Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Bahir Dar Trip and Associated Hassles

Pre-trip Hassles:

Well it all started out in the "come to expect it" fiasco. About two weeks ago I had asked the vice dean if there was a car going to Bahir Dar that I could hitch a ride with. The eight hour bus journey is not particularly enjoyable. He said yes, on Thursday (21st) returning on the Monday – this seemed ideal, but living the life of pessimism that I do, I was expecting some problem. As usual, I was correct. When I checked on Tuesday, there wasno longer a car going to Bahir Dar, but there was one going to Addis which could drop me off at Kosober on the way. Not as good, but going from 1000m to 2600m in a 4x4 is much more comfortable and quicker than in a bus, and Kosober to Bahir Dar is on asphalt road and only takes about 1h15 in a minibus so I could cope with that.

Wednesday afternoon, I again checked the arrangements aware that last time I was told 9am collection and they arrived at 7.30am. I am now told that the car going to Addis is a single cab 4x4 and there is no room for me. I can use my CCU budget to pay for 40… no 50 litres of fuel at 350 birr and have a car take me there. Well originally I only wanted to go by car if it was going anyway and 350 birr is 10 bus tickets so I'm not particularly enamoured at this option. The vice dean said it's not a problem as I have some transport money in my proposal so I can use this and says I just have to write a letter. I did query the whole thing and say it was very expensive and it not directly related to CCU (even though I would be doing some training at Bahir Dar University) but the Vice Dean seemed to think it was ok and seemed very in favour of my using the uni car. That, and the thought of the incredibly slow bus journey persuaded me to write the letter. It was getting towards the end of the day and eventually six copies of the order went to various departments, I received 350birr (the driver is not allowed to pay for the fuel and get receipts, the academics travelling have to do that!)

So, a bit concerned about the money, but remembering it's only £20 UK money and I could cover it with my own money if things went wrong, I at least had the thought that I could go at 8am after refilling water etc (which doesn't come on until 7.30am), having a pleasant start to the day etc

That was until the driver arrived and suggested (through an interpreter) that we leave at 5am. We finally got it to 6am, but that's the same time as the bus and I thought this is getting worse and worse. Apparently he needed to be back in Chagni for a funeral.

Thursday, 21st February

So I set my alarm for 5am and got ready and packed and was outside at 6am ready. By pure co-incidence when I looked at The Moon just above the horizon in the direction across from my house, it was dark and I realised it was in eclipse. I subsequently found out there was a lunar eclipse, and totality started about 10mins before I went outside the door. I remember there was
one (that I asked the children in my class to watch) on the day I went to the very first VSO open day, round about this time last year (12 full moons ago.)

The car arrived near enough on time, including two passengers – getting the free ride that I seemed unable to get, but I am on my way. (the tenses in this blog entry seem to keep changing!)

When we got to Chagni (the nearest bigger town to Gilgel) the car suddenly went off the main road and down a side street where about 100 people were gathered – the funeral, I guessed. They parked, and without telling me anything, got out and walked off leaving me to be a ferengi in a cage to be stared at. I started listening to my MP3 player. The driver came back crying
about 20mins later followed by someone who asked where he was going, and he pointed at me and said Kosober. We set off, me being driven by a distressed driver who would rather be at a funeral than driving me. Nether could speak each other's language. Great! I think I understood that it was a friend who was also a driver who had died.

After a quite tense 1h30 we got to Kosober and after paying for the re-fuelling I was off to Bahir Dar on a speedy minibus arriving around 10am.

I may be wrong, but I think the vice dean was so keen for me to use the CCU budget to a) allow the car to have a bit of extra fuel (left over from the journey) but mainly so that the three people, including the driver, got a paid-for trip to Chagni for the funeral. Now I know a funeral is a sad thing, but I wish they were honest about it all. It would've made sense for me to pay 33birr to go by bus, but then where would they get the money for the fuel to Chagni?

Once in Bahir Dar I got a mini-three-wheel moped taxi to the university, got the key from Elsa, who I would be staying with, minibused and walked back to her luxurious government apartment and had a sleep!

In the afternoon I went to the telecenter, and thanks to a letter from the Dean of the College, got my own internet account (which I paid for, it's about 60 birr per month with 900 free minutes) It means I can surf anytime, even while colleagues in the college are using the college account. Also, if/when I get a phone line I can use it then. I also went to the post office, on the off-chance of post and there was one item – I'm not sure why it hadn't been sent on to me, it was only a
magazine. I found a nice café on a first floor with a balcony overlooking the street, where I had a coffee and a very good chocolate-iced doughnut. I went to the supermarket and got some supplies. I was distressed to find no chocolate bars! Last time there were Bounty, Mars, Snickers etc! Back at the house I had the first shower I had had for six weeks – hot as well! When Elsa and Judith returned, I had a look around Judith's apartment – opposite to Elsa's. Again it is very large, with comfy-chair lounge and hers has a balcony which overlooks the street. The only disadvantage is that there is a bar below which plays music about 18 hours a day which is beginning to drive her mad. We then went out for a meal at the next-door hotel. Lots of
different veg etc – very nice, first "proper" restaurant meal for 6 weeks.

