Monday, 28 April 2008

Orthodox Christian Easter

Well, as with everything in Ethiopia, the timing is different. I believe Easter is celebrated here one full Moon after the rest of the world (except other Orthodox Christians. What is an unorthodox Christian by the way? Someone who believes Jesus was a woman? You know: the Mother, the daughter and the holy spirit?)

Thursday was pretty quiet at college, most of the students and instructors had left a day early to go to their families. The actual public holiday for Good Friday was the next day, but with transport like it is, most people probably had to leave to make sure they got home in time. Sunday is the big celebration here. I’m not sure whether that’s for religious reasons, or because none of them have had any meat for 40-60 days, fasting for lent and Sunday is the big feast day. The sheep population in Ethiopia takes a nose dive and many people eat and drink to excess – apparently. Kitfo (raw meat) is a favourite dish. I avoid it for potential worm eggs contents, but many Ethiopians love it, and they attempt to counter the potential parasites by drinking 41% alcoholic contents “Ouzo” after eating the meat. I’m not sure how effective, if at all, this is though. I think Monday will be quiet also, for either; transport, hangover or indigestion reasons!

Last night it rained pretty continuously. The small hole in my roof seems to be dripping in the same position and only during very heavy bursts. The rain is bringing waves of insects. There have been waves of beetles, and last night it was like a battlefield with many struggling or dead beetles on the ground in the house. The ants are very useful at clearing away the corpses though – I remember reading somewhere that without ants, the place would be piled high with animal remains. The noise from the mozzies is incredible. There must be loads hiding somewhere as the cocophony of whining is pretty loud at dusk. Tonight there is a cloud of some small winged insects about. I wonder what will be next?

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Bahir Dar visit 6

Thursday, 17th April

As I could have expected, after weeks of asking if there was a car going to Bahir Dar, I was told late on Thursday afternoon that there was if I go now. Long story short: I managed to get two hours from them so I could pack, get house into a state ready to leave it for a few days (burning t.p. etc.) We left Gilgel in the college car around 17:30 and I stayed the night in a reasonable hotel in Chagni. (20 birr for en-suite and it had a net – about one pound a night!)

Friday 18th

Bright and early at 6am I was collected and we drove to Bahir Dar. En route we had an unscheduled one hour hold-up as the recent rain had caused the road to become all muddy in a place where they were renewing it, but hadn’t quite finished. A truck had slid sideways and down a bank and it took the hour to get stones under the tyres so it could move.

We ended up in Bahir Dar at around 1000 and I was dropped off at the university to meet another VSO volunteer (Judith) who I would be staying with, so I could get the key. Once back to her luxury apartment to unload, I had a walk, had a chocolate doughnut at a nearby café and did a bit of shopping. We ate at the Ghion which serves a lovely egg-coated fish and has a great view of the lake.

Saturday 19th

We had a walk and late brunch then did some shopping. I finally got a decent saucepan. Last time we went to the shop two months ago they started at 350 birr and dropped to 250. This time they started at 240 and I got them down to 200. (Expensive in terms of my 1150 monthly salary, but only £12 in UK terms – at least the handle doesn’t look like it will fall off like my 50 birr cheap one!) We ate with an ex-VSO volunteer who had left a couple of months ago and was already back in Ethiopia, bringing her husband along. In the night I woke up feeling nauseous a couple of times and first thing the next morning I had a minor broadband download!!! That was all though, luckily, nothing else happened!

Sunday 20th

Checking to see I had recovered, we then went and had Egg-bread with mixed juice brunch then hired bikes (at 5 birr per hour (30p)) and cycled to the outlet from Lake Tana - the source of the Blue Nile which finally hits the sea in Egypt. The guards didn’t like us stopping on the bridge! We ended up cycling around for about three hours before returning the bikes (which incidentally only had functioning rear brakes and the gears were stuck in one position) and having another multi-layered smoothy juice.

