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Monday, September 24, 2007

Shmuli’s Big Yom Kippur Adventure

The Chabad did it again!

They graced the Jews of Dar es Salaam with a very special gift.

They sent us Shmuli.

Sweet, earnest, lovable, rabbinical student Shmuli. From Australia via Brooklyn – but with a Yiddish accent from the old country. Dressed for Crown Heights, with bright orange hair, Shmuli was one of the most endearing people I’ve met in a long time. Because he came to us so eager to please, to reconnect us with our “Jewish souls”, and to help us understand that we may be far from the Jewish center, but we carry our Jewishness in our hearts, always.

And poor Shmuli. He had quite a tough job.

The Jewish community here in Dar is a rag-tag group of immigrants far from home. (Kind of like the characters on Battlestar Galactica.)

There are not many of us – probably less than 40 in the entire country of 40 million or so people. And we are mostly evenly split between Israelis and Americans – with a smattering of Brits for good measure. The Israelis and the Americans don’t interact so much. There’s actually not that much to say. But what brings us together is the presence of one Middle Eastern restaurant run by an amazing and oh-so-stereotypically Israeli family – a mother with a larger-than-life personality and her three lovely daughters. They keep a list of the Jews who find them by word-of-mouth – drawn to them like notes to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. They know that there is a strong and inexplicable need for the Jew alone and abroad to seek out other Jews and let them know they, too, are here. We are connected, even though our affiliations are limited. And that means something when you are so far from home.

So when the call came that Shmuli was in town, that the Chabad had sent us a rabbi from Brooklyn for Yom Kippur - and that this rabbi, who came to Dar via Nairobi where the synagogue there entrusted him with one of their most valued items, a Torah, which he aimed to read (for the first time in Tanzania that anyone knows of), we all came running - American (enthusiastic) and Israeli (rather grudgingly) alike.

The problem was – we needed a minyon. Ten men. Were there 10 Jewish men in Dar?

Actually… no one was sure.

Shmuli counted, I didn’t.

The brand new guy at the American Embassy (single and sort of cute – but that’s another story) counted, but my girlfriend Mari who works for CDC didn’t.

(By the way, as far as we all can tell – Mari and the new guy are the ONLY Jews in the entire official US delegation. Can you believe that?)

I wanted to walk right up to Shmuli and say, “Listen here young man, you are in our territory now! You may be observant, but the rest of us aren’t. (In fact the Israelis are downright secular – it was like pulling teeth just to get some of them to participate.) Women count. We’re here in Tanzania telling the Tanzanian’s that women count – so we sure as hell can't have them not count here.”

But OK, sue me. I didn’t do it.

I was too intrigued by the game… sitting around… watching every car that drove into the compound to see if they contained men, and if so, how many.

Erev Yom Kippur for Kol Nidre somehow we pulled it off. Nine guys showed. Shmuli was there. We had a minyon but all it meant was that we could say the Kaddish. Nice, but not earth-shattering. Still… the Torah lay there on the table that straddled the partitioned women’s and men’s sections – and that was pretty awe inspiring in and of itself.

At the end of the evening, Shmuli begged the men to come back the next day.

At 11 AM on Saturday morning there were only two men there at the appointed hour, and then three, and finally four, and at about 11:30 an SUV of Israeli men (the only American man was the guy from the Embassy) showed up. We had nine including Shmuli. It didn’t look like we were going to make it.

And then one of the daughters from the restaurant announced, “I’m going to do what I was avoiding. I was hoping that it wasn’t going to come to this. I’m calling my schmuck of a Stepfather and getting him over here now.”

And low and behold, the Stepfather showed about 10 minutes later. We had a minyon!

So Saturday morning Shmuli read from the Torah, with the help of the nine other semi-reluctant but nevertheless present guys, for the first time ever in Dar, and maybe even ever in Tanzania.

And it felt like it was meant to be. I can’t tell you why. But it was how it felt. Everyone in the room knew it, too.

