It is not easy to describe the type of life one has in Uganda especially when not everything is always rosy. But I would like to describe a few places and adventures I had during my first years in The Pearl of Africa. This period, from 1967 to 1982, was full of surprises with happy, sometimes difficult moments.
I must say that my colleagues in Mbarara really knew how to organise themselves, and at the diocesan headquarters there was a place called Pecamega for “Petrol, Carpentry, Metal, Garage”. To run such a place, which was at the same time a vocational institution, you need guys who have creativity and a lot of initiative, as their budget was rather limited. We have already mentioned some of them: the little man who had told me on my first day in Mbarara that Uganda was not the place to be, Louis who was as tough as a concrete block and never compromising but eternally complaining, and Karl, the artist, architect, and wood worker. Those three guys ran the show: the little man did the metal part comprising plumbing and electricity, Louis was in command at the garage and welding, and Karl led the carpentry department. The three of them had developed something unique and one could always go and ask for some assistance whenever needed.
I must say I always felt most welcome when I met them in their little world. The little man gave me lots of ideas to improve on electrical installations and did I use these over the years – in fact, I am still using them today! Plumbing tips were also part of our encounters. But I learned most from an old man who had been an initiator of Pecamega and was now living at the central administration: Brother Bonaventure. He was in his late seventies at the time and was responsible for the post office of the place. He himself was an architect, and over the years had developed various projects in the vast area of Mbarara Diocese. But he had his own ideas and never accepted that someone else would take his place in the carpentry workshop. But then with age there were certain things he could no longer do and eventually he had to give in. He showed me plans of his achievements, and what I noticed very quickly was the standardisation and monotony of his designs. All the shops he designed for Indians in town were the same: front veranda, front shop with an office and storage behind. This could be expanded at will depending on the space available. Practical but not very creative! I think that was the problem he had with Karl who, as an artist, wanted things to be lovely but also practical. And Karl was an exceptional wood carver which Bonaventure was not. He did one great thing for me though: he gave me a copy of his plans for a septic tank with all the measurements to cover the needs of the place where the tank was to be built. I would use this in Mushanga and other places as this item, needed for improved hygiene, was often non-existant. Louis showed me how to service a car, and over the years I developed rather good skills in that field, doing most of the services of my car, during the Amin years, myself. In another blog I will recall these years!
So, here was a place, full of activity and buzzing with enthusiasm, which was the practical heartbeat of Mbarara Diocese: Pecamega. God knows how we should thank these guys for the work they did. Karl especially did give me a hand in designing all the churches and schools we developed in Mushaga Parish. They were all unique on their own, practical and artistic. Doing all this work with Karl taught me many things in the field of construction and I will be eternally grateful for his generous sharing of knowledge and expertise. With all the young men and women trained by the three, in no time the region had a good group of skilled workers, and one could easily see the influence they had in the region: buildings were coming up based on sound plans and engineering knowledge. Kudos to those pioneering guys!
Strangely enough, my contacts with Pecamega led me to motor sport, rather strange, no? In town I had met, on recommendation of Louis, a very good Pakistani mechanic who was a fanatic of motor sports. We got talking about it and especially the East African Safari. In no time he convinced me to get involved in one way or another, and soon I was invited by the manager of Grindlays Bank, Mbarara, where I had my bank account, to attend a meeting related to the East African Safari. The hobby of this kind manager was motor sports, and naturally I got involved! The idea was simple: I could be in charge of the control post of the Safari, located at Ibanda where I was living. I accepted with pleasure, and on the set date I pitched a small tent along the road. We had to indicate to incoming cars that they had to stop and have their road log stamped, as proof they had passed the place. As from 9pm that day the cars started flying in, having their road card stamped and, zoomed off again. This lasted till 10am the following morning when the last car passed the control post. Rather difficult to win the rally when you pass the post some 13 hours behind! With a friend from the Secondary School of Ibanda, we manned the post the whole time. The inspector of the Safari, who became a very good friend, came by round 3am to see if all was well. Mission accomplished and I was happy to have been of service!
But my Pakistani friend did not leave it at that. As I had just purchased a new car, a Datsun SSS, he asked if I would be willing to enter the rally, he would be the driver and me the co-driver. I politely refused, arguing that I was not willing to put my new car at risk as yet. He understood and found another person willing to join the adventure. But for me and my friend from the secondary school this was not the end. I had to service my car and so we decided to drive around without an exhaust pipe. Well, all hell broke out on the hill and just like teenagers we zoomed around only to be told very rapidly and firmly by the matron of the hospital that we were noise polluters in the region. We looked at each other, had a good laugh, and fitted the exhaust back onto the car. It was great fun for us but maybe not for the others! Anyhow this made life more interesting and gave us a good break from daily routine. At the end of the day, missionary life can be full of the most unexpected things!