Monday 21st

Basically had a very relaxing day. Had a walk, did some last minute shopping, had another chocolate donut, watched a DVD, then had an very posh (for Ethiopia) buffet meal at the most expensive hotel in Bahir Dar - The Tana - for a staggering 62.50 Birr (£3.70) or round about a days salary for me!

It had been a very relaxing and enjoyable trip. It really is nice to talk to someone using a full vocabulary where you don’t have to think about which words you are going to use before you say anything. Also, Judith has seen a lot of films and TV programmes I have so I could do the “relate everything to films and TV programmes” thing that I do.

Tuesday 22nd

I decided to try the early morning bus that all the Ethiopians at college recommend. It meant waking at 5am and walking in the dark to the bus station. I arrived just before 6am and the first bus I could take (to Powe) was full, and the alternative (to Manbuk) only had about one seat left, so if I wanted to do it again, I would have to get up even earlier.

As ever it was cramped – there is very little leg room. It really is like a slow torture, like being kept in a stress position. It gets quite painful after a while when you can’t move. The bus was very slow, taking about twice as long as a minibus to go along the asphalt road to Kosober, then, even though it’s a drop from 2600 to 1000m from Kosober to Gilgel Beles, the second part of the trip took 4h30 plus a 30 minute stop at Chagni. I was on the bus for eight hours. It almost single-handedly wiped out any relaxed state I had achieved over the last few days.

I only arrived back about an hour later last time when I started at around 9am and changed twice. The only advantage this time was that once I was on the bus, I didn’t have a go through the hassle of getting my bag moved from one bus to the next at Kosober and Chagni.

I was dehydrated, aching and shattered and it’s only now, about five hours later, after having food, a sleep and rehydrating that I feel a bit more normal.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Clicking fingers and snake


In response to a need I had noticed while taking students with me on the “displays” training, for the last two days I have been training ninety 3rd year students (3 groups of 30) at the college in basic teaching aids / display skills. It really notices that they never had experience with rulers in their schooling and I went right back to holding the ruler in the middle and spreading your fingers to hold it steady. I went on to measuring a distance down both sides of a sheet of paper and joining the dots up with a line to get it straight and parallel. It was strange: in a way it was like teaching 7 and 8 year olds in the UK (like I mentioned in a previous entry.) Something I hadn’t even thought of cropped up in the first session: I asked them to measure a 10cm line so I could check for precision and found a significant minority had drawn a 9cm line. I discovered they had started from 1cm on the ruler, so I had to build in to my training mentioning starting at 0cm.

During the training I got the students to put their skills in to practice by making teaching resources which I will then be able to distribute to the cluster schools. Something else cropped up: some of the students didn’t know how to use a paper clip, and put them on sideways. You cannot assume anything here. Some of these students are in their late teens / early twenties and had never come across a paper clip – it really is a different world.

Something that was funny was that when the students wanted something they clicked their fingers at me. My first reaction was “how rude” but it’s just another cultural thing to get used to. It’s like clapping when you want service in a hotel, to order drinks or something.

Anyway, judging from the evaluation feedback, it was a useful and enjoyable training for the students. Either that, or they didn’t understand me give the instructions for filling in the evaluation!


The rain has stopped. There was one day when I went into the village and got a mild taste of the slippery mud that will be far worse in the raining season. I think I’ll have to wear my walking boots then. The temperature is rising again. It’s 22:30 and the temperature outside is 26C.

On Friday the sun will be directly overhead at 12:34 according to my Astronomy program. After that, shadows will appear to be moving anti-clockwise until August as the Sun will be arcing over the sky in the North instead of South.

Bahir Dar

I’m off to Bahir Dar for a couple of days to have a break, to speak English at full speed (with Judith a VSO Volunteer working at the university), have some hotel meals and get some supplies (food + shampoo / shower gel etc.) As usual, I’m not looking forward to the travel. (6am start then 4 hours bumpy, noisy ride to Kosober and the asphalt road.) Then I might leave the bus and get a minibus (which is quicker and more comfortable, but does mean moving bags and negotiating which bus.)


