Friday, 26 October 2007

Gilgel Beles - settling in

Just realised I spelt part of my Ethiopian address incorrectly. It should

Mark Sidey
PO Box 47
Gilgel Beles
Metekel Zone

Also to let you know that it's difficult to pick up or send emails at
present - there is either no connection or it is very, very slow and
expensive in the Internet Café. I'll catch up when I can.

I have been made welcome by the Dean at the College and have plenty of "followers" on the way to and from my home to work. It will take time to adjust to the working practices and things are inclined to happen on a day-to-day basis. In Gilgel Beles, there is a very limited supply of even
basic requirements, including food - a definite lack of protein - but I can get toilet tissue!

Monday, 22 October 2007

Early Days in Gilgel Beles (Con't)

Friday 19 October

Having asked the Dean for the day to sort out my house, it began with
a spectacular storm. I started to prepare my water filter which
involved boiling water in my kettle, then pouring it into my big
boiling pot and heating on the electric hob I was given by VSO. I had
to boil the "candles" which filter the water to sterilise them for
30mins. Then after that I had to install the tap (with was lubricated with
oil - nice!) and the candles. During installation, one snapped off
which was not good as it left a hole the water could pour through
without being filtered! I managed to block the hole with insulation
tape and hope a) it holds and b) it doesn't contaminate the water.

Next I had to boil water for five mins then wait for it to cool before
putting in the top of the filter. Then it takes a couple of hours to
filter through. Anyway, now I have boiled and filtered water to use.
During this time I was sorting other things in my room (which has a
bed, a desk, two chairs, a wardrobe with no shelves or hangers) and a
bedside cupboard but no curtains - out came the paper again!

I was exhausted and slept for a bit before heading to town for lunch.
I met the Dean on the way and he walked with me up the road to the
college (about 5-10mins from my house).

One of the first houses I came to in the village had a tiny window
with a few things for sale. I bought a pack of biscuits and was
invited in to the house for coffee. There were two young
children, a six year old, and two ten year olds who knew a few
English words (like body parts and animals) and the mum. We talked,
although I was way out of my league with Amharic. We learnt colours
and animals from each other and I was offered some spicy green stuff
on injera as well as the coffee. They showed me a tattered brown book
with some Amharic script and English words when I showed them my
Amharic phrase book. They were very kind, and it was just like talking
with French children, sharing language etc.

Next I went to one of the shops and bought a large bowl for washing
and a smaller one with a jug for washing myself + some cooking oil.
After that, to the hotel I have been to for the last few nights and
had a nice spaghetti + veg and meat sauce + Pespi (all for 10 birr -
about 50p)

Back at the house I tried to do some hand washing. A lot of dirt came
out, but my white shirt (that I used for days in the dusty conditions
of Addis) still looks brownish!!! (I'll have to look into hiring a
seretina - housekeeper.) I hung it out to dry, but with the humidity, it
will take ages I think.

The temp has been mid-20s in the house and the humidity dropped from
90% after the rain to 75% in the afternoon.

In the evening I made myself a cup of coffee using coffee grains -
it's ok without a cafetiere if you let the insoluble grinds sink to the
bottom. I also had one of my back-up instant noodles. As there wasn't
any light except in my kitchen and room, I have been using my
head-torch which is very useful.


I used my umbrella I bought in Addis for the first time today to
protect me from the sun. I don't seem to have had any solar
sensitivity that occurs in some people taking my anti-malarial

There are some very colourful birds with bright red heads that eat the
grass plants outside my room. There was a large lizard (about 30cm
long with tail) in the house around lunch and it was able to climb up
the wall and hide behind a cupboard. The ants have found my rubbish
bag in the toilet. I watched six ants carrying a large piece of biscuit I had dropped in the kitchen - I shall have to be careful as I currently have no brush or other cleaning materials! There are some birds building mud-nests inside the open bit of the house on the wall.

The location of my house is:

11d09.646'N 36d20.164'E at an altitude of 1010m

There are lots of quirks in the house. The toilet flushes (when it's
the timetable for water) but it doesn't stop and you have to turn off
the main valve on the wall. There is a weird powder that keeps
dropping on my stuff in my room. It maybe powdered wood, but I'm not sure why it's happening - termites maybe? My wardrobe door keeps opening. I tried to stick it with Duck tape, but in the middle of the night it sprang open waking me up. I have now wedged some cardboard under the front to tilt it slightly to keep it shut.

