Archive for the ‘Posts from Us Both’ Category

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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on their way

Shira Billet and Yoni Pomeranz are on their way to Uganda right now!! We are leaving in a few minutes to pick them up from the airport (first we have to trek to Kampala). We are really excited that they are coming and will definitely write about all of our adventures together. But until January 6th when they leave, we probably won’t be able to write much. Our apologies.

Happy New Year!

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another blog

We should have told you about this sooner… but Dr. Levert has started a blog about life in Uganda generally and about medicine here more specifically. We think that many of you will be very interested in the things he writes and the pictures he posts! Enjoy!!!


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Exciting News…

We are really excited that we have visitors coming to Uganda!!

Yup, Marilyn Michelow is coming at the beginning of October from Namibia, where she is working with the World Food Program.

And…all the way from America… Shira Billet and Yoni Pomeranz will be visiting us at the end of December.

Don’t worry. We will write all about our exciting adventures with our visitors (and maybe we will even convince them to post guest entries on the blog).

If you are feeling jealous of them, just plan a trip to this end of the world. As they say here, “You are most welcome!!”

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Yesterday afternoon Adam and I were having a conversation with Levert, the clinical officer at BCC that lives with us at Anne’s, about his uncle’s wedding. We asked if his uncle from Kenya married a Kenyan and then I asked if they were both from the Luo tribe. Levert said actually his family is Luhya, but Luo is one of two tribes in Kenya that are long-sleeved. A little confused Adam said, what do you mean? Do they wear long-sleeves to guard against mosquitoes? Laughing hysterically, Levert said no, actually long-sleeved are those tribes that do not circumcise, and, yes, those that do are called short-sleeved. Believe me, we had a good laugh about this one… cultural miscommunications can definitely be funJ Just like time mishaps.

Oh, and by the way, check out the newest addition to our blog… the slide show under virtual picture album!! Thanks Jonah!!

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Rwanda Time

9 Aug 2007

We left Jen’s house in the middle of the night on Saturday night and made it to the Jaguar bus station an hour before departure time. When we entered into the office to pay for our tickets, we found out that they had sold our seats to someone else. They told us that they had been waiting for us since the night before, but when we didn’t show up, they had to sell the seats. We tried to explain that we were told to come at this time and were not allowed to pay for the tickets on Friday when we booked our seats to no avail. They wanted us to take the 3 am bus, which doesn’t even go all the way to Butare, it stops in Kigali and is also has one more seat in every row, so is much more crowded. The most confusing part of the conversation was when they tried to sell us seats for the 3 am bus that weren’t on their seat map. From the looks of it, the 3 am bus was also sold out. They did tell us that there were two seats not together that were still available. After arguing for 45 minutes straight, we figured that we would just have to take the 3 AM bus to Kigali and find a way to Butare. Just then the conductor of the 2 am bus appeared and told us to follow him. We magically got three seats in the back of the bus and were told “if someone comes and tells you that these seats are theirs, don’t get up”. (This later became awkward when we saw a man sitting on the floor at the front of the bus for the entire 10 hour ride. Were we sitting in his seat?…) We were really happy to be on the 2 am bus after all that. However, the bus-ride was somewhat hellish since we felt like popcorn kernels in a microwave for most of the ride bouncing up and down. It didn’t make it easier that the bus-driver played the same three annoying Christian songs on repeat. Chaim and Adam were singing what we think were Lugandan songs by the end of the ride.

