Friday, 30 November 2007

Workshop in Addis

Saturday, 24 November 2007

I was going to go to Bahar Dar by bus, leaving Gilgel Beles at 0600. At the last minute, Friday afternoon, a couple of academics at the college said they were going to Addis, and the college car would take me to Kosober (Injibara) in the morning. I asked what time, and I eventually managed to get that it would be sometime between 0900 and 1000. Where, I asked, shall I come to the front of the college? Well if you're not there, we will come to your house. I confirmed all this a number of times with a couple of people. Sost se-at (or 03.00 Ethiopian Time or 0900).
So, this morning at 1:30 ET (07:30) the car arrived, me in my pyjamas having breakfast. Great! Anyway I rushed everything, including emptying all thewater, checking I hadn't left any food to go rotten or attract ants while I was away and was ready by about 0800ish when we left. At first it was a real squash, four people like kippers in the back seat. Gradually they got out at different places and from Chagni to Kosober (or Injibara – the old name before the government gave it a new name or something - I had reasonable room in the back. Good views again of the country, but in places the road was terrible - you get bounced out of your seat!!!

Anyway, arrived at Kosober at 10.10, and got straight into a Minibus bound for Bahar Dar for only 18 birr. There were two people who spoke reasonable English who I chatted to. After waiting to fill up the bus (they wait until they are full, then go) I left at 10.40 and had a reasonably fast and interesting journey on the asphalt road to Bahar Dar. The most interesting(and RSPCA moment) was when about 30 chickens tied by the feet in bundles were loaded onto the roof – still alive! I got to Bahar Dar at 12.35 and wheeled my suitcase the 500m or so to the hotel. I impressed myself by identifying it by the Amharic sign and checked in. It was 125 birr a night and had a shower (which was cold) and flushing toilet!!!! I had Satellite TV (I watched BBC World) and they even provided towels and soft (toilet paper)!!! Luxury. I could even see Lake Tana from my window and there was a terrace overlooking the lake where you can get drinks or eat!

After doing a quick sort, I went back to town where I had seen a photo lab to get some prints of the training I had done in the primary school – I said I would give them copies. On the way I bumped into a VSO Volunteer who had been in Addis with me 6 weeks ago. We talked a bit then agreed to meet up for a late lunch. I continued to the photo lab and found they printed them as I waited. It took about 5 minutes and they were really good quality!!

Then I met the volunteer again and we ate on a second floor, outside terrace restaurant. I had a gently spicy fish dish (one of the only places you can get fish - being near the lake) and rice. It was very nice. I was talking a lot, very fast, as, other than telephone calls from home, I hadn't had the chance to do that for about 6 weeks!

Next I walked around the town getting a few bits. Went through the large market, managed to find some bars of chocolate in one shop, picked up several trailing young Ethiopians - you wonder how long it will be until they ask for money. I stopped in a café and talked to some Ethiopian teachers and had a coffee, then down to the lake front and had a Pepsi while watching pelicans. Next, I walked past the hotel to a riverside path which I walked round and took some photos. Very pleasant. Back in the hotel I met two French people and practised my language – my French was better than their English. Down at the terrace I overheard some more French speakers – they were actually Belgian and I sat and talked to them for a while. Their English was better than my French (so we stuck to English). I keep thinking numbers and other words in Amharic now – even when talking French. Finally, I went back to my room to watch a bit of TV and eat the food I had managed to get including muz (bananas) some bread and a sambusa (semosa-type thing).