I now have a clean filtered water supply in bottles with their labels
on, and stored water in unlabelled bottles. When I am doing my teeth
for instance, I used filtered to wash my mouth out and clean the head
of the brush, but unfiltered to clean the handle and my hands.

The routine I will have to adopt is to boil water in morning, let it
cool (which takes ages) then put it in the filter. In all from filling
the pan to filtering all the water probably takes about 4 hours and
the water isn't really cool (room temp) until much later in the day.

Last night I had to wash using a bowl of water and jug - like the old
days in the UK maybe? All the taps rotate without opening any valves!

My breakfasts for the last few days have been biscuits.

None of the admin staff speak English; the academic staff speak some
English at varying levels. I seriously need to learn Amharic!

I will have to burn my rubbish (including toilet rubbish) soon.

I might have to wait until I go to Chagne to read emails and send more in the hope that connections are better there.

Early Days in Gilgel Beles

Wednesday 17 October

Set off from Bahar Dar at 0740. At first we had a smooth tarmac road and we got to Kosober at 0905. I took loads of pictures. The light was great. There were so many people walking along the road with sticks, goods, cattle etc (including young children.) The highest point we got to was 2600m. I talked a little with the driver using my Amaharic dictionary. After Kosober the road was not tarmaced and in many places would be impassable in a normal car. At 1020 we got to Chagne which looked like a shanty town – no paved road, corrugated iron shops. This started to give me a bit of foreboding if this was the big town I would use for supplies! I suggested stopping for a drink and I had tea and the driver and someone else in the car had injera. I asked about the toilets, was directed to a sign in Amharic and found what looked like a cattle shed. In here, with no lights, was basically a hole. (I hope it wasn't a well, because I used it!!)

We continued on to Gilgel Beles and dropped more altitude including some very steep twists and turns. We finally got there around 1110. First impression was of a town from a western movie: dusty roads, a few corrugated iron shops, cattle in the street. We went to a member of staff's house to drop off a freezer, then to the college where I met a number of people including the Dean Negussie, who told me he was leaving the next day and introduced me to the new Dean. I had a tour around and met Workneh who I would be working with. Then we were driven to the Dean's house where I had an injera lunch. We walked back to the college – the temperature was high and humid. My stomach was feeling a bit dodgy so I had a walk around the college, then back to the house where I got my bag. Afterward I went back to the college where after a while I was taken to a local hotel to spend the night (for 40 birr with a shower and toilet). They left and I walked out and found a shop and bought a few things including water which I was drastically low on. Then I got a Pepsi from the shop connected to the motel I was in and talked to a boy running it for quite a while. Back in my room I rested and nearly slept. It was 29C in the room and 61% humidity.

Later someone came to show me around the village. Some Gumuz children were pretending to ride motorbikes using sticks as handlebars and singing a song – very tunefully. Cattle followed us down the road. It was very dusty when trucks went by. Then we went to another hotel to eat. I had spaghetti and a spicy meat and some veg. I talked about the language to the guy and eventually at 1940 in the dark, got back to my room. Had a cold shower, sorted photos etc.

Thursday 18 October

In to "work" at 0800. I looked around the library – there are a relatively small number of text books on a variety of subjects. I was basically wandering around, then Workneh took me to the village. We ate a sort of triangular pasty with lentils and had a coffee. We went to the post office (which is just a room in a building) and the medical centre. He dropped me off at the Internet "Tele-center" where I tried to send an email but it failed to connect, sometimes because of inability to get a line and sometimes it just failed to log on.

I had lunch with the Dean again, then at 1400 I met up with the head of the English Language Improvement program who asked for some advice, but I didn't have much to offer as this is not my area.

I went back to the village. There are major excavation taking place on one of the roads on the way to the post office and I had to find my way down a little track.

I managed to purchase a PO Box for 28 birr.

My address in Ethiopia is:

Mark Sidey
PO Box 47
Gilgel Beles
Metekel Zone

and I'd love to receive letters.

