“All the world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to fear at all.”

(*This post was written in 2011 right before I made aliyah to Jerusalem. It is now 2017 and I have been living in Jerusalem for the last 6 years and counting. Please visit my new blog ModestJerusalem.com to see where life has taken me.)


כל העולם כולו גשר צר מאוד, והעיקר – לא לפחד כלל”

“All the world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to fear at all.” Rabbi Nachman of Breslov


I was feeling a bit of pressure before posting this morning, as I was not sure what to write for my last post before, gd willing, I head to Jerusalem and why I started this blog in the first place!

First, tomorrow (Friday) morning, if there is not another severe blizzard or snow storm, I will be heading to the Colorful Caribbean for a week-long vacation with my family and another close family–there will be about 12 of us!

After hopefully an eventful time with my partner in crime, aka my brother David who I have barely seen as he lives in Seattle, I will head to Jerusalem the following day, b’h.

Also, what has been going on not only in Egypt, but also in Uganda with the death of Gay Activist, David Kato….I felt Cafe Avra not newsworthy right now. Perhaps, depending on how events unfold, by the time I get to Jerusalem there might be different a story to tell.

I also plan to attend a Vigil this afternoon (Thursday Feb 3rd) outside the United Nations in New York for David Kato.

For those interested in attending (from 4pm-6pm), here are the details:http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=173287156049188


So why “All the world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to fear at all.” as my title?

“כל העולם כולו גשר צר מאוד, והעיקר – לא לפחד כלל”

This is a Jewish Quote, which turned into a song we sing very frequently on Shabbat and other Jewish occasions by a very famous Rabbi from the 18th/19th century, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.  It would take pages to go into detail on how important this Rabbi has been for Jews all over the world; he attracted thousands of followers during his lifetime and his influence continues until today.

I was thinking about this quote quite often lately, humming the tune in my head,  while watching the news unfold on TV and simultaneously anticipating my journey to Israel.

The most important thing is not to fear at all.

To me, this quote means…we struggle each day…we laugh, we cry, we sing, we dance, we fall, we rise up again. But this is the course of life, and if we have faith that everything is for good in this world and we stick on the right path, we will be okay.

Sometimes when things are very hard, it is always for good. We shouldn’t always look for the easy way out of situations. We should feel lucky and blessed when  gd gives us challenges we need to overcome.


Rabbi Nachman of Breslov also said, amongst many wise quotes, “It is a great mitzvah to always be happy”.

“It is even good to do silly things in order to cheer oneself up.”

As Cafe Avra is also a photo blog, which photography can definitely be a way to cheer oneself up, especially when you take pictures with my non-zoom lens (35mm) and have to get VERY close to some quite eclectic people.

In this post I would like to share some photos I have taken around New York, and to a few places I travelled the last few weeks: Philadelphia, Washington DC and Boston. They are all mostly unfinished photo projects I started, or random shots captured that I deemed semi-newsworthy @ the time, but never made it up on this website.

I hope you can enjoy!  Caribbean….here I come:)


First, here is my attempt at, in some way, of documenting some of the older Jewish landmarks of the East Village and Lower East Side in New York. In my attempt of a human attachment to older establishments, I met Susan Dalton  outside Moshe’s  Bakery who lived on Second Avenue when the Jewish Community was thriving here,  at least 30 to 40 years ago. Very eclectic woman, lets put it that way. At Ben Ari Arts store on Avenue A near my old apartment in the East Village, I got to speak with the owner  who funny enough used to sell Jewish Kiddush cups to my old Reform synagogue in New Jersey and we spoke about how the Reform movement is dying and how his orders from many Reform Synagogues have plummeted. Interesting…

Buddha Bodai is a wonderful, kosher, vegan chinese restaurant in the middle of China Town…to those who know me understand my relationship with american-style chinese food! I think the Chinese woman passer-by got confused with the Hebrew on the sign.

Please ignore the random Driedel picture…when I visited my old college roommate in Philadelphia, we visited another friend in old, historic Doylestown(kind of random town USA)…but it was Hanukah Time, and hey! Big Driedel, why not?


If I have my camera with me, and I see any sort of protest, I do like to try to capture the moment. This is probably not the right time to say this, but I really appreciate when those take the time to go to the streets, and let me tell you how COLD this winter has been to stand outside all day, and let  others know (friends and strangers alike) what truly matters to them. Whatever political affiliations you feel towards Israel & the Muslim World right now due to what is happening in Egypt, I am sure everyone is fascinated to watch  the Egyptian people at this moment in time.

On International Human Rights Day, which was on December 10th,  I went outside the United Nations building in New York to see who might be outside, and probably due to below zero temperatures, we only had one group which, again, you have to truly appreciate their commitment to standing outside all day in the cold. The Alliance for Democracy in Vietnam.

The other photo was taken on another freezing cold afternoon when I was heading back from Washington DC to New York. I was staying in Georgetown and had to take the bus near the Four Seasons Hotel. Here we have construction workers looking for better wages and health care for their families. I am not trying to get involved, but again, it was so cold outside you must give them credit for standing outside on behalf of ALL the employees! Both these stories as you can see did not have enough back story to share in a post earlier on this winter.


Last week  in Boston I went to visit a Kenyan family of a friend of mine from Nairobi, Steve Olet,who ran the Nairobi Half Marathon with me back in October( see photo–scroll down: https://cafeavra.org/2010/11/24/reflections-part-1/)   I visited his Mom, Grace, who has been in the US for the last 4 years, and his sister, Janety, who has been here for the last 10 years! She has 4 lovely children, two of which came to the US with the Grandmom, Grace, 4 years agao, and the other two Xannaya and DQ in the photos were born here. I just had the time to visit for about 2 days, but I really enjoyed spending time with this lovely Kenya family, laughing at DQ (he is a very funny 2-year-old), making chapatis and mandazis, and trying to set up a Skype Call with Steve in Kenya( using Keisha’s-the other girl in the photo’s computer–she also has a Mac with built-in webcam) . At the time I was in Kenya, Steve hadn’t seen his Mom in 4 years and sister in 10 years. Steve doesn’t have a computer, let alone a webcam. With some technical difficulties, we finally got both sides working and Steve got to see his family for the first time in a very, very long time. Was a beautiful moment. I truly appreciated their hospitality and openeing their home to me in Boston last week.

