Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Sarah can't bake.

I must have been absent that day of Kindergarten math class when they taught us how to measure.

I was just in the kitchen, in the bubble of solo baking, unaware of the fact that time was passing outside of my little 3 X 6 cubicle. (It just took me over an hour to get that cake in the oven.) I was covered with flour and batter, standing over bowls and measuring cups and spoons, laughing and laughing and laughing about how much time I was wasting on this cake which, when the buzzer dings (right, like I use a buzzer), will be gross cake.

Literally. Back in my Cambridge days, Dee (one of my roommates at the time and also one of my very best friends) and I used to make dinner together. We’d pull out our secret weapon, cake mix, and the accessories, egg whites, applesauce, and Splenda (wait, had Splenda been discovered yet?). We’d mix our cake (or cookies) with one goal in mind: fat free. It would be chewy, too sweet, and kinda gross; it would be dinner. We called it Gross Cake/Cookies. “What do you want for dinner tonight? Gross Cookies?” “Sure!”

FAT FREE FAT FREE FAT FREE, the words would haunt me, back in my obsessed with fat free food days (pre low carb revolution—so we must’ve used real sugar rather than Splenda).

So…back to the kitchen. I started out deciding that I would be extra careful with my measuring for this cake. But I just couldn’t give up my substitutions. So I substituted Splenda for sugar (but I measured!), some whole wheat flour for regular (measured!), 1.5 jumbo eggs for 2 large (leaving out part of the second yolk), and, of course, apple sauce for oil. (Those who know anything about dieting will know that I’m mixing diets and mixing diets means canceling out the benefits of both. Y’see, applesauce has the sugar of the sugar I omitted—so I’m mixing low carb (i.e. Splenda) with low fat (i.e. applesauce), and, quite frankly, that’s dumb. And the whole wheat flour in a cake—yuck.)

So I’m following the recipe just as it’s written. (Well, not mixing the dry and wet ingredients separately doesn’t count because we all know that’s just a hoax.) (Oh, cranberries are really hard to chop, so I put them in whole.)

But then it says to pour the batter into tins. Batter (b'lilah raka)? I’ve got thick, thick dough (b'lila avah); it’s practically bread (it's got an entirely different halachic status--I'm taking a whole class on the laws of bread). So I took out some and made scones. And then I added water to the rest to make it into batter. And I added a drop more applesauce. I would’ve added more orange juice, but I had drunk it already. But then this new batter tasted kind of bland, so I added more Splenda (unmeasured).

And now…the cakes! (drumroll please)

The scones are….quite good!

The cake is…well, YOU probably wouldn’t eat it. But as one of the co-founders of Gross Cake, I’m looking forward to my low fat low car treat!

Strawberry Fields Forever

I have the day off because of the transit strike, so after a leisurely morning of Barnes & Noble and Cosi, I decided to do some baking. I stopped at my local grocery store to get ingredients, came home, put on my cooking clothes, and got to work. Not five minutes after changing, I realized that I was missing key ingredient #1: flour. I went back and forth for a while as to whether my cake might be good enough with whole wheat flour before grudgingly changing back into my grocery shopping outfit and braving the cold.

I went outside and scrunched up my nose—yuck, burning rubber. A wave of panic: did I leave my oven or stove on?—no, I haven’t cooked in days. Is there a blanket near the heater in my room?—no, heat hasn’t worked in days. Okay, I thought, I’m safe.

And I was, and I am. But unfortunately, down the street, fire engines were screaming (and still are, as I write this) toward the scene of a smoking building. I saw no flames, yet the sight was still shocking and horribly upsetting. I still do not know how bad the fire was (is still?) or what, if any, the casualties are, but the air around me was filled with smoke. It was very scary.

Refusing to walk closer and gape with the prurient spectators, I continues walking hurriedly back to the supermarket. (I am not so much self-righteous as I am fond of the word “prurient”.) I passed the entrance to the market four times, engrossed in my anxiety as the smoke rose around me. (Flour is on sale for $.99!)

I just turned the news on, but the only reports are on the transit strike—“the illegal, selfish strike of 2005”, as described by Mayor Bloomberg, who must now walk over the Brooklyn Bridge in order to get to work every morning (well, he doesn’t actually have to, but he is anyways, with throngs of people around him, for that New York solidarity that I have now witnessed and love). I know it sucks for New York and for New Yorkers with jobs, families, and busy lives, but it’s given me a jump start on my winter vacation, and I’m a walker anyways.

Amidst all the commotion I am consciously being a (sometimes) disciplined active person. (In other words, for a person who prefers videos, popcorn, and pajamas to getting out and going out, it is taking astute attention and motivation to experience the pretty cool life that New York has to offer.) The opera (Carmen, box seats and dressed to impress)! The museums! The Christmas windows (tomorrow night’s plan)! The bars! I’ve been doing it all! I even got free tickets and went to the season’s finale of The Apprentice (live)! And I went to Strawberry Fields for John Lennon’s memorial! And I joined a Scrabble group!

And I walk about 3 miles a day.

And now I’m going to go bake a cake, either in muffin or bundt form. Cranberry nut, yum yum yum. Wanna come over? I also have hot chocolate…

Monday, November 14, 2005

...but the journey has just begun!

Last night I dreamt I was in Africa. It was the third time this week.

I arrive at the Hadassah School nervous--would they remember me? Or, more specifically, would they remember how much in love we had been with each other?--and the kids emerge from their classrooms and come charging at me with hugs. Let the dancing began! How different this second visit was from the first when their entrance into the dirt courtyard had been so shy and hesitant!

I saw Abraham standing by the doorway (haha, like in this week's parsha!) of the nursery room (oh). He was avoiding my stare; I could tell he was as nervous as I was. I made my way through the crowd, knowing that I would have to make the first move. When I approached him, I picked him up, squeezed him, and twirled him around. He finally looked me in the eye, we paused for a moment, and then we both began to laugh. We laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed till tears were running down all our cheeks and we had to sit down.

Did I ever tell you about Abraham?

Throughout Africa, I tried to include stories of Abraham in my emails. I tried to explain how he had touched my life. But in the end, all the words were deleted. Not only could I not explain this angel of a little boy, but I could not even explain how I could not even explain.

Uch--what has come over me?! I have lost my flair! I've melted into a puddle of moldy sap, getting warm and sticky on my expensive finished, hard-wood floors.

In a land flowing with caffeine, vitamin water, and money, I sit in my $2850/month apartment (not including utilities and cable) and complain about my looks. My black leather boots are too high, the sole on my red suede boots is a bit low. My skirts are too loose and my pants are too tight. My hips are too big, my breasts too small, my eyes are too wide, and my hair too tall. And I'm getting a cold. And I'm getting old. And don't even let me get started about boys...

Well I certainly just killed the mood. I'll write more later.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Ah! To be young again... Posted by Picasa

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Last Word

Hello again!

Jew in Putti once wrote, "Like any other Jew, I
should not lose hope [to return to Israel] though life
is difficult. This means that one day my mouth will
be full of laughter, my tongue with joyful songs and
there I will say among other things that 'The Lord has
done great things in my life.' At this moment,
though, I will be like those who sow in tears and thus
reap in joy."

I am so lucky. I am so lucky, I told myself, over and
over again as I flew over the desert from one paradise
to another. I have gone from the pearl of Africa,
where chickens cross the dirt roads more than human
beings do (I've asked myself 'why' on countless
occasions), to the land flowing with milk and honey,
where beauty is trumped only by holiness. I have
cried painful tears over my departure and an equal
number were shed upon arrival in the developed, holy,
land of Israel (especially when I saw--in no
particular order--the washer and dryer, Eden, and the

My last few weeks in Uganda were bittersweet, to say
the least.

A vacation to the relaxing Ssese Islands. There I
went from sleeping on the beach to sleeping in the
grass to sleeping in the hammock to sleeping in the
tent. I read hundreds of pages of book and wrote
pages and pages of journal. There were parrots in the
trees and bilharzia in the lake-one of the many exotic
diseases that were tested during my 3 day hospital
visit upon arrival in Israel (another long, boring
malaria story that I will spare you from).