We arrived in Butare, known as the intellectual capital of Rwanda and home to Rwanda’s national university, over 12 hours after we left Kampala and quickly realized that we had to switch into French mode, i.e. Chaim would be translating as we stood by and watchedJ. (By the end of the trip, Adam spoke as much Kinyarwanda as he did French! Does that mean he picks up languages fast or couldn’t speak either?!?) Upon alighting (Ugandan English) from the bus, we asked directions to the Rwandan National Museum. Both people we asked, within 200 meters from each other, told us the museum was 200 meters away. I guessed that Rwandans measure distance like Ugandans measure time! After walking for about 20 minutes, we arrived at the museum. The Belgian government donated the museum to Rwanda in 1989 in honor of the 25th anniversary of Rwandan independence from Belgium. Therefore, it was not surprising that the museum focused on the geography, topography, and culture of the country while only superficially describing Rwandan history. Much of the history of the last century is detailed at the genocide memorial. After all, the Belgians are considered to have created the racial and political distinction between the Hutus and Tutsis, where there had only been a socioeconomic one. The Belgians empowered the Tutsis, who they decided was anyone in the country that owned more than ten cows, until independence. Based on certain physical features, the Belgians claimed that the Tutsis were more similar to Europeans, and thus more capable of education and of ruling their more African counterparts, the Hutus. When the Tutsis wanted a quicker independence, the Belgians quickly switched allegiances and strengthened the Hutu community. Anyway, the history is complicated and obviously not a direct projectile from colonialism to genocide. Much more ensued post-independence and many people are implicated in coordinating, carrying out, and ignoring the genocide. Anyway, back to the museum… it was really beautiful and informative. At the end of our tour, we bought some beautiful post cards made by orphans and street children (many in this situation because of the genocide) who attend an art school on the premises of the museum.

After visiting the museum, we walked through town searching for a hotel within our budget. Although it took a few tries, we eventually found a nice place with a small courtyard, where we cooked dinner. We went back to town to shop for dinner and buy tickets for the bus in the morning to take us to one of Rwanda’s national parks to see monkeys. Yes, we learned our lesson; we made sure to pay for the tickets in addition to writing down our names. At this point it was 5:55pm and having been told that the supermarket would close at 6:00pm, we rushed over to try to buy dinner and lunch for the next day before the shop closed. When we came in to ask the shopkeeper if we could have a few minutes to grab food, he looked at us rather puzzled and told us we could still shop. We were very happy that it seemed like the supermarket wouldn’t really close on time. We bought some beans and other goodies before returning to the hotel.

During dinner, we met a very interesting missionary group comprised of high school students from Oregon that were also staying in the hotel. They were soccer players who came to East Africa for a week to tour and run programs for local street children. One of the really fascinating things that the group leader told us was that he has a hard time explaining to his African colleagues that American kids “suffer” also, albeit in a different way than they do in Africa. [Of course, that raised a number of questions for us about the similarities and differences between African and American suffering. Would African kids “suffer” as American kids do if their more immediate needs and pain of hunger and poverty did not mask other suffering? Is there a difference in the level of “suffering” or is any “suffering” as legitimate as the next? Well, there is obviously much more to be said about this…] The group leaders also recommended seeing a very intense, very gruesome memorial on our way out of Butare, in which murdered bodies of the genocide have been preserved with lime. We had actually read a bit about this memorial and had already been debating whether or not to visit. We discussed and debated the purpose of memorials and whether it was respectful to the bodies and the families that the bodies not be buried. We learned that the tour guide at the memorial was actually a survivor of the mass killing that took place there and that members of his family are among those not buried. However, after much deliberation and discussion we decided that although it may be important for some people to see this memorial in order to really understand and internalize what happened, the three of us did not feel that we needed to see mutilated bodies in order to believe and comprehend what happened. We opted to visit the memorials in Kibuye and Kigali, both of which have skulls and bones on display, but do not preserve the bodies as they were found.

Even though we have bought our tickets in advance, the next morning we arrived an hour early for the matatu to avoid any possible miscommunications and make sure we were able to travel on the taxi to where we needed to go. The taxi arrived an hour late, so we proceeded to complain about Africans being far from punctual.

When we arrived at the park, Cambogo, our fabulous guide, accompanied us on our search for monkeys. He also taught us some Kinyarwanda, the native language of all Rwandans. (We were amazed that both Tutsis and Hutus speak the same language indicating that they really lived together for quite some time.) We learned the main greetings: mulaho, “hello” and amakuru, “how are you?”  which is hopefully followed by nimeza, “good.” This brought smiles to many faces as we walked along the only road in the forest, which is also the only road to a number of villages located right outside the forest. After about an hour of walking, Cambogo called someone who has been tracking monkeys for fifteen years on his walkie-talkie. They had spotted a large group of monkeys on the move. So, we moved off the road to look through the trees at hundreds of monkeys jumping between trees on their way to “lunch.” It was truly incredible. (We will post some of the pictures. Chaim inserted his 4 gb memory card which doesn’t compare to our 512 mb card – we will have to wait to post the rest of the pictures from our trip until we get them from him.) We saw mostly Colobus monkeys, but we even got to see two Golden and one Blue monkey. After watching them from about 50 feet away, we continued walking along the road to follow them. We stood in the middle of the road and watched as hundreds of monkeys climbed in the trees around us eating the bark of the trees and swinging across branches. The guide warned us to watch out for monkey “rain,” because of the horrid smell, but we wanted to get closer anyway. Then, suddenly, one of the monkeys started to pee right near us, so we ran. Unfortunately, the guide was caught in the monkey rain.

