Local Organic Vegan Gluten-Free Low-Carb Non-Fat NON-FOOD!!

Every time I come to the States, there is some new trend. Low fat. Then low carb. Then just substituting everything with everything. I remember opening my grandparents’ fridge in order to make an omelette. I was met by a carton of eggless eggs, fake, rubbery cheese and some pathetic butter lookalike.

Um… So what’s left?

The new trend seems to be “save the world and lose weight doing it”.

Before I make fun of this, let me tell you – I am more for it than against it. I have been a vegetarian since I was six. I try not to wear leather. I’m the kind of person who gets a kick out of farmer’s markets and grilled tofu. I am sure a lot of people would like to see me dead. And to see my remains eaten by an animal.

But something about this trend feels wrong – even for me.

I walked into a Whole Foods supermarket. I was overwhelmed and confused (as I am at every American supermarket) and somewhat disheartened. Do I want Kale chips… drenched in oil?) Do I want natural organic fair trade vegan super-nutritious… chocolate muffins? Granola bars that will enable me to climb, lift, fly and generally be superwoman*? I walked out of Whole Foods with a yogurt and berries – and an overflowing pile of plastic, paper and rubber bands for which I had no use. So much for saving the world.

*A word about those granola bars: What the hell?! Power Bars, Chewy Bars, Clif Bars, Odwalla Bars, Luna Bars, Lunatic Bars. They’re delicious, no doubt. But why can’t they just admit to the world that they are cookies dressed up in grown-up clothing? Why do we need those fake wrappers to make us feel healthy?

Guilty.

We buy food. Lots of it, because this is America. The Land of Too Much Stuff.

Then we eat it. Or, we pretend not to eat it (and then we eat it when it doesn’t count: when we’re standing, walking, talking on the phone or when no one else is looking).

Our bellies explode with food and guilt. Something must be done! Let’s buy some books! About weight loss! Let’s buy twenty! Then we’ll really know how to get fit!

Okay, reading, reading, reading….Hmm. Looks like we need to exercise.

Well, before we do something as drastic as that, we need to buy the gear. The calories don’t really burn unless we have Nike Air shoes, Lululemon shirts and Adidas shorts.

And then we should sign up for some classes (why do something free if you can pay money for it?). But then… after class… we’re famished. And we deserve something yummy. So we should buy some food. And now we’re back at the supermarket. I HATE THE SUPERMARKET!

But it’s okay. Because we’ll buy local. Organic. Wholesome and nutritious and good and delicious, just as long as it’s twice as expensive as the regular stuff and we can impress our friends when they come over and just feel wonderful about ourselves.

Let’s just buy some food – eat it and enjoy it? Let’s have our cake (with butter from a cow, eggs you have to crack and plain old flour) and eat it too!

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Stabbed

Yes, it was stupid. It was night, I was alone and it was Africa. But you have to understand, walking around Kololo, Kampala’s wealthiest neighborhood, you forget where you are. It’s where the embassies are located and where the whites live, in large houses with pampered gardens. I had a ten minute walk on good roads with fancy parked cars. Yes, I forgot I was in Africa.

The guards at the restaurant had suggested I take a boda, but considering it was going to rain and it was such a short walk, I decided to just go instead of waiting for one to come. People here are so lazy. As I walked, the drizzle became a quicker, thicker rainfall. I thought about my backpack getting wet and the crackers in my bag of groceries. If someone comes by, I decided, I’ll take a ride.

But strangely, in the city where I am constantly shooing off drivers and turning down ride offers – no one came. I considered calling my friend, but figured there wasn’t much she could do. I would find my way to her place, drenched but independent. I remember picturing myself arriving at her doorstep soaked and proud of my sense of direction, because I hadn’t been there many times. My self-assuredness was inherent and thoroughly detached from reality. After years of confidence-boosting and leadership-building activities (such as boxing, which I’d done just before eating dinner, alone) I guess I thought I was invincible.

I hadn’t heard footsteps. I hadn’t seen a shadow. I was in my own world, lost in thought, when my boda helmet was yanked out of my hand and bashed on my head. Someone threw me on the cement. His hands grabbed things from my hands.