And then back to the village for the wind down. Did
some work, had some goodbye parties (one in Putti, one
in headquarters), recorded my debut album-Molly and
Sarah's Most Excellent Prayer Adventure-packed my
bags, cried my eyes out, and left.

I have no more exciting stories to tell though my life
has been far from unexciting. I long ago lost my
flare (or interest?) for explaining the funny details
of travel--perhaps they became commonplace. And even
after all this time, I still cannot explain that which
I could never explain. I will never be able to
explain what living in Uganda was actually like for
me. I will not be able to put the stars into words or
let you hear the bleating cries of the goats. You
cannot feel the sun burning my skin through my
clothing and you cannot see the sun's rays as they
inexplicably tear the clouds apart. Hardest of all, I
will never be able to explain the children.

I have now been in Israel for two weeks where I am
experiencing reverse culture shock. Physically, it is
very easy to get used to the fully developed
world--twenty three and a half years of life have been
in this comfortable setting of showers and
televisions. Emotionally and philosophically,
however, the first world is much more complex than the
developing third. Living in Uganda brought me "back
to basics", to the simple, to the clear and obvious,
to the understandable. It is the developed world that
is complex and impossible to understand-easy to
explain, but impossible to understand.

Also, it is strange to be around so many white people.

As far as I am concerned, I am home and my trip is
over. I am back with family, back with friends, and
back to my real life. Before I end, I just want to
thank all of you, dear readers, for your time,
attention, responses, packages, phone calls, and love.

You've been a wonderful audience.

Yours, etc.

P.S. For photos, check out this site periodically:

Saturday, May 21, 2005

NEWSFLASH!! MALARIA !!, (take two)!!


The malaria parasite strikes back! Despite my diligence in:

a) consumption of anti-malarial pills (big waste of money),

b) sleeping under a fully tucked in mosquito net, sprayed with promethrin, and

c) constant use of toxic bugspray,

I have once more been infected with the (other) disease that puts Uganda on the map. (I should play the lottery; I seem to be good at beating the odds.)

But, once again, the holy Jedi knights (me AND Molly, this time), have enough power from above and from within to combat the evil, parasitic monsters. Don't worry. We’re both fine. Two nights ago we had a malaria party. We stayed up late, sweating bullets, complaining, and eating cereal!

And yesterday I went mango picking and water fetching with the kids. All of Day Two of Malaria One was spent in bed, with me thinking I would never see daylight again. I'll bet Malaria Three will be a breeze. (That is so not funny, actually.)

I spent all of the day before thinking: It’s just a headache. It’s just a fever. It’s just joint pain. It’s just a stomach ache. It’s just exhaustion. But in the end, it’s just malaria. As common as the common cold. As fatal as a bullet wound. As fixable as a loose skirt hem.

My skin was burning of my body so I went to the clinic. The power went out while I was at the first clinic. The second clinic had power, but the lab was closed. The third clinic had power and an open lab, but took a while to get to cuz even though it was a close walk between clinics, I had to walk carefully cuz it was dark outside and there are random large holes in the sidewalks of Mbale town.

Do you want to hear something crazy (besides the fact that I have malaria again)? There are only two times in my 3 months here that I carried a laptop down the hill. Both of those days are the days that I was diagnosed with malaria! The moral of the story: Don’t carry laptops down hills. (It can’t hurt to be extra cautious.)

And the other funny thing is that I wrote Baby Eden (my niece) an email just that same day, introducing myself and assuring her of my health—I didn’t want her to be afraid to get near me. (B & B—malaria is not contagious. Actually, the natives think that you can get malaria from mangos. Molly has explained to them over and over again that the only link between mangos and malaria is that mosquitoes may hang out near mango trees once it starts getting dark. There were lots of “m” sounds in that sentence—oh! I do love alliteration!)


I have begun the three week wind-down of my stay here. Sick (physically) as this country makes me, the last few days have been the first of the next 18 to come, of tearful musings of my departure. To put it plainly, I have fallen in love with this place to the point of heartache and distress. I’ll look at one of my friends or a cow or a goat, a ripped shirt, a beat up motorcycle, even the rat poop on my floor, and with pathetic tears in my eyes I’ll whimper, “How am I going to leave you? How am I going to live without you?”

But let’s save all that gushiness for my final email. Hey—don’t you get sad! We still have loads of time before the final email!

I’ve spent this week and last week giving classes (Torah and writing), typing up the students’ work (for future compilation), and devising curricula for elementary and high school Judaism classes. I gave a seminar to the elementary school teachers about the use of flashcards and word games in English classes. I taught about the Hatikva and led an Israel-focused poetry workshop on Yom Ha’atzmaut (in Putti). I’ve continued teaching prayer-reading classes and have begun praying more with the kids at Hadassah. I went to Namutumba for a Shabbat (home of really good (white) sweet potatoes), Namatala and Namanyoni for a Shabbat, and Nasenyi for the Abayudaya Women’s Association bi-annual convention. I’ve met weekly with the boys from Putti, teaching Mishna and Halacha, over ginger sodas in a restaurant in town. I’ve sat outside with the P5 (fifth grade) girls (and Isaac and Kochas, my teenage-boy best friends) and written poems and stories with them. I got a dress custom-made. I spent way too much time online finding more dress ideas for the future dresses I’m going to have made. I’ve encouraged people, young and old, to read and respect books. (Am I a nerd, or what?) Hmm...what else? Oh, and I got malaria.

And now a question for the audience: Does anyone know of any jobs in NYC for this upcoming year? In what field, you ask? I have no idea. My quick resume: B.A. Philos./English. M.A. Editorial Studies. Other: many years as Hebrew School teacher and a world wide traveler. Not much else. I guess I'd add that I'm a kind and charming person. And responsible and organized (deep down). (Can this double as a personal ad? I also like long walks on the beach--as long as I'm not expected to get in the water.)



Thursday, May 12, 2005

“M’zungo, give me my 100 shillings”

Ah, requests for to my ears. The other day I got, "M'zungu, give me my bicycle." Huh? Um. No.

Hi! This is not a mass email. i mean it is, but it's not really. if you are getting this email it is either because you have some connection through the jewish community at large (i.e. through shul, hebrew school, jewish jobs you may have) or because you are a boy or because I like you and you popped into my head as I was putting people in here.

The women have been hastling me. They want to sell me kippot and they want to sell me kippot bad(ly).

Each kippa is $15 (maybe $12 if you buy them bulk) and they are way cool. And just to give you an idea of what $15 is's food for a family for about 3 weeks. It's about 250 avocados. It's a mountain of chapati (I MUST CUT BACK!).

You can choose your colors (I actually like the black on black, boring as that sounds. It's very classy.) And some do not have the menorahs around the sides, but have a simple stripe instead, with or without a star on top. Or you can let me choose the color for you (ooh! fun!).

Because it is easier and because it will make the women happy because they will get immediate cash, I would like to pay upfront for them, so it would be nice to know that I will have some guarenteed sales when I get home.

Please check out the kippot (either on some of my pictures or here: and let me know how many you would like. You can then send a check made out to me to my home (ah, home sweet home) and I will deliver your kippot upon arrival (July 3, 2005).

Make Sarah happy...(really, make them happy....c'mon, its for the Jews)...


Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Holy Chicken Pox!

Yes, you read that correctly: I have chicken pox. I just came from the doc, whom I have seen 3 times in the past three weeks. First he told me maybe it was allergies (even though I assured him I'm allergic to nothing), then he said maybe it was fleas (he scolds me, "Remember we talked about hygiene in health class, Sarah?"), and today, he is certain that it is chicken pox, and I have no basis for disagreement this time, because, well, I think he is correct. Few people are lucky enough to experience this itchy delight twice, but of course, the recipient of malaria, typhoid, whooping cough, and other old-fashioned diseases--i had scarlet fever as a baby--I am one of them--if I remember correctly, my brother had them twice also, so maybe it is genetic. This is not a special African chicken pox, this is real, American pox. (In fact, the doc had to confirm in a book with pictures cuz he had never seen chicken pox on mazungu skin and apparently it's different. On black skin, the bumps are raised more and are pussy. That's why it took him so long to diagnose it, he claims...) Anyways, it is spreading quickly and it sucks.