On our way to Chiangugu, where we would spend the night, the bus broke down. We waited for 20 minutes until another one picked us up. When we arrived in Chiangugu, we were immediately bombarded by street children (one stuck his hand in Maital’s pocket – luckily her money was in her money belt) as well as boda and “private hire” drivers. We found three bodas for a good price and made our way out of town towards the beautiful lake that caught the sunset just as we were riding on the road near the water. The hotel we stayed in was recommended to us by our guide at the monkey reservation, and his name got us a pretty good deal. The hotel employees told us that there was only one bus to our next destination, Kibuye, and it left at 7:30 a.m. the next morning; we would have to be there at around 6:30 to get a seat. They also promised us that starting at 6 am there would be bodas near the hotel to bring us back to town. That evening, we relaxed at the hotel restaurant and learned all about accounting, Chaim’s expertise. We planned on an early morning to catch the bus that would take us to Kibuye.

We woke up at 5:30 am in the pitch black and made our way downstairs at around 6:00 am. To our dismay, the lobby was completely empty and the lights were off. There were also no bodas outside, and thus, no way for us to get to the bus. We were pretty angry, as the employees had told us the night before that they would be up by 6:00 and that there would be bodas outside. We began to talk loudly in order to wake up the employees sleeping in the room off of the lobby. At 6:20, the men came out of their room rubbing their eyes. We had obviously woken them. When we asked the worker how to get us a boda as he promised, he told us that it was too early for bodas and that we would have to hire a private car. Confused, we told him that means of transportation was too expensive and he had told us the night before that there would be bodas available. After arguing for a little while he explained that there are no bodas available at 5:30 a.m. We showed him our watches and told him that it was actually 6:30 am!! The clock in the hotel was unreadable, and it took a while before we realized that we were actually wrong. Rwanda is an hour behind Uganda!!! Oops, nobody told us. As soon as we realized this mistake, we broke out in laughter. For two days we had thought that everything in Rwanda (like in the rest of Africa) ran late, just this time it was running exactly an hour late- like clockwork. Now we realized that actually we were an hour early for everything.

There were certain clues that should have pointed to this misinformation sooner. For example, when we bought a cell card in Butare the employee there set our phone-clock. When the alarm didn’t go off the next morning, we realized the clock was set “wrong” and reset the clock. We now understood why the supermarket employee looked so confused that we were so nervous about having time to shop. There weren’t 5 minutes left, there were 65! And finally, we stormed into the lobby at 5:30 in the dark, and, of course, there were no bodas available! We were really embarrassed and apologized repeatedly.

This time, when we arrived at the bus, one hour prior to departure there were only a few seats left. So, we could not sit together but we sat one in front of the other. They asked us to move our bags from the empty space in the back to the front of the bus (where in the end only one of our bags fit). We soon learned that they would need the space in the back of the bus – for PEOPLE!! The bus ride was not the most comfortable. With seats for less than 60 people, the bus for the most part carried over 100 people. People were pressed up close to each other, it was hot, smelly, and cramped. The conductor would push people further back if there was even an inch of space. At one point, he came back and turned people standing in the aisles so that their backs were to one another in order to create even more room. Every time the bus stopped, people laughed and tried to argue that there was no more room, but the conductor continued to let people on. Also, it was a big task for anyone in the back to get off at a stop along the way. One person sitting in the row behind us actually climbed out the window to exit the bus. We realized that this was the only bus to travel this route on a given day. Therefore, anyone who wanted to get from her village to Kibuye or Kigali had to get on this bus. Some even walked ten or fifteen kilometers to meet the bus. Near the end of the six-hour trip, the little boy standing next to Adam vomited on the woman in front of him and then sat down-next to him! I was lucky that he did not get sick a second time. We later learned that vomiting on this route is a normal occurrence, as it is really hilly, windy, and long. Ultimately, we are not even sure that this description captures the total insanity of this busride.