A moment later I was on my feet, watching his feet run. And then I shrieked. It was purely instinct; I never shriek. And I didn’t even say anything, it was a primitive, almost internal voice of confusion and horror ripping through my throat.

The street was silent. I shrieked again. No one came.

Do you see me down there? On the quiet black street. Surrounded by large homes and gates, I am small. I am wet. And I am so, so alone.

I stumbled over to the nearest gate. Every one of these homes has a guard, I knew. I banged. Nothing. “Help!” I yelled and banged more. No one.

I ran, head spinning, until I reached an open gate and a large, lit up building. I stormed into what looked like the reception of a fancy hotel. “I need help!” I yelled as the blood in my body seemed to flow around in unexpected directions. Three Ugandan workmen looked at me, dumbfounded. One white woman dressed in a suit and skirt looked at me, concerned. “I need to go to the hospital,” I said, panicked. I assumed she was the manager, not a guest. She told me to calm down, which only agitated me more. “What do you mean?! I’m not okay, I have to get taken care of!”

“You’re going to be okay, just calm down.”

“How do you know?! Take me to the hospital!” She knows nothing. They know nothing. I’m the only one who seems to know anything and I’ve just been attacked and can hardly stand. These moments are crucial, I thought.

They walked me over to the bathroom and I realized that they were all looking at me strangely. “What?” I asked. “Am I bleeding?”

“Well,” said the woman. “You have a… hole in your head.”

I felt the spot she was pointing to, and the top third of my finger slid down into a crevice. I looked at my finger. It was bright red. The blood in my head rushed around even more quickly. I have to sit. Here’s a chair. Am I going to die? Is my brain going to be messed up? Is it messed up already? I tried to diagnose myself. I assessed that aside from losing some blood and feeling faint, I was relatively with it. But I couldn’t be sure.

“Look,” I said as evenly as I could. “I’ve been attacked and I need to go to the hospital. Can you please get me to the hospital. NOW?”

The woman turned to the workers. “Is someone coming?”  They answered that a cab was on its way. I was sick of African time. The woman tried, meanwhile, to understand who the hell I was. “Do you have anyone we could call?”

We got in the cab and picked Vivian up. The way she later decscribed it to me was opening the door with a cheerful “Hello! How are ya,” and then seeing a strange woman instead of me, who said, “Your friend was stabbed. She’s outside in a cab.”

The woman dropped herself off and Vivian and I drove to The Surgery.

The Surgery is, supposedly, the best medical clinic in Kampala. It’s where all the mzungus go. But I wanted the best care I could get and found it hard to believe Kampala was the place I’d get it.

I lay wet and shivering while the doctor asked me questions and hooked me up to different machines. He informed me that the sharp object had penetrated my skin and reached the bone, but didn’t do it damage. He sewed four stitches. When my pulse had gone down to a nearly-human rate, I remembered my blog, and thought if I’d get through this alive and well, it would make a terrific post.

No, I don’t know why I’m smiling either…

How did I still have my camera, you may wonder. Well the funny thing about this wole incident is that in his frenzy, all the asshole took from me was my old, deteriorating phone and a bag of groceries. (The bag of groceries had some yogurts I was very excited to eat, but you know. Even when I know how to put things into perspective every once in a while – even when it comes to dairy products).

So he left me with my ipod, my new camera (the old one had already been stolen) and my money (the little I had left). He didn’t steal my credit card because I no longer had one.

I can’t believe someone stabbed me for yogurt and a crappy old phone. At least I got some sense of vengeance, picturing him coming home to enjoy his loot and seeing yogurt.

I demanded an X-ray. The nurses called the X-ray man. He would drive over, but I had at least half an hour to wait. Vivian filled out my form: Phone number? Stolen. Address? Namulanda. Next to the chapati stand?

X-ray man said the results looked fine but asked me to come and look at them. I didn’t like that. What the hell was it supposed to look like? I nodded, admiring my beautiful skull and walked back to the doctor’s office. I had some information, I was no longer shivering and I was calm. Time to call Mom.

