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


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