Sunday, 25th November, 2007

I got packed and ready for a 07.00 departure by the free shuttle to the airport. The other VSO volunteer had asked if he could go with me for free (he is staying in another hotel) and was told OK last night as he had eaten at my hotel and taken a couple of tours. This morning they asked for 20 birr! He was really bitter as he had spent the last few days doing touristy things and had been ripped off a number of times. Tourist places really attract the kind of Ethiopian out to make as much money as possible, usually by quoting one price and later it becomes more (lying basically.) Anyway, at the airport we had a coffee and during this, I was summoned to the security area as they wanted me to open my case. It was the batteries! The flight was reasonably on time. I noticed how everything wasn't as green as it had been six weeks ago. In Addis, we managed to talk a taxi down from about 80 birr to the expected 40 birr. At the end of the ride, he tried it on and asked for 50, but we got away with 40. We were at the hotel before checkout time of 12.00 so the rooms weren't ready. Also there was an overbooking problem and at one point it looked like I might be sharing a room. I met up with lots of volunteers and we walked up to two older volunteers' house. We sort of regard them as our Ethiopian Mum and Dad. "Dad" was the one who sent me the rescue box of food a couple of weeks ago. We walked to their house and had nice crusty tuna and egg rolls. Some of us went shopping after, then we met up with more volunteers who had been at "In country training." I became very whingey and moany as I hadn't had anyone to gripe to for 6 weeks! One thing that's really good in Addis, (and Ethiopia) at the moment, is that there is not a sign that Christmas is on the way. I'm going to escape all the advertising and shameless financial exploitation in the UK this year!!!
We ate with a group – I had a burger, then back to the hotel where I had a treat, a shower! It was my first hot shower for 6 weeks. Not only that, but also it was powerful. After washing, I just stood under it, luxuriating for a few minutes. The temperature was great in Addis. Sunny, in the low to mid twenties and at night, nice and cool in the room (about 20).

Monday, 26th November 2007

Biscuits for breakfast, then the 10min walk to the VSO office. I got my official government residents permit. This is good as it enables meto get cheaper prices in hotels and on flights. We were taken to the country director's house (which is big) for the training sessions. It was OK and we learnt some new things, but I had flashbacks to "Harborne Hall" and some of it was a little tiring. Still, it was good to meet up with everyone. We were taken back to VSO around 17.00, and I walked the couple of kilometres to a supermarket near Meskel Square. Someone tried the old "do you remember me from this morning, I've changed my clothes?" scam on me, but I got rid of him when I told him I'd been here for two months. I got a few things inc. sweets and biscuits, then walked all the way back via another supermarket. It was quite late and dark when I got back to the hotel. It's quite a long walk. Some others were just finishing their dinner in the hotel. I had another burger, before having another shower!!!

Tuesday, 27th November 2007

More training, same routine as yesterday. We got back a little later, and I got a few more bits from a supermarket near the hotel, impressing them with my Amharic (mainly as it was numbers and food nouns!) Then a group of us at the hotel decided to go to a pizza restaurant above one of the supermarkets (Get Fam.) It was a pretty decent pizza, and I had an amazing fruit drink with three layers of different puréed juices. I followed this with a tiramisu for pud, then a coffee. All this for about 50 birr! My last decent ferengi meal for a while!

Wednesday, 28th November 2007

I had the morning to do more shopping. First I got a line taxi to Meskel Square and walked up to the Hilton to get some more money. My Visa card didn't work, and one of the banks refused to cash a traveller's cheque without the purchasing receipt! Luckily the other bank in the Hilton cashed it. Then I walked across the road, fending off a couple of map sellers, taxi touts and beggars to the mapping office. I managed to get an A2-sized 1:50000 map of the area around Gilgel Beles for just under 14 birr. The survey is about 20 years old, but it has the course of the river and contour lines of the land. I had to go to one room to choose the map and get an order form, then up to the next floor to the sales room where they got the map from the store and filled out a payment form, then I went three floors down to actually pay for it and get a receipt, which I then took back to the sales room and collected my map. On the exit door, the guard asked to see the receipt and check that I hadn't nicked the map!

After that, I walked back to a supermarket and got one of my best purchases: a nice soft pillow (the one VSO gave me was basically filled with foam off-cuts and was full of lumps. I also managed to get some small clocks for my room and kitchen. They were the only ones I had seen and were not exactly what I wanted. One was a tacky dog clock with a tail that wags! I also went to Bambis (the expensive ferengi supermarket) and got some more bed sheets. Finally, after taking a line taxi back to Higher Hulet (where VSO is) I got some plastic for my ceiling to stop the termite dust, then went to VSO to get a few bits – including an XP Pro disc (see virus entry previously), with no luck. Then it was back to the hotel to cram everything into my suitcase and new bag (I got this to put the extra supplies in), checked out, and got a taxi to the airport. Amazingly I was not charged excess baggage! The flight was a touch late, but I got to Bahar Dar around 16.00 and was told the "free" shuttle to the hotel was full, so I had to go with another hotel shuttle and pay 20 birr!