Well that is it!

It it the small things in life, no?

Let’s keep walking along that narrow bridge….

Photo Journal: My Class in Elmhurst, Queens.



On behalf of Café Avra, Happy 2011 to all.

I must apologize for the short  Café Avra break I have taken. I see my last post was quite a long time ago, on December 23rd!

I have been lucky enough to have been traveling off and on the last 3 weeks, once to Philadelphia and twice to Washington DC, both for business and pleasure. Photo Journals on these journeys to come in a future post.

I also am starting to prepare for my Israel trip, in which I leave in less than a month. Time does fly I must say. I leave on  Feb 13th, preceding a short vacation with my family in which we leave on February 4th.  So I really only have three more weeks left at home.


Today, and coincidentally on Martin Luther King Day, I want to share with you quite a new experience I have had over the last six weeks since I arrived back in New York. One that I did not need to travel barely beyond my backdoor.

You probably have seen that throughout my trip in Africa I began to help a few artists, non profits, and organizations build and manage their own website. I currently call this service “Café Avra Productions”.  My goal was to assist those who could never afford to have their own website, or even take a class to learn how to make one, with creating and managing their own blog/website to use for whatever purposes necessary.  To view a few from my Africa trip please see: https://cafeavra.org/cafe-avra-productions/

When I first arrived back to New York, I was speaking to a good friend and talented colleague of mine, John Moreno. Originally from Colombia, currently based in Queens, John, who amongst many endeavors, is the Founder and Executive Director of the Latino Youth for Higher Education Program which, through workshops, tutoring, mentorship programs (etc) helps to promote college awareness and success to minority students in New York, especially those of Latino origin and new to the United States.

Please do check their website : http://www.lyheprogram.org/

I was telling John how I started to teach blogs/websites in Kenya/Uganda and how amazing it is when I see my students begin to update their websites themselves, get really creative with the appearances, and really take initiative in the process. Also, it seemed that the experience of creating the website was almost therapeutic for the student, especially when working with refugees. Keep in mind though I was working on a one-on-one basis, not in a classroom setting.

He asked me if I was interested in possibly doing an after school program at one of the schools he provides services to, The Pan American High School in Elmhurst, Queens. The student population is Latino high school students who mostly arrived in the country within the last year and do have a problem getting accustomed to the US education system, the English Language, and can have trouble with their social skills. Most are from Colombia, Dominican Republic and Ecuador.

I thought it would be quite the challenge and almost an experiment;  first to actually teach a class in a High School which I have never done before. And also, just arriving backing from Kenya, to see the differences between working with Latino Youth from quite poor countries versus those in Africa. How similar would their engagement be in this technical, creative process?

I ended up doing 7 after school sessions and had about 15-20 students throughout the course. Some dropped out, or couldn’t make it to every class due to other commitments, loss of interest, or even part-time jobs.


I now invite you to meet some of my students

Despite the language barrier, and a few technical difficulties in the beginning, the class went quite well.

I taught my students how to create an appearance for the blog, how to upload photos and videos, create pages, and most importantly create your own style.

I was very very impressed with their computer skills and creativity. Obviously some of the students were a bit faster than others, but all had email addresses’ already, quickly understood the concepts of posting, creating pages, and uploading photographs. Compared to a few of my students in Africa, and maybe due to the time already spent in the United States, all my students I could consider tech-saavy.

Some of their English skills are a bit weak, so it was a challenge to write longer posts in English, but I am glad to have pushed them and I was impressed how quick they got the wordpress.com system in English.

Last Thursday (January  13th, 2011) was our last class and we had four students compete in a competition on who had the best website based on the following criteria:




They were required to have a post on how their Christmas was this year, a page on their country, and a page titled “About Me”.

Additional posts and pages were encouraged!


As you can see from the photos above and below we had a successful evening, two winners, and just a lot of fun over the last 6 weeks.

I encourage you below, as I introduce you more personally to some of my students, to visit their websites and make comments!

First our two winners were:

Brian Tolentino, a junior from the Dominican Republic:


And Eric Riera, a freshman from Ecuador:


Both attended every class, were committed to their work, and I could see had a lot of fun and growth over the course. I must congratulate them again, and as a side note they won tickets to the cinema and I believe both have never been to the movies in the U.S. before!

Our two runner ups were:

Julio Lozano from Colombia:


And Franklin Carias from Honduras:



And lastly, here are a few more sites of students who came to class regularly, and have wonderful sites, but because of various reasons could not make the competition.

The lovely Sheina Toleninto, sister of Brian:


And below we have Cris Flores (Middle) and Diego(second from right).

Cristobal Flores from Ecuador:


Diego C. from Ecuador:



I do hope you appreciate some of their websites.

I have to thank my students for giving me the opportunity for working with them over the last 6 weeks, as it has been a true pleasure and as always, quite the learning experience.

I will miss coming to Queens every Wednesday and Thursday!

And I can not forget a special thanks to my two friends above, Sonia and John.

Sonia Sendoya, the coordinator of LYHEP, helped me on every aspect of this course throughout the past 6 weeks and I could not have done this with out her. Sonia is an amazing, energetic, caring person and has many exciting experiences ahead of her, both professionally and in other endeavors she might want to pursue!

