Monday, 31 December 2007

Re-supply trip to Bahir Dar

Friday, 28th December 2007

I woke up at 0500 and quickly got ready. I was at the gates of the college by 0550 and the guard helped me flag down the bus at 06:05. I boarded and my convertible bag/backpack was fairly empty so I unzipped the "day pack" which is like a mini-backpack connected to the main one and kept that with me and then the rest of the pack in its bag form (shoulder-straps zipped away) fit in the overhead storage which saved it being outside which was good. It was 33 birr all the way to Bahir Dar (less than £2!) By the time we actually left Gilgel Beles it was 06:36! (I could've laid in and just walked a little further to get it!) The journey was slow and bumpy but I got to see the sunrise, and the mountains of the ridge we have to climb about 15km away from Gilgel Beles were really impressive at that time in the morning. The climb takes us from Manjura (the next small town on from Gilgel Beles) at 1400m to Chagni at 1700m. Some of the peaks in the ridge exceed 2000m.

At Chagni (a big town 35km from Gilgel Beles) we had a 20 minute breakfast stop, but other than a quick use of the Shintabet I stayed on the bus until 08:10 when it left. The air pressure in Chagni (following on from my entry last week) was 835mb (about 65mb less than Gilgel Beles as it is that much higher.) The drive to Kosober was very long. The highest point about 7km from Kosober is 2635m and the bus was climbing at around 14km/h near the end. This was the highest point of my journey and the pressure was 743mb (less than three quarters of the pressure at sea level!) I was also cramped into a small seat next to someone and couldn't stretch my legs – it was less leg room than a plane! My backside was killing me.

At 10:05 I was really glad to get to Kosober and when we departed at 10:20 I looked forward to being on the asphalt road to Bahir Dar – some of the bumps on the other road had literally lifted us out of our seats. It was smoother, but the bus kept stopping to drop off and pick up people. The cry "waredge" which you cry out to stop was heard a lot. At one town the bus stopped for about 30mins while the driver had lunch! At these various stops a number of sellers get on the bus and walked the aisle selling a variety of wares including bananas, oranges, gum, soft and some kind of cereal like wheat-toasted (you get it by the cup-full.) Also a blind beggar got on at one point – luckily he couldn't see I was white so I didn't get any hassle (cruel comment maybe, but I'm writing this after getting back from the "ferengi nightmare that is Bahir Dar!") Then we had a priest on, blessing people (for a fee of course – religion is for everyone – as long as you have money (see monastery visits later…))

We eventually pulled in to the Bahir Dar bus station at 13:45. My 200km (125 mile) trip had taken nearly 8hours. I was exhausted. I converted by bag to a backpack in the bus and set off quickly and directly out of the station to avoid hassle. About 10 metres from the entrance I ran into the Ethiopian whose house I had been to last time – all I needed. He's nice enough though and doesn't ask for money. First on my list was to get a few photos printed in the while-you-wait colour lab. These included photos of my nephew and niece at Christmas that dad had emailed me. Then to the restaurant with a terrace I had been to with the VSO guy I met last time in Bahir Dar. I had fish and veg. I told my Ethiopian friend I needed some time on my own and he did leave without a problem before I ate. Next it was about 500m to the Post Office to follow up a request delivered to my post office to visit the large packets counter here (only 8 hours away to collect your post – see previous entry.) I was fairly overwhelmed to find I had 10 parcels of various sizes. Now I had only lightly packed my backpack, but even after loosening the straps and expanding it, I only managed to fit seven of them in and it was getting a bit heavy. With full backpack and carrying three brown-paper packages tied up with sellotape, I walked the 1km journey to the Ghion hotel where I met another VSO (Caroline) from the Netherlands with her boyfriend who had been on a short Christmas break and were visiting Bahir Dar for a couple of days. We had a drink and arranged to meet for dinner. Next, yet another VSO (actually based in Bahir Dar – who I was going to stay with,) made contact and I walked the 500m from the hotel to her apartment (government owned for education workers.) Erzabet lives alone, but has a big lounge with a three-piece suit, kitchen (with small hot water boiler, fridge etc) clean bathroom with flushing toilet and hot shower! And three bedrooms!
A friend of hers, another VSO, was staying in one room, and I got the other. She gave me keys to the apartment so I could come and go, and then she took the two of us to a supermarket about 1km away. Wow – lots of ferengi tinned food, sweets, biscuits etc – I stocked up with 400 birrs-worth in two bags and then dumped it all in the apartment. Then it was a quick hot shower – luxury, and back out to the Ghion to meet up for dinner. I had a cheese omelette (a change as I haven't been able to get eggs for a while, and I haven't had cheese since Addis.) I walked back to the apartment, had a quick chat then had a fairly early night.

