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BCC’s new cd

One of the things I have missed most this year in Africa is singing with a choir. Around Pesach time, while brainstorming about different fundraising projects for the library, I thought about utilizing the voices and music at BCC. Morning glory at BCC is a truly remarkable experience. At 8:00 every morning, the staff pours out their heart to God with almost a half-hour of singing, bible study, and prayer. The songs are mostly local; they are in Lugisu, Luganda, English, and Swahili. After singing, someone from the staff “shares” from the Bible and then prays about the coming day. During my first three months in Uganda, while working at BCC, I started every morning by sitting in morning glory. Even though I didn’t sing the words to the songs, I really enjoyed learning each tune and allowing the exciting atmosphere of joyous prayer to sink in as I took my own time for self-reflection.

After capturing some of the morning glory music on the library video, Maital and I kept humming the tunes all the time. I wanted to share this music with people all over the world who could also enjoy the morning glory music for its great melodies, its motivating call to prayer, or its unique African beat. Maital and I decided that BCC should make a CD.

After talking with some of the BCC staff, Maital and I set to work to prepare a BCC choir for recording. Each day for three weeks, I left Nabugoye Hill after lunch to direct a group of staff while, Adam, the Joshua Primary School music teacher, worked with the children’s choir. At first, I just listened to a variety of songs from morning glory and together we compiled a list of songs that we thought were best for the group. After a few days, we were able to focus on a list of songs and began working on voice parts.

One of the most amazing things that I have observed about Ugandans is their natural ability to harmonize. It was pretty easy to work out harmonies for four voice parts since most of the staff already knew what voice parts they felt most comfortable singing and could easily pick out the harmonies appropriate to those voice parts. Before long, we picked soloists and finalized harmonies. Adam helped me in the last week before recording by adding some fun parts to the songs that would give them some more character.

Thanks to Maital’s administrative skills and a lot of help from some key people at BCC, we were able to schedule recording and organize for all the children and staff to spend two full days recording in Mbale town. The owner of the recording studio had warned me that the studio was small but I was still a little shocked when I was led into a room about 10×6 feet, with about 4 ft. of room to record. (I am not sure that you can even imagine how hot this insulated/sound proof room with no windows and a closed door became in the middle of the day, especially when we had to shut the fan during recording.) Somehow, sixteen children managed to squeeze into this small studio behind the large microphone and to sing beautifully. For all of the children and many of the staff, it was the first time they heard themselves sing. You should have seen the look on the children’s faces (and heard their giggles) each time we played back the song for them to hear. The producer is extremely talented and has brought a real professionalism to the recording. Everyone who participated is anxiously awaiting a final product!

In only two days, the children and staff finished recording the 8 songs and medleys that we had practiced for weeks. I will be working with the producer on final edits this week and then the cd will be finished! Everyone at BCC has been asking Maital and me about the cd and I am so excited for them to hear how wonderful it is.

Right now we are calling the cd “Bushiglory,” which is a contraction of Morning Glory at Bushikori but are open to other suggestions. We are very interested in publishing the cd in America in order to raise funds for the library. If anyone has any experience with publishing cds or graphic design, please don’t hesitate to email us. 

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G’niza Ceremony under a Mango Tree

On a beautiful Sunday morning on Nabugoye Hill, the Abayudaya buried many unusable books containing shemot, names of God. Part of my work of organizing the books in the synagogue over the past few months has been separating out these unusable books from the collection. I have found humashim, books containing the five books of Moses, siddurim, prayer books, haggadot, books we use during a Passover seder, and other books and papers containing God’s name that once clean and new had become torn and broken. After planning with leaders of the community, Seth, Aaron, and Israel, for a few weeks, the community joined us in burying one large bag and a box of books under a Mango tree behind Rabbi Gershom’s house.