Another thanks to John Moreno for trusting me to teach my first class in a NYC school and do something a little bit different this time around. Keep up everything that you are doing with the passion you already have. You are an inspiration for many to have great ideas and act on them!


I encourage all, who like me never truly had the opportunity to teach a class, to try it out one day if possible.

You will never stop to be amazed on what the students end up teaching you.

Please reach out to LYHEP , as they do have quite a variety of volunteer opportunities.  You can email them at info@lyhepprogram.org

Thank you again for continuing to follow Café Avra!

***THE END***

Reflections (Finale). Why I am thanking Gd this Holiday Season.

My Grandparents (2008)


First I want to wish all my Christian brothers and sisters Happy Christmas and truly enjoy this holiday in whichever way you find fulfilling!

As I began to write this post last Saturday evening,  but didn’t get to finish, I just got off the phone with my childhood best friend, Stacy Launer (now Stacy Klemas). She was out to dinner with her husband Scott, and told me she will call back me later, and I told her no problem I am at home and just wanted to let you know I just got off the phone with your mother in law (Robin Klemas) and we need to do lunch next week because she is off from work and I haven’t seen her. “Okay great, sounds good” Stacy says. I hung up the phone smiling.

I also just spent last  Shabbat with my grandparents. Which basically means Amy goes to buy a kosher chicken, noodle kugel, and babka(traditional Eastern European Jewish Cuisine) from Lakewood Shoprite and has my grandfather relive his childhood youth of saying Kiddush, while my  Grandmother (not kosher of course) gives me a hard time about all this ‘shabbat business’…”What are you holier than holy these days!? Then of course on Shabbat my brother calls from Seattle seeing what was cooking  (he must know what was for dinner). Then my mom calls 5 minutes later…what was cooking? Is Grandma being nice to Grandpa…?

What I am trying to say is that I wish we all had these family moments of joy, laughter, fighting, personality clashes and holidays together.

But the truth is too many of us all over the world might not have the opportunity to be with family members they love this holiday, due to many factors out of our control and for reasons I have shared with you through my blog posts this past year.

And this also goes for family members and close friends we all lost this year.

Although everyone tries to  be strong from the loss of close family and friends, or just being apart for the holidays, there is still something missing and its a hard few days to get through.


So, why I am thanking gd this holiday season?

After I got off this call with Stacy I realized what a blessing gd has given me at this moment to be with, and feel loved by, my close friends and family. And this is nothing I can, or should, take lightly.

I have shared many photos and stories of friends I met along the way in Kenya and Uganda. However, today I want to share with you my family and a few very close friends who are also my family.

I  also want to quickly mention that I say holiday season through a Jewish Lens.

Although Hanukkah has passed, and I do not technically religiously celebrate Christmas, my birthday falls this time of year.

This year happens to be quite interesting as my birthday is on the 30th of December and my Jewish Birthday this year, the 24th of Tevet,  falls on December 31st so I have the pleasure of a two-day birthday!

Jewish Birthday? Let me explain briefly…

First, the Jewish Calendar  is actually based on the lunar months (with different names then our modern calendar), so you might notice that our holidays fluctuate each year (and as do birthdays).

But why is it significant?

Judaism happens to approache time like a spiral or circle..not in a straight line.

Annually, on the anniversary of any momentous event, we have the ability to tap into the same spiritual energy that originally caused that event (hence the concept of Jewish holidays). taken from chabad.org

So each year on our  Jewish birthdays, we have the ability to tap into that special energy, and it is especially interesting to see what events in history happened on that specific day in the Jewish Calendar, or if very righteous people might have been born, or died, on that day-your birthday.  If you are interested and open, you can find some very deep connections here.

I urge all my Jewish Friends to sign on Chabad.org below to find out your Jewish Birthday.


And hey, who ever complained of two birthdays?


My Family

My mom, brother, and I last month @ a 15K run post-Thanksgiving. Nov 2010
My Dad and brother last May (2010) at a surprise party for my Dad's 55th Birthday
Me with Stacy and Kim (Nov 2010)--my two closest friends from my home town, Marlboro NJ. We have been through some wonderful times together, and of course more to come. Thank you both for being true, amazing friends over the years. Love you.
Stacy is my oldest friend. We have been partners in crime since 1996. She got married last April 2010 to Scott Klemas. Doesn't she look beautiful?
Rochelle was my college roommate for four years at Penn State University. It is too difficult describe (& sometimes want to remember) the times we went through together!:) She is now engaged and I am very excited to visit her next week in Philadelphia. (Photo Oct 2009)
Steve Schwartz (right) is like my second Dad. Him and my Dad (left) are soul brothers. We are not blood related to the Schwartz's, but I think we must have come from the same Jewish Tribe:).
Tracy Schwartz (left) is Steve's daughter and also like a sister to me. There are not many people in this world with such a true geniune kindness and warm heart. Susan Schwartz (right), Tracy's mom, passed away this past June and I think about her all time. I miss her very much, as does her family, and I know she is in a special place. I thank her for all the amazing energy, advice, and encouragement she gave to me throughout the years. Susan, we are missing you this holiday.
And just to touch on again…

My mom is very special. Each passing day I realize that she is a pure example of what is means to be a giving and compassionate person. And no one makes me laugh like my brother with his terrible, yet hyseterical jokes. He currently is doing wonderful at his job @ Boeing in Seattle and has many adventures lying ahead. Love you both very much.

Words cannot explain how blessed I am to have two grandparents I love dearly and always close to my side for the last 27 years. They are, and always will be, my best friends:) Thank you for everything.


Happy Holidays and Shabbat Shalom to all.

Through the difficult times,  we all have blessing and miracles occuring simultaneously and we should always be grateful for them.

With love,


Reflections (Part 2). “Stealing Cows”. Acoustics from the Kenyan Masai ft. a Spaniard.


