Monday, 28 January 2008

Fwa fwa te 2 and candle-power

Sunday, 27 January 2008

First work: I had to prepare a proposal for the regional education bureau explaining how much money we would need and what we would use it for. I seem to have managed to get up to about 35,000 birr for training, more number cards and resources! It has been back to me a couple of times now – due to incorrect prices. Even though I asked my colleagues, they obviously didn’t know how much a ream of paper was. The latest is that I forgot to include the cost of drinks when we do training. The Dean came and told me Saturday afternoon at home… And so begins another weekend of lack of privacy and personal space – I had a sleep Saturday afternoon and at one point the girl who stays in the house held the baby up to my window and it was banging on it – all I can say is it is a good job she doesn’t understand English swear words!

Also at work, we may have finally tracked down an Amharic version of a CDP (Continuing Professional Development) course for teachers in Addis. If they really have found it, it is good news. It has everything we need to improve the teaching skills of teachers already teaching and it is delivered by one of the teachers in the school so is self-operating. What we will have to do is reproduce it, introduce it, give some training to the “facilitator” teachers and then monitor it. If it works, it will run in all ten cluster schools before the summer.

Yesterday I walked a bit more of the river after actually getting some eggs at the market. Then later in the evening just before dusk, the wind got up and the sky was amazing with dark thunderclouds lit up pink in the East and a good sunset in the West. I went out for a walk and up the first hill I had climbed over here. With the wind, it was quite exhilarating. It was dark by the time I set off back home and some Gumuz people asked where I was going, what I was doing etc, so I just spun round like Maria in the Sound of Music – well I couldn’t exactly explain in Gumuz how I was feeling! As I got near home I realised the electricity was off. A guard near the prison asked me some questions and then another said “Ferengi” so they let me go without shooting me.

Back in the house, I waited for a while to see if the power would come back, but it didn’t. Without Kerosene, I couldn’t cook using my kerosene stove, but I got the frame out and improvised… with some candles. In the end I had seven candles under my saucepan and managed to boil water and cook some porridge for tea.

Today I headed off back to the place where the rivers join and the waterfall, but either I took a wrong turning, or there has been a lot of cutting down of the reed-like plants. Anyway, I came across an Ethiopian and he asked where I was going, I said “Fwa-fwa-te” and he took me in the opposite direction to the other river (which was quite close) to the North. When we got there, there was a huge expanse of rocks and clambering over them, he showed me another (smaller) waterfall and lots of rapids in a mini-canyon. It was pretty impressive. I spent a long time there and followed the river west climbing over and round the rocks at the river’s edge. About 400m from the rapids the river was very calm and I sat and ate my banana and biscuit lunch. I walked back to the rapids and the rocks. The whole area was about 200m wide, and judging by the mud and debris, in the wet season I think the river covers it all.

I haven’t had any post for about two weeks. I hope it’s all stacking up somewhere and will all arrive next week. There are a few things I know people have sent that haven’t arrived yet.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Konjo Telick Fwa-Fwa-Te

Saturday, 19 January 2008

I got up and ready quite early today and was out of the house just after 0800. There were two buses going in the direction of the ridge I wanted to climb, but they were both full with lots of additional people trying to get on as well, so I switched to plan B. I had noticed on the map that the Beles River joins with another river about 7km to the West. Programming the location into my GPS and having no idea what the conditions would be like, I set off. At first I used an access road I had spotted previously, about 1km up the road to the North. It led to small hill which gave me some good views. Then after negotiating a field, I found a path which led precisely in the direction I wanted to go. I met a few people on the way – they wanted to shake my hand. Some were carrying lots of, I guess it was teff grain, and a couple of men were carrying large wooden tree trunks for building. After I had got a certain way along, I didn't meet anyone else.