The night noises were different here – I think there was a pub or something next door. The noise from this was punctuated by cow moos, cockerels and what sounded like dogs fighting. There was a call to prayer at around 5am, but it was the Muslims and theirs only went on for a couple of minutes (Orthodox Christians take note!)

Saturday, 29th December 2007

The previous day I had arranged to go with Caroline and boyfriend on a boat trip on Lake Tana so I got ready quickly, said goodbye to the other VSO staying with Erzebet who was leaving today to return to her placement and walked to the Ghion. They have their own boats on a jetty right next to the hotel. The three of us and a couple of Germans were in the boat. First we went about 5km to a small island where we climbed up and (after paying the 30 birr entrance fee) had a look at the monastery which had a flat cone-shaped roof with an overhang, on top of a cube central area. The sides of the cube were painted with bible story pictures. We reckoned this was the tourist monastery and they actually use another one a bit further away!!! It was ok, but relative to other things, for 30 birr it was a bit steep. As Caroline said later, she is a Christian, why does she have to pay to visit what is effectively a Christian church.

Next, it was a short trip to the next island which was larger. Unfortunately woman are not allowed (something to do with stopping the monks getting frisky I think!) so Caroline had to remain on the boat. This one had a small museum with crowns, crosses on sticks, legends about a guy killing a large python on the island, bibles in Fidel (Amharic script) hand-written on goat skin pages and some other stuff. Then we went to another similar-to-the-first-one cone-shaped monastery. (Of course all this cost another 30 birr each but I guess we got a museum as well this time.) It had more bible story pictures painted on it.

Another 6km on we stopped at a peninsular and visited yet another monastery.This one was interesting as it had a mobile telephone mast right next to it. It also had loads of children trying to sell us model boats made of papyrus reeds and further up, huge stalls with jewellery and crosses and stuff. Oh and the monastery was cone shaped, had bible pictures on the walls and cost us 30 birr each to get in.

Overall it was a pretty good morning. It was nice getting out on the lake in a boat and visiting the islands, but it is very touristy and you wonder if all you are seeing are buildings put up and painted for tourists rather than any particularly historical or important sites. I'd much rather be kayaking in Irish loughs to little islands with real remains on them, like I did in 2005 & 6.

We had lunch together when we got back (after having an argument with the boat pilot about the cost we had been quoted and the money he was asking for now), I had a rather nice omelette-coated fish, then I went back to Erzabets and got my shopping list ready, checking off what I had already bought.

Then it was my late Christmas. I sat for almost an hour unwrapping and sorting out all the packages and parcels that I had picked up the day before. It was great!

Next I walked to the supermarket and got the rest of the things I needed. I also wanted a couple of household items, but wasn't up to the mental challenge of visiting the market and bargaining etc so I returned to the apartment.

I took a long while carefully packing food supplies and presents into my back-pack – it was like a 3D jigsaw. Then I had a long, relaxing, hot shower. Refreshed, I made an omelette and Erzabet shared some cheese, tomatoes and bread she had.

Then she interviewed me about my experiences in Ethiopia for her English students to listen to. She worked for the BBC World service in the past so she keeps up her recording, like I keep up my photography. We ate some mini-Christmas-cake slices mum had sent and some chocolate penguins and snowmen a friend had sent me, then Erzabet turned in and after doing a bit more sorting – photos etc, I went to bed and read.