The Magadi Trio ft. The Hoyos

First I want to wish a Happy Monday to all and wishes for a good week:)

To my friends in Kenya…please enjoy the sun for me. Last Friday here in New York it was -2 degrees. It is like walking into a big freezer!

So what is this video? The Magadi Trio ft. The Hoyos?

Reflections (Part 2) of my Kenyan journey is more a question for you, my reader.

Now you might have read my post back in October, “The Road Less Traveled” (https://cafeavra.org/2010/10/04/the-road-less-traveled/) in which I had the pleasure of a few off the beaten path adventures thanks to some lovely travel companions of mine.

You might have read how I visited the Masai, a Nilotic ethnic group  of semi-nomadic  people (currently around 900,000) located in Kenya and northern Tanzania.

The Masai’s entire way of life revolves around their herds of cattle.

Maasai mythology is that god gave them all the cattle on earth and stealing cattle from other tribes is just taking back what is theirs.

Both the Tanzania and Kenyan government have tried to separate the Maasai from their old customs to no effect.

After all, what harm is there taking back something that was theirs in the first place? 🙂

Please enjoy a song from our talented Masai friends on their still practiced tradition of “Stealing Cows”.

We even tallied their amounts. Patrick on the right stole 5, Joseph in the middle stole 12, and Maripay on the left stole 20!

Ah and let us not forget. Who is “The Hoyos” do you ask?

A mysterious Spaniard/guitar player who seems to also have indigenous talents. “The Hoyos” stumbled across these talented Masai a few years back when once driving on a road, past the famous Ngong Hills, to no-where. I think since I left Kenya he has actually brought these Masai to a recording studio for some fusion with blues music so we will have to stay tuned to hear these tracks!

So what is my question for you? Something I am pondering myself…

What genre would you classify “Stealing Cows” on i-tunes!?

Be creative here please…

Hope to hear your comments 🙂


World Aids Day 2010 tribute and focus on LGBTI human rights with Kenneth Cole, Liza Minnelli & Tyson Beckford


World Aids Day, December 1st 2010



World Aids Day 2010 theme:  “Universal Access and Human Rights”

*Speakers included  Kenneth Cole, Liza Minnelli, Tyson Beckford, Stockard Channing, Carson Kressely (of the U.S. TV Program “Queer Eye”), Joseph Deiss (Current President of the of the UN General Assembly), and Christine Quinn (New York City Council Speaker).

Attendees included advocates, students, the LGBTI community, press, (& Café Avra).


Before we get to more celebrity photos, and Tyson Beckford (in person he will hurt your eyes), I have a few things I want to share about World Aids Day 2010.

Every December 1st I always try to attend a vigil for World Aids Day and as someone who supports and tries to advocate for various human rights issues, this is the first year I can say that World Aids Day meant more than just showing support and compassion.

Bear with me here, as my story backs into this past Sunday evening.

First, on late night BBC news, I saw that the city of Delhi had its first Gay Pride Parade in history. Only in July last year did their High Court overturn a penal code that criminalized homosexuality. Exciting and hopeful news as you will see below.

On Sunday Nov 28th, Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga called for the arrest of all gay and lesbian people in Kenya.

“If found the homosexuals should be arrested and taken to relevant authorities,” Mr Odinga said.

If you can believe, he said that ” the recent census in Kenya showed there were more women than men and there was no need for same sex relationships.”

Now on Café Avra I haven’t truly shared this information, but over the last six months I spent in Nairobi, I got quite close to the LGBTI community. Most of my good, Kenyan (and Ugandan) friends in Nairobi were Lesbians, Bisexuals, Gay Men and Transgenders.

Why is this important? This is not a community of openly LGBTI individuals, but of unbelievably passionate, intelligent advocates and young leaders and who live in a variety of fear each day, whether of losing their job if their boss finds out their sexuality, being threatened by their families, getting arrested, and in many instances threat of rape and death.

In Kenya it is common that straight  men try will try to rape lesbian or bisexual women to ‘fix them’. (Yes, it happened to my close friend.)  In Uganda, in which I also met LGBTI individuals, I have heard of family members trying to kill their sons/daughters because of their shame to the family. (Yes, also happened to a friend.)

Many of them are members of a variety of advocacy organizations under GALCK, the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya.

I also just found out when reading about Mr. Odinga’s remarks that for the first time since 2006, GALCK was not invited by the National Aids Control Council to their  World Aids Day 2010. David Kuria, Head of GALCK, ” This is particularly ironical because this year’s theme “Access and Human Rights” resonated so uniquely with the plight of our community.”

I will be sharing some audio footage on Café Avra in the upcoming weeks, as I want you to hear some of their stories.

As we know the LGBTI global community is one of the worst hit of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and tragically continues to have some of the highest rates of infection.

So what about this community in Kenya and Uganda who are infected with HIV? I hear that in Uganda a gay individual with HIV is called a”double closeted” individual. Can you begin to imagine the fear a LGBTI and HIV infected individual must be living with in Uganda each day?

Again, the theme for World Aids Day 2010 is “Universal Access and Human Rights”.

For me, this World Aids Day 2010 is not only about remembering and honoring the lives of those who passed, but also accepting all communities and all people, ALL THE TIME. Whether they are straight (most infected straight people in Africa actually get the disease from their spouse), Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex or none of the above!

We should deny no one respect, no matter what a person wants to classify themself as.

Let’s not wait another year , until December 1st, 2011 when  we reiterate this discussion.

Let’s start yesterday on consciously accepting every individual on his or her merits and deeds and not on their sexuality.

And for those of us who preach this acceptance and compassion, let’s actually practice what we preach.



December 1, 2010.


“Light for Rights was inspired by Night without Light, a project organized by Visual AIDS in the early 1990s in which the skylines of New York and San Francisco were darkened, as a symbolic reflection for the lives lost due to HIV.