Friday, 22nd

After breakfast I went for a walk along the lake, fending off the usual "Do you want a boat" with "hulet wer befeet" – which means two months ago (I went). Also "gobinyee Idelehum" – "I am not a tourist" came in useful. After scrambled egg and bread (and another chocolate donut) at the café, I went to the university, prepared and delivered my presentation to 10 department reps from the university who have a special interest in English. There were also some students in the session as well. It went pretty well, and I even linked number fans to the electronic voting systems that businesses use to show number fans are not just for children, they are just an inexpensive way of getting feedback and allowing assessment from anyone.

After the uni, we went back to town via another supermarket that has recently opened. It had a larger variety of sweets – but all cheap "copies" of the big brands. As Elsa had bought more heavy shopping, she asked if we could swap bags because of her back. We got a minibus back and outside the apartment we discovered she had left my bag on the bus – luckily it had only 50 birrs-worth of stuff. Amazingly, about an hour later, the minibus returned the bag and I had the first yoghurt I had had since the UK.

Me and Judith had a meal at the Ghion (hotel where I had stayed before where the dining area over-looks the lake.) We had a good egg-covered fish.

Saturday, 23rd

Lazy start, shopping in afternoon and great smoothy fruit drinks! Me and Judith had a meal at a poshish hotel (still only cost around 60 birr (£3) including drinks.)

Sunday, 24th

Went to Judith's for eggy-bread (aka French toast) but there was a power cut so we went for a long walk around the lake, I showed her the doughnut café! We had eggy-bread when we returned. In the evening we ate at the Papyrus (where I stayed the first time in Bahir Dar) by the swimming pool. I had a burger and chips – the last meal like that for a while followed by the last hot shower I would have for a while.

Monday, 25th

Getting the minibus to Kosober was relatively painless, as was the bus to Chagni. The temperature was ok and I had a seat at the front so was pretty comfortable. Then it all went downhill at Chagni. I managed to get on a very full bus, at one point an announcement was made and lots of people got off, but apparently what had happened was that as demand was so high, they had put the price up from 7 to 12 birr to get to Gigel. The next 45mins was a hot, sticky wait without knowing when we were going to leave. When we did depart, it was the usual slow, stop-start trip and by the time I got to Gilgel Beles, six hours after departing Bahir Dar, I was hot, sticky, dehydrated and unlike previous feelings of being "home", this time I was angry and felt like I was back in a watered down version of hell to continue my sentence.

I also discovered someone had been in the house and it looks like they stood on the toilet to use it. It is the only solution to explain the muddy footprints on the seat. There seems to have been a bit of cleaning done and maybe the plants watered so I guess it must be the "friend" of the family who took the key.

My can of tuna slopped on the floor when I opened it – attracting the ants very quickly, necessitating a floor wash – and the temp was 35C! Also, I discovered my bag of flour had quite a few black insects in it, meaning I had to sieve them out – all extra jobs I didn't need on my return. Oh well, life goes on…

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Day 150 news round up

Financial matters

I had a letter yesterday stating that the regional education bureau had accepted my proposal for this year for the Cluster Unit. I requested, and got, over 35,000 birr for our training activities including transport and refreshment costs, materials and resources used to make displays in all the classrooms and paper and copying costs for the training materials.

In Ethiopian terms, the amount is equal to about two years of my salary. In UK terms it is roughly £2000. I have already spent some of it ordering thousands of sheets of card and other materials for our "Every Classroom should be a Model Classroom" training sessions. The problem I found when I arrived was that most schools had only one classroom ("a model classroom") with displays and the rest were bare. My plan is to get basic displays in all classrooms. The training I have planned is to take a load of resources to the schools, have a quick 30min session on why displays are "good" and what you can use them for, then the rest of the afternoon will be spent by all teachers making and displaying materials in their classes.


There has been a large bulldozer clearing a vast area in-between the college and the staff accommodation. I thought it was for new buildings, but apparently it's for football pitches!!!

Dust and climate

Well into the dry season, the roads and pathways are really dusty at the moment. Leaves metres back from the road are covered from when cars, buses and trucks go by. Just a quick walk into the village turns your shoes brown. Doing the washing, especially trousers, I have to do a pre-wash to get some of the dust out, before I leave them to soak for a while. The water goes brown very quickly. It currently goes no lower than 16C overnight, and by late afternoon the temperature is somewhere between 30C and 34C. According to my astronomy program, the sun will be directly overhead in the middle of April which is supposed to be the hottest time when temperatures get to 40C! Then it is followed shortly after by the start of the rainy season. It is currently quite dry (35-40% humidity) and, though hot, the climate is pretty bearable. When the rainy season starts it will get very humid again (like when I arrived and it was usually about 80%) and I am not looking forward to that!

It still seems odd seeing The Moon directly overhead at night, and when it is a half moon, it is on its side.


I am really enjoying being on my own in the house. I know that when I get home, I can shut the door and have my own space. The toilet has been really clean lately. No coming home at lunchtime to find a load in there. I even managed to tweak the cistern at the weekend and now the flush works properly, even stopping filling when the water reaches the top.