After the third attempt I managed to get an email connection for about 10 minutes before it dropped. It is quite expensive (relatively) – 50c per minute so an hour would be 30 birr or almost ¾ of my daily salary!

In the afternoon I was taken to my new home. It must've been left quite a while ago as there was mess all over the bare floors and walls. It was dusty, the toilet smelt and the shower and basin taps don't work. I really wondered what I was doing at this point.

It has two bedrooms, one of which I am using; a store room which I am using as a kitchen; a bathroom (shared); a living room which another will use and a kitchen which they will use. All the rooms are connected via an open central area with a water tap and large washing sink and a garden with flowers in. My house is called "Block 18" and is at the end of a row with three others. There are also three more opposite.

Later in the afternoon we managed to borrow a brush and some labour and my room and the room next to it, which will be my kitchen, were washed. We put up my mosquito net.

There is a timetable for water. It is only on for a couple of hours in the morning and evening – I need a storage container!

I started to sort my things out and then the Dean and friend came to take me to dinner. I didn't realise they were just doing it for me – they didn't eat! I had injera with bits of meat. Then we had a coffee – I had to ask for it yellum sookor (without sugar) as they all seem to put it in without asking.

On the way back it was almost pitch black in the town. We needed a torch. For the first time in my life I saw fireflies flashing their bioluminescence tails – very impressive.

Back at "home" I started cleaning a bit with the only thing I had available – some dettox wipes my mother had thought to pack. It was only a preliminary clean, but I unpacked my frying pan, saucepan, pot etc. There was only one light working (in my bedroom) but luckily I had some bulbs and with a bit of tweeking of the wires on one, managed to get my "kitchen" light going. The rest of the house including the toilet are dark. There was a toad in the open central area, also some spiders in the walls (about 4cm across so not too bad!)

A family is supposed to be moving in with me at some point, I don't know when.

I couldn't shower so had a quick wash and slept on top of my bed (it was about 28C).

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Half-way there - Bahar Dar

I am on my way at last and have arrived at Bahar Dar. I flew over some amazing scenery and took lots of photos. The landscape was very green with many agricultural "plots" as it is the rainy season but have been told in June it's completely different and very brown. My luggage arrived 45 mins after me on a separate plane.

I am staying in a posh hotel at 270 Birr per night (a week's wages for me or £15 in English money). The altitude is 1800 metres. I will be driven to Gilgel Beles tomorrow - about a four hour drive by a driver with little English: should be interesting!

I walked out and saw Lake Tana this evening. I got lots of looks, giggles and "Hello Misters" but no real hassle. I actually found it quite amusing. There are flies and mossies around and now I will be very aware that they may be carrying malaria. I have a mosquito net over my bed. There has been a big thunderstorm.

This was dictated over the 'phone and I may not be able to do another entry for a while as I don't know what internet facilities there will be in Gilgel Beles. I'll catch up when I can. Watch this space!
Thanks for all the emails and 'phone calls so far.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Pictues during time in Addis

My upstairs room at uni, Is it a bird!
What is this?

Addis University

Fire celebrations! Sunset over Addis
Coffee morning

The lecture hall at uni, A local church
Another to identify?

Bahar Dar... the continuing story

Having stayed at a local hotel last night, with a couple of
cockroaches scuttling around the bathroom, a non-flushing toilet and a
shower whose plug sparked when I plugged it in as there must've been
loose wires, I waited at the VSO office all morning and was taken to
the airport at 12:00. I had about 70kg of excess baggage which
totalled 350 birr (about £20) which I guess is pretty good! The VSO box was
the heaviest with two blankets, my kerosene stove, voltage stabiliser,
electric hotplate etc.

After waiting until 14:10ish (the boarding time on the ticket was
12:35) we were given a free lunch on the house (or airport) which was
actually quite good. Then at around 15:00 we were told the flight had
been cancelled (due to not enough planes!).

So I'm now back at the VSO office having checked back in to the hotel!!!

The worse thing is the driver from Gilgel Beles TTC has been waiting
at the airport since about 11:00 and doesn't have a mobile phone. I
think someone has managed to contact him though, and he will stay in a
hotel in Bahir Dar for the night.

I hope my flight goes tomorrow!