However, as Lonely Planet points out, this route is also one of the most beautiful bus routes in Rwanda. As the bus made its way around the mountains and through the valleys, we gazed at different views of Lake Kivu and green pastures of all different kinds of plants. Everyone was trying to look out the side-windows for the entire bus ride except for the driver, we hope!

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3 Aug 2007

    Last week, our friend Chaim Cutler invited us to go with him to Rwanda. Over the past two months, Chaim traveled to Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda. We realized that exploring a new country with him would make life much easier. We thought this would be our opportunity to learn from an expert… well, we were right. We didn’t even realize how right we were until we arrived in Rwanda and realized that almost everyone either spoke Kinyarwanda and French. As a true Canadian, Chaim came through with enough French to help us communicate our various needs throughout the trip, whether at hotels (more like motels or hostels) or when trying to navigate the country. After some deliberation, we decided to pack our stuff and go.

By the way, Chaim is a friend of Maital’s from high school. They traveled to Israel together on a 5-day mission during one of the most dangerous times during the Intifada. Adam met Chaim last summer in Israel. We had a great time with Chaim last summer and were very privileged that he was able to celebrate with us at our wedding in Jerusalem. We had no idea we would be traveling in East Africa with him not even one year later!

We left Mbale early on a Thursday morning to catch the Elgon Flyer express bus to Kampala. When we arrived at the taxi/bus park, we were accosted by Matatu (East African taxi) drivers and other bus conductors while trying to find the bus to Kampala. Since buses here usually leave when they are full (as opposed to on a designated schedule), drivers and conductors try to fill up their buses and matatus as quickly as possible. Also, other people are paid on commission. So, they place themselves strategically around a city, hassle you to find out where you are going, and then walk you to the specific bus company where they get commission. By the time you reach the park, others want you to travel with them and fight with each other over which bus you should take…Although a cultural experience, this one is often less than pleasant. So, we are trying to get used to it. Chaim, the experienced traveler, has told us that using humor is often the best way to communicate, though often we are tempted to raise our voices and just yell at people to leave us alone. We are learning to explain calmly that we are fine on our own. But, of course, it is hardest, when people grab our arms and pull us in the direction they would like us to go!

Anyway, we quickly found our bus, bought a Ugandan newspaper, and ignored all the vendors that called to us from outside the bus to buy their merchandise, whether it was snacks for the ride or bags. Sometimes vendors even board the bus and walk up and down the aisles sticking their merchandise in your face (including onions!). You will notice the picture of the vendor holding many, many leather bags! Also, we were quite amused by the man on the bus trying to sell some sort of syrup, which he seemed to claim (he was speaking the local language, so we only caught a word here and there) would cure headaches, back pain, and malaria?!? To our surprise, a few people bought his product.

 As a side note, taking pictures in Africa is really difficult. There is always the chance that someone will ask you for money for taking their photo or will try to grab the camera away. So, we try to be as discreet as possible when snapping photos. (Don’t worry, neither has happened yet.)

After waiting for about an hour, we left Mbale. About half an hour into our journey, the bus overheated, and we had to get off. We waited with our bags on the side of the road for about fifteen minutes while the driver “fixed” the bus, i.e. he sent someone to fetch a jerry can of water, we met a nice woman named Rosemary who commiserated with us, and got back onto the same bus. About 15 minutes later, we were off the bus again- this time for good. The bus driver told us that a bus from Mbale would come soon to pick us up. “Soon” is a relative term in Africa. So, we waited for close to forty-five minutes for the replacement. As we waited, a man with a gun hanging over his shoulder come over to our side of the road and started yelling at a bunch of people to come down from the tree next to us. We surmised that the guard probably thought that these guys were taking fruit from someone’s, maybe his, tree. After loudly pumping his gun, the kids made their way down.