Shmuli was so happy when it was over, grinning ear-to-ear. He had us sing a song of celebration at the end of the service and entertained us with a lovely story about Henry Kissinger and Golda Meir.

And it was telling that six hours later, when it came time for breaking the fast and Havdallah service (end of the Sabbath) that everyone came back again, and shared sweet kosher wine sent to us as a gift from the synagogue in Nairobi, and ate wonderful honey cake made for us by one of the most reluctant of the Israeli guys.

We were, we are for now, a community of Jews in Dar.

Shmuli leads us in prayer for Kol Nidre

The Torah is read on Yom Kippur in the morning.

The Torah is held for everyone to see, the women's section, and honey cakes.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Like a Phoenix from the Ashes, the Sea Cliff Will Rise Again! Well... in About a Year.

The Sea Cliff Hotel from above

Last night one of the worst things that could possibly happen to me in Dar did indeed happen.

The Sea Cliff Hotel…

My haven of peace…

The most beautiful spot...

My recreation area of choice…

The place where I used to stay before I moved here…

The place from where I got to know Dar…

The place where the kids and I spend almost every Sunday, and some Saturdays, and sometimes two or more evenings a week…

The place that has come to represent much of what makes me happy about living in Dar…

The first place where I take all my visitors - to see the beautiful sea and feel the refreshing wind…

The place where, as I sit by the pool and enjoy a diet coke under a thatched hut, I tell anyone who will listen, “This is my life. Not bad, eh?”


Up in flames.


I spent the afternoon by the Sea Cliff pool yesterday – me, the kids, my friends Jane and Gunnar and their daughter, Mimi. And all the usual suspects – my pool buddies and their kids where there, too. It was a simply gorgeous day. We had a lovely time, relaxing, chatting, watching the kids play and enjoy the water. We stayed until almost 5 PM – for some reason reluctant to go – but the sun was going to be setting soon and I needed to get back to Yom Kippur services.

As Yom Kipper came to an end and I was enjoying some honey cake and sweet wine - sent to Dar by the Nairobi Jewish community - the first text message came. (I had just finished telling a newbie – a Jewish woman who had just moved to Dar – how much I loved it here and that I was sure that she would love it, too.)

“The Sea Cliff is on fire!”

And like a moth to a candle, I couldn’t stay away. I rushed over only to see the entire roof – made of thatching – on fire. Giant flames were spurred on by the sea winds.

Every fire truck in Dar was there.

But of course, there was no water. Evidently they tried to use the water from the pool. My pool. But it wasn’t enough.

Then the US Embassy and the Port of Dar and all the other institutions with water trucks sent what they had to the Sea Cliff. But by the time the water got to the fire (we have no public water system on most of the Peninsula) it was an hour after the fire started (in the kitchen behind the pool). It was too late to save the hotel.

In some ways – we (the community in Dar) are lucky. The Sea Cliff Village – the high end shopping area right next door – also with a thatched roof – was miraculously spared. The wind was blowing in just the right direction. And the Karembazi Café – the beautiful restaurant jutting out into the sea was also spared.

But my pool area is completely gone.

I went back again twice last night to watch it burn. I think I couldn’t believe it. I had to see it for myself. Me and about 1000 others – it was quite attraction.

And I went back again this AM – three times - to see it in the light of day. It doesn’t look good.

I can’t stop thinking about all the lovely Masaai doormen, the lovely housekeeping staff, the waiters by the pool and in the Calabash restaurant. They have no jobs now. They will no longer be a daily part of our lives. I’m sure it is a much bigger tragedy for them than it is me… but I can’t help but think about it in personal terms.

The Sea Cliff pool was my refuge. In my head it was synonymous with all that makes me happy here – the sunshine, the crashing sea, recreation, good friends, beautiful views, swimming, and feeling at home with myself and the place.

I’m so sad for my hotel and for myself. And then I think how can I be so sad for an inanimate object? For a hotel?

