Archive | November, 2012

Star gazing over the Nile

28 Nov

Greetings from Moyo!

I am somewhat slacking with my blog entries and it has been some time since I’ve written a new entry so I will try make this one good!

I would like to begin by telling you of an observation which shows how remote this place is, and how uncommon white people are here – I have not seen another white person (or non-African person) since the 20th September…69 days and counting!!!!

Two weekends ago I took a road trip with Sr Pasqua to the nearest town, Adjumani. Although it is the nearest town, the journey took 3 hours. The roads here are shockingly bad. Never again will I complain about the bad state of Irish roads! In this region none of the roads are tarmacked and potholes are painfully frequent. The journey to Adjumani also involved a trip across the River Nile! It was my first time to see the Nile and I was very excited. The distance across is only about 300m yet it requires a small car ferry to take people across. The Nile really is a gorgeous river and it is surprisingly fast moving and powerful. The region of the Nile where we were is quite dangerous. There are many hippos and alligators in the river that can kill people whilst they are fishing or crossing it in their traditional boats. I didn’t see any though. The journey to Adjumani, although very bumpy, was quite entertaining – for whole journey people waved at me and looked so happy to see me. I think I know what the Queen must feel like as she is driven around.

Whilst in Adjumani we stayed with the Sisters that run the Redeemer primary school. The Redeemer Childrens Home (where I am staying) had been located in Adjumani until one night in 2003 when the LRA rebels abducted 16 children from the Home. That night the Sisters transported the remaining children to Moyo where they stayed in the Mission until funding could be obtained to build a new Home. Sadly not all the children were saved from the rebels – some were killed and some have not been accounted for. The Sisters told me of one gruesome story where one of the abducted Redeemer kids had epilepsy and had a fit whilst being held by the rebels. Upon seeing this, the rebels decided the boy must be killed and they then forced the other children to stone him to death. Those who refused were told that they would face the same death. Needless to say, the children that were saved were highly traumatised after the horrific experience.

Following the departure of the childrens Home from Adjumani, a primary school was built in its place. The school is now hugely popular, with over 1,200 students, and is one of the highest scoring schools in the district. However, as is the case with many schools here, the class sizes are shockingly high. Some classes have over 100 kids being taught by one teacher in one classroom.

Adjumani is a very hot place, much hotter than Moyo and needless to say, I was red faced and sweaty for the entire weekend there. On the Sunday morning, I attended mass with one of the Sisters. From what I hear, white people are even rarer in Adjumani than in Moyo and so I attracted too much attention wherever I went! From the moment I stepped into the church, people stared at me and watched my every move. You would think that after receiving this type of attention for the last 10 weeks I would be used to it, but I am not, it makes me very awkward. So at the end of the mass, the priest was making the announcements but the acoustics were particularly bad and I could not make out what the priest was saying. So I was quite surprised when I saw every head in the church turn to me. Sister Grace whispered to me to stand up so I feebly got to my feet. She then motioned for me to go up to the altar, I was completely in shock at this. She thought I knew what was happening, I didn’t. So I went up to the altar and waves of excitement literally went around the church. Kids were actually jumping onto older people to get a better look at me. People were pointing and laughing. I started panicking, getting even redder, much to the delight of the crowd. I didn’t know what to say or do so I stood there smiling at the crowd. Well, the priest also thought I was mental and was like ‘just please greet the congregation’, so I said ‘hi’ and before I could say anything else, the place erupted in laughter. I mumbled an embarrassingly poor greeting and then basically ran to my seat. It was awful. Sister Grace told me people will speak of the time that a white person got nervous and ran off the altar for a very long time to come. I hope never to think of it again.

Another highlight of the weekend was the return journey to Moyo. We reached the Nile as the sun was setting and due to ‘African time’, we spent a very long time waiting for the boat. So I got to spend a long time gazing at the stars on the River Nile. It was really peaceful and beautiful – a lovely way to spend a Sunday evening!

But back to the world of accounting, my purpose for being in this wonderful place, Richard and I have recently been working on the inventory records. We had counted the livestock and crops in the Home for October month end which involved counting, amongst others: pigs, cows, goats, maize, millet and groundnuts! Having spent my accounting career to date in financial services audit, I had never done a stock count before, so that was definitely an interesting experience. But last week, we had to count the stock of the two shops that the Home owns in town:  the Divine Mercy Shop and the Divine Mercy Store. I was quite a bit worried about it as Richard expects me to know the answer to every question he asks, so I had to let on that I was a pro at stock counts!

Counting the shop stock was a slow job but thankfully it went ok. Both shops are managed by very helpful staff who really did most of the counting. My job was writing down the results! The Shop products vary from Obama pens to boys shoes to curry powder to babies socks which made the counting quite tedious. The shop is managed by Moris who is a huge Arsenal fan (as are most men in Moyo) so I was able to put my ‘football knowledge’ to use while trying to keep us entertained during the count. The Store (which is managed by Luca) sells most goods at wholesale so there are not as many different types of products but they are in large quantities.