This year, over 100 cities around the world dimmed the lights on public landmarks to remember the devastating affect AIDS has had, and to turn the lights back on to illuminate the fundamental human rights shared by all but often denied people living with HIV.”

Please enjoy the photos below and some insight into what each speaker had to say.

Liza Minnelli & Tyson Beckford
Kenneth Cole and Carson Kressley
Stockard Channing (Grease Lighting anyone?)
Kenneth Cole, Liza Minnelli, and Joseph Deiss

Kenneth Cole: How can you not love Kenneth Cole? This was the first time I saw him in person and he looks like a really nice, humble, and honest man.  He led this event and you can see his true compassion on human rights issues. I hope to meet him properly one day.

Liza Minnelli: Looking good my friend! Wow, she is enchanting in person. She spoke about the need to reduce rates of infection and  her experience on how three decades ago HIV was a new and unheard of disease and some of her friends started to find out they had been infected.

Tyson Beckford: Even Carson Kressley said “Thank Gd for Tyson Beckford”. He is so beautiful in person that I will let him pass for his very short and scripted speech:)

Joseph Deiss, Speaker of the UN General Assembly, actually stressed the importance of respecting the LGBTI community in the “Universal Access” of HIV prevention and distribution of antiretroviral drugs. Thank you Jack. Please give Raila a call next time you are at the Nairobi HQ.

Christine Quinn, New York City Council Speaker, mentioned HIV is the 3rd largest killer in New York. Did you know that?


Happy Hanukah and Happy Holidays to all.

You know exactly what you need to give this holiday season!

Reflections (Part 1)


As I write this post from my favorite coffee shop in the East Village, New York,  I am thinking about how it is always the case that  a 6-month journey anywhere outside your home can feel like some type of dream:)

Before I start to post more  locally throughout my next 8 weeks in New York (before I leave for Israel on February 13th, (b’h), I must share with you all some photos and profiles of just a few of the wonderful souls I met on my journey throughout Kenya/Uganda over the last 6 months that I didn’t get a chance to share with you while in Kenya.

I write Reflections (Part 1) as I feel that this post will definitely have follow up as I go through all my photos and videos.

My body might be here in the East Village and slowly but surely resurfacing, but my head and heart is still with these lovely smiles below:)


First, I never got to share that I ran the Nairobi Half Marathon on Oct 31st with a good friend, Steve Olet, who I already miss! Steve was a co-worker of mine at HIAS, who taught me what it really means to be a strong person and persevere through each challenge life brings. I enjoyed the short training we did for the marathon together, and the other times we had to talk.

Keisha Adams, another co-worker of mine, walked the 10K and I  must give her credit as she just recovered from surgery on her foot. Keisha ran the Sexual and Gender based persecution program at HIAS (Kenya) and is a Women to Watch:) She continues to impress me with her passion for helping others, her knowledge of refugee and sexual/gender based violence issues, her unbelievable training abilities on these sensitive issues, and just because she is a tough chic:) Keisha, aka the office hero.

Will miss you both.


As you know from previous posts, Daniel was one of my best friends in Kenya and an extremely talented singer and performer.

What  a star! I look forward to hearing his new song, ‘In Africa’, which should be finished in the next few weeks… Here we are posing @ HIAS a few weeks ago.


Sara is one of the most beautiful,  hardworking, warm souls I have ever met. Sara worked in the house where I lived for two months, so we became very close. More important than the delicious food she made, she was a true friend and always there for me. She takes everyday in a positive way, laughs and smiles, and keeps a youthful energy. I know we will be friends for a long time.

Sara has two lovely children that I had the pleasure of meeting during my last week in Kenya in her village, Wangige. Meet Patience and Dennis below.  And of course she made me delicious food when I came to visit her:)

Sara, thanks for everything.

Sara looking beautiful:)
Dennis & Patience


Louisa, Helen, and Fareed were also my co-workers at HIAS, but they were more like my family in Kenya. Words can not explain my love for them, their spouses, and children. As much as day to day life can get boring and frustrating, just being together with these three brings joy and laughter. Thank you all so much for giving me strength and joy each day.

My girls:) Helen on left and Louisa on right
Louisa's daughter Natasha:)
Fareed and his beautiful wife Grace
Fareed & Grace's daughter Tandiwe. Isn't she sweet?
Tandiwe again...nice wink:)
Helen's Family:)


As Helen would say to me all the time, and I want to say back to everyone, thank you for your love.


Keep posted for part two!



Young Women’s Leadership in Kenya

Greetings all:) Sorry again for not posting in quite sometime.

It is my last week here in Kenya and I am getting quite emotional saying goodbye (temporarily of course!) to all the inspiring people I have met over the last six months.

As a follow-up to a recent post I wrote back in August on the empowerment of Kenyan women during the campaign for the new Constitution (https://cafeavra.wordpress.com/2010/08/03/warembo-ni-yes/), I want to share some photographs from two special events that I was lucky enough to be a part of two weeks ago.

Since the Yes vote for the new constitution on August 4th 2010, Kenyan women are feeling ready to tackle the new landscape ahead of them and some organizations have arranged Forums and Celebrations to make sure the momentum continues.

Both in Nairobi, The National Women’s Forum was held on 28th October 2010 at Ufungamano House and the Human Rights Festival was held on the 29th October 2010 at the Kenyatta International Conference Center.

In total both events had over 1000 women attend from all over Kenya.

These events were held by the Nairobi-based Young Women’s Leadership Institute (http://www.ywli.org/) .

YWLI is a feminist organization that nurtures the leadership of young women and opens space for their engagement in policy processes. YWLI was ” founded to create space for young women to express their views and visions on the women’s rights agenda”.