I walked along the edge of the lake again, then to a new bit of town with lots of electrical shops. I also found the bus station. Along the way, I met Tail - a boy in Grade 7 at school. I was practising my Amharic on him, and he, his English. He invited me back to his house to meet his mother for coffee. It was one of the wood frame with mud-fill-in type houses. His sister was there as well as a neighbour who was 21 and was very interested in writing to me to practise his English. I think that he thinks I might be able to get him a place at GB college. They followed me back to the hotel, but didn't ask for money. I ate on the veranda overlooking the lake, and the younger boy climbed a tree outside and kept pointing to his bare feet and was obviously asking for some money to buy some shoes. He eventually went away!

After eating I managed to have a hot shower from a boiler with the most dodgy wiring you have ever seen – actually, the most dodgy wiring was on the lights by the bed which were bare twisted together ends!

Thursday, 29th November 2007

Today had me a little worried. I had to get back to Gilgel Beles on my own with a very heavy (full of food cans etc) suitcase, a bag and a backpack. I had been told of a bus at 06.00 or 07.00, but to be honest I didn't want to get up that early and find there wasn't one, so I didn't actually check out until about 09.00. I walked to the bus station wheeling my case (attracting a few offers of help… for money) and when I got there I was immediately set upon by over ten people trying to get money from me through various scams. The young man from yesterday showed up (he had probably been waiting for me since 0600 knowing I was going on a bus) and helped somewhat. I had found a bus going to Kosober, but the person trying to take 15 birr from me with a pad in his hand seemed a little suspicious and unsure as to when it would leave. I tried to give the ticket back but he said I had touched it so had to pay. I walked away and headed for the minibuses (with some help from the young man.) There, I got a place on a minibus for 18 birr, which you don't pay until you're moving. It left fairly quickly and it wasn't until I saw in the reflection of a window my case on the roof, that I was happy. I was in the front and it was a very quick journey with very few stops as the minibus was full and everyone seemed to be going to Kosober. There was no-one to talk to this time, but I was quite tired and it wasn't a problem. I used my GPS to keep track of where I was.

When I got to Kosober someone took my bag and led me to a bus. There wasn't one going straight to Gigel Beles, but there was one going to Chagni. It was 10 birr, and the person who carried my case asked for 10 birr. I gave him one birr – he didn't seem happy, but the conductor on the bus said that's all I should pay and shooed them off, which was nice.

The journey was slow, bumpy and cramped (I was sitting sideways on what I think was the cover above the gearbox.) At least it was mostly downhill (after it reached the peak over 2600m.) When I got to Chagni, the whole "taking your suitcase and putting it on the roof of another bus" happened again. The guy wanted 10 birr (the bus ride was only going to cost 7 birr) and I offered 1 birr. He was not happy. All the Ethiopians on the bus were watching with amusement. I put my birr away and he was shooed off as the bus was about to leave. He swore at me through the window.

I did worry that he might try and take my case off, and it wasn't until about half way to Gilgel Beles when the bus stopped at a region crossing point and we all got out for five mins, that I saw my case strapped to the roof and was happy.

It was a relief to reach GB at last. It was around 1430. My case was taken down and one guy from the bus refused the birr I offered. A boy (probably from the school) asked to take my case for a birr and wheeled it to the college entrance. I gave him 1.5 birr which at first he refused to take.

Next, back to my house – what I relief. I hadn't drunk during the journey and now re-hydrated myself with a bottle of water and, shortly afterwards, an ice-cold Marinda (fizzy orange) at the college café (which was full of strangers from somewhere else who gave me the ferengi stare.) I chatted to a couple of them and eased the tension. Next I went to the Post Office where I had quite a few letters and the first big package to arrive from home. I went back home, via another Marinda and coffee at the best café in town.

The evening was spent sorting out all the stuff I had bought, and my suitcase (which had become covered in chicken or goat poo – there were both on the roof with my case!) The birds in the nest outside my room have hatched. One of the babies was perched on the washing line in the centre of the house and it let me go up and stroke it – several times! Later, I was invited to another coffee ceremony with the family where I had my first hold of the baby. It reminded me of holding my nephew and niece when they were young.