Sadly the stock counts proved that my suspicions about the shop inventory were correct – the cost of sales had not been accounted for correctly and so when we valued the inventory, the actual value was hugely less than the value on their accounts. So we needed to spend a few days analysing the records books to see why this was, then we had to determine the most appropriate way to correct the inventory balance. Although they use computerised accounting software, all the shop records are manually kept. Therefore to calculate cost of sales can be a very tedious task. I recommended some ways that the accountant can make it easier for himself in the future like, for example, to have a list of all product costs on the computer so that he can just get prices from that instead of going back through pages of the purchases book.

Reviewing the inventory for the shop and store, led us to stumble upon other issues that were impacting on the accounts. Occasionally sales were not recorded properly. Cost of sales wasn’t always booked on the accounting system, though it was calculated for donor reporting purposes. The cost of sales wasn’t calculated for any sales on credit or sales made to the Home. Along with the difficulties in assigning the correct cost price to goods (due to the manual records kept), these are the reasons that the inventory balance was so over-stated on their accounts. We are now trying to work through a few remaining issues such as correcting the debtors and creditors balances, and we will shortly being work on the budget for the next financial year.

The children in the Home continue to be highly entertaining. They are such funny, happy, affectionate children and have really made me feel so at home here. The girls are especially cute – they follow me around the place and always hold my hand or give me hugs. Whenever I sit down with the kids, they will crowd around me and sometimes will fight to get near me, with everyone trying to rest their hands on me, its gas but quite intense sometimes as they can literally swamp me! They are fascinated about comparing their hands/legs/arms/feet to mine. If they ever see a scar or mark on me, they get noticeably upset and will call over the others to investigate and will say ‘sorry’ to me because of the scar. Its very cute!

I am writing this by torch light as a storm is raging overhead so our solar power has to be switched off. I best go and stop rambling although I will post another entry in the next few days – I spent the whole of last Saturday at a nursery school graduation, which involved tinsel, gowns and the whole town. You will have to read the blog to know how they all piece together!!!

So it was a solider, a nun and I…

15 Nov

Hello from Moyo!

This last week has been quite eventful. I will begin from where I left off last time – last Sunday was first Holy Communion in the parish. Over 180 kids received communion at mass, including 6 from Redeemer. Due to my starring role in mass last week, I was unable to attend the ceremony but there were lots of celebrations here afterwards. The communion children, wearing their finest clothes (thankfully the girls were not dressed in My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding style dresses), came for a special dinner with the Sisters, Mr. Rubanga (the homes ‘father figure’) and I. They were all so excited about eating with us and it was a lovely meal! Of course, they were so amused to see that I eat with a knife and fork. I must say though that these kids eat more food than any other children I’ve ever seen. Most of them even had third helpings of food. They were so full that they couldn’t finish their sodas! Quite unlike most kids at home whose priority would be the soda, then the food. I even was able to supply cake (courtesy of my weekly gifts from the Babies Home) as a treat after supper.

Once we finished eating the real entertainment began. A group of kids, the Redeemer Childrens choir if you will, came in to sing us songs! They were so good and so well organised – one was the conductor, different children sang solos and they sang 6 songs word perfect, with actions. A few other children came in to sing solo songs – including one boy called Majaok who composes his own songs which are brilliant and he is such a good performer. When he was performing, I swear every child in the Home stood outside the door to listen and it was the only time I have ever heard all of the children be silent at the same time.

After the excitement of the communion night, the start of the week ticked along rather uneventfully. Richard and I continued to work away. It is still difficult to get time to get our work done, though Richard is aware that I do not have long more working with him so hopefully he will start to make more time for me. It is a work in progress! Last week we focused on preparing reports on the income generating projects that the Home has. We had to obtain the store records to determine how much of each crop had been harvested and in which month. We also needed to see how much harvested crops were used in the Home. This way we were able to correctly determine how profitable the field has been by including the food consumed in the Home. We also did up reports on the performance of the other projects in this financial year. The field is, by far, the most profitable project the Home runs. The main issue with the field is now to determine how to improve this profitability. The Home also owns two shops in Moyo. Their reports for the year show steady sales but large differences in terms of monthly gross profit. This suggests that cost of sales have not been calculated correctly. Next week we are due to do stock counts of the shops and the issue of cost of sales will have to be examined in more detail.

As we are working, like in any other job, other issues pop up that require attention. During discussions about the petty cash and bank account management, it was clear that there are a few problems which have led to large discrepancies between the Homes accounts and actual cash/bank balances. I have learnt that offering any recommendations to Sr Pasqua must be done in a very sensitive way. She is, understandably, very proud of the performance of the Home to date and is somewhat apprehensive of change. Richard is wary of doing anything that might be questioned by Sr Pasqua so making progress in terms of recommendations for change can be slow and difficult.

