Wednesday, 28 December 2011

When Eliahu told me about having to walk two hours a day going there and back to school and that they ate nothing the whole day I replied that I would fund his and his friends' meals and also buy each of them a bicycle. I wasn't prepared for the response in which I found myself in a bear hug. Only then did it really hit me just how difficult life is for people here, who struggle against great adversity to make their way in the world.

We decided we needed three bikes one for each student at the high school in Mbale and one for communal use in the hilltop campus.

Yehudah promised that the bikes would be given loving care so that they will not rust despite the rains that were all too frequent when I was there in November.

When buying a new bicycle I used to go to the shop and pick one. That's not the case in Uganda unless you want a 'Hero' bike that has no gears.

Getting to the hill of Nabugoya from Mbale town is almost continuously uphill for five miles, one without gears isn't really option. Derraileur gears are essential unless you're prepared to walk one way.
So new bicycles in Ugandan are hand made from any parts that are to hand. Each one is unique, 'new' and of the 'best quality'. So what if the saddle on one was torn and the handlebars were somewhat rusted.

Isaac who manages the guesthouse was here acting as quality control inspector. He was also the purchasing and general manager. I kept out of the way as when a foreigner is spotted the price goes up.

Friday, 9 December 2011

One day I was walking in the direction of Mbale with my companions Yehudah and Eliyahu and they told me that they were not studying in Nabugoya at the SK school but in Mbale town. I asked them how they got there..........

silly question,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

on foot of course. 

I thought that was was a grand idea to walk in beautiful surroundings

along the path

through (somewhat overgrazed) fields

and hamlets

Did they really expect me to tell them which way we needed to go?

 Nope. My kind and gentle friends were patiently waiting for me to wheeze my way up to them.

Friendly locals were going about their business.......

You're never too young to help mummy .....

  Spring water...... how many trips a liter?  
Wheeling out the big guns...........
Daddy's also pressed into service

Sometimes people are heading in a different direction

  with Mount Elgon rising up in the background. 

But then I wondered if two hours walking the same path

on an empty stomach 

before and after studies each day  would be so much fun, even if I was fit (which i'm most decidedly not nowadays). 

Of course there are some compensations to having a long walk ..........

You get to meet old friends........

But the reality is that the abayudaya do not have funds to pay for meals for students studying outside of the campus. So after a breakfast of tea and nothing else these young men

would walk an hour to school, study all day and then spend another hour walking back home before having their evening meal at the rabbi's house. Such a long day fueled by tea is surely a lot to expect of anyone.

And Eliyahu (red & yellow kipah) told me his grades had suffered. Rather than getting top grades in his 'O' levels he had an overall 'B'.  

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Why 'M' can't wear his kippa in Kampala & Rachel's break with islam

I will again be delivering much needed aid to the Abayudaya communities in March but will first visit another recently emerged community from Ol Kalou in Kenya. When my father passed away recently I had to return home before I could visit this community.   Before I left 'M' a jewish student in Kampala came to collect a donation for the Ol Kalou community.

As 'M' was putting on his kipah (skullcap) in my hotel room he apologised, saying that he didn't wear his kipah in the street. When I asked him the reason he said that ugandan police don't understand what it is so that when they see someone wearing one they call the person over. They want to know if you are a christian or a moslem and when the reply is 'jew' the retort is 'Christ killer'.

Not satisfied with that 'M' said that the police then 'embarass' the kipah wearer. 'M' didn't go into detail. Another jewish man I met had been called 'jewboy' before. Present day Uganda is obviously no comparison to that of Idi Amin's time when a jew found practising his religion would be killed but the ancient hatred has not escaped this seemingly tolerant and safe society (JJ Keki one of the leaders of the Abayudaya recounted about Amin's time of having been spied building a sukah [tabernacles festival booth] by a local moslem man. JJ gave the man a goat so that he would not be reported thereby saving his life ).


During my recent stay with the Abuyadaya Rachel my friendly and excellent cook

asked me if I could help her son with his fee so that he could take his final exams. If he did not sit the exams the whole year would be wasted. How could I refuse the provider of this meal?
Rachel's matoke, fish cubes & veg were so good!