When the replacement, a much smaller bus, finally arrived, there was a mad rush for the entrance to the bus. With our heavy bags, we would have had a very hard time squeezing into the vehicle. Some nice man tossed our bags through the seats to help us save seats on the bus. By the time we were able to get on, the bus was full, except for the two seats under our bags. We had to then wiggle under our bags and ended up traveling the next four and a half hours under our big hiking backpacks squeezed five people in a row with space for four. We have found that one of the ways that we have been able to navigate around both Uganda and Rwanda is with the generous help of really sweet people!

After a very long day of travel, we finally arrived in Kampala and made our way to Jennifer’s house (our Kampala home), even though Jennifer would not get back to Uganda from a short trip to the US until Saturday afternoon. We met up with Jenn Heettner, an AJWS fellow living in Kampala, and Chaim at an Ethiopian restaurant, where an Indian family was celebrating a wedding! That night, we collapsed from exhaustion upon returning home.

Early Friday morning, Aryeh Friedman, Yoni from Princeton’s brother, met us at Jen’s house and we did some sightseeing with him and Chaim. We first made our way to the national mosque in Uganda, which like other main religious institutions here sits at the top of a hill. Chaim had tried unsuccessfully to enter the mosque the day before and was told to come back on Friday. As we approached the mosque, we had to buy black plastic bags for our shoes, which have to be removed before entering the mosque. As soon as we entered the gate, the guards asked us if we were Muslim. When we said we were not, they told us that is was impossible to enter the mosque because it was Friday and we were not Muslim. After arguing for a while, a large man approached and said that he would take us inside. He seemed to be important because the guards agreed to let us go with him. Before allowing us to continue, the men hesitated, because Maital’s dress did not cover her calves and some of her hair was exposed. But the men agreed to let Maital join when she zipped Chaim’s raincoat around her knees and opened her scarf to cover all her hair.

Only minutes after beginning our tour around the building, we learned that our guide, Kirarira Issa, runs an organization called the Media for Peace and Religious Tolerance Organization, which hosts a weekly radio program that sometimes addresses conflict resolution between Muslims and Jews. He thought it was very important that Muslims and Jews should get along and even invited us to be guests on his radio show! We exchanged numbers and email addresses and promised to meet again. At the end of our tour around the building, he said that services were starting and we could not enter. We reminded him that he had agreed to take us inside, which was the whole point of our walk. After much discussion, he took Chaim, Aryeh, and Adam into the entrance of the mosque. (Maital met a nice woman who allowed her briefly into the women’s section).  There seemed to be a great irony in our walking into (or, more accurately, around) a mosque funded by the Libyan dictator Gaddafi (not the biggest fan of Israel). But as we left the mosque, we had a reminder as some men yelled at us. Issa called these men extremists and said that they were telling us never to return to the mosque. (By the way, in trying to be cordial with us, Issa, mentioned repeatedly that Jews are very powerful and rule the world. Although unknowingly, Issa seemed to be espousing dangerous attitudes!)

After visiting the mosque, we walked through town to the Jaguar bus station where we reserved seats but were not able to pay for the tickets for the 2 am bus to Butare, Rwanda. They told us we could pay if we arrived at the station half an hour before the bus departs. From there, we left Chaim and Aryeh and took boda-bodas (a bicycle, or East-African taxi, named for what it once did – took people from across the border. So, boda-boda is border-border pronounced with an African accent.) to the kickoff of the Uganda Community Library Association, which took place in a beautiful school near the center of town. Adam was the videographer and captured the numerous speeches and presentations by a number of well-respected guests (including the wife of the American ambassador) on film while being swarmed by schoolchildren looking over his shoulder at the camera screen. Also, we had the opportunity to watch traditional African dances performed by a group of high school students. Maital helped to sign up new members to the Association and met many people also involved in building Ugandan libraries.

 Arye and Chaim spent the afternoon shopping in Kampala for Shabbat and cooking two beautiful meals, including spaghetti, eggplant, beans, and other delicious food. They even found challah (?!?, well, at least a braided bread that resembled challah) in the market which we used for kiddush (kosher wine isn’t very easy, if at all possible, to come by here) and hamotzi. Shabbat was really fun and restful as we geared up for our exciting week ahead in Rwanda.

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