asher63 (asher63) wrote,
asher63
asher63

Africa trip: Fourteen stones

February 22, Monday. Namutumba, Uganda.

Shadrach rang my room promptly at 8a for us to check out from the Florida Hotel, and we got a car and headed north. I was anxiously watching the clock as we departed Kampala, wondering if the trip north would take longer than the amount of time I would have for my return trip to the airport on Sunday. I needn't have worried. Getting out of Kampala took about three and a half hours (it seemed like eight) but the rest of the trip went quickly; which was about what I'd expected. We arrived in Namutumba around 14h. And that was including the time we spent waiting for the car, plus a detour for me to hit the ATM, and a couple of refreshment stops along the way.

I was introduced to the community, but I wasn't very sociable at the time, being a bit worn out from the ride and ready for the welcome privacy of the guest room. I was invited to speak to the students, but I begged a deferral as I couldn't think of anything to say.

A couple of hours of rest, plus one of my last remaining precious packs of Starbucks Via later, inspiration struck. I'd been fretting over the problem of how to efficiently provide supplies for the community when, after all, I didn't even know how many there were. Then I looked at the week's Torah reading, Ki Tisa, and the little light bulb went on.

I asked Shadrach to summon all the students who were still around, and to ask each of them to bring one - only one - small rock. When the students were assembled and seated, I passed around my white wash cup and asked the students to put their rocks in it. Then (using my beloved coffee cup as a second container) I ceremoniously counted the stones together with the students, with a bar mitzvah boy serving as interpreter to Luganda. There were fourteen. Then I asked the students to suppose that all those who had brought a stone were to pair off in groups of exactly two - how many groups would we have? One bright girl answered seven without hesitation.

I went on to explain that the Israelites were commanded to each bring a coin - the same amount for each - to teach us that every soul, every person rich or poor, is equally precious before G-d. And I said that the people were not counted directly because it's disrespectful to count human beings - who were created in the image of G-d - as if we were counting sheep. But I also pointed out that it's still important to know how many people there are, because it helps us organize society: we need to make sure everyone has enough water, enough food, contributes their share of work, and so on; and that this is the reason there are so many numbers in the Bible, usually numbers of people, because numbers are important for civilization.

So I hope I was able to impress some basic concepts of Torah and humanity, and also a love of learning. Mathematics is something that can get you ahead no matter how poor you are; it doesn't require a lot of hardware, just a good mind.



Tags: east africa 2016, education, hebraica
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