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!!!

2 Responses to “Star gazing over the Nile”

  1. Pips November 28, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

    Are you sure your background is insurance auditor..because photographer, journalist, church entertainer, not to mention inventory auditor sound more apt!:) As brilliant as ever. Loving reading all your entries gal. I’m in awe. Can’t wait for you home at Christmas. love you Xxxx

  2. Chris Oliver December 15, 2012 at 6:07 pm #

    Clare. I have just picked up on your blog today and read it from the beginning. It is fascinating and you seem to be maintaining very good spirits in spite of your remoteness and relatively few comforts. Interesting to hear how you tackling the accounting and the sensitivity amount recommending changes, tackling stock takes etc. I’m hoping to be able to volunteer or move into the NGO sector next year. I hope i can be as positive and open to the experience as you have been. Chris O – currently working in UAE

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