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 (www.kulanu.org) 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 (www.ajws.org). 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. (hmm...one of these things is not like the other....la di da li)

Second of all, for those of you who couldn't get enough of my OILYFOX phone number...you'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,



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