I was surprised and thrilled to see that over 30 people had come to the ceremony. A few of the teenagers, Isaac, Esau, Natan, and Rachman, dug barefoot with garden tools for over an hour in order to create a hole deep enough to inter all the books and papers. Over ten men stood around while they dug andchatted in Luganda and Luguere. Not understanding most of what was being said, I went to talk to some students that would be presenting during the ceremony. Finally, the hole was deep enough and more people had gathered. Since Ugandans are very particular about creating agendas for ceremonies, this geniza burying ceremony had an agenda as well. After Seth, the M.C.,  read through the agenda, Maccabee, one of the musically talented youth in the community, led us with his echidongo,  guitar, in singing aa few Psalms in Luganda. Seth described the Jewish custom of burying books with shemot before he turned it over to Israel who explained the history of the donations of holy books that the Abayudaya have received over the years. I then read a letter that I found mysteriously while sorting through the books an hour before the ceremony. The letter, attached to a donation of humashim, had been sent a few years ago by a friend and supporter of the Abayudaya, Rabbi Carl M. Perkins. The end of the letter read, “We feel very fortunate to be able to establish a link with your community through the gift of these humashim. We hope that you will be able to study and learn from these books for many years to come!” It was moving for those present to witness the burying of books that have been completely worn from use knowing that other usable books line the shelves of the synagogue thanks to the help of many friends of the Abayudaya from around the world.

After I read the blessing for studying Torah, Isaac, a youth in the community, read passages from different Jewish holy texts from the Siddur Sim Shalom. After a musical interlude, we continued with the reading in Hebrew and Luganda of Exodus, chapter 19 and 20, describing revelation at Mt. Sinai and the giving of the Ten Commandments. One of the reasons that Seth and I chose these passages is that the Abayudaya are very familiar with them. Not many people in the community can read Luganda, but most can understand it when it is read or spoken.  Therefore, it was an exciting moment when Rachman, one of the Abayudaya youth, read the Ten Commandments in Luganda; many people (who unlike Rachman did not have the text in front of them) even corrected him each time he mispronounced a word!

The next part of the ceremony was the most moving. A few community members had prepared brief responses to a question Seth and I posed to them: Why is the Torah important to you, your community, and to the Jewish people? A few people spoke about the inherent good of God’s commandments and the positive affect that the Torah has had on the world because most countries’ governments uphold the Ten Commandments. Some spoke about how learning Torah and observing mitzvoth has been an incredible asset intheir lives and how it hasinfluenced the way that they behave and the way that they see the world. And some spoke about their relationship with God. The Torah for them is the constitution they must follow that will lead them to doing God’s will. Someone even gave the example of Adam eating of the fruit from the Garden of Eden and explained that because he was punished for disobeying God’s commandment, she has been careful to always observe the laws of Torah so that she will never be punished. I was surprised and thrilled that after those who had been asked to present gave their answers,  other community members volunteered to answer as well. The sharing of love and respect for the Torah continued for about twenty minutes. Most of the answers were given in Luganda, but Dr. Sam Wamani, the clinical officer from the community, was very kind to translate them to English for me.

After I offered a prayer to the community and thanked everyone for coming, Maccabee led us in some more songs as we placed the bag and box of shemot into the hole and shoveled in dirt. Everyone joined in throwing dirt into the hole and then those with shovels smoothed it over. The ceremony was  very moving and many community members expressed their thanks to me and the other planners of the service. During my blessing to the community, I  urged them to move from these unusable books to those on the shelves of the synagogue so that they continue to learn Torah each day throughout their lives. Some understood that I was speaking metaphorically, but others moved to the synagogue to learn more Torah thinking that it was next on the agenda. I guess my comments had been lost in translation…

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When we stepped off the plane in Gonder, Ethiopia, we didn’t know what to expect. Maital, Ronit (our close friend and Maital’s counselor on Nesiya), and I were supposed to meet Getenet, an Ethiopian Israeli who was helping the Gonder Jewish community with their Pesach seder. Ronit found a short, smiling man in the parking lot who immediately took our bags for us and explained in an Ethiopian accent, “slicha, ani lo yodeah anglit. Efshar l’daber b’ivrit?” “Sorry, I don’t know English, is it possible to speak in Hebrew?” Ronit, Maital, and I assured him that we all spoke Hebrew and then set off toward Gonder’s city center (or Piazza). Getenet introduced us to Getu, the president of the Jewish community, who doesn’t speak a word of Hebrew. So while we communicated with Getenet in Hebrew and Getu in English, they communicated with each other in Amharic, the dominant local languages in Ethiopia.

