Shmura Matzah in Rural Uganda

I am in straw-roofed hut. Three windows overlook a vast empty field. All is dark, save for a kerosene lamp, white eyes brightening black faces, and a handful of white visitors. We are about an hour’s ride on dirt roads from the nearest town. I look around me, wondering if things will ever get stranger. And then I am handed matzah.

Matzah! Putti village is an orthodox Jewish community in the rural areas of Eastern Uganda. People are wearing kipot, dresses and greeting me with the words “Shabbat shalom ve’chag sameach”. No, I have not had too much to drink. Yet.

They conducted services in Hebrew (with a few mispronunciations, but I come from a very Anglo Saxon part of Israel which has trained me to be tolerant of terrible accents) and then went on to the Seder, which was conducted in Hebrew, English and Luganda (or some language I couldn’t understand).

The highlight was when the Rabbi yelled in every language “all those who are hungry, should come and eat!”, and broke the matzah for the entire community.

We were served a balanced meal of rice and posho (the Ugandan form of Ugali, which is the African form of Grits, which is the American version of cornmeal with water). The animal-eaters got fried fish, as well, but I didn’t mind the food much – how much can you expect from a Kosher for Passover meal in the middle of nowhere, Uganda?

The air was special. Everyone was smiling. Tens of children flocked to me with glittering eyes, trying to get as close to me as possible. And lo and behold – they didn’t call me mzungu. They didn’t ask for money. They just wanted to look at me – a white Jew. From Israel.

After the Seder people continued to encircle me. They wanted to learn Hebrew songs. With my terrible voice and worse sense of rhythm, I conducted Jewish folk dances, and even showed off my knowledge about Ugandan pop songs, but one of the women informed me with a smile that those were “not Shabbat songs.”

The next day was a slow, Shabbas-y one. Everything was Jewish and beautiful and heartwarming. But it’s been a while since I had a slow Jewish day, and when I was informed that there was going to be another Seder that night – I didn’t know if I’d be able to handle it. I am an Israeli (we only have one Seder and we have ants in our pants).

So I decided I would do a little Seder hopping and head over to a nearby Jewish community (did you know that there are five Jewish communities in Uganda? We’re taking over the continent!)

The Abuyudayah are real Jews. You know how I know? We were greeted in the entrance to the guesthouse, next to the gift shop. And were informed that a night there would be 25 dollars. Unless we wanted to eat the guesthouse food, in which case it would be more. (25 dollars is more than I would’ve paid for five nights at the guesthouse overlooking one of the most beautiful valleys in the country, where I stayed the following night).

Okay, fine. I would camp out.

20,000 shillings.

Are you kidding me?! Fine, whatever. I’m already here.

But I don’t have a sleeping bag.

But my friends do, and they have already paid the 25 for a bed, so I’ll use theirs.

But I have lice. So Iwon’t use theirs.

But if I pay 25 dollars to sleep inside, I will have two worthless coins left in my wallet.

Okay. Let’s just enjoy the Seder and celebrate the fact that they are a conservative community by taking photos. Hmmm… where is my camera?

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. Did I actually let the boda boda driver hold my bag for me, after he saw which pocket the camera was in??? Why am I so trusting?

Phone call. Hi Danya! It’s Dad. How are you?

Crap. (Fill in all unfortunate events here)

Oh, sorry. Wait – I can’t talk, I’m golfing. Here, take your brother.

Hey Danya, what’s up? Oh shit – gotta go, take Dad!

(Repeat)

(Again)

Click.

But… everything worked out fine. My lice and I slept in the guesthouse, and I had enough money to make it to an ATM the next day. The camera was never found, but I think one Ugandan motorcycler had a really happy Pesach thanks to me.

The next day I hiked around Sipi Falls – three enormous and spectacular waterfalls. And if G-d thought he hadn’t been miraculous enough in those three days, in the last and largest waterfall, I swam, in freezing pool of water, into a full circle rainbow with droplets and mist splashing all over my face. It was magnificent.

What a very spiritual of very high person might look like. Strangely, I am neither.

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6 thoughts on “Shmura Matzah in Rural Uganda

  1. Hi Danya, We both love to read your wonderful descriptions. Can only imagine the feast little lice have in your curls!!! Can you think of taking the first bath on 60 HaSharon? We had two (2) lovely seders at David and Allegra, with Arieh, Stephanie, their kids and all 9 grandkids. love, Opi and Omi

  2. We thought of you during our Seders! 2 also. Remember you told me about keeping the pictures in your head in Canada? Now you can use that idea instead of the camera, G.

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