Monday, 26 November 2007


Weekend 17/18 Nov – Shopping and Walk

Put one lot of washing in and then headed for the market to make sure I got eggs. Unfortunately the market wasn't set up so I continued uphill and found a way to get down to the Beles River at the east of the town. It had big rocks, pebbles and sand. In the rainy season it must be much higher. I walked along part of the river and then back to the market, where I managed to get potatoes, limes and nine eggs! I walked back home, cleaned the kitchen and my room. The water was off so I couldn't finish my washing until later. I had franks and beans for lunch, which was good and then went to a coffee ceremony with the family. I watched more "Coast" and then later went for another walk west along the Beles. The river is orangey-brown all the time with carried mud, as it is quite fast-flowing. On the way back, near home, I saw a bees nest inside a concrete power pole and took pictures. I got too close and one came out and stung me on my
camera trigger finger, followed by another on the arm. I legged it as I remembered about the pheromone the stings give off to make the other bees attack, and at least one followed me almost to the gates of the college. I managed to get away with only two stings!

Night sounds and water

Normally I am woken some nights here by the local church "Calling to prayer". They use a PA system and sing/yell a chant over and over again. I think it's the Christian Orthodox Church. The worst ones are the 1am and 5am calls which I think are mainly on Sundays.

I was woken by a different sound this weekend. I heard gunshots, and quite a lot of them. There is a prison next to the college campus and apparently there was a break-out and around ten prisoners escaped. Well actually, about seven escaped because three were shot dead!

I am getting used to only having water a couple of hours twice a day but for the last two days it has not come on at all. All my reserves of cleaning water were used up by the end, so no washing of cooking equipment or me! Luckily it hasn't been quite so hot for the last few days and so I don't pong too much ....... don't ask about the toilet though!

Finally, the management have come up with a solution for my non-flushing toilet. Yesterday they gave me a can of air freshener - seriously, that's what they did - together with a can of "roach" spray for the termites in my roof which continue to drop piles of wood dust in certain areas of my room.


The college computers are riddled with viruses. When I need to print something, I put the file on a memory stick, take it to a college computer and print. The next time I put the stick in my computer, my virus checker sounds an alert and finds lots of viruses on it. Luckily, my subscription to an anti-virus programme is still active and I have been downloading the latest up-dates since I've had an internet connection, but the college can't afford this. I found a copy of McAfee on one computer yesterday that was last updated in May 2005!!!!

Friday, 16 November 2007

VSO Visit to Gilgel Beles and Latest News


I now have email at the College during the week, although only likely to be able to use it twice-a-week. I’m getting through my backlog!

Sat 10th Nov

Up and do hand-washing before the water gets turned off. Walk to the market to try and get eggs before they run out. Also, if possible, big oranges (which are sweeter than the small ones), limes (to squeeze and add to water to make a lime drink), roasted peanuts sometimes and bananas.

Tue 13th Nov

My supervisor from VSO Ethiopia in Addis arrived last night and today we had meetings and discussions about how it was all going, both personally – problems with the house etc and professionally – establishing a counterpart who will work with me and will be able to continue my work after I leave. It was very useful. Also, he bought a “rescue package” from another volunteer in Addis which includes franks, tuna, corned beef, sweets, biscuits etc – I had my first Mars Bar for about a month!

Wed 14th Nov

My first teacher training in Ethiopia. I went to the local school in the afternoon, with a colleague who acted as translator. I ran a session on using a counting stick and number fans/cards for 21 teachers and the director (head.) It seemed to go fairly well – they understood some English and the rest was translated. There was a slight problem when I asked “What problems might there be using a count stick” and some interpreted it as “What problems are there with education in Ethiopia” and I got responses like “need more chairs”, “only works in Developed World” etc. Also at the end I was told, that in future training the teachers need incentives to come to training (i.e. money.) Overall though, for a first go, I think it went well and the evaluation sheets look like most enjoyed it and found it valuable. Next I need to go in and see if they are using any of the training in the class.