I must tell you about the matza, and I will tell you in the words of Enosh, the leader of the Putti community who related the following story to us this past Shabbat:

"I have been having terrible backaches so I went to do a search on the cause of backaches and found that the leading cause of backaches is stress. I immediately knew that the cause of my backaches was the problem of matza. If we make our own matza, I thought, then it will probably not be kosher for Passover. But if we do not eat matza at all, then it will not be Pesach. I agonized over this problem for weeks, unable to figure out a solution. My back got worse and worse.

"Then, 3 days before Pesach, I received a phone call from Sarah that she had some matza for our community. My hopes immediately soared, but not too high: What if Sarah was only bringing us a piece of matza to teach us what matza is? If that will be the case, I figured, then we will maybe grind it up and mix it with something else so that it will go further and can feed more community members.

"Sarah was supposed to meet me at a certain time, but was late. Maybe Sarah had forgotten? Or maybe something happened to the matza? I was sick with worry. But at the moment when my thoughts were about to take over my sanity, my phone rang and Sarah said she would be there in 20 minutes.

"When their van pulled up and Sarah began unloading the matza, I did not know what to think. The matza came in 5 lb. packages that were the size of gigantic bricks. Is this what matza looks like? Matza looks like a huge brick? I was confused because I had never seen matza before, and I never imagined that I would be receiving such a large package. And then Sarah pulled out another large brick of matza and placed it on the first. I was getting nervous because I really had no idea what she was giving me; my whole conception of matza was being altered. She better not give me anymore, I thought, or I will not be able to transport it. Then she placed another 5 lb. brick in my arms, smiled, said 'chag sameach', and went on her way.

"It was only when I returned home and opened the packages that I realized what matza was and that my community, all of whom had never seen matza before, would have enough matza for the entire 8 days of Pesach."

I explained to Enosh, who was near tears with gratitude to me, that I had nothing to do with it, and that my parents had received 60 lbs. of matza from the Streit's matza company as a donation to the Abayudaya. (Enosh is now writing Streit's a letter.)

The Putti community is a separate community from the rest of the Abayudaya in Uganda. A few years ago, due to religious and political differences, a group of people moved out to the rural Putti to begin a new community. Stubborn, rebellious, passionate, intelligent, and kind, the Putti people have been successful in building a beautiful and strong community that is autonomous and religious. They are orthodox in affiliation and practice, they are in contact with orthodox rabbis in Israel and in America. They have become part of the world sephardi congregation of Shearit Yisrael, and have set up their community similar to the yishuvim in Israel. Not unlike my shabbatot at Nabugoye, my few days in Putti were filled with Torah study, prayer, singing, and me being in awe of such motivated and inspiring people. (I hope I do not sound condescending through any of this praise; I truly am inspired.)

We were studying Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) during the afternoon and then into the evening as well. Each person took a mishna, read it, translated it into Lugwele (another local language), and explained it in his or her own words. Uri read the passage about opening home doors to poor people, and asked, "How are we supposed to read this? How are we, as poverty-stricken, poor people of Africa supposed to open our doors to the poor when we have nothing?" He smiled and answered. "We do not have nothing. Even if we have one bite of food, we have more than some other people. And in that way, we are rich." (Ah. Africans.)

Uri also explained the passage that discusses conversation with one's wife (a passage we all love to hate) and said, "It says here that it is talking about one's wife." He paused. "Did you hear me? It says 'wife', not 'wives'. The message here is that no man should have more than one wife." Everyone laughed. (The previous night, however, Uri told us that he was "too old to go out looking for a second wife." Ah. Africans.)

Putti is more rural and is poorer than the other communities. We stayed in a one-room mud hut with a thatched grass roof on the floor on mattresses, taken from other people's one-room mud huts. There was only enough karosene for one lantern and the moon was waning and the sky was overcast. It was very dark in Putti, and the walk from the synagogue back to our hut--a walk of only about 100 steps--was difficult and kinda scary (there are snakes in Putti). We stayed up late each night, sitting in the synagogue talking with the leaders of the community--Enosh, a young man in his 20s, Uri, a 40-year old, and Abraham, the grandfather of the community. The synagogue is one of the most beautiful structures I have ever seen. It is made of homemade bricks (though that is not uncommon here), mud, and grass. The thatch roof, which also serves as ceiling, reaches maybe 30 feet in the middle; the ark at the front of the room is topped with a ner tamid (eternal flame) which always has kerosene burning, lighting it dimly.

The women were all nervous about all the red bumps on my stomach, sides, back, and theighs. They were concerned for my health, but also, bumps like that could be bedbugs and no hosts want their sheets to be the cause of someone else's infliction. I will have to call them and tell them I am okay. Chicken pox--ah, to feel young again!

Before I end, there are some things I left out of the last email I sent. If I could create a second edition of that email, I'd include the following notes:

First, Molly reminds me that my number of phobias exceeds the one previously listed (aquaphobia), another major one being my fear of elephant riding on mountain-side paths. True.

Next, an exciting story! We were staying at the Red Chili campground at Murchison Falls. We were teaching some people how to play SET when all of a sudden we heard a rustling in the bushes. And then a whispered shout, "Guys, come quick!" So we rushed to the edge of the patio, and in the bushes, not 5 feet away from us, was a humoungus (sp?) hippo grazing unawares (awk?). Now, hippos are the second largest animals (after elephants), and even though vegetarian, can be extremely vicious! So it was scary, but exhilirating, as most scary things are. (And Molly was staying in her tent and heard the hippo grazing here her late at night!)

And lastly, I forgot to mention that Molly and I led the second seder in Nasenyi. We went through the Hagaddah, asked questions, asked for questions, told over the Passover story, and ate tons of matza. It was a smashing success. Like the first seder, about 35 people were crowded into the dining/living room of the community leader's home. Charoset was pineapple, peanuts (they go by sephardi tradition), and raisins, but when it was time to dip the maror into it, they all refused and insisted on using the saltwater again, because "it doesn't make sense to dip greens into pineapple."

I hope you are all healthy and happy. I know I am, even though maybe it doesn't seem like it.

I miss you all,

Love, Sarah

Friday, April 29, 2005

The National Goldspoon’s African Vacation

Oh, hello, again!

I will run out of fingers and toes if I try and count the number of times that i have asked myself, "What the heck are my parents doing in Africa?" But I also cannot even begin to imagine how many times I also thought how utterly cool my parents are for spending 2 weeks doing rugged (for them) African travel. They're pretty cool, huh?

I have just returned from Entebbe--a 4-5 hour bumpy ride that I have now endured 8 times in the past 3 weeks. Somehow, this last time, getting on the road was a bit more difficult. Saying goodbye to that fancy hotel, complete with a/c and TV was not easy...and i'll bet you thought that my African experience had turned me into a superior, more focused, less materialistic person! It has, I assure you, but...a/c! TV!...even the most superior of people need a little vacation.

Let me tell you about my travels...

It all began with the Nile. The Nile holds for me good and bad memories. In one good way, it has been very good to us Jews. It watered the land of Egypt, bringing the children of Jacob there to eat and be well (of course, that soon turned sour); it held little baby Moses' basket as he braved the raging Nile's rapids (um...we'll return to that when we discuss my bad memories) and saved his life, thus saving the future of our people. If not for the Nile, I may not be here!

The Nile is also home to many hippos and crocodiles, and lots of baboons and elephants graze by her lush shores. The Gold family (minus Ben and Bethami and Eden but plus Molly, Rachel--my Abayudaya friend, the famous one from the cd--and Samson--our Abayudaya tour organizer) boated down the mighty Nile, getting caught in the torrential rain only once, and drinking Nile beers. (I thought it would be cool to drink a Nile on the Nile, but I actually still do not like beer, though I am still trying my hardest to acquire a taste for it--my father says I must, and respecting one's parents in a big mitzvah!)

And the Murchison Falls of the Nile River, Uganda's most beautiful spot, is smaller than the Niagara Falls, but is much more breathtaking. One day, when I grow up and move back to Uganda and you come visit me, I'll take you there.