Getenet explained that there would be about 5,000 people at the seder. Although many claim that Chabad’s seder in Nepal is the largest in the world, we have to say that the seder in Gonder might actually be bigger! In preparation for the 5,000 person seder and for the week of Passover, the community employed 110 people to back 280,000 (no, I didn’t miscount the zeros) matzot in two weeks. The next day, we toured four rooms stacked high with matzot, or small light brown circles which ended up tasting like cardboard. But we didn’t expect Manischewitz. In addition to preparing the matzot, they were also fermenting wine in huge garbage bins.

Our first morning in Gonder, Thursday morning, we went to the Jewish compound that includes the synagogue, mikveh, and feeding center. We arrived at 7:00am in time for morning minyan. After getting the ok from the three armed guards sitting in front of the gate with a sign attached that read “Beta Israel,” the Falash Muras’ preferred title, we entered a huge space covered by sheet metal and tarps completely full of people dressed in white. The women sat on the left of the mechitza and the men on the right. The women (all of them – married and unmarried) wrapped themselves in white shawls and covered their heads with white scarves as well (most Ethiopians wear shawls all the time, we think due to the cold). About 30 of the 300 men donned beautiful, large t’filin and all the men were wrapped in matching white talitot with blue stripes. Four men stood facing away from the congregation on a high bimah, platform, and prayed in a soft monotone throughout the service. They prayed according to Sephardi nusach, mostly in Amharic. The congregation responded amen once in a while and chanted a few other prayers, but for the most part, the baalay t’filah, the service leaders, ran the show. Even the amidah was only said by the leaders and the congregants responded amen to the 19 benedictions. From my limited knowledge of the community, it seemed that the majority of people were either illiterate or there weren’t enough books for everyone. During the sh’ma, the congregants repeated each word the leaders said at such a fast pace that sometimes the leaders interrupted the congregation with the next word. It was a very interesting solution to the problems I mentioned above related to the amidah, and I reminded me of the repition of certain lines in Hallel.

The most exciting part of the service, in my opinion, was when they brought out the huge sephardic Torah with its large round case and brought it around the front of the bimah. Men started bowing their knees successively and kissing the tzitzit wrapped around their fingers while the women ululated in excitement. The leaders opened the Torah, people said the brachah after touching and kissing the Torah parchment, but someone faced the congregation and read the aliyah in Amharic. After the service, I asked Getenet if those who read the Torah in Amharic know how to read Torah in Hebrew. He answered that they don’t and would appreciate if I would read for them. So, just like that, I was assigned to read the Pesach reading a few days later.

After the service, Rabbi Waldman, an Israeli rabbi, who has had a relationship with the Ethiopian Jewish community for over twenty years, made his bimonthly phone call to the community. I was amazed to learn that every other Friday Rabbi Waldman calls to give a d’var Torah, which Getenet translates from Hebrew to Amharic (over the phone when he is in Israel). He gave a very moving speech, in which he spoke about the laws of Pesach from the Torah and from the rabbis, the prophecy from Jeremiah that the Jews would be brought back from their land from exile and the importance of am echad, mishpacha achat, one people, one family.

