clock on a (relatively) quiet morning in Kampala, when our Ugandan partner Alex and I were ready to go and supervise the loading of the container. The loading would start at 10:00 when the truck arrives, so we were quite excited. One last phone call to ensure the truck is on the way… It was not. Turns out, the truck driver cannot be contacted, and we have no idea when they would arrive. There was a complete lack of surprise on our faces, so we decided to discuss the project over some great Ugandan coffee.

4 hours later, we hear the truck is on the way, and we can head over to the storage area. The excitement was building up as we took a quick Boda (motorcycle taxi) ride to the garage where Alex stores the phones.

Watch my exciting trip on a Boda Boda motorcycle to the storage area.

Upon arrival, I found myself on a hill with a fantastic view over Kampala, with hills, traffic in the background, but no truck to be seen. “It is still on the way”, Alex finds out over the phone.

Alex is on the phone asking where the truck is, with a stunning view of Kampala in the background.

This was going to be a day of waiting, that much was clear. It reminded me very much of getting the permits for this shipment, but we’ll get to that in another blog.

2 hours later a truck arrives, ready to load the bags. 1 truck driver, and his assistant, for 10 bags of ±800Kg each. Clearly, this was going to be a problem. But no worries, they have planned this, and help is on the way. The nature of the help was still a mystery, but there was a glimmer of hope.

30 minutes later, 10 guys arrive on 4 motorcycles to help load the bags. To be clear, the plan was that 10 guys were going to lift the Big Bags into the truck. This was tried with a bag filled to one-third and was already a serious challenge.

This was clearly not a good solution, and after 30 minutes of very intense discussions, it was decided we would use a self-loading truck to load the bags. Luckily, Alex had foreseen this situation and had kept such a truck on standby nearby. Our 10 very eager helpers were asked to stay and assist. As the loading of the truck with the bags is difficult to explain, I have made a compilation of videos and photos below.

A short compilation showing the loading of the truck.

It is clear that self-preservation is very low on the list of priorities for these workers, as safety is definitely not a #1 concern. Though I very much wish we could have ensured higher safety standards, in some countries it is better to not be involved, so as to keep responsibilities (and liabilities) clear. Luckily there were no serious injuries, and all workers were paid a generous fee.

It eventually took only an hour to fully load the truck and seal it, remarkable considering the conditions and the equipment used. The next day the truck drove to Nairobi, where it was to be combined with the shipment from Rwanda, which will be covered in a next blog.

Alex and I looked back at a successful day, be it a long one. Unfortunately, this day is indicative of the way things work in many African places. Tasks and procedures that should take only a few hours tend to take days, with obvious logistical and financial consequences.

Doing business in Africa requires a certain amount of patience and flexibility, as things never go as expected. And this is exactly what we pride ourselves on at Closing the Loop. We try to adapt to the local situation, and look at challenges from a local perspective, while adhering to European regulatory standards. This unique combination is what has enabled us to be pioneers in this industry.

A proud Alex sits atop the phones in the fully-loaded truck.