The bad Nile memories, you ask? I chickened out at the Nile rafting and got out of the raft after 6 km. okay...moving right along...

We also went on safari while we were in the Murchison Falls area. We saw everything but lions. Giraffes are my favorites. And part of the fun of going on safari for a second time (how spoiled am I??) is being able to watch the people who are seeing the animals for the first time. For part of the drive I sat down and watched my parents and Rachel poke their heads through the safari sunroof and marval at the stunning, wild creatures, too regal and strong to care that they had company.

Nabugoye Hill, Abayudaya headquarters, was flooded with visitors for the Pesach seders, so I decided it would be nice to go to the remote, vounteer-neglected village of Nasenyi--the land of mango trees and sugarcane plantations (remember Nasenyi? I was once there for a shabbat.). (It is also the land of millet and sorgum, but those sound so much less romantic sounding and are not nearly as tasty.)

Here is where we give 3 cheers to my parents (my mother): It was a 3 day yomtov with no electricity and no running water and not very good food, especially for those living a low-carb lifesyle. And services were really long and boring.

But services were redeemed and actually, everything else was redeemed by the kindness of the people and the beauty of their songs.

The synagogue and the congregation of Nasenyi are about 1/5 the size of Nab. Hill. There are about 30 people and they all have beautiful voices (except one of them, which makes that one person--no names--seem very funny). They did much of their service in Luganda and the psalms were sung smoothly and warmly, like butter (buttah) left to sweeten and melt in the sun.

And I have never seen such appreciation for guests and good hosting in my entire life.

And everybody (all the men) were very eager to answer all of my father's questions about crops and agriculture (even though field work is the woman's job, here in Uganda).

Did you know that chimps have 98.3% (or something like that) of identical DNA to their good relatives, us? I didn't know that, but I learned that, as well as many other things about chimps, at Ngamba Island. Ngamba or "Chimp" Island is a chimpanzee sanctuary where 40 chimps live in safety. They were rescued from kidnappers and poachers and other bad people. We took a speedboat across Lake Victoria and it was raining so the waters were rough, and this is when I learned that my one phobia (water) happens to be the one phobia that my mother actually doesn't have. I found that interesting.

We got to Chimp Island during feeding time, so all of the chimps were out from the forest and were raising their hands, begging for an avocado to be thrown to them. When you come visit me, we'll have to go here too, because I cannot explain it. I just sat here staring at the screen for a few minutes trying to think how to write it, and I can't. For more info or to help check out .

Well, my friends, I'm afraid that's all I've got time for just now. I have fruit to buy and jobs to apply for. I wish all of you a chag kasher v'sameach, a happy Passover and happy spring to all!

Oh, and one more thing, I've extended my stay here for 3 more weeks. Isn't that exciting! June is supposed to be very nice. And I will get to travel more and see more monkeys! (Chimps are apes, though, not monkeys, I'm told. Word on the street is that monkeys have tails and apes do not.)

To you and yours,


Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Oh, the lengths I'll go for posterity.  I just drove
on the back of a motorbike in the wind and rain so i
could go get my picture cd and take advantage of fast
internet in Kampala (i'm on a minibreak).

Enjoy the pictures. There are more at snapfish, and
there are many more, but it takes about an hour for 18

Love to all, sarah

--- wrote:
> Date: Mon, 11 Apr 2005 08:06:34 -0800 (PDT)
> From:
> To:
> Subject: View my photos: oh, uganda!
> You're invited to view my online photos at the
> Gallery. Enjoy! and forward them to others who
> aren't on this list. yall are the only ones whose
> emails i knew offhand.
> You're invited to view these photos online at Kodak
> Easyshare Gallery!
> Just click on View Photos to get started.
> If you'd like to save this album, just sign in, or
> if you're new to the Gallery, create a free account.
> Once you've signed in, you'll be able to view this
> album whenever you want and order Kodak prints of
> your favorite photos.
> Enjoy!
> Instructions: Click view photos to begin. If you're
> an existing member you'll be asked to sign
> in. If not, you can join the Gallery for free.
> Questions? Visit
> ------------------------------------------------
> EASYSHARE Gallery Customer Service
> Phone: (800) 360-9098
> Outside the US and Canada: (512) 651-9770
> ------------------------------------------------
> If you cannot see the links above, copy and paste
> the
> following URL directly into your browser:

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Black is Beautiful

Banana trees are very utilitarian. Today I made a skirt, a hat, and a backpack rain cover from the leaves. I ate 3 lovely banana fruits (fruits, but ha'adama nonetheless). And after a good lunch of pb&j, while sitting by a spectacular waterfall, I enjoyed the shade from the entire banana tree.

I am in love with Uganda. Sir Winston Churchill dubbed Uganda, correctly, the Pearl of Africa. Landlocked by bigger and badder countries, it is a gem sparkling with greens and blues and browns; it’s landscape is simplicity at it’s most beautiful, it’s people are brimming with kindness and generosity.

And this is why I have avoided emailing for so long--because as soon as I attempt to describe how utterly perfect my life is these days, how my heart is perpetually swollen from being so happy, I begin spewing bad lyrical prose (case in point); and it's not even worth it because it still does not measure up to how I actually feel.

But a very wise man once told me that if you cannot express the way you feel about everything, then you should at least try and express how you feel about something so that your friends know what is going on in your life, and so that you do not burst. So here I go. I will tell you something. I'll tell you about my week.

The beginning of last week was filled with the hustle and bustle of preparing for Purim. There were songs to be sung (and written) and plays to be prepared. And there was a ridiculous amount of hamantaschen to be cooked. And by cooked, I mean fried.

The Abayudaya had never had hamantaschen before and the Abayudaya do not have ovens. And so for for hours and hours and hours we folded jelly into little balls of dough into the triangular shape of wicked Haman's hat (or ears, depending on whom you ask) and then threw them, one by one (there were hundreds) into the hot pot of oil that was cooking on the charcoal.

After reading Megillat Esther on Thursday night (which was after my grand entrance doing the dance of the Sarah-flower and after my totally unprepared but successful reading of perakim bet and yud of the Megilla) the hundreds of people gathered in the Moses Synagogue on Nabugoye Hill, ate their first hamantaschen.

The next day was filled with more singing and more dancing and lots of happiness.

And that's when I realized it: Besides the fact that there were more people and besides the fact that it was a holiday, there was really very little different from that day than any other of my days spent with the Abayudaya. I spend a good chunk of every day singing and dancing, and I spend the entirety of every day being happy.

For Shabbat we went to Nasenyi, which is a very small section of the Jewish community about 10 km from Nabugoye Hill (the headquarters of it all). There were 3 mazungus and 3 Abayudaya high school students who joined this community for Shabbat. It's amazing where 10 km can bring you. Going to Nasenyi from Nabagoye is like going from New York City to Omaha. When I got back to Nabugoye village, I felt like I was returning to big city life. And it's simply because Nasenyi has more mango trees.

About 25 people gathered into the small synagogue for a service where there were few prayer books and no light to view whatever books were there. There was more time spent thanking the visitors for coming there was spent on praying or on our own prepared speeches (I speak every shabbat!). On Shabbat afternoon we sat with the women of the community and, with a translator, spoke about the differences between America and Uganda, between American Jews and Ugandan Jews, and about Jewish women all over the world.

They are hopefull, they tell us. They say that there is a bright future. They look at the youth in the community who are so strong and so active and who are getting Jewish educations and who are able to live freely among there non-Jewish neighbors, and they tell us that they know that Judaism is able to thrive. It was not always so easy for these women, when they were growing up.

The year was 1919 and Semei Kakungulu had had enough with the British and with their coercive religious preaching. In a dramatic and defiant act, as the story goes, Kakungulu took his Holy Bible and ripped out, literally, the New Testament section. He fell in love with the Torah--it's stories and laws--not really knowing anything about the world religion of Judaism. He took with him close to 3,000 followers. Over the years he and his people were blessed with visitors who taught them about Judaism, about rabbinic Judaism and about the traditions. With Amin's reign of terror, however, the numbers dropped to mere hundreds. Jews were not allowed to practice and were persecuted for doing so. Many converted back to Christianity, many intermarried, and many just disappeared.