Night noise

I am currently being woken by a bird which peeps like an alarm clock and the usual call to prayer. At least there are no baby noises!!

Bahir Dar

On Thursday I will be going to Bahir Dar to stay, again, with a VSO volunteer there. On Friday, I will give my number fans and count stick - teaching aids presentation to a group of academics at Bahir Dar University. I will also be able to get lots of supplies to add to the box that arrived
from Addis yesterday. Then I'll be flush with tinned meat and tuna to last me a couple of months! The good news is that there is a college car going there so it will take about 4.5 hours in relative comfort instead of 8.5 cramped on a bus!!!

Day 150

On Saturday (23 Feb) I will have been in Ethiopia for 150 days. It will also be the half-way point as I plan to come home to the UK for a couple of months during the summer.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Mid-February Update

Personal space

Just as I was heading for the pit of despair re: personal space and privacy, I now, suddenly, find myself on my own in the house.

The man of the family is in Addis Ababa for three months at the Ministry of education on some kind of long, drawn out training. Last week, the sister of his wife, a young girl who is basically used as a servant to look after the baby, make breakfast etc, and also who was always watching me and seeing what I was doing (very un-nerving) went back to her mother for the semester. That left the wife and their 10 month old baby. Then yesterday she announced they were going to Addis to visit husband/dad. I asked how long (well actually I asked “what time?” in Amharic and she said 05:30 in the morning.) Once I had communicated the length of time, she said “und wer” which means a month, Hopefully I will be on my own here for a month.

It started well this morning when the water came on and I could hear the tap in their kitchen, on full. She’d left it on the other day and I turned it off to stop the kitchen flooding. Well today, now that she was gone, she had locked all the doors so I couldn’t get into the kitchen. Luckily I remembered the stop-cock tap outside and luckily x 2, it only turned off the kitchen tap and not the toilet etc.

At lunch time I had a sudden urge to clean and got the “Vim” powder out and cleaned the outside cement bucket sink and tiles which had months of food/washing debris caked all round it. It’s a Samaritan-effect thing. When we’re all there, nobody does it, now that it’s just me and will be mine for a month…

It was so nice tonight, coming in to my own house without baby noises, people following me around etc. I can get to the sink when I want (when the water’s on of course) the toilet will be clean with only me using it (and flushing it after). Bliss!

Other news:

The water was off for two days last week – now I have two big bowls and a bucket, I was doing ok. The electricity has also been off quite a bit. I did more cooking by siddist shama (six candles)!

I have been fully immersing myself in computer programming. I love the way you have to solve problems (that all have logical reasons, however obscure it seems at first (e.g. putting a colon instead of a comma in a global variable statement at the beginning of a program and wondering why everything was defaulting to 0 later on in a function calling that variable.) I also like thinking about new features I can add. At the moment I have written a 2D and 3D liquid simulation. You can design a river, and then make water flow down it. I even added rain and erosion. I don’t program the water where to go, I just tell the computer the rules for each droplet (e.g. if you are next to another droplet, move away, move down if you can with gravity – that sort of thing) and when the computer runs the program very fast with a lot of drops (about 15,000 drops updating 30 times a second) it looks like water. I added the ability to zoom in, show cross-sections etc. I am currently working on a Gundan (ant) simulation. They collect food and return it to the queen ant who lays eggs which hatch into more ants. They also collect sand grains to build a nest. I am working on having more than one colony and having them battle for food etc. The logical “in the present” state of mind that programming puts me in, is very good at blocking any worries about the past or future and it’s got me a through some hard times in the last couple of weeks.

There is a satellite TV in college café, which is often on Nat Geo Animal channel in English which is interesting – today it was a guy dressing up as a crocodile in a protective cage to get closer to them!

There is not a lot happening at work at the moment as the schools have been on mid-semester break. We are trying to book up training sessions in the eight schools, but it’s taken a long time to get colleagues to write the letters in Amharic. I have also been making count sticks. On Friday I was doing a lot of sanding and today I painted them (with some very smelly, probably carcinogenic) paint. My English class has been cancelled for two weeks (I didn’t know there wasn’t one today) and although I knew about the primary school being closed for two weeks, I was told they would be back last week, but I turned up and “Yellum lijotch” – no children. Hopefully Friday I can continue “One two, tie my shoe” etc. I’ve been saving all my tin cans for some drums!!!


I did get a whole lot of post after the last entry, but it has dried up again. Please write me something and tell me what’s going on in your life – whoever you are and however seemingly uninteresting what you’re doing seems – it’s the regular everyday UK life news I miss. It’s really good to get letters out here, so if you’re reading this and haven’t written to me yet, now’s the time – especially if you’re someone I don’t know is reading this. Even if it’s really short. Thanks very much. I have started a photo wall in my room so if there’re pictures of you doing anything unusual, I can add it there. I have some photos sent from someone who was on the London-Brighton Vintage Car Rally and lots of my niece and nephew at Christmas so far.

My address is:

Mark Sidey

PO Box 47

Gilgel Beles

Metekel Zone

Benishangul Gumuz