About 1km from the "target" on my GPS, the path became very difficult to follow. There were little stretches that had been trodden, and some places where people had cut down trees, and finally at around 700m to go, there was no path at all. I just had the GPS to guide me. There was a lot of slow going as I trod down stems of reed-like plants, and I came to a couple of impassable dead ends. Finally though, I came out looking out right over the place where the rivers met. It was much higher than I had expected, I think I worked out it was 30m above the river. It was a great view. The Beles River, flowing from Gilgel Beles about 7km up-stream, was flowing fast and there were rapids. The other river was much slower flowing. I sat admiring the view having my lunch of biscuits and mooz (bananas) – the same as I had had for breakfast. I just had to get down to the river level, so negotiating a rather steep slope while holding on to branches and reeds I made it down. The rapids were quite impressive (and this is the dry season) and I noticed lots of butterflies. You can tell how strong the river gets in wet season as there were some huge boulders. At the other end of the scale, showing how violent the river must get, there were little "beaches" of fine sand. There were some very interesting rock formations looking like they had flowed down and solidified. I'm not a geologist, but it was either lava (I think they were layers of quartz) or some kind of sedimentary layers put down millions of years ago and twisted by various forces. It was then that I noticed that I was the lowest altitude I had been since Beirut on the flight out. I was at around 950m, about 60m lower than my house – oh the heady rush of increased oxygen!!!

While I was clambering over the rocks I suddenly noticed a waterfall (or Fwa-Fwa-Te in Amharic – Konjo Telick (means beautiful big)) in the distance. It was a bit of an added bonus as it wasn't mentioned on the map. It was about 300m up the Beles and I walked along the banks and took lots of photos. Then I climbed above it and had another snack after nearly burning my rump on the rocks - they were very dark and with the strong sun, they were scorching!

While I was sitting there, to my surprise a man appeared carrying a stick and about 15 fish he'd caught. I said the usual greetings and buhzo asa – "lots of fish" and then he took one off and gave it to me. I gave him a birr. I wrapped it in a plastic bag I had, but didn't know what I was going to do with it really.

A short while later I found another dangerously-steep bank to climb up and using my GPS I navigated back to the road. The GPS receiver makes it so much easier - with no paths, or paths that keep petering out all the time it was great to look at the tracks screen and see where I had walked before. On the way back there were some very good views of the ridge.

All in all, a pretty good day!

Bonus material:

My factor 50 sunscreen seems to be working – despite being out in the full glare of the noon sun I got away without any burns. I did use my umbrella when it got really hot as additional protection.

I took 2.7 litres of water with me and drank all of it before I got back. When I did arrive at the college I gulped down two Marindas (orange fizzy drinks) and spent the evening re-hydrating!!

I managed to cook my fish. I've never cooked a fish before in my life - I usually just get a frozen bread-crumbed piece out of the freezer at home or a Fillet-o-fish (pronouncing the t) from McDonalds! I chopped off the head and tail and eased the guts out, cut it in half and fried it. There wasn't much fish on it, but it tasted ok, and, considering it had been heating up nicely in my bag on the way home, it didn't smell which I believe (and hope) is a good sign. I did remember that it had been swimming in the Beles which is where people wash themselves, their cars and it's where all the waste from the Shintabet goes!! Oh well, I'll see what happens tonight.

Friday, 18 January 2008


After several months we actually had some rain this evening!

Before I get to that, the team of 13 students I had "employed" have produced 1400 number fans in about 5 days. On Wednesday I paid them out of my own pocket (about half my months wages gone!) Quite a feat getting all the change I needed when there is no bank in the town. I have already given the two local schools 200 fans each to use with the children during lessons, and we will distribute more as we do training with the other schools in the cluster. I am trying to get my money back from our unit's budget, but it could be more red tape than it's worth!

I taught again at the local primary school. I think it was the only teaching they got today as their teacher is away ill and I don't think Ethiopia does "cover teachers." A group of about ten followed me to the college gate carrying my bag of teaching aids and posters for me (singing "London's burning and one two "tie" my shoe.")

Back to the rain...

On Tuesday and this morning the sky had been overcast first thing, which was really weird as every other day I've been here, I've walked to work in bright sun with clear blue skies. Anyway, later in the day, as I walked home near sunset, I noticed some very dark clouds in the North East. A bit later, after I'd eaten tea and it was pretty much dark, there was a lot of wind outside and I could hear thunder in the distance. Then the power went off and I went outside. It was quite exciting as there were some large gusts of wind (which also blew dust unfortunately) and bright lightning flashes across the sky. I just stood there in the "road" outside our house, being blown by the wind. The guard came over shining his torch, wondering what I was doing. He laughed when he saw it was "The Ferengi". It started spitting and went on to get heavier. It was great having the cool rain on my face. I stayed out until I was quite wet. I guess the other people in the street will be gossiping about the "crazy ferengi" tomorrow!

Monday, 14 January 2008

Training, Teaching, Making, Walking and Wedding

Wed: Me and my counterpart did some more training at the second nearest school. It went well, although my counterpart’s translations seemed to be about three times longer than what I said, so I don’t know what extra he was telling them. The teachers all want to try using the count-stick and number fans which is excellent. We’ll go and observe soon.