Sunday, 30 December 2007

After having a good breakfast including the cheese which was great as there is no cheese in much of Ethiopia, I crammed the last things into my backpack, and with a carrier-bag for the last few things set off for the bus station. This was the bit I was dreading after last time. I estimate the backpack probably weighed around 25kg and it was hard-going walking and not tipping backwards! Someone followed me to the station but I pretended to be French. He spoke a few words, but I spoke a lot more so he bought it and anytime he spoke in English I just gave him "je ne comprend pas!" Then I was"rescued" by my Ethiopian friend (he must spend his life by the bus station) and headed straight for a mini-bus. It took a long time leaving but once it did at around 1015, we were full and basically headed straight for Kosober – much quicker than a bus. It was much quieter at Kosober on a Sunday and an Ethiopian carried my bag to a bus to Chagni. I gave him three birr, which he seemed happy with and sat on the bus for a while waiting for it to go. At one point I saw what looked like a mini-tornado. It formed a dust funnel and sucked up paper, but it only lasted a matter of seconds before reforming a bit further on. After about a minute it was gone. It was probably a dust devil. In the bus, I was at the front on a flat padded area over the gearbox and I was squashed next to a policeman (with his large gun) without a backrest or anything to hang on to. Not good on a bumpy road. As it was mostly downhill all the way, time wasn't too bad, but it was very uncomfortable. As we arrived in Chagni, another bus was just heading out to Mambuk (Gilgel Beles is on the way) so a guy from the bus got my bag off the roof and legged it down the street, me in tow to catch the bus. I had a proper seat this time and apart from the road being even worse than the one to Chagni, it wasn't too bad.

Before I got home, I had one last challenge – getting off the bus. As we pulled up, around 50 people surged forward to the door and I couldn't get off. They were all trying to get to Mambuk and get a seat. A small space was eventually created for me to step down, but with all those people pushing to get on the bus, it took ages getting through them – holding my 25kg bag (I had re-converted it at Kosober) in one hand not being able to pull it through the crowd! When I did get through, whilst being watched by another crowd, I attached my day pack to the bag, converted it to a backpack again and walked almost a kilometre along dirt roads and paths back to my house.

And I have to go through it all again if I want more food when I run out…

Extra info - Babies

In Ethiopia, most babies are carried around much of the time (in the home as well) in big sheet-wraps on their mother's (or servants) backs. It looks quite cute and you hardly ever hear crying babies here so it must work –maybe it's because they're always with someone and feel the warmth, also they are always tucked up tight and maybe they feel secure.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Christmas Day in Gilgel Beles

I got up at 06:15 (as usual), had banana and biscuit breakfast (as usual) and set off for college at around 07:45 (as usual). I said Merry Christmas to a group of students on the way and also to my Line Manager who took me to the on-site café and I had buna (coffee) and a sambusa. Then in my office I prepared for my lesson in the afternoon and also called a few VSO volunteers for a Christmas chat. All of them were having a few days off and had done, or were about to do a bit of travelling. (To be honest I've always wanted to be at work on Christmas Day to see what it was like.) On the way to the shintabet (toilet) I saw the thickest trail of ants I have seen so far,
probably around 5cm wide and 2-3cm high. Later I walked up to the post office and was really pleased to get 7 letters and cards, a food treats parcel with Haribo Star Mix and some instant soups and cappuccinos etc and a parcel of DVDs Dad had sent me (including episodes of "Heroes" he's been recording for me. I received episode 22 last week but the package of 19, 20 & 21 which was sent about 2 weeks before that hadn't arrived – until today, which was good for Christmas.) I went back to "work" and read the letters, opened the cards etc

At lunchtime, I had a phone call from mum and dad and a friend rang straight afterwards. I ate my usual sambusa and doughnut that I put jam inside and watched some of "Heroes". Just before returning to work I had a mild dose of the "two bob's" which was nice for Christmas, but thankful up until now (20:00) the only dose!

In the afternoon I listened to the nine Christmas-related tracks (all I could find) on my MP3 player (including two versions of "walking in the air", John Lennon's "Merry Christmas – War is Over" and "Closing of the Year" – from "Toys" which some readers will recognise as the song I scored for the choir to sing last Christmas in Heathfield.) I also talked to some students who'd come to visit the model classroom and I'm sure I did some other work-related stuff…

At 16:00 I took my second English lesson with a group of trainee teachers being as active as I could, using my best teaching methodology, referring to always teaching by getting pupils to see, hear and most importantly do. In fact, picture this: Christmas Day, sunny, temperature around 30C and me teaching about fifty 20 year olds "Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" (with actions!)