And many continued to pray in caves and to study in secret. They were stubborn and devoted. Like the pioneers in Israel they worked hard and in the face of tyranny and poverty succeeded. They succeeded in maintaining their Jewish identity and practices and they succeeded in reviving a dying community.

In 1987 a decree came out which enforced the prohibition of intermarriage. In 2000 a Jewish primary school opened. Statistically, these Jews will make it.

On Easter Sunday of 2005 a group of 35 young members, all of whom have officially converted to Judaism over the past 5 years, organize a hike to the cliff that's been screaming my name all month, Mount Wanali. And 35 is only a fraction of the youth. Older kids and younger kids together hiked through waterfalls, singing songs and taking a break for Torah study and lunch.

And when we got back, the children at Hadassah were waiting for me, as usual, and I began chasing them around the compound, as usual, kissing them and counting to ten in Luganda (I haven't progressed much in the language area).

And just as I thought things couldn't get any better, Ben and Bethami had a baby girl who is healthy and stunning, and I'm not just saying that cuz she's my niece and cuz she looks just like me.

Must go. Much love.


Friday, March 11, 2005


JUST IN: An anonymous poem. The writer has told me that it was written in a near-state of hysteria (that will explain much), and while the names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved, the story is entirely true:

"The Lovely Parasite"

Saralia has malaria.

Her skin's on fire,

Her head is throbbing,

Her limbs are achy,

She feels like sobbing.

Will she live?

Or will she die?

Her liver hurts,

She wants to cry.

I'm okay now that I'm writing,

But last night was really sucky;

I really thought it was the end,

So now I feel lucky.

(that I didn't die.)

And hadn't I ended my last email "malaria free"? And then my mother said to me, "Well don't end your next email with 'thphoid free'--you never know what might happen!" She was joking, so when I went back to the hospital yesterday and the doctor told me I might also have typhoid, I laughed. Here's what else happened at the hospital. I recorded it shortly thereafter, so I will simply copy from my real-life journal now:

"Your blood is very thick and your veins are very thin and collapse," Lydia the blood snatcher said. At least she was a very competent one and was using needles instead of nails, like they had done at the clinic when I was first diagnosed with malaria.

"It means I am a good person," I replied.

But by the time the baby needle (it was a children's hospital) had wriggled around the insides of both my arms looking for veins, I began seeing spots and my ears drums shut down and I knew what was coming next --

"Stop," I say. "I'm going to pass out."

They put me in a wheelchair--

[I'm just going to take a break because I'm curious to know how many of my dear friends--you know who you are--are rolling your eyes and saying, "Wow, there goes our drama queen in action." Let me just tell you...I REALLY was going to pass out. I'll bet none of you have collapsing, rolling veins. And your blood is certainly not as thick as mine. So you don't know what I suffer.]

--and began wheeling me to a bed. I began to fall deeper and deeper into a relaxing comotose state when SUDDENLY hydrolics (diarrhea) kicked back in and I had to make a quick decision. A faint voice in the back of my head called me back to my senses:

"Saaaarah.....Saaaaaarah....would you rather pass out and make a huge embarassing mess here in the chair? Or would you rather wake up, go to the toilet, and keep your pretty skirt clean?"

I thought for a moment, kinda subconsciously cuz on the outside all I was saying was "I'm gonna pass out, I'm gonna pass out, I need to lie down, I need to lie down.", and then I magically came-to, out of my groaning and nonsense, and I got up out of that chair, mustered the right words and said loudly and clearly (note my good use of adverbs), "I need a bathroom. I'd rather go to the bathroom than pass out."

Ahhh, the power of diarrhea.

Then I was fine. I told the doctor that I did not need a blood culture and that I would simply take the medicine for typhoid anyways. It's just cipro (Thanks, Carolyn!) and that helps with a number of different things anyways and I'm sure that I've got a number of different things.

First of all, do not worry--I am totally fine. I little malaria never killed anyone. (sorry, bad joke) Malaria is really just like a bad case of the flu. I had a really, really, really high fever. The first night I had a fever of 104'F, but only because that is was the highest the thermomer went. The next night it went down to 103'F, the next to 101'F, and last night I was a low 100'F. This morning I am normal. The worst part of everything was the headaches. I couldn't think and i couldn't move, and now I can--I hope that is evident. All I can say is, thank God I was taking those super expensive malaria pills b/c otherwise it would've been a lot worse. And there's really not much more to tell. I just laid in bed all day and groaned. And I got some nice phone calls which, while always cheered me up, also totally exhausted me and drained me, so sometimes I got in trouble for getting so excited on the phone. Oh, and let me not forget Chaya's greatest gift of all--a toilet within 5-step walking distance from my bed.

Second of all, do not worry--I was very well taken care of. Madame Chaya, the lead volunteer, (there are 4 of us total, you know the other 3), let me and for some nights Holly and Molly too, move into her little rented home in town. She bought an extra mattress and 'squito nets and towels and food and let me stay on her big bed in front of the fan the whole time. She even made me grilled cheese in the sandwich maker. And of course Holly and Molly were amazing too. The morning (i believe it was day 3) that I woke up crying that I hated this country and was ready to go home, they went out about bought me apple juice and cocoa puffs and other american things. (Though the cocoa puff "cocoamotives" taste like cardboard here.) And when I was sweating bullets, they cooled me down with wet towels. And they read to me almost the entire book, The Princess Diaries III, Princess in Love. And when I yelled crazy things at night while i was trying to sleep, they didn't remind me about it the next morning.

And lots of community members came to visit me. Including a lot of the community leaders and some high school girls.

Wow-- I feel like I'm talking about myself quite a bit here. I will take a break and share with you a song that I have written about the country of Uganda. It is sung to the tune of...well, you'll see:

O' Beautiful, for spacious skies,

And lush green fields of corn.

For super high mountains,

Like Mt. Elgon,

And the mosquito infested Lake Victoria.

Uganda! Uganda!

God shed (PLEASE!) His grace on thee.

And destroy the mosquitos

For giving me malaria,

From one end of the Nile to the o-ther.

But in all fairness, there is a better chance that I got my malaria (awww, I'm getting so personal with my disease) in Kenya rather than in Uganda. The incubation period is 10-12 days and I had just been in Uganda for 10 days. But we will never know, will we? Just like we will never know if I have typhoid.

And today, if all goes as planned, I will return to the Hadassah Infant School. I am very excited because I feel like I have totally been wasting my time in bed. There are only so many times you can listen to Phantom of the Opera and there's only so long you can feel bad for yourself and wish you were in your own bed, or better yet, on the guestroom bed in front of the TV. And anyways, a little birdie told me that the kids miss me.

Before I end, I just want to publicly answer some questions that I have gotten from a bunch of you. If you or your communities are interested in giving any sort of donation (monetary or otherwise) to the Abayudaya community, you should check out the Kulanu website ( to find out what its specific needs are. They can probably also advise you as to how shipment works and details like that. As of right now, it looks like there will be many volunteers coming here over the summer and I'm sure they will have room to bring stuff as well. But I just don't know how any of that works.

Even if you are not (yet) interested in sending a donation, you should still check out Kulanu b/c they do a lot of good work and have helped me a lot in planning and funding my trip here. The same goes for American Jewish World Services ( I would probably still be in Uganda without Kulanu and AJWS, but I would be, no doubt, completely lost, disorganized, and broke. And, while I certainly did not intend to get into all these thank yous now, I would also like to thank two of my good friends, Levi Bergavoy and Tiff (I don't even know her last name) for giving me a "stipend" and a "discretionary fund", respectively. And to my parents for giving birth to me and raising me and doing my taxes for me. And most of all to God for creating a beautiful world.

And to the Academy....



Saturday, March 05, 2005

White girls can't run.