Thu: I again taught at the local school for an hour and a quarter. It was fun. I recorded them singing “London’s burning” as they are gradually coming along. I also started to teach them “Frére Jacques” to see if French is any easier for them, and continued teaching some English.

Fri: I have trained some of the college students to make number fans for the cluster schools. Initially my target is 100 fans for each school (1000 in total.) During the day we made 300 fans! Lots of the students wanted to take materials home over the weekend to continue working, so we should have a lot more on Monday.

Sat: I went for a long walk. I was planning to get the bus to go to Kar ridge (about 16km to the South East) (those mountains you can see in the distance in some of my photos) as I have found what looks to be a fairly easy route up there on the map. As there was no bus in town, I walked towards Mandura along the road, hoping to flag down a bus if it came. In the end after about 6km (1h30) and no bus, there was a small ridge which I spent a while at sitting and looking at the view with no people! It’s very difficult finding anywhere here with no people, especially at home. On the way, I had passed a lot of people carrying stuff towards Gilgel who wondered what I was doing and why I didn’t have a car! The temperature reached 32C this afternoon. Apparently it’s only going to get hotter and drier.

Sun: I had been invited to a wedding by the director of the local primary school and at 6 (noon) I finally managed to find the place. There was lots of drumming and chanting-singing with repeats from the audience and clapping. There was loads of Tela (the local home-brew which tastes like dried twigs and mud with alcohol) I got out of it this time by saying “yellum alcohol” (no alcohol) which is actually true of me in the UK. Also I had injera, potatoes and meat. There were some speeches, but only the close family gathered around and could hear it. Then more drumming and singing and the party led out to a bus where apparently they go round the village drumming and singing and then go to the groom’s family’s house for more of the same. I found out eventually that they had actually been married yesterday. I escaped after two and three quarter hours. It was interesting, but I don’t usually like social gatherings in the UK so it wasn’t any better here. I viewed it more like a scientific investigation. I’m also a bit depressed at the moment which doesn’t help – it might be the lack of personal space and privacy – little irritations like food, missing home and the sea. Not sure, but I’m sure I’ll get over it again.


One of the things I thought wouldn’t be a problem is food, but not trusting the local food, only rarely being able to get eggs from the market, my diet is somewhat limited. My restocking at Bahir Dar is dwindling already. I seem to be mostly having porridge (with milk powder and honey or sugar), Tuna and potatoes, Tuna pancakes and today, tuna and beans. Tuna was the only tinned “meat” I could get at Bahir Dar, so I’ll have to wait for Addis to get more Franks, luncheon meat and corned beef. I also am running out of Instant Noodles!

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Day 100 and start of Ethiopian Choir!

4 January 2008

Today is my one hundredth day in Ethiopia!

Progress so far includes:

  • Writing action plan.
  • Sorting out model classroom in college and having college students visit during open hours.
  • Adapting to the Ethiopian climate.
  • Adapting to the Ethiopian work Ethic.
  • Some teacher training, observations and training follow-up.
  • Learnt how to read Fidel (Amharic) characters.
  • Begun once a week teaching of English to college trainee teachers.
  • Begun once a week teaching of music and English to a local class of primary
    children (see below).
  • Can speak about 160 words of Amharic.
  • Made a cardboard handle for my saucepan lid.
  • Made curtains for my room using a bed-sheet, string and clothes pegs.
  • Have stopped termite dust falling on my computer and on me at night using
    plastic on the ceiling.
  • Can wash thoroughly and completely in a 50cm bowl!
  • Have only had one vomiting incident.
  • I have not got a cold this "winter."
  • I have not got malaria.

Yesterday I observed an Ethiopian teacher using number cards very effectively in her class. This is real progress as some training I have done is in actual use in the classroom. Next week I will be training and then paying college students to make number cards so that more classes can have access and hopefully more teachers will teach using them. Then we expand to the other schools...

Also, I was really missing actually teaching children so I have arranged to go to the local school once a week and teach a grade 2 (8-10ish) music and English for an hour and a quarter. I started last Thursday, but yesterday I switched to my regular time, before lunch, and had a breakthrough with "London's Burning" - I managed to get them singing a round through one whole time before they began singing the same as each other. They're even pronouncing "P" in "pour on water." What really showed it working was that they were singing it on the way home. I also have started "one, two tie my shoe (there are no buckles here!)" which works quite well and have begun teaching them rhythm with "tat tay tar." Also this by hand gestures as I cannot speak enough Amharic.