After that it was back on with the MP3 player on a loop while planning the next lesson and tidying up in the office. I left around 1800 – the sun was about 15mins from setting, lots of bugs were flying in the air (as usual.)

Back at home, I started a fire to burn the soft (toilet paper) which was probably a good idea (see lunchtime paragraph) and also burned some rubbish that the family just seem to tip into the bushes. Then it was into my kitchen (a.k.a. cupboard) and had tinned tuna chunks and baked beans for Christmas Dinner, followed by chocolate porridge using the last of my oats and a packet of instant chocolate drink.

In a few minutes I will be having a shower (a.k.a. big bowl and flannel) followed by more "Heroes" which I will watch for about 30mins after taking my Doxycycline (anti-malarial) – you can't lie down for that long after taking it, or it inflames your throat.

Then bed to continue reading "Red Mars."

And that was my Christmas Day in Gilgel Beles, Ethiopia.

Monday, 24 December 2007

International Link and more walking

On Friday (21/12), after technical problems the day before, we managed to link up two schools, one in East Sussex, England and one in Gilgel Beles, Ethiopia via mobile telephone. The children asked each other questions (weather, school, etc) and the pupils in the school where I was tried to teach the UK children Amharic counting (which was funny). To finish off, the UK children sang "We wish you a merry Christmas", which will apply over here in about two weeks (I think Christmas is Jan 7, but like everything else over here, no-one seems 100% sure if it is then, or on Jan 8!) then the Ethiopian school sang a Christmas celebratory song back. It was a success at this end (the children had pictures of the UK children to see who they were talking to - sent the previous day by e-mail) and I'm waiting to find out how it went at the other end, because since that call there has been no mobile signal here.

Today, Sunday 23/12, I covered another 12 km on my morning walk. I found a small hill overlooking the Beles River, and another access point to the river. It was very peaceful by the running water and there is now a huge contrast in the vegetation in the open and by the river. Mostly it's all brown, but by the river it's still green. I saw more ants - going across rocks this time.

Christmas Message

This is taken from a video clip on a DVD just received from Mark:

"It's December 5 and it's hot and sunny, which isn't right for December - it's now 30-32C. I'm not far from the Beles River just the other side from the college. I just wanted to wish you all in the UK a very Happy Christmas. It isn't going to be Christmas here until 7 or 8 January so I will have to wait a bit.

Thank you to everyone who has made videos and sent letters. It's really great to get them over here and find them waiting for me when I go to my PO Box at the post office. Thanks very much, too, for the e-mails and 'phone calls.

Happy Christmas!"
Please keep writing, but note extra line in address as below:
Mark Sidey
PO Box 47
Gilgel Beles
Metekel Zone

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Weekly Update

Saturday, 15 December

Went to the market, got potatoes and bananas, but no eggs. Continued on to fuel station, but there is still no kerosene (for my stove in case there is no electricity) and no date as to when there will be any. I walked down to the river via a path I had been a few weeks ago. The river is noticeably down now with no rain and is looking clearer. I managed to walk about 30 m further along the bank than I had last time because of the low water level. People were crossing it, the water coming up to their knees. Something they couldn't do a while ago. I saw a woman crossing with bundles of logs - they carry things using a yoke slung over their shoulders with the items hanging on both sides. Then I went back up the path and climbed a small hill at the southern end of town. At the top there were good views of GB, and also a large storage tank for water - probably the town's supply pumped up from the river (and, hopefully, filtered in some way!).

Next I went back via the market and tried again to buy some eggs I saw, that turned out to be some already sold. Something that I have noticed - shiro weut powder, which is on sale at the market and on display in piles, always attracts loads of bees. They must use it for something.

Back at the house I finished my washing, had honey-porridge lunch, cleaned and mopped the kitchen, put up new curtains in my room (I took the three tea-towels and two pillow cases down that I had been using, attached by paper clips - most useful tools! - and replaced them with one of my bed sheets, doubled over) and added another sheet of plastic to my ceiling over my pillow area to stop the dust from the termites burrowing into the bamboo ceiling falling on me. Then I brushed and mopped the floor in my room, watched by the sister of the family I live with - most disconcerting!