Rachel is a proud and hard working christian who converted to christianity from islam after having had a series of dreams. She is thankful to the Abayudaya community rabbi Gershom Sizomu for giving her a job as guesthouse cook after she was divorced by her husband. Rachel has never received a penny from her husband who considered himself as doing her enough of a kindness by not killing her for converting (and that by his own admission was only because he was afraid of the consequences in post-Amin Uganda). The father's attitude didn't impress his children who also converted to christianity.
Rachel's daughter Aisha

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The jewish communities of east africa are relatively unknown in Israel and the West. A trickle of travellers visit the main Abayuda community led by Rabbi Gerschom in Nabugoya in Uganda, stay for a day or two and then move on.

The Abayudaya have been supported in their efforts to develop their community mainly by american jews of the conservative branch of judaism. The community which is now nearly 100 years old has only recently been officially converted to judaism.  though its members have learned and kept jewish traditions as best they could over the years.

The thirst for knowledge and the wish to practise judaism is boundless.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Arrival & the Namanyani community and orphans

I arrived in Mbale Uganda around 9:30am having been travelling since the coach left Nairobi at 7:30 the night before.  I'd actually arrived the night before that in Nairobi (Kenya) close to midnight. Even after a long flight I feel I must look around a new town, but when I tried to leave my overpriced hotel 'comfort' (which was guarded like Fort Knox with security and heavy steel gates on every floor) the guard was very insistant that I should not leave on foot. In Nairobi during the night travelling by taxi is the rule, even if you're just going down the street. The guard would not let me even walk across the road to the taxi rank. She brought a taxi to me.

The next morning I did what I'd wanted to do the night beore and walked around town at my usual snail's pace getting to know the layout of Nairobi centre. I stayed out until dusk walking and stopping to rest at the cafes and restaurants and even Uhuru park which is supposed to have a bad reputation after dark. During the day it was fine. When I found myself again at the Easycoach (pronounced 'Izzikoch') bus station around  6pm (where i had earlier taken a taxi to deposit my heavy bag). I didn't get the feeling that anywhere in the center was dangerous during the day, even when carrying a daybag which is supposed to be an invitation to be mugged .

My only problem during the day had been to make myself understood.despite my English being pretty standard. I was quite happy to be on the bus out of Nairobi that evening. Regarding security I do take precautions and was more aware of my surroundings that normal. Just showing that you are aware can put off potential muggers and pickpockets. I also recently bought a special anti-slash/pickpocketing daybag (You need two hands to open the zips).

It was an experience walking downtown Nairobi around 5pm. The whole populace seemed to be on the move. I've not really experienced such a mass of people all walking purposefully in the same direction before. The walkers are of course saving the fare after work by walking to their home maybe an hour away. Many of the people were very nicely dressed in suits, and unlike me not perspiring.

Security in Kenya is taken very seriously. Even getting on the coach to Mlabe the town before the Ugandan frontier I was frisked and me and my bag were scanned by a hand held detector. When the bus stopped a couple of times during the night the same procedure was repeated when getting back on the bus by guards in the compound (somewehre in the middle of nowhere, one time on the outskirts of Nakuru I believe).

Arriving in Mbale (prounounced 'umbally') as is normal when getting off a long haul bus in third world countries you are surrounded by 'helpers', here boda (motorcycle) drivers trying to grab your bags out of your hands, wanting only to help you to your hotel and collect the fee. My Boda driver charged me over 3 times the going rate as I learned later but at least he took my heavy bag up to my room on the 3rd floor. It was no mean feat as the bag was crammed with stuff that i was taking to the Abayudaya community, a heavy book about the jews in the 20th century by Martin Gilbert 'From the Ends of the Earth:', kosher wine, matzas, medicines, torches, maps of Israel and anything else that i thought might be useful, and portable. I also brought music and a number of descant recorders. The driver hung around the hotel desk after I paid him and expected him to disappear. I finally had to ask him brusquely to leave me, but not before he'd extracted a promise from me to hire him the next day. I spent a while thinking about how I could get out of that one, but as luck had it he didn't turn up.