By now it was past midnight; she picked up groggily.

“Hi Mom,” I responded.

“Danya?” she asked, worried.

“Yeah hey.”

“Danya?” this time it was my concerned brother.

“Hey Matan, what’s up?”

“What happened?”

But before I could reply, my other brother picked up the phone.

“What’s wrong?”

“Well hello Brady Bunch,” I chuckled. I finally managed to get out a condensed, censored version of what had happened, all the while dealing with interjections from three worried people. Luckily my Dad wasn’t home that night. My mom gave me a list of things to do:

1. Don’t let Vivian leave you

2. Don’t leave the hospital until you see a neurologist (was that two things or one?)

3. Call the American embassy, see if they have a neurologist or if they can help you (Israel doesn’t have a good relationship with Uganda)

Okay. Okay okay okay okay. I hung up and turned to Vivian “Wow, I really freaked her out.”

Then I heard a distant voice say, “I’m not freaked out, I just want you to make sure…” and off she went again.

I listened again, made sure to hang up properly this time, and turned to the doctor. “I need to see a neurologist,” I informed him. He looked at me with a smile.

“No one will answer you at this time.” I wanted to smack him. I argued and he eventually called two doctors. Neither picked up.

Then I tried getting the number of the embassy. They didn’t have it.

“Do you have a phone book?” No.

“Is there a number I can call for information?” No.

“No? In all of Uganda there is no number to call for information?!” They all looked at me blankly. I hate this country.

The next day I apologized to the doctor for having been so rude, and he confessed, quite frankly, that he’d wanted to slap me. I laughed, not saying he was lucky I hadn’t smacked him first.

So we called sisters and boyfriends in Honduras and in Switzerland. We got my roommate’s number by calling a guy who had hit on both her and on Vivian. After many wrong numbers and unanswered calls we reached the American Embassy hotline. “If this is an American citizen in an emergency, please dial one.” We waited, were transfered and then waited more.

The man asked bureaucratic questions, then useless, curious questions and informed methat no neurologist would see me at this time. But could I file a report tomorrow?

Maybe Uganda is not the only country I hate.

I called the woman in charge of volunteers twice. No answer. A while later, she called back, hysterical: “I heard what has happened… I can’t come! It’s late! I am a woman! I am alone!”

What? “Don’t come, can you just help me-”

“I can’t! I can’t, it’s dangerous!”

“(name of woman here) – I’m not asking you to come! Do you know any doctors in Kampala?!”

“Yes, of course,” she answered, insulted.

“Okay, I want to see a neurologist. Could you call your friends and see if anyone knows a neurologist?”

“But it’s so late! I can’t, they won’t…”

“(Name of woman)!! Just CALL them.”

“Okay.” Beep.

The Surgery had nothing else to offer. I got the name of another hospital that might have a neurologist, and we went back into Sylvester’s taxi.

Have I introduced you to Sylvester? Numerous heads had floated over me while I got my stitches put in. One man was looking at me very intently. I looked back at him. “Um.. I don’t mean to be rude,” I had said eventually. “But who are you?” It was Sylvester. Sylvester cared about me more than anyone that night, and definitely more than I’d expected of a cab driver.

He got us past potholes, poor signage and locked gates into Case Hospital. Again – bureaucracy, money, time. I was tired. I didn’t see anything resembling a neurologist. And it was near two.

I felt a lump in my throat and could’ve stopped it, but decided it was time for a new strategy. Men try harder when girls cry. “I can’t call a neurologist, you don’t need one, no one will answer….” But my tears must have made an impact and he called one. No answer.

He called Sylvester in. They had a fairly long discussion about the whereabouts of IHK and of International Hospital Kampala, and about the concept of abbrevitations. (It’s the same place?)

At IHK we were led through a dark hallway to what looked like a reception table, and sat down to wait between two sleeping men. A black cat walked by. Who cares, I thought. If there had been internal bleeding, it was probably too late to do anything anyways.

Finally a woman walked by and asked what we were waiting for. The reception was downstairs.

