Archive for November, 2007

Our sincerest apologies for the extremely belated posts. It has been a long time since we last wrote, and it’s definitely not because things have been quiet here. As you might have imagined, our silence results from life becoming a bit busier for us on this end of the world. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to capture everything that has happened over the past few weeks, but I will write about a few things. And, hopefully, over the next few weeks, I will try to catch you up on some of the excitement.

First of all, we moved!! After having the date postponed from the 1st of November to the 15th, we finally moved on the 21st. For two weeks we had been acquiring different household items, which in itself has been quite an experience. Two weeks ago, we traveled to Kampala and tried to get a number of items there, thinking that they would be cheaper, which many of them were. We bought a gas cooker, so we have one burner in our small apartment where we cook all of our food and boil our water. We bought all the typical household items, but some have a Ugandan flare, like our serving dishes, which are insulated covered bowls. Without an oven or a microwave (and with only one burner), it helps to have serving dishes that can keep the food warm! Back in Mbale, we bought ourselves a used, maroon colored refrigerator. The five small circular stickers on the front add a little style, I guess.

When we first found the place, we ordered a sofa set and a bed frame. Since all of the furniture here is hand-made anyway, we had the opportunity to design our own couches. We looked through an album picked the style we wanted, then tweaked it a little, we wanted curved arms and not straight ones. Then we picked out the fabric. The couch was supposed to be ready on the 1st of November in time for our move, but a day or two before, the daughter of the owner called to say that when she saw the couch, she realized it was not what we had ordered, would we take it anyway? With two weeks to spare (and having agreed to pay quite a bit), we told them to redo the couch. Of course, the fabric we had picked out was no longer available in the market, so they had chosen another one with similar colors. After some deliberation, we went with their choice. Now that the couch is done and in our place, we are in love! We even got matching curtains (also made for us!). We chose a standard bed but asked that poles be added at each corner to hold up our mosquito net. Days before we moved, we picked out a mattress but when we tried to put it into the frame, we learned that instead of a 4 by 6, we were given a 3.5 by 6. We are still trying to replace the mattress… the saga never ends!

Anyway, we are in our new place and are very happy. I am sure there will be more stories to tell about our quaint, little home in the near future.

Although I delayed in actually writing a post, I often thought about stories and experiences that I wanted to share, so here are a few of the most recent lessons learned in Uganda:

  1. Last week while in town, we bought four ice cream bars, a real treat. We don’t eat ice cream very often around here. As soon as we left the supermarket, I opened the box and before I could even open the plastic, the entire ice cream had slid out of the plastic onto the floor. Beth came to the rescue and offered me hers. It was so soft that I had to eat it off of the plastic wrapper. After a few minutes, Adam brilliantly pointed out that there had not been power in town the entire day! So, we decided that from now on we would not eat ice cream when power has been out for the entire day.
  2. An update on the chicken: For fifteen days, the chicken laid eggs. We ate five of them and then Faz saved the rest. Almost two weeks ago now, Faz returned the eggs to the chicken so that she could sit on them. I learned that when a chicken lays its last egg and is ready to sit, it gets a little feisty. At that point, people here return the other eggs to the chicken so that she can sit on all of them at once. A chicken sits on its eggs for twenty-one days (ok, so the saddest thing about the move is that I can’t really take the chicken with me. But, everyone at Anne’s place knows to call as soon as the hatching begins and they take very good care of the chicken.) Anyway, another chicken at Anne’s was actually ready to sit on her eggs at the same time. When my chicken left the kitchen (where both chickens stay) to eat or go to the bathroom, Anika, the other chicken, sat on my chickens eggs and then was really bullying my chicken. So, Levert took control of the situation (I was away for Shabbat) and moved my chicken and her eggs into one of the rooms of his house so that Anika could not bother her any more. Since then my chicken has been peacefully laying on her eggs. On a slightly different note, my chicken needs a name. I have had her now for two months and she has remained nameless. So, I am counting on all of you to help out with this one. Please in the comments, just post name suggestions or comments on other people’s suggestions. We will do this until we have a satisfactory name for the chicken. Don’t forget there are chicks on the way that will also need names, so there will be many opportunities for your suggested name to get used!

  3. There are a lot of geckos running around. And, we usually like them because they eat mosquitoes and other bugs. In fact, at dinner the other day, we got to see the gecko in action. We watched a gecko chase an insect on the ceiling, or wait for a minute and then try to grab it, until finally it actually caught the insect. Everyone at the dinner table was excited when it finally caught its prey. Anyway, I said we usually like them, because sometimes they can be a nuisance, like when they poop on your scrabble game. Yup, that’s right. Last Shabbat in the middle of our scrabble game a little brown pellet landed on our board, seemingly out of nowhere, until we looked up and found the culprit! So, I guess the lesson here is that everything has its good and bad qualities.