I'm laughing already. I went for the most naive jog of my life. Seriously, I do not know what I was thinking. I tried to dress modestly, I tried to be inconspicuous--but I cannot help that I am a mazungu. I suppose I should've been smart enough not to carry a walkman (note: an old, cheap walkman, not an ipod). "Mazungu, take a picture of us!" they shouted as I breezed by them. "It is not a camera," I tried to explain. "May I have it?" they asked. "No," I replied. "Mazungu, how are yooooouuuu?" they yelled as they emerged from their houses to gawk at me from the side of the dirt road. They stood there, pointing and laughing. And I slowed my run to a walk so I could be more polite entertainment and respond properly to their mocking. "I am fine," I would say. "Hello," I said to them. "Fine," they replied, in their standard way. Or sometimes I received the oddly placed "well done," which always gives me a good chuckle. I was too embarassed to just stop and turn around, so I was forced (trapped!) to keep on walking until the top of the hill where I could casually admire the mountains, pretend that was the reason for my outing, and then turn around, only to be on display again for the people whose interest in an alien white girl's jog had not been muted by their initial viewing--sorry for the run-on sentence). I got back to my road and a woman who had seen me set out came rushing to me: "Are you alright? I saw you running!" "Balungi," I say. "I am fine. I was trying to exercise, but I think white girls should not run here."

Besides the rats, the lizards, the mosquitos, and the frogs, Uganda is fantastic! I spent all week trying to adjust to my new setting, sitting in on classes, tutoring a bit, making sample outlines of my schedule and ideas. I decided that I really like pasho (tastes like hard cream of wheat, but is corn) and beans, and as you know, I long ago decided that I prefer holes in grounds to sit-down toilets (though the holes here make the toilets in SE Asia look like the height of sophistication!). The children are still beautiful and we are quickly forging friendships. Every night we read stories and say the shma and sing songs before bed. They still sneak peaks at us from the corners of their eyes and give us shy smiles when we say "shalom" to them. We bought an electric kettle and I make coffee for myself every morning -- powdered milk, of course. And peanut butter is readily available and inexpensive.

But there are many things that prevent me from saying that it's all good. The children come into the office late at night complaining of horrible stomach aches and fevers, and pills are dispensed under the assumption that the child's ailment is either worms or malaria. The water is bad, but bottled or purified water is too expensive; there are mosquito nets for the children who live here (at school), but they are old and do not cover completely the lower 2 beds of the triple decker bunk beds that line the walls of the 2 dormitory rooms.

They are lucky to have good teachers, but they do not have enough text books and much of the classtime is taken up by drawing diagrams or writing sentences or paragraphs on the blackboard. Much of the learning is done orally and by rote memorization. You can hear the chanting of new English sentences and math theorems as the children yell the new material they have learned. The learning style is very different from what I am used to and sometimes it is difficult trying to integrate basic lessons into their studies if it is not done in the style that they are used to.

And when it rains, which is every afternoon, water sprinkles into the glassless windows of the classroom and also causes such a racket on the tin roofs that teaching must wait until the rains subside.

I have introduced to many of the older grades the journal/newsletter project that I will be working on and everyone seems excited, though I myself am nervous of its success. I will be collecting writing samples that we will work on during "workshops" that will then be put into a community newsletter and/or journal--unclear what form it will take in the end. The idea is to set up some sort of template and outline so that even after I am gone (gone from the community, not dead) they will be able to create a monthly or quarterly periodical that they can then share with each other and even send via email or put online for others to see as well.

It is soon time to go pick up the $13 custom-made bed (or really mattress holder) that I just commissioned someone to make.

Malaria-free and praying, I remain yours,


Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Torah, she is my food.

Holy brothers and sisters,

I write to you from my home for the next three months, Mbale, Uganda. First of all, before I forget, Holly is here! Holly Moskowitz is a childhood friend from Richmond who will be here for 2 months. Hooray! Molly is climbing Mt. Kenya but should be here tomorrow. So it will be Holly, Molly, and me. ( of these things is not like the di da li)

Second of all, for those of you who couldn't get enough of my OILYFOX phone're in luck! My new phone number fits perfectly with--one of my favorite sayings and yours-- 011-alms-tub-elk-3. The time difference, for the throngs of you who emailed me that question instead of looking it up yourselves: you are 8 hours back. That means when it is noon for you (EST), it is 8pm for me--a good time to call Sarah. Just note, I go to bed at around 10 or 10:30 pm.

"WHAT??!! You have electricity to charge your phone?" you may ask. Why yes I do. Sometimes. On a good day. "Well, then, you must have running water as well." No, I'm afraid I do not. I bathe with a bucket of water.

I'm out of time and I haven't even said anything important. The Abayudaya community is beautiful. The children are little beautiful angels and the adults are adult beautiful angels. Everyone has been so welcoming and they are so happy that we are here. When we first arrived at the Hadassah Infant School (where we are now living with 60 children who board at school), the children all ran from their classes to greet us. They swarmed around us, taking our hands and curtsying to the ground. They were laughing and smiling, and honestly, have not stopped since then. Last night, before bed, we read stories and sang and danced outside in the pitch black night. They know tons of Jewish songs and are excited to learn more. They get a kick out of my Luganda (which is humorously poor, apparently) and think it is funny when I answer "Balungi" (fine) to their neverending "Mazungu, how are yoooooooooouuuuu?" that follows us as we walk down the road. (Mazungu=white person.) I have taught a few basic Hebrew classes already and sat in on all of the high school English classes, which, I may add, are phenomenal. The high schoolers speak nearly perfect english and are learning grammar that I never learned. I hope to work on some writing projects with the older kids that will then be able to be shared with the community--their community and maybe yours as well!

Shabbat was not magical, as I had imagined it, but was instead natural and comfortable. Kiddush is made over orange juice and there is very little food throughout the day (it's ok, i have my own stash); many of the prayers are in Luganda; it is different, yet very much the same as a regular shabbat. It is, as the Thai would say, "same, same, but different." I gave a dvar Torah in shul (alongside a translator for the community) and joined a women's study group after services. The best part of everything is the singing.

And now I really am out of time. More to come next week. I hope.

Oh, if you would like to send me a letter, card, money, candy, food, or anything else that might fit into a sendable carton, you can do that, no problem. I have an address. I have an address, a phone, and 3 meals a day (rice and beans, yum!). I have good friends and I am with good people. What more could I ask for? (A: a care package)

Hadassah Infant school

c/o Aaron Kintu-Moses

Sarah Gold

POB 225

Mbale, Uganda.

Much love,


Friday, February 25, 2005


The Uganda/Kenya border is surely the craziest one yet. We had to walk across a dark field to Uganda. "No way Jose-Mantoka, I aint doin' it," I say. So they drove me.

Internet here is BAD, but guess what.....i got a cell phone!! my very own! and it's free incoming calls!! So use it!


I await your voices.

Shabbat Shalom,


Thursday, February 24, 2005

"Shoulda been a Hippo"

Greetings from Nairobbery! I'm just gonna jump right into this:

I got into Nairobi last Friday, laughing and crying. I was crying cuz I was so happy and laughing because I was so petrified of being in Africa with, ummm, nowhere to go. And now, you ask? Now I'm laughing cuz I'm so happy and, well, i've finally stopped crying--except today when I saw the lions doing it (sex, not crying) for the third time, I cried a bit.

Before I get to the safari, let me bring you up to date. Shabbat in Kenya was quite nice. Firday night we hid in our guest house for fear that someone might discover us and try and take all our belongings, but Shabbat today we ventured out to shul where we met really nice people and spent much of the early afternoon studying talmud and eating cake with the Israeli ambassador to East Africa. (The Talmud class was all in Hebrew and I totally followed and participated (and loved it!)! Yay me!)

Speaking of Israelis, it's crazy how influential israeli travelers are on tour guides. Remember in Thailand the guesthouse workers spoke hebrew? And how our trek guide taught us an Israeli card game? Well here, our safari guide (a man whom i now love, named "Animal") was singing us Hebrew songs and calling the animals by their Hebrew names.

Ok, the first wonderful thing about Africa, or Kenya at least, is that people speak English here VERY well. This means that we could have REAL conversations with our guides and actually learn stuff. "Animal" used to be in seminary to become a catholic priest (most people here are christian) but then decided he'd rather study zoology and biology and go on safari. He's half Masai and half Kikuru. We had lots to talk about.