Ethiopian Christmas

The family I live with have been away to stay with their family for Christmas which means I've had to house to myself for the last few days which has been great. Although we get on well, having total privacy has been good. For a start I gave the toilet a good clean!

Yesterday (7th January 2008), it was Ethiopian Christmas day - a national holiday. Starting at around 1130 I was invited to someone's house for coffee. For the next six hours it became a bit like that Christmas episode of "The Vicar of Dibley." I visited three houses and had tebs (meat) and injura, bread, popcorn and coffee at all of them. Just when I thought I'd got away and was nearly at my door, there was a shout from across the street and I was invited to my fourth tebs and coffee etc. I finally got away at 1700. The trouble is, the whole time I'm waiting to find out which item contains the bacteria that'll keep me up all night!!!

Some of the houses had "Happy Christmas" signs up, one had lights on a few branches of a tree. It was funny visiting the other houses as they are structurally identical to my house but with different arrangements of furniture and one was turned 90 degrees and one 180 degrees relative to my house so the sun was in a different position.

In one house, the family had children and I showed them a number of games you can play with bottle tops, including snatch the top, table football, shove halfpenny and magic tricks.

At one point I was offered raw meat (kitfo) but with the risk of getting worms very high, I gave it a miss!

Next year I said I would get some mince pies shipped over so they can try them!


Because of the lack of street lights, the skies are really clear here. You can really see the Milky Way which is overhead as I am near the equator. Also at the moment, Mars is a very prominent orange near Orion in the evening, and this morning I saw Venus shining very brightly in the South East (a morning star indeed!).

Temperature and weather

The overnight "lows" are still around 10 degrees C. We've passed the shortest day so I don't think it'll ever go lower than that. Apparently the weather forecast is to gradually get hotter as the days get longer and the sun gets higher in the sky at midday (up to 40 degrees C!!!) with no rain, then the rainy season begins at the end of April / beginning of May time. Two years ago some of the houses flooded as the river overflowed!! (Luckily I am in the row of houses that are the highest and furthest from the river!!)

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Happy New Year

Best wishes to all my readers even if here in Ethiopia the fact that the whole world except them has just had a new year didn't seem to register. (New Year in Ethiopia is in September.)

I was at work again like Christmas last week. It was a good day. I painted a piece of wood with red and white stripes to use as a more sturdy counting stick. I observed an English lesson at the second nearest school to the college (about 10 mins walk) which was interesting, and booked in a teacher-training session for next week. Yesterday we observed maths and while I was waiting outside to see the director I heard English chanting going on. The funny thing was - I couldn't understand what they were saying and had to ask someone. Apparently they were saying "where is the cat?", but I only managed to pick up "werez cart". Some Ethiopian's laughed that I couldn't understand what was supposed to be English!!!

I also visited the local school to set up an observation - one teacher is using number fans/cards which I would like to see. A bit of a break-through after the training a while back! I have a grand plan to get number fans/cards in all the cluster schools. It's an easily trainable, quick way of getting teachers to use active teaching methods and instant assessment which hopefully will carry through to other areas. Also the cards are relatively easy to make and only use card, pens and string. I have also advertised for college students to be paid to make them. I have made about 100 sets (10 per hour) over the last few weeks but for one class set of 100 for each of the ten schools we'll need 1000. Then I want to get one set per class...

In the afternoon I was requested to fix two more computers that have gone down. I'm sure it's viruses. Virus writers don't realise how badly they are affecting the developing world where the users cannot afford anti-virus programs or technicians to sort out the problems.

Then I taught my third English lesson to the college students - did body parts with lots of VAK! My other counterpart observed and was impressed by my range of teaching methods!!!

Finally I had a pudding tonight. In one of the boxes mum sent there was a steamed syrup pudding. I was a little stumped at how I was going to steam it for 25mins, but my creative mind (which has helped me with a number of problems since I've been here) figured it out. I put some water in the bottom of a saucepan, put the sieve I have across it, put the pudding in the sieve and put the lid on. It worked. Next the mini-Christmas pud mum also sent!

Finally finally, as the bins were full (both of rubbish and the toilet one) I had another fire like last week. What I didn't have, which was good, was the "two bobs."

So, a pretty good day.