“Have you ever been here before,” asked the woman behind the desk, handing me a form. I was sick of this.

“Listen,” I said. “I was stabbed in the head hours ago, I’ve already seen two doctors and I just want to see a neurologist. Is that possible?”

No. I had to see a general doctor. Luckily the general doctor was nearby and he came to the desk. And luckily he was one of the best doctors I’ve seen in a while. He gave me a quick biology lesson, a list of possible head injuries, and explanations as to why I didn’t have any of them. He also gave me the number of a good neurologist I could call the next morning. And the next morning wasn’t looking too far anymore.

I was exhausted, my head hurt and I was sick of this country. At four in the morning, I was ready to go to sleep.

I’m feeling better. I tore a muscle in my neck, and I’ve been lying around for a few days, quite shook up. But I have wonderful friends who are taking good care of me. And buying me yogurts.

And I know that somebody, somewhere, is working very hard to make sure I stay alive. Thanks again, G-d.

The Ten Plagues – Uganda Style

Blood
We are four girls sharing rooms and bathrooms. Blood, in its monthly form, is a plague. I won’t elaborate.

Frogs
Besides  a few squished frogs in the road and some distant croaks, frogs haven’t been a big part of my experience. Snails, however, fall into the same slimy category, and they are around.

Snails have a good eye for real estate. They live on the banks of the stunning Lake Victoria – along with me. And along with schistosoma. Those tiny parasites hang out on the snails until they get bored, at which point they find the nearest human (hereafter referred to as “you”) and then penetrate your skin. Once settled inside your inner organs, they decide to grow up. And so, feeling quite comfortable and at home, the parasite develops into a baby, into a teenager, and into a full-grown-big-momma-real-live worm! Once the worm is ready to “find himself” he embarks on journey through your liver and intestines and wherever else he fancies. If he wants to be really adventurous, he will try to leave your body. The same way those beans and rice just did.

Bilharzia, snail fever and schistosomiasis are big names for medium problems caused by little creatures. But I’d rather not have too many Latin names inside my body, which can only be treated using other Latin names. And so I don’t swim in the lake, and am putting off whitewater rafting for now, at least until the scariness of the article I just read wears off.

Lice

Seems like lice have less of an eye for real estate than snails do. For some reason, lice have found charm in small, tall plot of land otherwise known as My Head. They think it’s paradise, and they’ve invited all their friends.

I would like to blame my curly haired roommate, shower-sharer, business partner and sitter-next-to-in-any-smushed-mode-of-transportation but it really doesn’t matter anymore. We are both in this together, and we want one thing. Death to the lice! We are both vegetarians who are trying to save the world, but every idealist has her limits.

When she broke the news to me about the cause of her scratching, I wanted to cry. Because if she had it, I had it, and if I had it, but didn’t have a comb or my mommy, there was no way I was going to get rid of it.

I picked up the phone and put on my best two-year-old, whiny voice. My mother, somewhat calmer than myself, advised me on all the latest lice zapping technology – did you know that conditioner stuns the lice? And that heat kills them?

Helpless and afraid, I did everything she told me (except for sitting in a sauna, which has been a little tricky to find – you think there’s one behind the chapati stand?) and unfortunately I had to use my friends lice comb (I never claimed I was smart), but I am still itching occasionally. I try  to convince myself that it’s all in my head. Not ON my head.

Beasts

Have I already mentioned that we are four girls, trying to share food and lives and at the same time maintain our sanity? The word “beasts” often seems like an understatement – but on the off chance that one of my roommates will ever look at my blog,  I’ll stop here.

This doesn't exactly capture the idea

Diseased Livestock

Well, there are slabs of meat hanging from numerous vendors along the road, but since I haven’t eaten any I don’t know if they are diseased. But I wouldn’t be surprised.

Boils

That leg is mine. Those hairs are not.

Thunder and Hail

People have been scaring me about the rainy season in Uganda for such a long time. I have my rain jacket, my rain pants and am emotionally prepared for rain, not an easy task for a sun-loving Israeli.