I stayed at one of the best hotels in town the 'hilltop' charging the princely sum of £17 (plus £2 change that the receptionist was unable to find) and was quite comfortable except for the fact that the outlet from the shower had quite intentionally been stopped up. Each time i had a shower the place was flooded. But that's the third world. You need to get used to such things as toilets not flushing, the mosquito nets having holes in them etc or not travel. I take my own net with me along with mosquito spray and copious amounts of Deet, some of which I gave away to fellow sufferers. I was spared mosquito bites until one night I failed to apply the Deet, whilst sitting outside my mosquito net. Next morning I counted 16 bites on my stomach alone. At least I was taking the Doxycycline. One young man I met had just the month before had malaria and was now recovered but weak. He said malaria was most unpleasant.


Was Peace''s happiness anything to do with my bag of sweets?
A number of satellite Abayudaya communities are found at some distance from Nabugoya  hill near Mbale Uganda

The nearest community to Nabugoya where the rabbi and his family live and where the high school and a synagogue is situated  is at the trading post of Namanyani a kilometer away. The community lays claim to a sparsely furnished synagogue and a vandalised water tank that used to collect runoff water from the synagogue roof and feed it to members of the community downhill.

The trading post reminded me of the wild west, being a short row of ramshackle buildings with a police post. In this area dire poverty, hunger and unemployment is the reality for the jewish and wider community. Thankfully nowadays anti-semitism and oppression are no longer a problem with Idi Amin's rule and the years afterwards beyond the memories of the younger generation.

13th May 2012 Please look at the Update in connection with the following:
Solomon a Namanyani community elder (pictured with the children) dreams of establishing an orphanage that would serve both the surrounding jewish and gentile communities  ravaged by AIDS and the effects of poverty.
Jewish and gentile children united by friendship and hunger.
  The children are mainly orphans living on one meal a day consisting of unappetising posho (a maize/cassava dough) or matoke (boiled plantain).
Matoke (plantain) and flower
There are many more orphans in the area. but not all children without parents are orphans. One child's parents moved away six years ago and have not been heard of since. Parents will sometimes abandon children they can't afford to keep. One of the little girls above 'Peace' lives with her grandmother in her hovel, existing but little more. Needless to say she does not attend school as life is too precarious for that. Life expectancy in Uganda is around 52 years which leads me to wonder how old Peace's grandmother is?

Building an orphanage can not be undertaken lightly. When the funds can be found it will then take time to build. But in the interim if moderate funds were available these children could be lifted out of hunger and poverty, and into school.

£60 a month would feed Peace and give her a schooling and a future. Would you like to help Peace or one of her friends?

The Namanyani community is very proud of its modest synagogue.

Solomon gave a good account of 'Tekia' and 'Teruah'.

If you wish to:

* help the children find a home, regular meals, schooling and a future
* help the Namanyani community repair their vandalised tank (and install an additional one so that the wider community will likewise benefit) then

then please send an email to

When I was in Namanyani a few weeks ago I paid for part of the water system lower down the hill   to be repaired. It had broken down for lack of maintenance.
The water had not been flowing for the past 8 months

Solomon informed me that it is now functioning again thus sparing the local women a one kilometer walk carrying a 20 litre jerrycan.   Money well spent (even if the repair cost a lot more than it would have otherwise cost had the system received its service on time).

The idea of regular maintenance is an alien concept, most likely owing to financial constraints.
Funds are sometimes received to implement a project but without real thought as to the long term. Locals with chronically stretched resources can not be expected to find the money for this. When things break they go without. One way to avoid this pitfall might be by having a responsible worker/volunteers on a rota regularly visiting projects to see that they are still functioning as intended.

The maintenance problem was brought home to me when I hired my driver's motorbike. Both brakes were hardly functional so my first ride was to where Mbale's roadside mechanics do business. The repair bill was  less than $1 which brought home to me that despite a repair costing a pittance the mindset is not to do even essential repairs until the inevitable happens . Either me my driver was spared an unpleasant accident.

The Abayudaya have traditionally seen themselves as part of the wider community. As the jewish community has become more established they have shared the benefits of their progress with their non-jewish neighbours. Their neighbours share the water pumped from the watershed at the Abayudaya's expense, 

send their children to the Abayudaya school and even wander into the guest house to watch that luxury, the TV. Recently funds were received from jews in America for meals for the all kids in the school, jewish, christian and muslim.

This helping of one's wider community is not only morally right but a way to help build good community relations, which is why it is necessary to only repair the water system next to the namanyani synagogue when funds become available to install an extra one for the benefit of the non-jewish community around the trading post.