Most of the Jews from Ethiopia have already moved to Israel. Their family members, still in Gonder, came back to Judaism after practicing Christianity for many years. They were possibly forced to convert or given incentives which caused them to convert. These Jews want to be Jewish again and move to Israel to live with their family members. These people, who number around 12,000, have moved away from their villages and now rent space in Gonder to be close to the Jewish compound. They moved to the city so that they wouldn’t be forgotten in the transport of Jews to Israel. The Israeli government, who has promised to bring more Falash mura to Israel, recently stopped bringing people to Israel and are keeping these Jews in limbo. While these people wait in Gonder, they are receiving financial aid from an American non-profit called NACEJ, (The North American Committee for Ethiopian Jewry), which supplies food to children under six and pregnant mothers twice per day and runs the half day Hebrew school for Jewish culture.

After the services, I asked Getu how many of the people have family members living in Israel. He immediately turned to the congregation and called out in Amharic, “Raise your hands if your grandparents are in Israel.” One quarter of the room raised their hands. “Raise your hands if your mothers and fathers are in Israel.” Half the room raised their hands. “Uncles and aunts.” More raised their hands. “Brothers and sisters.” Almost half the room raised their hands and cheered. This was a room full of people whose families were in Israel and who couldn’t wait to make aliyah to live with them. Getu announced that just that morning, Ethiopian Israelis were protesting in Tel Aviv that the Israeli government bring the rest of Beta Israel to their homeland.

The next day, also the morning before the seder, many people came to volunteer to pick the pits out of hundreds of dates, to cut ginger, and to peel bananas in order to prepare kharoset, one of the necessities for the seder. This was by far the sweetest kharoset I’d ever tasted. In the next room, we could smell thousands of eggs and potatoes cooking in huge pots.

The seder itself was an amazing experience. There was great excitement as people tried to find any available seats amidst a crowd of 5,000. I was asked to sit with Getenet and Getu on the bimah to help them lead the seder, which was mostly in Amharic, except for the blessings and some of the songs. The end of the seder was the most incredible part. As everyone sang L’shana haba b’yerushalayim hab’nuyah, a group of boys started a moving moshpit as they screamed, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem!” It was an amazing feeling, and I looked over to see wide smiles on the faces of Getenet and Getu. It also stirred mixed emotions, because as they chanted, we realized that most likely next year would not be in Jerusalem for them and not by their choice!

The next night Maital and I made our own seder, in which we used haggadot from the community, although we read from the Hebrew side (not the Amharic one!) We were joined by 10 people, mostly Israeli travelers that were staying at the Belegez Pension with us and then two Americans that have been volunteering with the Jewish community for a few months. The seder was really great. We made it through the whole haggadah, had some really interesting conversations, and enjoyed Israeli wine, thanks to a present from Saba and Savta, Maital’s grandparents. There was an Israeli film crew that was in the area filming a documentary on the community that might air on arutz shtayim at some point in the future that stopped by for an hour and interviewed us a few days before. So who knows, we might be famous! The Israeli film crew also left us a box of Israeli matzah, which we rationed and made last for the rest of the holiday!!

We spent the rest of Pesach seeing some amazing castles and an Orthodox church in Gonder. We then made our way south to Bahir Dar where we hiked to see the Blue Nile waterfalls and took a boat on Lake Tana to see a few islands housing more incredible churches and even a monastery for 70 monks, where only men were allowed to visit. It was a truly incredible Pesach.