(If you don't get another blog entry for a couple of weeks, then my
flight went!!!!)

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Latest on Gilgel Beles and Addis Shopping 2

On Monday all of our partners from colleges and universities all over Ethiopia came to the university here to meet us and have some joint training. The volunteers all dressed up smartly (shirts and ties) to show respect. It was funny seeing everyone like this after being in T-shirts and unshaven etc for two weeks.

The Dean of Gilgel Beles Teacher Training College looks very young, and was accompanied by my line-manager who is one of the Vice Deans. They both seemed friendly and easy-going and told me about the person who would be my counterpart – a young graduate who will take over the cluster management after I leave (sustainability in action!). Apparently he speaks very good
English, which is good. The Vice Dean told me about the schools in the cluster. There are ten main ones scattered about 20km in both directionsfrom the college along the main road. I asked about a map, but there isn't one and the Dean asked if I could make one. I should be able to make a simple one using my GPS Receiver which I have with me.

The main problem was there had been no accommodation arranged for me. The Dean suggested I stay in a hotel in the town, but staying in a hotel in a small town, possibly sharing facilities with all the other guests for two years is not my idea of fun. Eventually he agreed that I might be able to share a house on the college campus with an Ethiopian academic - if one volunteers to share with me!!! I am also still uncertain as to how I will be getting to Gilgel Beles. At first I was going to be driven over two days, but I think now I will be flying to Bahir Dar (near the huge lake in the North) and then being picked up by a GBTTC driver and driven the 4-5 hours
to the college.

At 6 o'clock there was a cultural evening. There was an Ethiopian band playing music and Ethiopian dancing which lots of us joined in. Some of the volunteers including me sang "Lean on Me" to our Ethiopian partners. A couple of people were on guitar and I played my whistle in the chorus.

Yesterday I manage to hitch a lift with a VSO vehicle to Addis with another volunteer to continue shopping. At first we went to a market, bartering for things like saucepans, a belt, an umbrella etc. Then we got a line taxi to another area and hit all the supermarkets. I got an electric kettle for 170 birr and a few snacks to take with me – I don't know what I will be able to
get when I am in GB. After walking all day, not having lunch, we arrived back at the VSO Office at 1600 to find a vehicle had left 15 minutes earlier. In the end we had to wait until 2100 before we could get back. In the meantime, we went to a local restaurant and had ferengi food (ferengi = foreigner) which in this case was my first burger and chips since the UK! It was luxury not having injera and wat (the lentil or meat-based stews) for once.

As well as modern features in Addis, including an amazing huge circular bank with two layers (the top layer being open so you can see the one below) there are huge holes you have to watch out for in the pavements (1m or deeper!) some containing open sewers. Also there are no public toilets so there are areas where people just pee up against the wall (the same as some places in the UK!) Also the pollution from the cars is bad – you come home very dirty.

I now have my Ethiopian mobile phone and SIM card and people from the UK have been calling me. This is only a short-lived luxury as there is no coverage in GB or even the town 40km away!

Line Taxis, Food and Begging

On Thursday I had a phonecall from my school. It was great to hear
from them. Some children asked questions, the first one being "What
are the differences between Ethiopia and England" - a nice easy one to
start with! Apparently the conversion was on a speaker phone. It was recorded,
then played to all the children in the different classes which was
brilliant. Hopefully I will be able to do another "live link" when I
come back to Addis for training in November.

Saturday 13th, October: I have been in Addis today, using the line
taxis to get to different places. They are minibuses and you listen to
where they are going (usually a man or boy shouts where they are going
and drums up business.) Then you get on and on the way they drop off
and pick up other people. It costs no more than two birr (10p) to get
anywhere in the city and often a lot less for shorter journeys.

You really have to get used to driving in Addis. Cars, trucks and vans
come at you from all over the place. I'm surprised there are not more
accidents. Most junctions do not have traffic lights and it's
basically a free-for-all and everyone just pushes in.

First, I went to Piazza which has some electrical shops. Whilst there
a young man attached himself to me and said he wanted to practise his
English. Then he got onto needing to improve his English and how books
and a laptop would help. I made it clear I had no money to give him
and couldn't help him with sponsorship, but he followed me onto a line
taxi and eventually gave me his email address then got off. It's very
hard not to be sceptical and assume people are trying to scam you or
ask for money. He could well have just been trying to get on in life
and improve his English.