I think that’s all for now. There are still more updates to come, but as they say here, it will have to be “slowly by slowly.”

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a bit off the top…

One of my fears about being in Africa for a whole year was how to get my hair cut. Recently, as Uganda has been getting warmer and my hair longer, I realized that I would need to find a solution quickly to my (follicle) growing problem. As you can imagine, the barbers in Uganda give a lot of buzz cuts and don’t see straight or curly hair too often. Not wanting a shaved head, I looked into other options.

Last month, when I went to Kampala, I found out that there was a hair-cutting salon in the Garden City Mall, which is a Western-style mall in Kampala with a movie theater, expensive shopping, and great international food. Getting my haircut there would have been the easy (and expensive) thing to do. I decided to go with the more interesting approach and keep looking for a good barber in Mbale.

In the supermarket last week in town, I realized that the Indians who owned the shop have somewhat similar hair to mine and had very nice hair styles. I approached the employee at the “cash register” with a strange question. He smiled when I asked him where he gets his haircut and he told me to go to a warehouse down the road. I thanked him and headed to the warehouse ready for anything. After all, a bad haircut is worth a good story, right?

When I approached the warehouse and asked where I could get my haircut, someone directed me up a small staircase on the side of the building. Someone was sitting on the staircase and told me that the barber was not around but would be back later in the afternoon. I took the barber’s number, and asked for his name, but the man said he did not know it. I came back on Sunday morning, and walked up the staircase. No one was in sight. There was a door halfway up the staircase on the left that seemed to lead to another hallway. The top of the staircase led to a bunch of empty rooms. I went back down the stairs and exited the building. I called the barber, who answered me in Hindi and could not understand my English. I hung up and went to find the nearest Indian, whom I asked to help me find the barber. He seemed to know exactly where I wanted to go (I guess this is a hot-spot for Indians in Mbale!) and led me back up the stairs to the door half-way up on the left into a barbershop! There was a single chair, occupied by a man getting a haircut! I was very excited and took my seat.

I wasn’t surprised that there weren’t any magazines piled near my seat mostly because of where I was, but also because I was too distracted by the pictures of Krishna and religious items around the room. The barber was giving his customer a close shave with shaving cream, which I took note to ask him not to do- if he would even understand my English! Luckily, the man receiving the shave approached me after he finished and offered to translate for me, since the barber didn’t understand a word I said. I explained what I wanted, found out the price- 5,000 shillings (approximately $3.00) and let him get to work. At first he left the back long. Thanks to the translator, he cut the back shorter so that it looked normal, and I ended up with a really nice haircut! He also gave me a strange head-massage where he put one hand against the side of my head and punched it softly with the other hand. I’m still not sure for what purpose…

In the end I was really happy with my decision and even got a good haircut out of it. I promised the barber (actually the translator) that I would come back again and tell all of my American friends to go there to get haircuts.

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            Negotiating a fair price before getting on a motorcycle boda is tough. My skin color seems to scream, “overcharge me!” I am finding, though, that if I mention the price that Africans pay, I have more of a chance of winning the argument. The road to the Abayudaya from town is great at first, and then it becomes very bumpy and muddy.in addition to being a huge incline, hence it’s name Nabugoya hill. All along the way, children scream “mezungu! How are you?” I usually ignore them, as I am riding  on a motorcycle. With my helmet, it’s even easier. By the time a child realizes I am white and he screams at me, he is already 10 to 20 feet behind me. I have begun counting down from when I realize that a child has spotted me to try and guess the exact moment he will scream, “mezungu!!!”

            On foot, I have enjoyed getting the opportunity to answer back cleverly in Luganda. Sometimes I will answer, I am fine, how are you in Luganda. Other times I will say in Luganda, “I’m not a mezungu, I’m a muganda!” And if I am in the mood to sound angry I will say in Lunganda, “my name is not Muzungu! I am a person. Call me sir!” Of the three phrases, I always get the best reactions after saying the third.

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            The day after my goodbye party at BCC, I began my new job working on Nabugoye Hill with the Abayudaya and hit the ground running. Upon arriving, I checked my email and received a message from Danielle Meshorer at the Institute for Jewish and Community Research containing a one-week work plan. I seriously felt like I was starring in Mission Impossible and would need to run out of the room before the computer self-destructed. A little overwhelmed, but excited to get busy, I immediately rolled up my sleeves and got to work. My first project was to prepare and send an update to the Institute about the Internet Café. I conducted interviews and analyzed records so as to make an informed evaluation. It turns out that right now the café is not yet bringing in revenue, let alone meeting its costs (it has only been open since the end of July). In addition to there being hardly any customers, and the printer/fax/scanner machine doesn’t work. I didn’t believe the employee at the café that this high quality piece of technology was not working, because all the other equipment was working well. But, then she opened up the printer and showed me the rat droppings! So, I realized that, in fact, the printer/fax/scanner had been invaded by rats. I sent my findings and recommendations earlier this week and am waiting to hear back.