The National Women’s Forum was more of a workshop and speaker based event to strategize on a way forward in defending the gains in the new constitution for young women. Agenda included workshops such as “Understanding the Constitution” and “Political Parties and Alignment for Political Space for Young Women”.
The Human Rights Festival, on the other hand,  is a celebratory, annual event which was conceptualized as a response to the 2007/2008 post-election violence. This year the festival had a theme of “Kenya Freshi…Niko Set”, as a wake up call for youth to be vigilant on the implementation of the new constitution and make sure this ” New Kenya” becomes a reality.
The festival adopted 4U’s which are (in Swahili) Uwezo, Usawa, Udada, and Uadilifu.
Uwezo: Capability/Power
Usawa: Equity
Udada: Sisterhood
Uadilifu: Integrity
From my view, I will say the two events were quite the success, as the numbers and enthusiasm showed. Kenyan women are united, excited, and ready to be a voice for African Women on the continent. They are ready from all regions around the country to join political parties at large numbers and tackle the challenges ahead of them proactively rather than being a reactive force.
It is a pleasure to view the events live, and we do have video coverage. Cafe Avra Productions and Rachel Wamoto’s Black n’ Out Productions are currently editing…stay tuned.
For now, please enjoy the photos!

October 28th 2010, The National Women’s Forum

October 29th 2010, Human Rights Festival

And last but not least, Cafe Avra’s intern Faustina and my good friends, musicians Dan Dyson and Que were there!

Looking good my friends:) I will miss you.
And a quote for all my aspiring women leaders out there:
“The thing women have to learn is nobody gives you power. You just take it.” (Roseanne Barr)–Ha.Thanks Roseanne!

HIAS Young Leader Recognizes “Obama” – A Congolese Refugee Young Leader


Happy Friday!  Hope you all are well.

Before the weekend begins, I would like to share with you some excerpts from a blog post I wrote for HIAS.org this week, on my friend ‘Obama’.

You can read it on HIAS’s site (http://www.hias.org/en/post/26/hias-young-leader-recognizes-obama-congolese-) or below.

(As you might already know from reading my previous blog posts, I have come here to East Africa as a HIAS Young Leader, a volunteer program of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society that I’ve been active in for the last three years.

I hope you appreciate this Young Leader as much as I have.

Have a great weekend:)


Differentiating what leadership means for the youth in America compared to the youth in Africa is a clear topic of discussion.

Starting from at least high school in the U.S., most curriculums push leadership development in some capacity. And once a university student you are recommended to attend workshops, seminars, courses and retreats to try to gain these skills that you are told are a necessity for the modern day workplace. You actually need leadership experience on your résumé to get certain jobs and fellowships, and leadership trainings continue into the corporate workplace.

Being in East Africa for the last four and a half months, and getting to know a lot of young African professionals quite well, I have seen the pressure to be a “leader” is not the norm in both the university setting and professional workplace. Most educational institutions emphasize academic qualifications and job experience, rather than leadership and management training. Also, there are no clear incentives on becoming a strong leader, so leadership skills are given less of a priority and people tend to focus more on technical based professional growth.

In addition, leadership in East Africa can be looked at almost negatively, due to the high level of corruption and lack of credibility in the political sphere. There are also heavy ethnic undertones when it comes to taking a leadership position, especially in multi-cultural centers such as Nairobi. People want to survive from day to day, rather than engage themselves in a position where there are no guaranteed returns, even if they are the perfect candidates for the job.

When asking a few of my Kenyan colleagues about this topic, they told me it will be very gradual for this mentality to change, and that at this moment in time, leadership is still not a priority.

But there are exceptions, of course, to every cultural norm. For change to happen in any society, there always needs to be someone who is willing to shake up the ground.

In this post, I want to highlight a unique example of a strong, positive, young natural leader who has the innate ability and talent of empowering his peers to be Young Leaders.

Meet Kassim Hussein Rajab.

I have had the pleasure of getting to know Kassim over the last few months, where he has continually impressed me with his leadership qualities. He possesses a natural confidence and strong conviction for change that I do not see in many Young Leaders in the U.S.

Kassim Hussein is 22 and is a refugee from Eastern Congo. He was forced to flee and seek asylum in Kampala, Uganda with his younger brother, Salim (now 16), after the killing of his parents.

As you might or might not know, Eastern DR Congo is plagued by the deadliest conflict since World War II, in which more than 5 million people have already lost their lives.

To give a very short overview, which you can read more on your own time on the BBC’s website:

“DR Congo is extremely wealthy – and extremely big. Similar in size to Western Europe, it abounds with diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt and zinc. Unfortunately for the people of DR Congo, its resource wealth has rarely been harnessed for their benefit. Reports of mass rapes, killings and other atrocities committed by rebels and government troops continue.”

When Kassim came to Kampala as a refugee in February 2008, he immediately began looking for a job and, in June 2008, after being granted refugee status, he was offered a job as an interpreter at InterAid (a branch of UNHCR Uganda). The job at InterAid was only a three-month contract, so he then began in October 2008 as an interpreter at Refugee Law Project, which is a partner of HIAS in Uganda and how I met Kassim back in July.

Kassim is able to speak five languages – French, English, Swahili, Lingala and his mother tongue.

Though currently employed at Refugee Law Project, Kassim channels most of his income to provide school fees for his younger brother. Kassim opted to take him to a private boarding school to get a better education because when they reached Uganda his brother did not know any English. In addition, because Kassim’s schedule was quite busy after getting the job at InterAid/UNHCR, he used to get home late and find his brother alone, crying, and always asking Kassim if they would be able to see their parents again.