I visited some supermarkets and got a chocolate bar. Then I remembered
it is rude to eat while walking on the street so put it in my pocket.
Unfortunately it was showing and within seconds two children were
pointing and asking for it. I broke off a bit and gave it to a girl.
So far I have adopted a "no begging" policy - if you had to decide
each time whether the cause was worthy or not you would go mad with
guilt. Also, although this is a horrible comparision, just like
throwing food to a pigeon and loads more fly in, if you give to begger
one, you will be immediately a target for others. It's not really
very bad here. Most beggars are sitting and just hold out a hand,
those that do follow you only need one "no" and they go.

I stocked up on a few supplies. I'm starting to think birr prices, but
it's hard not to convert to English. I had a coffee followed by a coke
in a roof-top cafe with table service and it cost 7 birr (35p.)

Tonight I will pack, and tomorrow I will go to a hotel near the VSO
Office in Addis. Then on Monday I will fly to Bahir Dah (by the giant
lake) and if all goes to plan, Gilgel Beles college will send a car to
pick me up and drive the 5 hour journey to the college. When the Dean
and Vice Dean visited on Monday, they showed me their driver. He
studied me intently, and afterwards the Dean said the driver was
looking at me carefully as he finds it difficult to tell Chinese
people appart!!!!

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Bar Quiz and Shopping Day

Yesterday, we had more language (we're learning verbs and stuff and
how to conjugate them!) Before lunch we had a break and a few of us
walked up the nearby hill (like we did the other night). The view was
really good – lots of green. There were also lots of large cacti. On
the way back we went past a village where all the houses were
"home-made" from mud bricks and corrugated iron. It's funny here:
there are areas that are really poor with shack houses, then only a
few hundred metres away, posh skyscraper buildings.

In the evening, a couple of the volunteers had organized a "pub quiz"
and we answered questions on a variety of subjects. Our team which
included a Finn and a Kenyan, came second out of nine which wasn't
bad. It was really funny being in the middle of Africa doing a pub

This morning we were shown what VSO will be giving us to take to our
placement. We will have a mosquito net, a single electric hot plate
and a very dodgy un-safe-looking kerosene stove. We have to put the
flammable liquid, kerosene (like petrol) in and it has about six
string wicks which you light with a match. When you blow it out at the
end, you have to put it outside or it will stink the house out. The
reason I will need this is because sometimes I will not have
electricity. Also Kerosene is cheaper than electricity for cooking.

The "highlight" of the day was going to Addis to shop for things we
need in our placements. Some people will have lots of things they need
already in place, as they are taking over from other volunteers. I
will be going into a house with nothing but the basic furniture and
have to buy everything. I was led round by a volunteer who first took
me to the "Hilton" Hotel. It was really weird, even after only being
here for just over a week, to go into an air-conditioned, luxury
hotel. I had to go through a metal detector and my bag went through an
X-ray machine – personal first for a hotel! There I had one of my
dollar travellers cheques changed into Birr cash (they're the only bank
open on a Saturday in Addis) and I used the posh loos – the first time
I have been able to dry my hands in a public loo since I got here
(mostly at the uni you shake and drip dry!)

Next we hit the supermarkets and shops (again, it was weird to have a
cash-till and aisles of food and products. If I'm like this after a
couple of days, I wonder what I will be like after staying in Gilgel
Beles for a few months.) I managed to get a knife and fork, mug,
plate, big cooking pot and frying pan, bedside light, sheets for my
bed etc. I will also be getting a stabilizer (for the electricity – it
is a big box that makes sure the electricity stays at 240 volts. The
mains can vary a lot from 160V to 280V and the stabilizer makes sure
my laptop doesn't blow up by keeping it constant!)

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Hill climb and scavenger hunt

We've been having more sessions on the culture and history of Ethiopia and more language lessons which are very hard. I can count to thousands, say "please", "thank you", ask how much stuff is, complain it's expensive and ask them to lower the price and I know some important words like "coffee", "bananas" and most importantly "soft" which means toilet paper. Sorry to mention toilet paper again, but it's quite important!