Riiiiight, so I went on safari for 4 days...have I mentioned that? I'm dirtier now than I've ever been in my entire life, but wanted to rush and email you all cuz i was soooo excited and missed you all sooooo much. (Also, I wanted to make sure I didn't miss Purim and I had to see if Bethami had a baby yet. Negative on both.)

I thought I was being very poetrical when I wrote in my journal "...and while a picture is worth a thousand words, I generally prefer the words" (or something like that), but the truth is, there is no way for me to verbally explain to you the amazingness (see that's not good enough) of a Kenyan safari (actually we dipped down into the Serengeti, which is in Tanzania, too).

Imagine this: wide open spaces for as far as the eyes can take you (for me it's not that far, but maybe for you it is), mountains in the background, golden plains (dry season) spotted with green trees and bushes. And animals. The most amazing animals EVER. We were lucky and saw them all. (or at least a couple from every species....we didn't see ALL the animals in Masai Mara, silly). Lions, elephants, zebras, wildabeasts, heartybeasts, gazelles (many types), cheetahs, a leopard, a hyena, flamingoes (THOUSANDS of them, in Nakuru, not masai mara), rhino, warthogs, water bucks, baboons, other monkeys, buffalo, giraffes, birds galore, crocodiles, and last, but not least, the majestic hippos. I basically met the cast of The Lion King--which, btw, is surprisingly accurate.

The highlight was this morning when we saw, not once, not twice, but three times, the lions copulating--two different sets. I took a video, so you will get to see when I get to a faster connection (in a few months). It was the most exciting and terrifying this ever. The first time, they were right outside (2 ft away) my wide OPEN window--who puts automatic windows in a safari van?! Does that seem wise to you?). I was freakin out. I kept telling "Animal" to turn the car on so I could roll up my window. He kept telling me to shut up and was pushing me--yes, PUSHING ME--back toward the window so I could DIE--i mean, so I wouldn't miss it! Penetration is only about 2 seconds long and then the guy roars and then the girl gets up and tries to maul him. Then they go back to sleep. This was 2 FEET FROM MY WIDE OPEN WINDOW! You would've been scared too. And then we saw it again. And then again. Wow. Wow. Lions are stunning. And they are amazingly fearless. They weren't even scared of me!

And we went to a Masai village! Now, I've been to many many villages in my day, but never one as interesting and bizarre (that's PC right?) as the Masai. I've even seen tribes who do weird things with their ears, but none as weird as the Masai ears. They are a polygamous warrior people. They live in villages with huts made of cow dung and wood, the baby cows and goats live in the huts with them, men have many wives, and they stretch out holes in their ear lobes to extraordinary lengths. Some of the women do the ear thing, but it is the men in the tribe who do most of the stretching. The bigger the holes, the more beautiful, and it is the role of the Masai warrior to be as beautiful as possible. And so he grows his hair, colors it with ocre, puts beads in the loose skin of his ears (look for a picture online), and wears these sarongs. They wear makeup and they dance. And while the women do a bit of that, it is clearly the man who wears the fancy pants in the relationship. Oh, and the women must shave their heads. And there is female circumcision, so that was a bit uncomfortable to smile and nod at.

Oh, and I got my second marriage proposal:

Olyanarok: "How many goats?"

Me: "huh?"

Oly: How many goats, for you?

Me: oh you don't have enough.

Oly: I give you many goats.

Me: I'll have to ask my dad.

He only has 2 wives already. And all I have to do is drink blood. Daddy?

And so, to conclude, let me say, Africa is way cooler than Asia. .

Going to Uganda tomorrow night....

Until next time...


Thursday, February 17, 2005

Ankor what?

I'll start at the very beginning...

I get on my bus to Pakse (southern Laos) and there was something wrong with my ticket, so for 5 hours I sat in a little, red, plastic, Kindergarter-like chair in the isle. Fun fun fun. It was an overnight bus. I met some people on the bus and went with them the next morning to Tat Lo on the Boleven Plateau. I spent the day on the back of a motorbike cruising around the villages, many of which are surrounded by coffee orchards, the money making crop of the region. I stayed in a nice bungalow by a waterfall. The next morning we (my new friend, Ressa, and I) took a city bus back to Pakse and then a 3 hour jumbo (a large, covered pick-up with benches) and a 10 minute boat to Don Khon, one of the islands in Si Phon Don ("4000 Islands"). We stayed in Don Khon for the weekend, in a sparse, but lovely 2-bedroom bungalow that overlooked the Mekong. It came fully equipped with porch and hammocks, so I was set for shabbat. Oh, and I saw some extinct (or nearly so) dolphins! And I started playing chess. And we went fishing. It was so classic Laos--I went and asked a guy at a resturaunt for some bait and he was like, "one sec." And he ran off. A minute later I saw him emerge from across the way with a shovel and 10 minutes later we had our toilet bucket filled with worms. We gave him a dollar. The island of Don Khon (that's actually repetitive cuz "don" means "island") is exactly how you would dream an island in Southern Laos should be--since I'm sure everyone must dream of s. Laos. People wake up with the sun and go to sleep with the sun--there is very little electricity and the elec. that there is shuts off very very early. There are gigantic palm trees that sway in the sunny hot air, arching gently over the gorgeous Mekong river. There are rice paddies along certain parts of the land, and village homes with cheerful kids (I never saw a kid fight or cry or whine). Everyone seems so happy. And there are not very many tourists. But the boats are the best part. Men, women, and children of all ages ride long, thin boats on the river. They stand and row with one leg bent at the knee and perched on an incline in the boat. There is something so serene and the people look so content, that the whole scene seems staged.

Then Ressa and I went to Cambodia. (Ressa, btw, is a guy my age, from Montana. He grew up on a massive ranch. He spent the last 2 years teaching ENlgish in CHina and is traveling before he joins the Peace Corp in Azerbyjon [I have no idea how to spell that country that I had never heard of.])We woke up early that morning, packed our bags, ate breakfast, paid for our rooms, strapped our bags on our backs and hopped on the back of some motorbikes. We rode on rocky paths through rice fields and forests, down to the beach. got on a slowboat to the Laos exit border. Then another boat to the Cambodia border. Passports stamped at both borders--very unorganizedly, with bargaining and bribing and paying made up fees. Then a speedboat (a bit scary, a bit exhilarating) to Stung Treng. And now we're in a cab, for 8 hours, to Phnom Penh. And there are no real paved-roads for most of the way. Just dirt roads and not very interesting scenerry. Just a lot of dirt and sand and dry-looking trees.

I had just finished reading a book about the Khmer Rouge, so I actually had some interest in the history of this country. (I just bought a biography on Pol Pot and today I went to a war museum here in Siem Reap....see how reading a good book can change you?) Cambodia, like many of the places where I have been, is a strange blend of the old and the new. Phnom Penh has a fancy waterpark, yet many parts have dirt roads in serious need of pavement and repair. There are some large houses and there are also more people--mostly children--begging in Cambodia than in Laos or Thailand. Because of the land mines and the civil war which was so recent, many people are missing limbs. This place is not brimming over with happy looknig people.

We went to the killing fields and to s-21, both places of mass, mass, homicidal insanity. My tour guide at the museum today kept reiterating the fact that Cambodia (as a political entity) is just plain dumb. I think "stupid" is the exact word he used. He lowered his voice as he stood there and sighed, telling us that the king of Cambodia today is the same king who reigned during the Khmer Rouge, and that in essence, nothing has changed. This is a man (our tour guide) who fought in the late '70s as a child soldier. He lost both his parents and most of the rest of his family in the war. He has been shot numerous times and has shrapnel lodged in his arm. He is blind in one eye and nearly blind in the other. And he has a prosthetic leg, due to a landmine accident. He says that people say he is like a cat, with 9 lives.

At least half a million people were killed in the Killing Fields. And the skulls of many of those people sit in a glass tower at the entrance of the field. It was a profound experience that made me reflect more about the history of the Jews than....well, than I probably ever had before.