Creatures found in kitchen so far: Gecko, Lizard, Toad, Frog, Ants, Weird furry caterpillar, cockroaches, black crickets.

Creatures found in bedroom: Spiders, Mouse, Ants, Mosquitoes, flies, cockroaches (two have fallen from the ceiling onto my mozzy net – good job I have it!) black crickets.

Other creatures in the house: Birds nesting in mud nests high up on the wall outside the toilet and outside my “kitchen.” A Swarm of bees came in one afternoon.

In the UK it really makes you jump when you lift up something on the floor and a spider or something shoots out. Here, already I am used to it. It happens so often, including opening my suitcase and a mouse ran across, that you almost expect it and it doesn’t make you jump much at all.


VSO warn volunteers about problems they will face adapting to the new situation. There have been many times when I’ve thought “what am I doing here.” For example when you’re in a car full of people speaking a language you don’t understand and laughing and not including you; finding the toilet full of stuff without a flush; not wanting to eat injera and shiro wat again; not wanting to dissect meat from the local “selling meat out of the back window of their house (butchers).

Thoughts I have had (which are apparently quite common) include – thinking abut recklessly walking through long grass to get bitten by a snake, thinking about drinking dodgy water, thinking about not using anti-malarials – all to become ill and get taken back home. Of course I haven’t done any of these, and there are days (more frequently now) that it feels normal and ok to be here.

"My Day"

A typical day

0615 Wake up. Make coffee and have a biscuit and banana breakfast while listening to MP3 Player. Take multivitamin tablet. Get washed and dressed etc. Boil water ready for drinking.

0730 Mains water comes on, refill bottles, replace wash bowl and jug water etc

0745 Walk to work

0800 In office working!

0845 Go and buy a semosa-type thing, a plain doughnut and bread roll for lunch from the on-site café.

1000 Possibly visit the pit latrines (which are now locked because “workmen” have been using them incorrectly – how you use a hole incorrectly I’m not sure although there were a few piles of something on the floor and not in the hole!!! Now, with the toilets locked, the piles just appear outside on the grass!!)

1200 Walk home for lunch, possibly watch a bit of DVD (I’m watching “Coast” at the moment – I bought three series on DVD as I knew I would miss the sea) – Read – I’m reading DUNE at the moment. Maybe a sleep. Put boiled water into filter to drip through ready for evening – fresh drinking water. (Sometimes I go for lunch with colleagues in town)

1400 Back at work for the afternoon.

1730 or 1800 (depending on the day.) Go out for a meal occasionally, or home. The sun sets at 1808 at the moment, the earliest time the sun sets in the whole year.

1810 Cook food and eat while watching DVD. Clean up before the water goes off. Take Doxycycline (anti-malarial) tablet and make sure I don’t bend over for 30mins otherwise it can make ulcers in your oesophagus!

2000 Have a bowl “shower”. I have pretty much mastered having a hair-wash and full body wash in a bowl about 50cm across. Hair is just dipping your head in, then washing everything else involves crouching in the bowl and putting water on using a flannel and letting it flow down without too much dripping on the floor.

2100 Ready for bed, read and sleep usually around 2130-2200. (After carefully tucking mozzy net around bed.)

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Gilgel Beles - Schools and Children

I've had my first bout of sickness and diarrhoea - not sure why as I've been very careful with cleaning, not eating anything suspect, etc - and it didn't help that I haven't got a flushing toilet!
The Dean and everyone went extra cautious on me and took me to the medical centre where I was made to drink two big cups of dehydration liquid (water with salt and sugar - disgusting) and given 300mg of a strong antibiotic. I spent the rest of the day at home sleeping. I had many visitors from the College after they found out I was ill, which was very kind, but all I wanted to do was sleep. Other than being tired , feeling nauseous through the day and a little odd the next day, I didn't have any more S and D! (I'm still being asked a week later if I am OK!) Anyway, I'm settling in and going out to the schools to observe lessons. I still need to improve my Amharic so that I can understand more. I have taught myself 25 out of 33 Amharic characters and each one has seven vowel variations.

Gilgel Beles

I went to the Post Office (open 2-5pm four days a week) to send a DVD and was surprised to find I had four items (some letters and DVDs) in my PO Box - some had only taken 9 days to get from the UK. Anyone can send me letters now - please get writing!!!