At around 3 pm, after the strongest sun of the day, I set off on another walk. I had noticed a ridge about 1 km north of the college entrance. It was quite easy to follow as there was a track along the top and although it was only about 50 m higher than the surrounding area, there were good views from both sides. The only annoyance was walking through some kind of grass that littered the ground that had long, pin-like seeds that stuck to my shoes and socks and prickled around my ankles!

Other news this week

Yesterday, I thought the toilet flush had been fixed. The college had arranged a "specialist" to fit new parts. I did get it to flush a couple of times (only when the water is on, of course) but like before, it didn't stop once the tank had refilled so continued to flow. Today it seems totally broken again!

On Monday, we had arranged to go and visit the last four schools in the cluster. We agreed on a 7.30 am start and on several occasions the week before I checked that it was all going ahead and even gave both my colleages and line manager the plan (and times) written down. Needless to say, having waited half an hour with no shows from anyone, I left the front of the college, got my laptop and went on the net to tell home how annoyed I was. This was followed by finding out that a letter telling the Finance Department to pay me had still not been received and discovering that, not only were the pit latrine toilets still locked, but there was no key now either. Being the inventive person I am (I have had to be out here) I made a key using a piece of wood. It helped me lever off the nails, holding the bolt in place, and a firm nudge from my shoulder finished the job.

We did eventually visit the schools, and this allowed me to complete my GPS map of their locations and do a quick needs assessment. I also discovered one school had lots of packs of unopened text books and a big pile of "big books" that were not being used "in case the children tear them". At least my colleages, who accompanied me, agreed this has to change.


It's funny how the books I am reading seem to have a link with me here. I mentioned before that I was reading "Dune" by Frank Herbert (I think) and there is a lot of mention about preserving water and how precious it is - and me with my one to two hours water supply in the morning and evening. I empathised with the occupants of the Desert Planet! Now I am reading "Red Mars" by Kim Stanley Robinson about a group of colonists who go to Mars to set up a permanent base. They are in an alien place, solving problems, exploring and feeling homesick - there is a parallel here as well. I was quite disappointed the other day when I asked when it would rain next. I was told "April". It's sunny every day here, cool 14-15C in the morning on the way to work and up to around 30C in the late afternoon. What had been green and lush when I arrived is now withering and turning brown in the soil, which is also dry and cracking.

An interesting line in the book mentioned about how people are only truly happy when living in the present - occupied and active and just concentrating on what they are doing. It's when you start thinking about the past or future that depression sets in. Unfortunately, you only achieve things when you refer to the past and plan for the future. This is pretty similar to how I'm feeling. When I'm talking to students (we opened our model classroom in the college this week and I was showing them teaching aids, etc) or climbing hills, stepping across rocks by the river, etc I am happy. When I start thinking about the future (what happens when I come back to England, etc) I start getting depressed. I am going through lots of different phases, including apathy, not caring about anything I do that might offend people (although this was mostly thoughts in my head luckily), thinking about really going over the top in the street when people keep staring at me, to really giving them something to stare at and finally getting annoyed ....

Amongst things that are difficult at the moment are:

  • The family I'm living with not flushing the toilet with a bucket of water

  • The weird animal noises waking me up at night

  • The known animal noises waking me up at night (namely cockerels)

  • Being invited to coffee at lunch time when I need to chill out on my own

  • Being stared at all the time when I'm out

  • Not being able to speak English at full speed

  • Having children from 100m away yelling "Ferengi" at me as I approach (although usually I don't mind this or having to shake all their hands when they see me).

  • College cars either turning up too early or too late

  • Waiting outside the Post Office for up to 45 mins when the guy turns up late

  • Being a slave to the water and having to do things at particular times specified by an unknown agency who decides when to turn on and off the water (sometimes not at all)

  • Having to go through all the greetings you have to do when you enter a room and just want to print something. The other day when I was in a funny mood, I just looked round the room and very quickly went "Dena Durk, Dena Dursh, Dena Durk, Dena Durk" to the people there, then got on with the reason I was there. (Dena Durk is Good Morning to a man and Dursh to a woman).

And finally, the most difficult and annoying:

  • Religious institutions' "Calls to Prayer", especially the 1 and 5 am calls. I have been tempted to go out one night and cut the wires to the loudspeaker! Alternatively, I was thinking of setting up my own PA system and going on a 3 am chant, saying "Were you enjoying your sleep? Hard luck! It makes me question religions that call its followers to prayer in the middle of the night with no thought for anyone else!