So far, though, it’s been sunny and gorgeous (except for one day with rain and hail, I am not kidding although I assume you won’t believe me). But I am sure it will rain, probably as soon as G-d read this post.

Locusts

Mosquitos. Malaria. My life.

For the first few weeks in Africa, I did everything I could to avoid getting bitten by mosquitos (but I didn’t do much to avoid monkey bites. See previous post…). I applied bug spray religiously, I never slept without a net, and I made sure to take my anti-malaria pill every week at the same time.

But when I saw I wasn’t getting malaria, I began to neglect my duties and stray from the good path. And began to get bitten. And so it has come to pass, that 50% of my day is spent scratching my feet, my back, and wherever else those little schmucks reached. The other 50%, if you were wondering, is spent sitting in traffic and eating. Whatever is left is for Saving The World.

Darkness 

At least once a day, my home looks like a mine: a bunch of girls trying to complete tasks and find things, with Bob-the-Builder headlamps screwed on. Because about once a day, the power goes out, and we are plagued with a lack of light. Most of our inner joy is sucked out, as well.

Because imagine if after every long, crowded, polluted, third-world-country day you had to come home to a dark home, a cold shower, spoiled yogurts in the fridge and no computer.

It’s become such an integral part of life that it seems perfectly normal to me, that in order to fry an egg I will use a gas balloon, or that I will eat a candle-lit dinner by myself. Wow, I feel sorry for myself writing this.

Death of the Firstborn

Well, despite the fact that Ugandans are BEAUTIFUL, I still haven’t had any babies, and, praise the Lord, none of them has died. More about the good-looking guys later – Happy Passover readers of the world!

Checkers with Maasai Kids

I’ve dealt with a lot of kids in my life – but I have never met a crowd that was as easy to please as the kids in Naro Osura. It’s a village in the heart of the Maasai land – Loita Hills – on the outskirts of the famous Maasai Mara. When I say village, I mean dirt paths, chickens and goats running around, ramshackle shops with handpainted signs and a lot of people sitting. All day.

I walked into a store that had the word “Internet” printed in large bright letters on the front wall. I inquired about the computer services, somewhat skeptical when I noticed  the bags of flour and candies behind the counter. “Oh, no,” the woman explained. “That’s just the name of the store.”

An indefinite but long period of time after lunch, when our guide was on one of his classic “disappearances” (Meeting the local ladies? Dealing drugs? Running away from us?) I was getting bored, and I couldn’t look through the pictures on my friend’s camera any more or stare into space any longer.

I looked around for something to do, but we were outside some dirty, sketchy pub and all I could find were some colorful beer caps scattered around the muddy entrance. I started collecting them, hoping we’d find a good use for them. One of the guide’s brothers, who also served as an assistant guide and porter, found a used cardboard box, and together we drew a checkers board.

Even before I knew what we were going to do with it, people who were sitting nearby came up and helped me collect caps. I tried to explain that I wanted only “Tusker” or something else of uniform color, but eventually I just took whatever people handed me. Everyone seemed thrilled to have something to do.

And so we played checkers on a cardboard box with beer caps.  And we had about ten spectators from the moment we set up the board. We got a little tournament going, and when I realized how thirsty the kids were for something to do, I began to pull out some more tricks from my dusty youth-movement-and-babysitting sleeve. I taught them how to play thumb-war and “Dag Maluach” (Red light green light one two three) and even a silly dancing game where you run around a circle and then shake your booty. They taught us the Swahili equivalent. No matter what we suggested, they were all in.

One of the boys, who was wearing a blue sweater that resembled a school uniform, was holding a plastic bag with a few books inside. I asked to see, and suddenly I realized it was storytime in Swahili, and somehow, I was the reader (Swahili uses Latin letters).

When our guide finally came back and we continued our trek, three of the boys joined us. They didn’t want money, or our walking poles (which they looked at and held very curiously) – they just wanted something to do.

Filthy hands, open scabs and tattered clothes – but just the same as kids in any other place – hungry for fun and games, wanting to beat each other up and be hugged at the same time, craving attention and more than anything, in need of something to do.