On Friday last, we celebrated Uganda’s independence again. This was the official celebration for the district as due to many random reasons they did not celebrate it here on the actual day. Sr Pasqua, the director of Redeemer, is a very active political supporter and a very proud Ugandan so she made sure we were among the first to arrive at the venue. The celebrations were hosted in a large playing field, with tents at one side for ‘very important people’. When Sr Pasqua, Sr Florence (a very nice Sister from the convent, who actually lived in Dublin for 3 years!) and I arrived, they ushered us to the front of one of the tents and seated us beside the guests of honour, the MPs. We were quite shocked by this. Then the organisers put a large table in front of us (which signifies importance here). The only other people to have tables in front of them were the MPs and the district councillors.

We were given Ugandan flags, printouts of the Moyo district anthem and throughout the show were given sodas and water. They treated us like royalty, it was so bizarre. The Sisters were really surprised and also quite embarrassed by the fuss!! I liked it…  I think I could get used to being treated like a ‘very important person’. Though, since I was the only white person there, amongst thousands of locals, I also had the paparazzi treatment. I dread to think how many photos of me were taken that day.

The actual celebrations were so exciting. There was a parade of various groups from the area: police, army, schools, nursery schools, teacher training schools and even a group representing people living with HIV/AIDS. It was so well organised and was extra special because many of the Redeemer kids were in the parade!

There were many, many speeches throughout the day – these were actually very interesting in terms of hearing about the major issues impacting this district and how the various politicians intend to address them. When the parade finished, many of the schools and other groups came in front of us VIPs (!) and performed traditional dances and songs. It was brilliant!

Before the event ended, a select few of the people in the VIP tents were invited to the supper for dignitarties. Of course, for some odd reason, we were also invited. It was on in the local nightspot called Monkey City. As we are not VIPs, we were quite dubious of this supper and hoped to sit at the back. But when we arrived we were ushered to a table beside the top table. At this stage it was just Sr. Pasqua and I, and we were joined at our table by a very nice Ugandan solider called Moses. So there I was in a nightclub for the first time in 2 months and I was with a solider and a nun – though at least I was protected spiritually and physically! So we stayed for a while and had a few free beers, a lovely supper and several funny conversations between the interesting mix of people at our table. And you’ll never guess what music played throughout the supper?! Westlife. Although I am not a fan of theirs, it was a nice reminder of home!

And finally, to give another example of the different cultures here. On Sunday the girls here at the home wanted to paint my nails. One of the older girls has nail varnish so I gladly said yes. She did my left hand and I was delighted. I went to give her my right hand to do and all the girls laughed. They were like ‘No Clare, you cant do your right hand!!! That’s for eating with!!’ I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I eat with a knife and fork, so now I’ve one my left hand nails painted and not the right. I look like a crazy person. And I’ve no nail varnish remover so hopefully it will just wear off soon…very soon.

Balloons

6 Nov

Hi from Moyo!

You will be glad to hear all is continuing to go well over here in Uganda. In the last week, I have had a few interesting experiences – I found a scorpion in my bathroom (and actually did not freak out when I saw it!), there was more trouble with balloons and I have had a few starring roles in mass.

I will tell about the balloons first. Although, writing about this incident is hard, I have genuinely developed a disliking of balloons now. The children here are OBSESSED with balloons. I don’t know what has happened to them but they seem to associate balloons with white people. From the day I arrived here, they would constantly ask me for balloons. It was funny at first but then started to become quite annoying. So on my first Saturday, I gave them balloons. They were delighted, the enjoyment they got from them was quite amazing. They blew them up then watched in awe as they deflated; they chewed them; they threw them around; they guarded them in their pockets like it was gold. They all looked devastated when someone’s balloon burst. For me, the amazement lasted about an hour. Once they had one, they wanted more. So, I promised that the following Saturday I would give them more balloons.

But during the week, more and more kids seemed like they had balloons. And more kids would ask me for balloons, more frequently. It nearly drove me mad. I made sure that I hid the remaining balloons safely in my room, just in case. Well, probably unsurprisingly, two of the girls went into my room one day, went through all my things and took the balloons! I realised this last Saturday morning, when I went to get the balloons to give to them. Also, that very morning I was woken up by knocking on my door at 6.30am. It was one of the girls asking for a balloon, it was not a nice wake-up call on my day off. So because all my balloons had been stolen, none of the kids could be given balloons and for the whole day most of them didn’t speak to me, except to ask for a balloon. Sr Sarah had to have words with them that night but thankfully, we are all friends again and no one has mentioned the dreaded word ‘balloon’ to me since.