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I was really excited to find out what Purim at the Abayudaya would be like. I had a feeling that such a fun and entertaining holiday would be a favorite among the Abyudaya and I was correct. At Hebrew/Judaica classes on the Sunday morning before Purim, as I was asking some questions about Purim and reviewing the four mitzvoth of the holiday, I was asked the question- how can we be celebrating a holiday that commemorates Jews slaughtering over 75,000 Persians on the 13th and 14th of Adar? I agreed that it is not easy to read that part of the megilla. It reminded me of the midrash about shirat hayam, the Song of the Sea, when God reprimands the angels for singing praises to God as they watch the Egyptians drown. God rebukes them by saying that we should never rejoice about the suffering of another human being. Through further discussion, we explored the central theme of opposites in the megilla and the customs of the holiday. In the story, instead of Haman riding on the back of the king’s horse wearing the king’s robe, it is Mordechai. And instead of Haman causing the deaths of thousands of Jews, Mordechai and Esther facilitated the deaths of thousands of Persians. It is this reversal of components of the story that makes this holiday so topsy-turvy. We wear costumes to appear as people we are not. Some people drink alcohol to confuse their perception of the truth. And we fast the day before the holiday only to have a large festive meal a day later. It is this nature of the holiday that makes it so fun and so bizarre. The conversation was eye opening for all of us and I really looked forward to celebrate with the community.
To celebrate our being in Africa, and the fact that we are very far from being African, we wore fancy African attire. Maital wore a bright blue Gomezi, which is a silk gown with puffed up shoulders and really large belt that is worn by Ugandan women at introductions (the traditional ceremony before the wedding) and other celebratory events. Some older women wear gomezis on a regular basis. I wore a kanzu, a full-length white shirt down to my toes with a suit jacket covering the top half. This is an outfit worn by men at introductions and other festive events. It was hysterical, and people were really excited to see us wearing their traditional clothing. I ended up reading the Megilla from a scroll that was miraculously in the back of the ark. Who knew? And Maital was my assistant. She corrected my words and motioned at the end of every verse. No one else dressed up really, but it was a fun experience and we have pictures to prove it. The next day, the kids put on a Purim shpiel in Luganda and did a great job.
One difficult thing we had to deal with was deciding what to do for mishloach manot (sending meals to friends) and matanot l’evyonim, presents for the poor. We have been very conscious this year about giving monetary gifts to the people we work with. A lot of people ask us for money, and it has been hard to say no. We feel that giving money to people that ask is not the most helpful thing we can do for that person and it also creates a precedent for our relationship with those we meet and for volunteers in the future. We ended up giving gift packages to our other volunteer friends in Mbale and buying food for a family with whom we already have a close relationship.
We were supposed to go back for Shabbat, but we go stuck in the rain and ran out of time. The hard thing about being dependent on motorcycles is that in the rainy season, it’s often too wet to go anywhere! But instead, we settled for a nice Shabbat at home. We continued celebrating Purim two weeks later when we received delicious humentashen from Maital’s family! Thanks!

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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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24th Bathday

I have to admit, I am not the easiest person to surprise. I was born with the ability to sense when someone is hiding something from me, and I search for the truth until I find it. Maybe that’s why teaching middle school came naturally to me… So after surprising both Levert and Maital for their birthdays, they had to try and surprise me. But I knew it was coming and was searching for clues.

            Maital had told me to be ready to celebrate my birthday by packing specific clothing like hiking boots, a hat, and a bathing suit. Since this was the same trick we played on Levert, I didn’t listen. The night before my birthday, Maital and I were at home. Angela, our cook, had not prepared dinner for some reason, and Maital seemed mildly upset, although I was skeptical. No dinner prepared the night before my birthday?!? She told me that Levert had gone to buy fish, so we have to pick up something for Bushikori from an employee’s house. So off we went, to a house of an employee that came around the time that I left BCC. I wanted to throw a stone in the bush to see if Maital really knew where this employee lived, so I suggested we were walking the wrong way since the employee’s house was on the other side of town. (I didn’t really know, but since I was the Human Resource Manager of BCC a few months ago, there was a chance that I did.) Maital at first insisted that she really knew but after some pestering, she finally hesitated and admitted that she wasn’t sure, but she thought it was the way we were walking. Then I told her I wanted to take a picture and reached out to take her purse and she freaked out! Another clue…

            We kept walking, and I realized that we were going towards a fish restaurant we had never been to before. I didn’t say anything, since Maital already made me feel bad about trying to ruin the surprise. Eventually, I helped her find the restaurant, and there was Levert, sitting and waiting for us! The restaurant staff wasn’t so adept at handling surprises and repeatedly did things to make me think they were planning something, like when one of the waiters came to the table and started talking to Levert quietly or when the chef came out to explain to us what two of the dishes were and said the cake is almost ready before walking away from the table. Although I suspected that there was a cake in the plans, the chef solidified it! But, I was mostly worried about Levert pouring water on my head to celebrate my bathday, so I kept looking at his hands.