Luckily I am pretty calm and adaptive most of the time and just take things a day at a time. Whether I can stick two years of this is another matter. What is more pressing at the moment is the fact that I am running low on Ferengi foods and calculate I will be out of franks and tuna, etc. in about two weeks. I'll have to get re-supplied somehow.


It basically isn't happening here. Nothing in the shops, no decorations, no trees, no Advent calendars, no preparing for concerts, parties, services, turkeys - bliss!!! I'll be working the same as usual on 25th. I think I get a day off on 8 January when it is Ethiopian Christmas, but I'm not sure what happens then. I think I can safely count out a roast dinner.

Temperature and Pressure

I've been monitoring the air pressure lately. Unlike the changeable UK climate (which I miss; I miss the wind and the rain on the roof. There's nothing here in the dry season - just boring old blue skies and sunshine). The pressure is pretty constant and only fluctuates by a couple of millibars. Last night the temperature went down to a nippy +10C - must be winter! Still, it'll be back to 20 by about 0900 and 30+ by the end of the day!

Wednesday 19 December (Id Al Adha - Muslim holiday and national public holiday)

Yesterday I taught an English lesson to a group of freshmen college students. I will be doing it once a week. I use some of the games I used for teaching my English school class French. It went well, I think, but was funny at the end. I told them to go but they didn't move. I repeated that they could go. One got up but was reprimanded by the others. Apparently they have to wait for the teacher to go first! (All these little things I have to get used to!)

At the Post Office I got a couple of Christmas cards and a small package from home, but then hit another snag I hadn't even considered. In with the post was a note saying that there was a package waiting for me. Now, in the UK you usually collect the package from the local Post Office but in Ethiopia if there is a Customs issue (like they want to look inside to see if there is anything illegal or electronic for tax purposes) you have to collect it in person so they can open it in your presence. The snag is the note was from Bahir Dar Post Office. This means I have to make the 6 hr (if I'm lucky) journey to Bahir Dar on the bus to collect my parcels! Great! I guess I can combine it with a food and supplies run, but other than the lake, Bahir Dar didn't endear itself to me (too touristy and therefore lots of hassle from the locals) and I don't even know if I can get canned meat the tuna there.

Today, having the day off and setting off early, I finally made it to a hill I set out for two weeks ago. Previously I had got the wrong hill on the map (the snake incident - see earlier entry), so last week I did some clever triangulation. I got the bearing of the hill from two points in the town and drew them on my map until they crossed and found the hill was a lot further away than I had thought. It was a 6 km hike (mostly on wide paths though). There was a flat plain for the last km at around 1070 m, then the hill went up to 1130 m. The last bit was hairy. First I scared some locals who were resting, and when a woman looked up and saw a white face she jumped up and ran a short distance. Luckily she stopped and laughed about it afterwards. What was difficult, thought, was climbing the last 30 m. It was through tall, brittle, reed-type things. I kept stopping to listen for snakes and when I was moving I made a lot of noise so that anything knew I was coming and wasn't startled.

This afternoon I went to a ceremony for the Islamic religious holiday. There were a few speeches in Amharic from the local Islamic leaders, the Dean, one from a Christian and one in English. The general feeling is that it is good that different religions respect each other in Ethiopia and people from one religion will attend ceremonies of another.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Update on work and life in Gilgel Beles


What have I been doing work-wise here! Well, initially I have made lots of teaching aids and sorted out the model classroom which we will open next week to let local teachers and teaching students at the college see what you can do to make a classroom more stimulating and interactive. I have also written an "action plan" (how I hate management jargon!) with about 10 main goals to achieve while I am here. These include: visiting and performing a needs assessment of the 10 schools in the cluster; purchasing resources for the schools to distribute and training on the use of teaching aids (at present there is a big focus on making a model classroom in a school, which then is not used as part of teaching). One goal, therefore, is to get some displays and teaching aids in all classrooms - ones that will actually be used. Later, I will develop a teaching programme on using active learning and child-centred learning and assessment for learning. There are problems with this, as many teachers know or are aware of the theories but can't or won't put them into practice in the huge classes.