But I am. It is like a good friend has passed. Like a piece of me and my memory has been taken from me.

This morning I heard that the managers are telling everyone that they will start rebuilding right away.

Hopefully the hotel will be like the bionic man – rebuilt bigger, stronger, and better than before.

In the meantime I don’t know what Jaden, Rowan and I will do.

We will survive. But we won’t be happy. Our Sea Cliff Hotel is down for the count.

The Sea Cliff Hotel - this morning

The view from the pool in happier times

The fire started back by the pool bar

My pool on fire

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Still there....????

Jaden and Rowan enjoying a perk of the "first world".
Rye Playland Amusement Park
Hi out there.

I can't believe it has been two whole months since I last posted. I'm a bad girl. Bad Hally. Bad.

It seems that once it has been awhile since I last wrote it is almost impossible to sit down and write again.

It isn't like I've forgotten you!

Many times I've had a partially formulated blog in my head that I swore I was going to commit to type the second I got home. And then once you don't do it for awhile you think you need to write about everything that's happened - and that can be a block too.

I was going to write you a fabulous blog called Home Sweet Home - Sort Of about my month long trip to the US with the kids and challenges of being back home (e.g. no nanny, no cook, no housekeeper, too many choices) and how I went totally nuts shopping - coming home with 5 huge bags when I left Tanzania with just 2 small bags. But that's old news now. I've been back in TZ for nearly three weeks.

Then I was going to write a funny blog called Tsunami New Year - telling you about how in the middle of hosting a lovely apples and honey-filled Rosh Hashana dinner for 12 Jews and one honorary Jew my phone started ringing off the hook with friends warning me that the Tanzanian government was evacuating the coastline because a huge tsunami was headed our way after the giant Indonesia earthquake. (This is just last week.) The government was going up and down the streets of my neighborhood with bullhorns telling folks to move away from the beach. So there I was with a house full of people in a celebratory mood with a decision to make. (I only live one block from the ocean.) Panic or not to panic. We turned on CNN and BBC and it was clear that no tsunami had hit Sri Lanka (which would be a natural intermediate point for a tsunami on its way to us) and so we continued to party. Of course nothing happened. But interestingly the next morning I had an official "Warden Message" from the US Embassy telling all US citizens to beware of a possible tsunami and "nature's warning signs" such as a rapid retreat of water. Amusing because they sent it out at 10 PM when absolutely no American would have been online (the tsunami was supposedly expected between 11 PM and 1 AM).

I guess they were just covering their asses... just in case we were wiped away - the Embassy could have said, "Well, we warned them."

I also planned to write a blog called The Amazing Adventures of Matt and Ben because the day after the tsunami debacle I found myself at lunch at my favorite Indian restaurant with my friend, Tom, and Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Evidently they were in town visiting HIV care and support projects and some malaria projects for Bono's NGO, DATA. Thanks to a series of events which I won't bother you with they ended up talking to me after lunch. Matt turned and said, "Hey, what's your name and what are you doing in Tanzania?" Since I wasn't expecting to speak to them, all I could say was:

"Hally. Condoms. Sex Workers!"

"Ok," they said - as they looked at each other out of the corner of their eyes.

I don't think I made much of an impression.

And finally the last blog I was going to write was called Lazy Lagoon. That would have just been a bit of a travel log about the divine weekend Jaden, Rowan and I spent on an island off the coast of TZ in a small resort - by that name. Our hut was so close to the ocean that the sea woke me up at high tide in the middle of the night. (Not very tsunami-proof!) And we had dinner on the beach by candlelight with the stars of the Southern sky twinkling above us. It was heaven. I love Tanzania. (And not just for the divine R&R spots, but for the nannies, and the housekeepers, and the cooks, etc.)

OK. Great. We are finally caught up. Now I can just go ahead and start writing blogs again without feeling like I have too many things in the pipeline I have to write about before I can get to the topic at hand.

And you better stay tuned. I have a great blog coming for tomorrow!