Like many people reading this, my experience of business travel is predominantly that of visiting smart but lifeless European hotels, airports and offices, where the most exciting cultural experience is discovering a slightly different label on a can of Coke or being entertained by products with names that translate into rude words in English (Swedish Plopp chocolate anyone?)
However between 16th and 18th October 2006 I had the great privilege of representing IngentaConnect at the African Journals OnLine Publishing Project (AJOPP) Workshop in Entebbe, Uganda. As you might imagine, it was an entirely different experience.
The workshop was run by the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications and its aim was to assist the delegates in developing a strategic plan for the online presence of their journals.
With a relatively small number of people attending (12 people from 4 journals), the sessions were lively and interactive, covering all aspects of online journal publishing, from promotional techniques to the back-end facilities offered on platforms like IngentaConnect.
For me, the biggest eye opener was the extremely difficult conditions in which publishers in developing countries operate in:
Financial Many of the publishers have piles of journals ready to send, but no money with which to send them. If and when the money is found, post sent between African countries can take two or three months to arrive. Similarly, phone calls, especially international calls, can be prohibitively expensive. In Zimbabwe, the currency is so unstable that prices in shops can change several times a day.
Infrastructure Regular power cuts are common place across Africa. Ethiopia's telecommunication system is referred to by its long-suffering customers as the tele-confuse-ication system, as calls are very often directed to the wrong destination.
Political Delegates told of riots on campus where police shoot and kill students.
The inevitability of difficulties in publishing in developing countries seems to have led to a kind of calm determination with which the publishers attack and overcome problems and get their information disseminated - a kind of slow-burning "Spirit of the blitz" that carries on and on through Africa's continuing challenges.
With the conclusion of the workshop came a leisure trip to Kampala. Being suddenly enveloped in people, noise, traffic and general chaos I have to confess to a degree of culture shock. Whereas in Europe you get the feeling of being controlled and protected by laws, signs, road markings, stop/go signs, queues and systems, in Uganda the people rule over their environment - and people are everywhere! With time pressing on we returned to Entebbe and boarded our planes back to our respective countries, I think, everyone slightly wiser... but in different ways.
Incidentally, I did find an entertainingly named product in Uganda. Just what is Kevin Juice made of do you think?