Archive for February, 2008

Saba and savta, eema and aba, and Ronen and Liat (Maital’s grandparents, parents, and younger brother and sister) will be arriving in Uganda on Monday, February 18th. We will have many stories to share, but will probably only do so after they return to the US on February 27th. And, hopefully, they will also share some of their experiences with you through the blog!!

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Hear interviews with BCC staff, students, and sponsored children, see the proposed library site, and meet the BCC community by clicking on the widget in the column on the right side of this page.

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milk and toilet paper

            We have been asked many times to describe what everyday life is like, which is a hard task, especially since we don’t exactly have a set routine, but I will describe the process of buying two basic items- milk and toilet paper- to try and give you a sense of life here. We arrived in town this evening at about seven-thirty after visiting a friend’s family about 15 minute drive outside of town. We headed straight for the little store front where we buy milk. The only thing sold at this shop is milk. Now, we don’t open up a fridge and choose between 1% and skim or between Horizon Organic and five other brands. No, we actually purchase a small plastic bag at a neighboring stand and then wait in line, tonight for about 15 minutes. At the window, I hand a woman my bag and 1,050 shillings, about 75 cents and ask her for a liter and a half of milk. She passes the bag to a man who removes the milk from a large metal container and pours the milk into the bag using a half liter measuring spoon.

Adam and I then proceed to a number of nearby supermarkets in search of toilet paper. Thus far, I have only found one brand of soft toilet paper – Eurosilk. Well, tonight we went to more than five stores (they call them “supermarkets” but definitely don’t think Stop and Shop. Think closer to a makolet for anyone who has been to Israel). Not only could we not find Eurosilk, but we couldn’t even find a remotely soft toilet paper. So instead of buying the usual 10 roll package, I bought two rolls and am hoping that the Eurosilk will make its way to Mbale soon! We then hopped on a motorcycle together and got a ride home, for another 75 cents. When we reached home, there was no power. An unfortunate situation since I really wanted to get some emailing done. Before I could do anything, though, I had to boil the milk we had just bought. So, I cut a whole in the corner of the bag, put my hand around that corner to regulate the amount of milk pouring, and emptied the bag into the pan. For anyone who has ever boiled milk, they know that when milk boils, it rises rapidly. So, if one is not vigilant, the milk will boil over and make a huge mess in the kitchen (not that I know from experience!!!). Well, I successfully boiled the milk!

            When Levert came home, he suggested that we walk to a nearby hotel where they have a generator so that I could do emails and he could get some other work done. (Adam decided to get an early night sleep). After two successful hours of power and internet, it’s past midnight and we are now stranded at the hotel because of the downpour outside!!

            On a side note, I thought some people would be interested to know that we had cholent this Shabbat!! And a meat cholent at that thanks to a pre-Chanuka package from Israel that arrived in Uganda care of Beth Spack, a LONG time family friend. In addition to many, many goodies, including mekupelet, there were some salami sticks, which we were wise enough to save for a special occasion, like cholent!

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WWII reparations in Mbale

“Excuse me, are you Jews?” asked a very tall, middle aged, white woman with a thick German accent one afternoon as I was walking through town with Eric, another volunteer at the Abayudaya. “Yes,” we replied, unsure exactly why she was asking us such a blunt question. I imagined that, like many bazungu, whites, in Mbale, Uganda, she was a missionary, trying to convince us to become “saved.”

            Instead, she replied, “I am German” and stuck a clean, new $100 note into my hand. “This is for the history of our peoples. It’s not much, but take it.” Wide-eyed, I looked at Eric, he looked at me, and we were completely dumb-founded. Had I not been so shocked, I would have invited this woman to sit down and talk about her background and the reason that she offered random Jews money on the street in Mbale, Uganda, but instead, I just replied, “are you sure?”

            “Yes! Very sure, she replied and smiled.” I told her that we would donate it to a worthy charity. “That’s good,” she remarked. I wished her a good day in German and she walked away talking to a Ugandan a few feet away. She never looked back at us, and it was clear that she was sure about what she was doing.

            I felt very strange taking the money; a million questions entered my head. I wondered if she was related to Nazis and by giving us money, her guilt was lessened just a little bit. Perhaps someone in Germany sent her as a messenger to deliver this gift, but why to Uganda? Had she been thinking about doing this before she came and found the right opportunity just as we were passing through town? Why had she chosen Mbale of all places, where there is a Jewish community, to give the money? Would she even have given the money to a Ugandan Jew? After all, their families were not affected by the Holocaust. Has she ever given money to a random Jew before? Does she give money to every Jew meets? And, if so, for how long has she been doing this?

            Eric and I have to now figure out what to do with the money. Should it go to a Jewish charity? Should it go to a Ugandan charity? Can it go to the BCC library? Eric and I rode back to Nabugoye Hill in a daze. What are the chances of receiving money as World War II reparations in Uganda?   

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            The last month has been really busy. Mainly, I have been dividing my time between working at Nabugoye Hill with the Abayudaya and writing my Wexner Fellowship application. Completing the application was a pretty difficult process. Besides being at work all day, I had to find time when there was power and internet connection fast enough to fill out the online survey. Thanks to a lot of power, some internet and help from mentors and friends, I completed and submitted my application on time.