Recently (August 2010), Kassim enrolled in a Bachelors of Development Studies course at Kampala International University. However, not all is rosy. Most of his salary goes to his brother’s school fees. Kassim had to take advances from his job, to add onto the loans he got from friends to pay for his fees for the first semester (which ends this December 2010), and he still doesn’t know where next semester’s funding will come from. It commences in January 2011. Each semester costs roughly $900, which is quite a lot for a 22-year-old translator supporting his family, and his own daily needs.

Kassim is also known in the refugee community as ‘Obama’.

Symbolically, the similarities between Kassim and Obama are striking. Kassim is not looking for a short-term way to survive, but has put education as his long-term solution to his circumstance.

As I said earlier, he currently is enrolled in Kampala International University to pursue a Bachelors of Development Studies. Within the first week, he was elected as the class leader in his department. His duties are to make sure that the lecturers are available and on time, to represent students to the Dean, to report to the student affairs’ office, to arrange group discussions, etc.

From Kassim on how the origin of the name Obama came about:

“The first people to call me Obama were the InterAid/UNHCR staff.

l was the youngest staff member and l had spent only 4 months in Kampala/Uganda.

One day, in one of our meetings, our coordinator told me that l was speaking like Obama as I made some contribution on the day’s matter.

She told us that in the Senate, Obama was the youngest senator but when he was to speak all the senators older than him would keep quiet and listen to him carefully and then applaud at the end.

She compared me with the real Obama.

At that time many people did not know much about Obama because he was just a senator. So all the staff members started calling me Obama.

The name grew popular when l got 4 t-shirts with Obama’s photo in front. It was a verification of urban refugees; many refugees found it easier to call me Obama because they could just read the name on my t-shirt. The same circumstances happened when l started working with Refugee Law Project.

I like Obama because he leads by example. He is a good charismatic leader; he is intelligent and knows what he does. Obama has a very long prosperity story; most could not believe that he has a Kenyan father and African blood.

lf l get a chance of meeting Obama, l will simply ask him to help stop the violence which is happening in Congo DRC. The rape of women, children being forced to join rebel groups and the abuse of human rights in the eastern of Congo.”

Again, like Obama, Kassim hopes one day to go back to Congo and enroll in public office so he can change the country from the bottom up.
All this depends on him being able to finish his education and continue with his leadership efforts.

I asked Kassim to speak a bit more on why his education is so important and what his definition of leadership is.

“In my experience working at InterAid and Refugee Law Project has helped me to realize that as much as organizations claim to have designed programs that address the needs of refugees and claim to advocate for refugees, this is often not the case. I would like to have an education that would allow me to assist refugees in the projects that they design and to help them speak for themselves.

I believe that if I could study further, I would be in an excellent position to genuinely advocate for the needs of refugees and to share an informed opinion on what projects should be implemented to assist them.

When we talk about Leadership, we refer to governance of society. The leader must ensure that his leadership is based on good governance. It is also important that his people entrust the leader with power, or otherwise there will be usurpation.

Leadership must also be accountable. There is need to separate dictatorship from democratic leadership.


When I become the leader of my community, l will make sure that I advocate for the rights of refugees in Uganda, empower their initiatives and ideas, and help them get access to services such as basic needs (Food, Shelter, Education, Health Centers…), offices helping refugees, and jobs.

I understand that being a refugee in a different country is a big challenge, especially with a language barrier. To try to overcome that challenge, as a leader, l think Functional Adult Literacy can help refugees better communicate and express themselves in different offices, and help them interact with nationals like Ugandans.”

I think we should all applaud Kassim for his achievements and goals. Kassim is one of Africa’s true Young Leaders and we should all push him to keep empowering his community, as change only comes one step at a time.

Perhaps one day he can truly meet Obama in person. But in the time being, we should all try to get out Kassim’s story, and the story of the thousands of other struggling Congolese refugees.

Kassim would also love to hear from you, so if you would like to contact him you can email binhussein2010@yahoo.fr.

Café Avra Productions’ First Intern talks about the Commonplace of Polygamy in Kenya

Hi my name is Faustina Ning’a. I am 22 years old.

I am an Intern at Café Avra Productions. (Yeah I work for Amy!)

Both of my parents are Mozambican, but I was born and lived all my life in Kenya.

My parents came to Kenya as refugees in 1975 while fleeing the Civil War in Mozambique.

I’m currently a fourth year student at Daystar University studying Public Relations and Marketing.

Fortunately, I am almost through with my studies and waiting to graduate next year in June 2011.

Daystar is a Christian University here in Kenya that believes in upholding and impacting Christian values to students. For example, I’m currently taking a course called RET 321 (Christian and African traditional religion). This course focuses on comparing the African society and its practices to Christian Theology.

So far I am working on a group project that deals with understanding polygamy and its comparisons (or contrasts) to the teachings in the Bible.

I found out that polygamy in Kenya, or probably the whole of Africa, is not rare like in the western world.

Here almost 35% of married men are polygamous and proud.

Some practice it because it is in their culture, others out of pride, and others simply because they can afford keeping many wives.

Just recently, stories of single Kenyan women going to a Nigerian priest visiting Nairobi hit the headlines. They were on a mission to ask God to give them spouses.

And then, almost a week later, more stories hit the headlines that one of the well-known polygamous men in Kenya, Akuku Danger (story featured below) has just passed on leaving behind almost 300 children fatherless and 100 women widowed!

When Amy asked me what young Kenyans think about polygamy at this moment in time, most have no problem with what polygamy meant  in the past, as most  of us have polygamous relatives. And, looking at polygamy from a religious perspective, father Abraham  had Sarah and Hagar, Solomon was the King of polygamy and many others in the bible had followed suit.

However, when speaking about my personal life, and most of my classmates at Daystar University, none of them intend to be in a polygamous relationship.


Below I thought I would share an interesting story of a man called Akuku Danger, who recently passed on. He almost beat out King Solomon at a polygamous race!

This is one story that many will live to tell.