The whole incident may have driven me quite crazy but it really did show a bigger issue here. These kids have no toys or games or even footballs. They get so excited when people give them gifts, too excited in fact. So it really did teach me that sometimes even the smallest thing to me or you, can be something of much more importance to someone else, especially in a poverty stricken area like this.

Sundays are always nice days in Moyo. They start with my new commute from Redeemer to the church – a 35 min walk in the African sun which can be quite a struggle at times. Mass continues to be very entertaining, which is honestly not an exaggeration. It is the best time in the week for people watching, the singing is fun and people frequently cheer, clap and dance. I am a Catholic but I do think that even if you are not Catholic you would still really enjoy mass here. Hopefully my singing has improved a bit in the last few weeks, though I doubt it. This week at practice, a man beside me thought I was singing a different song to the rest of them, I wasn’t, my pronunciations must have just been so bad! I have learnt though that at mass, you need to guard your song book very carefully because people here have no shame at taking it for themselves halfway through a song. It’s a dog eat dog world!

Well, at mass here for collections, an alter server stands on the alter holding a basket and everyone has to walk up the aisle to give money. Personally, I dislike this part as everytime I walk up, I can see so many heads turn to state at me. But last week, for a special collection, they got a man, woman and child from the congregation to hold the baskets. They woman they chose was yours truly. I was so awkward. The minute I stood up on the alter holding the basket, people started laughing, I didn’t know what to do so I just kept smiling and got more and more embarrassed, making my red get redder, much to peoples enjoyment!

After my stellar performance last week, I was asked to be part of the liturgy this week. I was asked to do the first reading, ‘dance’ in the gospel procession, say a prayer of the faithful and ‘dance’ in the offertory procession. One of my friends in the choir was organising the liturgy and asked me to join them. I think I may have been recruited as a crowd pleaser as people were so happy to see me getting involved in the mass. I must say it was quite intimidating standing up in front of a packed church of people staring at you and hanging on to my every word. With the help of the Sisters here, I wrote a prayer for the orphans to say at mass and it was very well received. After mass, so many people stopped me and thanked me for my prayers and involvement. One woman even told me that she was so happy when she saw me, she saw God. It definitely has to be the strangest compliment I have ever received!

Last Sunday, my choir were had a feast as they were recently given a goat. So they slaughtered the goat that morning and after mass we all ate it. Most people here eat with their hands but usually I am given cutlery. Though this time, I had to eat like a local. Also, although the meat here is very nice, they must prepare it differently from home – often there is a lot of fat and bones! So eating food is quite un-glamorous at times.

Following the meal, I joined a few of my new friends from the choir, including Vuni, in the local pub for a drink. In typical Irish/Ugandan fashion, one beer turned into a few and we ended up spending the whole afternoon there watching the football. People are football crazy here. They support one of four teams: Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea or Liverpool. And they passionately support their teams! They are also very impressed when I tell them that I was born in Manchester, as obviously Man Utd are the most popular team here!!! Between the feast with my choir and going to the pub with my friends, it was such a nice day! It really made me feel at home, and made me realise that I have actually made good friends here, which is great!

Work wise, the last week or so has been good. It can be difficult to get time with Richard (the accountant here) to get through our work but we are still soldiering on. When I first got here, I did a review of their accounts for the year and realised that the deferred revenue (from the donor, IRT) had not been accounted for correctly since this time last year. As this job was complicated and incredibly boring, it took quite some time to correct the closing balance from the last financial year and also to make sure that the current balance is correct. We were both happy when we finished that job. We also spent time making sure that all the incomes and expenses were correctly allocated to the right accounts on their accounting system Quickbooks. A further job this week was to review the cash management process of the Home. The current system is working well but Richard has told me that there are areas which he thinks could be improved. This is a difficult area for any business, but particularly in the culture here, any recommendations or advice regarding cash processes have to be given carefully with a lot of sensitivity.

I returned to the Babies Home this week for a day to help Vuni with the month end reporting. I wanted to make sure that the new reports and procedures, which we had been working on when I was there, were being continued. It is always so exciting returning to the Babies Home. The children go MENTAL when they see me, they literally start chanting my name from the minute they see me in the distance walking up. All the workers there and the Sisters, also give me such a great welcome, that it is like I am returning home when I go there. I am also always given loads of delicious home-made cakes and bread to bring back to Redeemer!

The weather has turned a bit funny here. It is so changeable – one minute it will be roasting hot and ten minutes later there will be a huge rainfall. We keep getting a lot of heavy rainfalls and storms. The rain can be so heavy at night that it will wake everyone up. When it rains, the air turns quite cold which can be a nice change from the hot sun heat here!

Well thank you to anyone who has read this far and apologies for writing such a long blog this week! I’ll add a new blog entry soon! xx