So there I was in a new place with a very specific mission to accomplish: putting the finances right! Rwera Parish is situated at the other extreme southwest end of the diocese. In fact it is at exactly the opposite side of the diocese compared to Ibanda Parish. Rwera parish is a long strip with a small population of about 10,000
Before going there I had to pass to the diocesan offices and meet the big man Roland, who handed me new accounts books. I looked at him with a puzzled air and said “what do you want me to do with that?” “Just fill them in based on what you will find in your new place, and bring them back to me. Good luck!” Luckily I had used these books earlier in Ibanda when doing some accounts and knew more or less what to do. My brief was: write the accounts for the last five years – the time when the parish priest took over – and compare with the statement I was given by Roland which is dated five years back.
When I arrived at the place the parish priest, Gaston (a fellow Belgian) welcomed me and showed me my quarters. In fact, the layout of the place was the same as Ibanda but much smaller. Someone must have been making the same plans for most of the parishes of the diocese! From the word go, he told me that his accounts were not in order, and knew that I had come to put some order in the business. Obviously news travelled fast! He handed me the key of the safe and some books which were supposed to be books of accounts! Then after a cup of coffee he told me, “I will be absent for the next ten days as I have business in my maize fields” I had no idea what he was talking about and would find out later what he meant. So, before lunch that day, I found myself alone at table and took a typically kinyankole meal: cooked bananas, some ground nuts and some green leafy vegetables. Although I would get used to this type of food on a daily basis, I did use my little culinary skills to tell the cooks how to improve the meals so as to have some variety. Fruits would become part of my daily diet, especially pawpaw and pineapples.
There I was, alone and wondering where to start! The reasonable thing was to organise my living quarters in a comfortable way, simple but practical! Then a brief tour of the place was a must; I have to say that compared to Ibanda Parish, I had landed in a very small place indeed. A parish residence built for three people, a small primary school and a hall for parish meetings and teaching people preparing for either baptism or marriage. Otherwise, there was nothing but silence and a green environment with a small road leading to the main road twenty five km away, which could bring me to Mbarara or Kabale at the extreme south western part of Uganda in Kigezi district.
Luckily I had brought with me a crate of beer and a bottle of Uganda Waragi (the local gin) So on my first evening I enjoyed a little gin and fruit juice as an aperitif, and a bottle of beer with my meal. I was indeed in heaven! As darkness sets in rather early in Uganda, and the parish had no electricity, I was in bed around 8pm on this my first day. Water was a scarce commodity, so I dutifully filled my water jug for my morning ablutions. I must say that I did not sleep very much that night and by six thirty the next morning I was up and ready to lead the church service at 9am. This happened in the presence of three old ladies and a few children. Not an impressive audience I must say! As I had no idea how the parish was organised, I asked one of the cooks who the catechist was. Soon an older gentleman appeared who tried, with a limited knowledge of English, to explain how the place was organised. He insisted talking in English, and it took me some effort to convince him to speak his own language even if it had to be simple and straight forward, and he did so thus helping me improve my knowledge of Runyankole. It became very clear that the man Gaston was not present very often and left the work to the catechist. This would give me my first taste of being responsible for a parish, but let it be clear I too left most of the responsibility to the catechist!
After this first initiation I went to visit the nearby primary school where the headteacher asked me bluntly: “What can I do, my wife has given me five daughters but does not want to give me a boy!” I tried to explain why this was so with my little knowledge in matters of genetics, but he rejected my explanation, and informed me that if this was the case he had no choice but to take a second wife who would give him a son. He did indeed take in a school girl as his second wife, and she became pregnant rather soon. She too gave birth to a healthy little girl! This was not to the liking of the man who dismissed the girl immediately as useless. What he did afterwards I have no idea, but he was transferred to another post very soon after this event. These little experiences taught me quite a lot about the way some people think and it would be for me an eye opener in understanding the mentality and way of thinking of our people.
I decided then that the best thing to do immediately was to get going on writing the accounts of the parish. I found stacks of papers: invoices, bills, receipts and other information which appeared to be related to finances. I dutifully sorted them, put them in chronological order and set out entering all things in my new books of accounts. I have to tell you it took a lot of patience to go through all this scattered paperwork. After some three weeks, I reached the end of all my paperwork, and, to my horror, I found that the parish had a shortfall of more than 20,000 USD. Where this came from was another matter of enquiry. It transpired that my good friend Gaston had mixed up his own funds, the parish funds, and the diocesan funds. My task now was to pass on my work to Roland who simply told me, after a quick glance at the books, “Good work! You go and tell Gaston that he should find the money to refund the parish for the shortfall!” This was easy for him to say, but why should I have to do it? But then, maybe I could pass on this bitter pill with a smile and the assurance that he was not going to be executed for it! So one day, when Gaston was at the parish residence, I went to see him in his office and laid the books in front of him. His immediate reaction was: “How much do I have to pay to settle the bill and reconcile the books?” I told him but had no time to explain; in fact, he did not want to know, and he made sure that the necessary funds were transferred to the diocesan treasury immediately. I have never had such easy settlement of financial matters! Gaston went on with his work in his maize fields which turned out to be a huge cooperative. He had with him some fifty farmers who had put their finances together, and set up a cooperative which turned out to be very effective and productive. Good for the man who considered this as his main task as parish priest in a small place in Ankole. But then, why not! I never had a chance to visit the co-op! In fact, he used it to instruct people on the values of human life and society, and he certainly did have an impact on the people he met. I doubt he passed on any knowledge of financial matters! I did not know that even finance management could be part of my life, but I had learned something precious: be careful when dealing with money. Always be transparent in disclosing matters financial! This knowledge would come in handy later in life.
My stay in Rwera would not be very long. After eight months I was due for leave, and flew back to Belgium for some rest and family reunions. My sister was getting married and I was happy to be part of the celebrations. On my return to Uganda six months later, I was placed in another parish where I would find a totally different life, much more hectic, but extremely rewarding. Next time!