Yesterday after the training sessions a group of us climbed a hill
near the university campus where we are staying. There is an open quarry which we go past on the way – which may show up on the satellite image to the East. I'm not sure what they're digging up though.

Today we had a scavenger hunt. We were dropped at the VSO office, then had to go into the city using a "line taxi". These are minibuses which pull up and someone shouts the destination. If it is where you want to go, you get on and your fare is collected on the way. (It's 2 birr maximum which is about 10p). We had to buy bananas, get a newspaper, something with the Ethiopian millennium on it etc. Our group was the last one back as we had to travel the furthest and it was hard finding a line-taxi that would take all four of our group. It was quite fun, but you have to be relaxed about it all and one of our group was
getting a bit stressed.

There wasn't too much hastle. There were a couple of people asking for money at the roadside and some followed us, but we just walked on and they left us alone.

It's funny getting used to Birr. You can't really convert to pounds because it doesn't make sense when you're living here rather than being a tourist. In one sense, compared to pounds a Birr is worth about 5p, but compared to the salary I will be getting, it's sort of like 50p to £1. I will have a better comparison later.

I took a lot of photos on the journey today, mainly because before
when we went into the city I was focusing on what was different, but there is loads about Addis that is the same and I took pictures of similar things today. There are new blocks of flats, petrol stations etc

I've started taking my anti-malarials, second one tonight. I don't know if I'll have any side effects.

That's it for now.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Mars Bars and Coke

The last couple of days I have had meetings and a talk from a medical advisor at the British Embassy in Addis. Also, I have been continuing to learn Amharic.

I have found out more about Gilgel Beles. First, I think it is the most remote VSO placement in Ethiopia at this time. I am down in the "isolated volunteer" category. There is a small medical centre there, a post office (very unreliable apparently especially for incoming mail so if you send me a letter or something when I have an address, you'd better photocopy it and send it a couple of times), a couple of hotels, a church, a mosque and there is even a prison marked on the rough map made by the last (and only) previous volunteer a year ago.

I have also found out more about the school system.

Children start school at age 7 in Grade 1. Grades 1-4 are called the "First Cycle" and Grades 5-8, the "Second Cycle" Children leave Primary School after Grade 8 when they are 15. Then they go to General Secondary School for two years (Grade 9 and 10) and at age 17 they take a national exam. If they pass they go to Prep school for two years (Grades 11&12) which prepares them for university. If they get low marks they go to Teacher Training College for three years to get a teaching diploma. Teachers are paid about 400 birr per month (£25) and many only do the job for the little money it offers, although once in post many do what they can to help educate the children in their class.

The location of the VSO office is: 09 01.042'N 38 47.220'E.

This afternoon I bought a Mars bar from a shop near the VSO Office at 6 birr (it is a luxury item and the price cannot be haggled down.) I also got a bottle of Coke at a nearby stand for 2 birr 50. I was doing ok until the shopkeeper kicked up a fuss about me leaving with the Coke and wanted 5 birr more and I though it was some kind of scam. I soon found out it was a
deposit for the bottle that he wanted. The glass bottle is worth more than the contents and he didn't want the bottle going anywhere. I walked around eating my Mars (I haven't missed them and it wasn't really worth it.) I got my money back when I handed back the bottle, so all was well!

In the UK a bottle of Coke is about two times the price of a Mars, here it's the other way round. I guess it would be a bit like a mars bar costing around £1.50

[PT I dare you to read this bit out in assembly!!]
Something a bit dodgy we found out today. The sewer system here (as in some areas of Europe apparently) is not designed for anything but body waste. I mean anything. We were told that we have to put all used toilet paper in a bin next to the toilet. Our bin was an open wicker one… Luckily, and miraculously, when I got back to my room after lunch, I found a plastic peddle bin with a lid in place. Still, I hate to think what it'll be like in the bathroom in the morning!

On the drive home today, the children were walking home from school and looked really smart in their uniforms. They have different coloured ones for different schools like we have at home. Some areas have well cared for flower beds and in the centre of a roundabout near the airport, there are letters made of grass. There is also lots of building work going on with quite a few areas with new, big blocks of flats.

Anyway, dinner calls, as do the gym showers (or trickles) which have hot water.