The children at school are graded according to their abilities rather than age so, for instance, there are eight year olds with 14 year olds. With such big classes - on average 60 pupils - it is impossible to observe all the children and so when they are told something, if they don't understand, nothing can be done about it and the teacher just has to go on to the next thing. Also, Amharic is not the first language of all the children so it is more difficult for them. They have maths, Amharic, natural sciences, geography and history, etc. At the start of the Amharic lesson they sing a song to help them learn the Amharic sounds. Most lessons are from books and are very impersonal and not child centred. Something I have been asked to do is to suggest ways to make lessons more interactive. The children have just one exercise book for all the lessons and use biros (probably cheaper than pencils?). The children are well behaved and when they are at break in the playground, it could be a school anywhere in the world with the chatter and noise of them playing; you don't notice the language. Some children don't go to school and I see them carrying huge loads; bags of grain and sugar to the market. There is new accommodation being built and unlike in Britain when a lorry delivers a load and dumper trucks carry it around, it appears that mostly women move the breeze blocks and bricks around the site.


The family sharing the house with me seem to have an eleven-year old girl staying sometimes (I think the sister of the mother) and she makes the coffee and the breakfast for them in the morning, rushes off to school and then does household chores and looks after the baby, often carrying it on her back, in the afternoon. We can still only get water from a shared outside sink where we do the washing, and that is for two hours twice a day. On Saturdays, I have to choose between doing my washing while the water is on or going to the market early. I did my washing this week and there were no eggs left at the market, which is my main source of protein. I did buy a piece of meat but it was mainly fat and wasn't too tasty. Chickens are available but you have to buy them live and deal with them yourself, which I don't fancy. Also sharing the house with me have been a mouse, a toad, ants (that carried off a piece of biscuit I had dropped) and a variety of insects, including a cockroach which landed on my mosquito net. It bothered me at first but you actually get used to seeing them.

I'll update again as soon as I can.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Gilgel Beles - 3 weeks in

I am now visiting a cluster of school and observing lessons. At the Gilgel Beles Elementary School, I was taken round all the classes and said "good morning" when all the children stood and "sit down please" and they reply "thank you teacher". There can be up to 100 children in a class, sitting on low benches. The classrooms are very basic and varied. Some have mud floors, some have concrete and there are others with bamboo walls. There was a combined school assembly outside for over 1,000 children, the teacher speaking to them with a megaphone! As you would expect, there is a lack of resources and I have been making counting sticks and number fans for a maths class. I took a group of children and taught them addition and subtraction using Amharic - went well and managed to communicate even though I have very little amharic. Now I've got to train the teachers!

With my GPS I've been asked to make a map of the local area, with the location of the schools as there is nothing like it available. Also asked to teach English to two trainee teachers at the college, which may have a two-way effect of also improving my Amharic.

I'm settling into a routine, which begins soon after 6am with the start of the water filtering process - in all it takes four hours during the day. The college working hours are 8am - 6pm. After working, most of the evening is spent cooking, cleaning and washing myself in a bowl. Still no working shower or water from the basin, only water from a shared sink - where water is only available for two hours in the morning and two in the evening.

A family has now moved into another part of the house with me. The father is an academic and speaks limited English and they have a five-month old baby so I'm really glad I have a supply of ear plugs! I was invited to lunch one day with them.

Gilgel Beles
The locals are very friendly and I'm often asked in for coffee. There is a local "market" twice a week selling eggs, meat, potatoes, oranges, and pulses and lentils. I eat out occasionally but always it's injera and stew available, so not much variety.

At the weekend I did a long walk and saw my first giant millipede (25 cms long). The vegetation is green with huge flowers on banana trees. From Gilgel Beles the mountain region can be seen in the distance. There are some amazing views.

I had two surprise visitors knocking on my door one night (whilst cooking pasta in the middle of a power cut!). They were Canadians working in Ethiopia for a similar organisation to VSO. One of their fathers put Gilgel Beles in a search engine, found my blog and traced me. I went out for a meal with them.

I'm keeping a diary and hope to take a bus to Chagne soon where I might get better email facilities.