            In addition to my report about the Internet Café, I also scheduled and began teaching Hebrew classes. Just in my first week in the community I had already taught four classes, which all went really well. I think my often-obnoxious 8th grade students at Solomon Schechter Day School last year prepared me for these more composed Ugandan Secondary School students. Thus far, I have even felt that giving class rules was unnecessary, but we’ll see. But, I know from experience, that even the worst behaved students are generally well behaved on the first day of a new class.

            Early Sunday morning, I traveled to Nabugoya hill to begin my lessons. After testing a group of twenty Abayudaya from ages 12 to 45, I split them into two groups based on the results of the exam. The A class, which will begin with learning the Hebrew letters is made up of 15 students, and the B class, which is a little more advanced, will only have 5 students. The students seemed very eager to come back after the first class, but only 10 students came to the second A class! I hope this rate of retention doesn’t stay the same or I will be out of students quite quickly.  At first I was disappointed, but I was thrilled that the ones who came really participated. We had a good time and learned 5 letters, a bunch of words, 3 vowels, and some grammar. Not a bad start!

The B class also learned a lot this week. Even though we are learning similar material, this class has a very different dynamic than the A class. The B class consists of Israel, the Chairman of the community, Seth, the Headmaster of the Secondary School, JJ, the head of the Mirembe Kowomera Coffee Project, and Isaac, one of the cantors and Baalei K’riya of Moses Synagogue (also a secondary school student). This class asks a lot more questions and we are able to go into greater depth in our learning. For example, I was able to teach the difference between Sh’va na and Sh’va nach to the B class.

I was even able to use my knowledge of Luganda in order to teach students in both classes some of the vowel signs. In order to remember kamatz (which looks like a droplet of water that is getting larger and will soon drip), I told them to think of the Luganda word for water, amaz. Also, segol, which is a character with three dots arranged like a tripod, actually resembles the legs of a charcoal stove, called a s’giri. The students really enjoyed this lesson, and they all remembered kamatz and segol when I asked them at the end of the lesson.

While on the hill, I eat lunch at Rabbi Gershom’s house where Maital and I stay on Shabbat. Currently, Rabbi Gershom’s sister, Yael, lives in the house with her children. Being the rabbi’s house, this is an especially great place for me to eat because of its full gemara shas on the shelf. After lunch, I am able to learn a little bit everyday. The only bad thing about eating lunch there is that the couch is really comfortable, and  sometimes I get a little tired after eating my rice and beans…

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After three long months, my contract with BCC is over and I am off to new experiences. Before coming to Uganda, I could only really picture myself working with the Abayudaya at the end of October. But, volunteering through AJWS at Bushikori Christian Centre gave me the chance to learn a lot about development and meet the wonderful people that Maital brought me back to see as I looked for funding to work on Nabugoye Hill. As time passed and I really got to know the faces of Bushikori, I realized that I was making some very meaningful relationships, offering a lot to the organization, and getting back tenfold of what I was giving.

So, as the end of October approached and I began to prepare for the transition to the Abayudaya, I started to realize that I would not just be leaving an NGO in Bungoho Sub-county, but would be leaving my family. I don’t know if I could have imagined saying this three months ago as I was dreaming about working with the Jewish community. After-all, how could I see an evangelical, born-again Christian community, as family? But spending my days as the Human Resource Manager allowed me to sit down with every single employee at BCC. While it is true that I was explaining to them about their appointment letters, contracts, and rules of conduct, I also felt that I was able to connect with each and every one of them. [I spent many days making sure that every employee’s file was complete with all of the necessary documents.] As I invited more and more employees into my office, I really began to feel a part of the organization. On my last day, as I copied all of the documents I had written during my time at Bushikori onto the secretary’s computer, I realized that I had accomplished something. While I would not be at BCC to see my seeds sprout, I new that I had at least planted them.

When asked by another employee if I feel uncomfortable being Jewish in a Christian organization, I answered that I actually feel very comfortable. I explained to her that just like it is important for her and other BCC staff to provide services for orphans, widows, and the needy in the surrounding communities, so is it important for me, a Jew, to provide these services. I even “shared” this sentiment one morning as I taught from the Torah during morning glory.

At my goodbye party, the Director mentioned that Maital had brought me, her husband, to Uganda just as a good Ugandan daughter brings her husband home to spend time with her family. She thanked her for giving everyone at BCC a son. I realized that just as important as my work in Human Resources was my presence and the relationships that I had with other employees. At the end of the party, we sang “Hinei ma tov,” which I had taught at Morning Glory a few weeks before, and took pictures of the staff together. I promised to come back to Bushikori often over the course of the year, and I will.

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