A quick achievable thing I have carried out is building a good relationship with Gilgel Beles Elementary School. I have observed lessons, trained teachers in the use of simple teaching aids and re-visited to see if they are being used; organised a "making" session with a group of children to produce a class set (100!) of number fans and last week I also taught demonstration lessons in the large classes to show the teachers that it can work with large classes. Hopefully it will give them confidence to try using the teaching aids themselves. I have really missed actually teaching children.

On Friday I went in to school and helped a class of 80 write letters to my old school in England. It was quite difficult for the grade 4 class as English is, at best, the children's second language. It could be their third language after their own ethnic language and Amharic. Also the English alphabet is a second alphabet for the children as their first way of writing is using Amharic script. I showed them some English money I had, and a short video of the children in school in England they would be writing to. I also videoed some short clips of the children to send back to England.

The children in the class ranged in ages from about 10 to over 20. This is because some of them didn't get a chance to go to school when they were children (maybe because they were working in the home, or with farming) so they come when they are older, and join in with the children.


Two nights ago as I was getting ready for bed I saw something scuttling in the corner of my room. It was a gint (scorpion) - my first seen over here. It was about 5cm long and had definite pincers and stinging tail. Apparently they are non-lethal here, but the sting can be very painful for a full 24 hours. I squashed it with my shoe, then I poked it with a stick and it got up and scuttled off, so I whacked it a few more times with my shoe. It was dead then! I put it on some card but a couple of days later it had disappeared from the card!!! (Who knows what took it and ate it - I think it was too big for ants to move!).

When I got home last night there was no power. It had been off for several hours before but it stayed off all night and was still off this morning. I had a cold tin of tuna, some crisps and biscuits for dinner! I used my head torch - which is very useful - and lit some candles. I had my "tub" wash, but without a kettleful of hot water to take the chill off and it was freezing!!

I watched a DVD and did some work on the computer until I had drained both batteries. Then I went to bed to read. (I'm reading "Red Mars" by Kim Stanley Robinson at the moment).

There is one advantage of no power - no loud distorted, droning "calls to prayer" from the local Orthodox church at one and five in the morning ....excellent!

There was no water this morning either. With no power I thought it was about time I got some kerosene for my (lethal-looking) kerosene stove which VSO had provided. I walked up to the fuel station at the far end of the village but there was no kerosene. I bought some candles and wondered if you can cook using multiple candle power! On the way back I went to the market to get some eggs and on the walk up and back I met another ferengi. He is Spanish and has lived in Gilgel Beles for two years in the Catholic mission at the other end of the village. Apparently he's been in Ethiopia for about 16 years. He was going to the prison to see if they'd let him in to do some missionary work. After the escape a few weeks ago, everything has been locked down. On the way back when I met him, he said everything's opened up again and he can continue his work.

Once I'd dropped off my purchases and sun-creamed up, I set off to another hill on the other side of the river. At one point, as I came through some trees a small (70cm) crocodile or alligator shot away and jumped into the river. I got to a fairly wide road that led into "Village 1". I think the "Villages" (there are about 100) were established by the Italians about 50 years ago. Anyway, there were many houses, mostly the round "Gumuz"-type.

Using my GPS, which I had marked with the summit of the hill, I followed the road and then turned at a track which seemed to be leading in the correct direction. At each fork in the track I followed the GPS direction. It was saying I was about 900m away from the summit and there was a shady overgrown patch ahead. I heard a rustling noise which sounded different from usual. Sometimes in undergrowth you hear something quick and small and it is usually a bird or a lizard, or sometimes it's larger and it turns out to be a goat or chicken. I was cautious and made a lot of noise to let whatever it was know that I was coming. Sure enough, about ten metres ahead I saw the tail of a snake slithering quite fast across my path. The tail section I saw was about one metre and I reckon the whole things must have been a good two to three metres long. A few seconds later I saw another one, or the same one which had turned around rapidly! Needless to say, I changed my plans and decided to head back.

According to my GPS I had walked 6.5km, as well as the march to the fuel station and market earlier and was exhausted. I had a sleep after a big bowl of porridge with honey, which I could make as the power had come back on.

While I was typing this blog I heard the water come on so broke off to quickly do my washing, cleaning, cooking omlette and chips for tea and refill my bowl ready for my wash in the evening.