Then a long bus to Siem Reap where Ressa and I met up with Molly (who had a fantastic time diving in Ko Tao, Thailand). The thing to do in Siem Reap is Ankor Wat, the largest temple in the world and one of the 7 manmade wonders of the world. Pretty cool.

Something happened to me over this past week, amidst the buses and boats and motorbikes and tuktuks (local "cabs"...carriages attached to motorbikes...totally totally unsafe), amidst having to depend on my powerbars a bit more for lack of edible food, amidst being in scorching sun and having to scrape inch deep dirt off my face every night....I suddenly realized that I had finally relaxed and that I was enjoying traveling. This "experience", as Molly would call it, truly is thrilling. And today we go to Bangkok and tomorrow night we go to Africa. I laugh as I write that, thinking, "Who are you and how did you get to be so lucky that you get to travel all over the world like this???" I'm actually jealous of myself.

Love, Sarah

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

"It's a God thang."

Shhhhhh....don't say anything and don't look now (cuz I think he knows we're talking about him), but there is a monk sitting in this internet cafe. Dressed in only his robe with his head shaved, he has his finger up to his mouth; he is thinking. Maybe he is meditating.

Oh boy! Do I have a story for you!? (yes, I do.)

Well, for starters, i'm still in Vientiane (one "n" at the end, oops) while I should be in Pakse already. But...yesterday I started feeling a bit ill. Stomachache and all over blah-ness. I spent the day moaning around town and finding a/c places to sit (I had already signed out of my guesthouse). I was at the post office sending a massive package (of gifts for you!!) home when I met a man. An angel, really. A messenger from God.

"What is your name?" he asked. "Sarah," I say. "Oh. Well you must have a religious background." "Yes I do. I"m Jewish." And then Mark Berry, a fine upstanding Christian family man, sat down and talked to me for a while. He gave me his card and said to call him if I needed anything. He had talked a lot about Jesus and bout Isaiah 53, but was not trying to convert me. So....on a whim, I decided to call him and tell him I wasn't feeling well and that talking to him made me miss homes and families and even if it's just for a little while, can I come over and sit on your couch?

"Where are you?" he asked. "The Scandinavian Bakery," I say. (Btw, I weighed myself yesterday and I've gained 4 pounds!! How can that be??) "I'll be there in a few minutes," he says.

So Mark and his 14 year old son, Daniel, (one of 7) pick me up and take me to a clinic. The doctor gave me some medicine (btw, I'm much much better now), then Mark took me to pick up my stuff, I changed my bus for the next day, and then he took me home.

They live in a rather large house. He teaches English and does some church things and his wife homeschools the kids. They've been living in Laos for about 10 years.

I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (God really was with me---i have not stopped talking about how much I miss peanut butter), read, watched a disney Christmas special, and then sang some psalms and read from the bible. (They do that every night. In the Old T. they were up to the last chapter of Joshua, and since I was there, they didn't read from their bible and instead read from Isaiah 53, their fave. some Jewish girl I know must brush up on her later prophets.....) So we played guitar and sang and spoke about the Lord and talked about how blessed we were that He brought us together (me and them). "It's a God thing," Mark says (and it is!). And they blessed me through God and Jesus at every meal and before bed. (Every meal = dinner and then lunch the next day--i stayed there all day today!) And I recited a perek of tehillim in Hebrew.

And I was sooooo happy. I really had not been feeling well and I would've been miserable on that bus (eh hem, no bathroom on it), and instead I got to stay the night with a wonderful family in a wonderful house (though it was hot), with good peanut butter, and milk! I love milk! And I'm the biggest nerd ever and they had a book of poetry and I copied some down into my journal and decided that i will memorize them. Sometimes I'm in the middle of a neverending field or looking up at magnificent mountains or riding along a beautiful river, and I always wish I knew some poetry (to supplement the psalms I know, of course). This book was for kids and didn't have any of my favorites, but I copied a whitman, a dickinson, and a tolkien. then I realized that I could've printed out some better ones from online. Oh, and the Queen Mab speech from R&J (that's for you, daddy).

And Vientiane is not a very exciting city and it's too hot to walk around today, so that's why you get another email. I hope you're not getting sick of me. and also, there are more pictures up! In fact, I'm going to sit here for a while and try to clear my camera of pictures.

Speaking of daddy, he has asked me a number of questions that I keep avoiding b/c I do not know the answers (b/c, let's just say, the areas are not my major interests). But I will try and answer them and will do so here in case anyone else is interested.

Tourism is a major industry in this area (Thailand, Laos) and I think it is the main industry, but it is not the only one. Most people (outside the major cities) are farmers. I have seen all sorts of agricultural methods employed -- slash and burn, multi-tiered slope farming, crop rotation (I remember those from school!). Major crops are rice (rice paddies are STUNNING--like a neon green color, grown in water), coffee, rubber (I read that, but I get the funniest images in my head. I totally don't know what rubber is.), opium (that was their major export until the French outlawed it--I'm talking Laos now), and other crops. There are cows, chickens, pigs, and water buffalo roaming the streets.

There are vestiges of French culture around, mainly in architecture and in food. Look through my pictures and you'll see some colonial houses in Luang Prabang. There are tons of cafes and baguettes and pastries (hence the 4 pounds). This is all Laos I'm talking about now. There are no French things in Thailand, obviously. Also, in thailand they drive on the left (they were an english colony) and Lao ppl drive on the right (cuz of the french).

I do not know much about the relation of the sexes in Laos other than the way people dress. Men wear regular western attire, while women wear traditional long straight skirts, usually black with woven fabric on the bottom. some women wear pants, and while sleeveless shirts seem ok, skimpy tank tops are a no-no. I think anything that is not allowed in a Buddhist temple is not accepted in the streets either.

In the Lahu village, the relationship between the sexes was much more apparent (mostly b/c i lived there for a while). The men were often not at home and so I did not see them much (except for the few who stuck around to sell us things). When i did encounter men, they were generally quiet and kinda meek looking. The women seemed to wear the pants in the marriage. (Though, on a literal level, the women only wore skirts, or very very baggy pants.) The women were always sitting out on their porches, sewing and yelling. (I'm exaggerating. They were not always yelling, but if someone was yelling, it was a woman.) In another email i wrote of the Lahu marriage, about drinking tea in front of the shaman--not a very romantic ceremony, and likewise, the Lahu marriage does not seem, at least to an outside like me, very romantic. they get married very young, like 14-19ish and begin having children immediately. Children begin at a very young age o work around the house and around the village. Though, in retrospect, it was girls I saw working in the shop and doing the laundry, never the boys.

Back to Laos: In the cities there are temples and some monks, but no real religious "feeling." Outside the city, though, you are distinctly aware (or at least I am) that you are in a religious setting. Maybe cuz there are more monks or maybe cuz there are more temples in relation to other buildings, or maybe there is just something in the air.

I do not know whether the extent of their religious beliefs. I do not think they believe in providence or that God heeds their prayers. I do not think anyone believes in God, as in the one true God. The animists believe in spirits and many people have "spirit houses" in their front lawns (look like bird houses) that they give sacrifices to. They appeal to the spirits and expect answers. I suppose that qualifies as providence? And as for the Buddhists, as far as I know, which is not very far, there is no providence, only fate. Things happen because they are supposed to happen and we must accept them, be mindful of them, and overcome them. So the simpleton speaks. According to many monks who I've spoken to, prayer is the same thing as meditation, and meditation is unrelated to God or gods or godliness.

Regarding politics...I cannot even muster up the creativity to come up with anything.

The people are poor. How poor? very poor. There are few cars and most houses are wood and bamboo. (this is laos.) But people seem to have enough to eat. I have surprisingly few beggers. In fact, in both countries I've probably seen....less than 20. That's pretty amazing. And people seem content. the lao people are some of the nicest and happiest people i've seen. and people i met lao people, i thought the same thing about the thais.

Well, this may be the last email for a few days. I depart for nowheres land tonight and will prob get to Cambodia Sunday night. I'll be there for a few days before I return to Bangkok. And then, on Feb. 17....I'm going to Africa!! (haha, I don't know why that seems so funny all of a sudden.)




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