            We had a really fun time, and the toasts by both Maital and Levert were really heartfelt. At the end of the meal, the waiters and waitresses all brought out a cake and there was total silence. It was kind of awkward, especially when they set the cake down and left the twenty-five candles unlit. They were waiting for us to start singing to light the candles and we were waiting for them to light the candles! Finally, we started singing and they lit the 25 candles (one for good luck). Maital took a great picture of me blowing out the candles. Then Levert poured coke on my head (I had seen the bottle but was busy worrying about water); I was quite sticky until I bathed later on. I guess I had to, after all it was my bathday!

            The next morning, I woke up to Maital and Levert singing Happy Birthday and serving me French toast and hot chocolate in bed. It was really nice. Maital stayed home to spend time with me before I went off to work, and when Levert came back home to pick up Maital, he told me he would be taking me to work on his picky! What a nice surprise! So he took me out the gate to find a private hire taxi cab waiting for me with a birthday card on the seat. So Maital and Levert accompanied me all the way to Nabugoye Hill. Oh, Levert also had my shoes polished!! (We have black polish in the house so Maital and Levert have their shoes polished regularly – having clean, polished shoes are an important aspect of the culture. Unfortunately, we haven’t purchased a brown polish, so as Levert says, they were looking pretty tired, until, of course, my birthday!!)

            When I arrived home after work, Maital told me that last night was for the three of us to celebrate and tonight would be just for the two of us. So she took me on a walk to what she described to me as a three-course meal at three different locations. I was really excited and had no idea where she was going to take me. Also, there aren’t many places that serve hors d’oeuvres and probably fewer where one can find good dessert! So, after receiving a call from Beth asking where we were because she wanted to see me and Maital and receiving a few text messages, we arrived at the Green Gardens Hotel. We walked in and immediately saw Levert looking a little shocked. He told me and Maital to stand near the entrance and not move. Unfortunately, he put me next to the one pollen tree, which caused me to start sneezing, so we had to move. I moved over to the other side of the main building and waited thinking that Levert was helping to plan the evening for me and Maital. About ten minutes later, Levert came to explain that they wanted to have hors d’oeuvres ready when Maital and I arrived but that the place was too slow. We were going to move somewhere else. Then, as I got closer to his motorcycle, Beth and a bunch of our Ugandan friends came out of the building holding a cake with candles (this time they were lit!)! Even though I knew something was happening, I was really shocked that so many people had come to celebrate with me. I greatly enjoyed the surprise. After blowing out the candles, Levert poured water on my head!

I enjoyed the company of John Bosco, a teacher at Joshua Primary, Paul, Maital’s best friend from when she was in Uganda the last time, and Ronald, Paul’s friend. Later, Rachel, JJ’s daughter from the Abayudaya, came to dinner. We had really delicious fried fish and a beautiful birthday cake. The most exciting part of the evening was when I received my birthday present. Levert tied a handkerchief over my eyes and made me sing a Luganda counting song while he put the gift in front of me. He then took the blindfold off and asked me to open the big box that he had placed in front of me. It took me a while to unwrap the wrapping paper, and while I was trying to figure out how to open the box, something moved inside the box and I freaked out. I felt backwards off my chair (I was ok). After I composed myself, I opened the box and found a rooster! It is beautiful, and the most amazing part about it is that there are no feathers on the neck, just like Maital’s chicken. A match made in heaven (or the market).

It was a wonderful birthday full of many surprises, and I am really thankful. I also received lots of birthday wishes from many friends and family. Thank you! I look forward to celebrating my 25th back in America!

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