            Working with the Abayudaya has been busier now than ever before. A month ago, Heather and Eric, a married couple from Texas traveling the world for a year, came to Uganda from West Africa to volunteer with the community for just over a month. They are very sweet, talented people and are offering the community a lot through their volunteering. Eric is very good at working with Microsoft Publisher and has experience running a Young Judea retreat center, making him very helpful  with the up and coming guest house. It has been really fun and educational to work with him for the last few weeks. Another married couple travling the world for a year also moved to Mbale in the middle of January; they came from the other direction, India. Like me, they are working with the community through the Institute for Jewish and Community Research. Dave and Mara are living in the compound where we used to live and are fun to hang out with and a pleasure to work with. Dave and I are working closely together on fixing up the internet café, researching, budgeting, and shopping for guest house furnishings, and creating a system for community volunteers. Dave has a number of years experience in business and I am learning a lot from working with him. He also shares my love of Jewish music, in particular, Shlomo Carlebach, and we will often just break into song while working. Last week, two more volunteers, Elana and Yona, came to the community. Yona will be working in community health care and Elana, a friend of mine from USY and whose sister, Aviva, was my staff on Poland/Israel Pilgrimage, will be teaching Hebrew at Hadassah Primary school and working on some other educational projects.

There is also another volunteer, Ruth, who is volunteering in the community for a few months. Through her initiative, we took on a huge project of painting the synagogue. A month before, I had spent a week arranging all the books in the synagogue. You can imagine my shock, then, when I came to work one day to find many of the books piled on chairs in the middle of the room! I knew how much work it would be to organize the library once again, but was excited for the painting nonetheless. Ruth, Eric, Heather, Dave, Yonit Lax (a friend visiting us for two weeks), some of the community members, and I spent a full week painting the synagogue, fixing some of the bookshelves, and rearranging all the books. Before Shabbat, it looked amazing, and we all gave ourselves a pat on the back. It is amazing what a few driven people could do in such a short time.

            So far, we have totally changed around the internet-café by repairing virus-attacked computers, faulty power strips, the network between computers, and internet connections, among other things. Yesterday, the community received money from the Institute to pay for the guest house furniture, and today, Dave and I went to the Industrial Area of Mbale town to order some of the furniture. Additionally, we are also training the guest-house manager in running a guest house and helping him create policies. We are also working with the new volunteer coordinator to create a system for volunteers to come to the community. Additionally, I am teaching the leaders of the community Hebrew three times a week and teaching 2 Hebrew classes at the high school twice a week. Despite the relaxed culture, I am feeling very busy and I feel like I am making a real difference for the community. There is still so much to do, and as Ugandans say, slowly by slowly, we are getting the work done.

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Fund raising for the library has officially begun, for more details and specifics about the library see the newly created “community library” section of our blog!

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Ice Cream for Breakfast

Yesterday, we celebrated International Ice Cream for Breakfast Day (ICFB). For those of you unfortunate enough to not know about this holiday, it’s worth reading the full history at http://www.itzahckret.com/icecreamforbreakfast.html. But, in brief, on the first Saturday (or first Sunday for those who keep the Sabbath but want to celebrate with friends and family) of February, it is mandated that one eat ice cream for breakfast. Unsure of how it would turn out, Adam and I bravely invited a number of friends to our place for Sunday morning. Basically, it is very hard to have ice cream when there is no power and since power is so erratic around here, we were unsure whether we would be having ice cream or soup. We definitely could not buy the ice cream the night before, because who knew if power would stay all of Saturday night. So, early Sunday morning, Adam and I headed to town to purchase ice cream. And although we left power on, we had no idea if it would still be there when we returned…

Well, once in town we went from supermarket to supermarket exploring the variety available. After the fourth place, we realized that there was only one company available and the biggest size container was ½ a liter. Oh, and basically we could only find three flavors: vanilla, chocolate and vanilla swirl, and strawberry and vanilla swirl… no coffee, no cookie dough, and no mint chocolate chip, not even plain chocolate! Anyway, we had to be careful which containers we bought because as we looked through the freezers, some had ice cream that had separated, it was white on top and a yellowish goo on the bottom, needless to say we avoided those. So I know saba and savta (my grandparents) are wondering about toppings. Were there hot fudge or wet nuts? Well, surprisingly, no there wasn’t. But, we improvised… I chopped up a chocolate bar into small pieces so people could sprinkle chocolate on their ice cream and we also cut up pineapple, bananas, and mangos!! That’s right. How many people have celebrated ice cream for breakfast with mangos, let alone in 80 degree weather in Africa!! (Two of our guests also managed to find rainbow sprinkles).

Lucky for us power stayed on the whole day!! With only eight bowls, we had to keep washing as people rotated turns eating ice cream. But overall, I think everyone had a great time and ice cream for breakfast has officially made its way onto the African continent (although I think it has been celebrated in Cairo before) and into Uganda.

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