The Mighty King Solomon was just about to be out-done by Kenya’s Akuku Danger

The late Asentus Akuku ‘Danger’ poses with his youngest wife Christine Ajwang’ at his home in Ndhiwa in 2008


Akuku Danger was on a mission to have more; to use his charms to attract the beautiful Jaluo ladies..that was the first statement I heard about this man…

Asentus Ogwella Akuku or Akuku Danger is a man that has beat the African record  and was just about to hit the mark of King Solomon.. If not for his untimely death on Sunday (October 3, 2010). He died at 92.

His peers named him ‘Danger’ because of his magic with women and love for polygamy. Having many wives begun as a joke to him. By the time he was 22, Akuku was already a polygamist with 5 wives.

At 35, he married his 45th wife!

Arguably one of Kenya’s best known polygamists, Akuku is said to have married 130 times, divorced more than 80 of his wives and sired more than 200 children.

So large is Akuku’s family that when his wives and children would finally be asked to stand up during his burial, more than half of the mourners would probably rise on their feet.

Those who knew him agree that if ever there would be an award for a successful polygamist, he would get the gold; right after King Solomon had received his award…


Akuku with some of his family members


The grand master of polygamy married his first wife in 1939 and his last in 1997 when he was 79.

Akuku’s family now includes more than 200 grand children that live in Kanyamwa and Aora Chuodho areas in Ndhiwa district and Karungu in the neighbouring Nyatike district. (Northwest of Nairobi)

His sons and grand children are well-educated and work in the civil service and the private sector.

Akuku was later quoted as saying: “I lived a lavish lifestyle. I was always ready to spend money on women.”

He said that to keep a woman one had to respond to her immediate needs.

He also got rid of the stubborn wives; “I divorce women who misbehave,” he once said.

Just wondering why I came late; I would have been the 131st wife! 🙂


(Faustina will be interning with Café Avra Productions until mid-November and will continue to update us with her stories!)


The Road Less Traveled


Hello friends:) To my Jewish brothers and sisters, I hope you had a lovely and inspiring holiday season:)

Again I am sorry I have not posted in quite sometime. From the three-day Jewish holidays all month, and finally getting a chance to travel around Kenya to more remote areas, I haven’t been much online.

That being said, today I want to share a small photo gallery of my recent travels which includes spending time with the Masai in Magade, living in a remote Luo village without electricity or running water while celebrating Simcah Torah, and traveling to and through Kisumu (passing by Lake Victoria) to get to Kampala.


Lake Magade

Lake Magade is in Masai Territory near the Tanzanian Border.  To those who never heard of them, the Masai are a Nilotic ethnic group of semi-nomadic people located in Kenya and northern Tanzania. I spent a couple of days hanging around with some Masai that my friend already knew, who happen to be great acoustic musicians! Below they are performing one of their songs about stealing cows (an old tradition). I took video footage, as their style is hard to explain, so keep checking back to Café Avra for the music video. I named them the Magade Trio…(they guy on the far left is not a part of the band)

Where we stayed…deserted except for flamingos and hot springs.

Ondati. Luo Village Life.

The Luo’s are the third biggest tribe in Kenya, and is actually the tribe that Obama is from so they absolutely love him. This was my first time staying in a Kenyan village without electricity and running water while trying to celebrate Simcah Torah with my friend Jamie. We had a lovely host family take care of us, and it took a few days for me to get used to not being able to basically do everything I usually do….ie chose what I want to eat because it is available, or have a running water tap to wash my hands, or remembering there is no sink in the kitchen to put my dishes, etc.

We had Kenyan Sugar Cane Liquor for Kiddush (Oops! Sorry but Kosher Wine in Africa is hard to come by)…but we did have Matzah for Hamotzi, thanks to the two Chabad Rabbis who came to visit Nairobi for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. (Thanks Chanania and Zev!)

After finally explaining what this strange substance was that Jamie and I kept blessing, we gave the leftover  Matzah to Dan and Leonard below, who are eldest sons of the family we stayed with. They happen, quite fortuitously, to be Seventh-day Adventists (to those who don’t know they are a Christian denomination who observe Saturday as their Sabbath) so they were very excited to see what real Matzah looks like as they do a small Passover observance each year!  It was a pleasure to all share the same Sabbath day.

I also have to give Dan (right) a shout out below for being an amazing Kenyan cook.

Sugar Cane. Love that stuff:) It seems the kids do too…:)

Jamie, my travel companion who brought me to the village, laughs with the father of the house, Joshua. We were having a small disco post-Shabbat with my MacBookPro. Joshua was confused what it was:)

Bus Ride from Awendo to Kisumu

Awendo is the closest town to Ondati village, which took one hour by motorbike to get to.(Was a very fun ride and I unfortunately don’t have photos…)

From there we hopped on a bus 3-hours up to Kisumu.

Some of my new friends below…

Kisumu (Lake Victoria)

We reached Kisumu and decided to hang around the lake towards sunset, which was quite beautiful.

I envisioned the picture below to be the real marketing campaign for Kenya! The vehicle below, for those who have never been to East Africa, are called Matatus. They are basically vans, with about 12 packed in seats, and are the major mode of transportation used. They are intimidating at first as the drivers are crazy, usually music is blasting, and if you are lucky you get your change back if you give more than the fare is. Nevertheless, you learn to love them. One must come to East Africa to experience these ‘party buses’. Especially this nice and clean one coming out of Lake Victoria…

Okay, a scenic shot just for fun…

Kisumu Railroad

And last but not least, I was able to catch this shot right as the sun went down and I saw the train coming through. Looks more like a shot from the Wild West USA, right? These trains pretty much run like the ones from the movies…take it from experience as my one-way journey last month from Nairobi to Mombasa took about 30 hours instead of the intended 12.

-The End-