Tonight there was shouting outside and then someone knocked on my door and asked for me to come with my camera as someone has just killed a snake across the road. It was about 1.5m long and had bands down it – which didn’t look good as far as poison was concerned. It was still wriggling a bit until they took its head off!

Monday, 14 April 2008

Day 200

Sunday, 13 April 2008 (Day 200)

Life is made by choices. Frequently you make choices which can have a very small or very large impact on your life. Sometimes the smallest choice can have the largest effect. (It’s the butterfly effect.) If I hadn’t seen an advert in the TES for VSO, would I be in Ethiopia now?

There is also a question of free will. What we do is governed by so many things – hormones and chemicals in our bodies, previous experience, genetic coding. Sometimes I wonder if we have free will or, in fact, are just following programmed responses. Perhaps free will is just an illusion. If someone commits a murder they might be locked away. If someone commits lots of murders – is a serial killer - they are said to have a mental illness, but surely anyone who commits murder has abnormal psychology –the “don’t kill other people”- bit of the programming is distorted in that person. Perhaps all crimes are a result of mental illness. Maybe criminals don’t have free will. Maybe people who don’t commit crimes don’t have free will either, it’s just that their internal programming makes them think they are choosing not to commit crimes.

I was out for a walk today and I was wondering what made me choose to take the path I did. Why did I go left instead of right? Why, when I was planning to climb the big hill, did I climb the smaller hill next to it when I got there?

I keep having flashes of memories of places I have visited in the UK, Ireland etc and want to visit them again.

I miss teaching children. One hour a week with children who I have to teach through hand signals is not enough.

I miss listening to music with big speakers.

I miss just popping in to a fast food place to eat.

I get a horrible feeling every time someone asks me to coffee or to eat at the weekend.

I miss not having a shower.

I miss deep conversations with people.

I miss getting a glass of water from a tap without having to boil and filter it.

I miss wearing a jumper, coat, scarf and hat to keep warm.

I miss conversations that refer to films or TV programmes that we have both watched.

End of “off-at-a-tangent”

Anyway, I have a choice to make soon. It’s quite a big one, but as far as I can see, it will only affect my life until September 2009.

Choice A: I come home to the UK for a month in the summer, then return to Gilgel Beles to complete my two years with VSO as cluster co-ordinator. The Dean has promised there will be two teachers employed next year as counterparts which will be good as I can share all my knowledge with them, so that when I leave, they can continue. I also know all the staff now and have built relationships and know the system more. The problems are sharing a house and distance to anywhere.

Choice B: I come home to the UK for a month in the summer, then, if it works out, take up a cluster coordinator post in Bahir Dar. Advantages include easy access to Addis via Airport, other volunteers in the town so people to talk to. Supplies easily available, as is eating out and having ferengi food. Disadvantages include it being a tourist town so there would be more hassle from people, having to build all the relationships again.

Choice C: I finish one year here and come home in September.

I find planning the future difficult as I tend to go through life pretty much in the present. I’m a see-what-happens kind of person, which doesn’t really help other people.

I suppose I’ll decide sometime!

Friday, 11 April 2008

More Power!

Apparently, the reason the power is off a lot at the moment is that the electricity in Ethiopia is hydro generated and with the dry, hot season the water is low. They can’t run the generators at full power or all the water would be used up so what they do is reduce the flow, meaning less power. They can’t supply everyone in the country at the same time so they selectively switch people off on a sort of time-share thing. I think remote places get less of a share. I’m finding it hard – lack of electricity is my weakness. It is a pain cooking with candles – although I have now given it “more power” by melting wax in a tin and once melted and boiling the whole tin becomes a fire and gives out a lot of heat (and smoke.) Also, my primary entertainment is computer – DVDs etc and the batteries don’t last that long with DVDs playing.

It remained overcast all day today. The temperature was in the mid 20’s and the air was more moist (around 50% humidity) so a good relief after the recent heat. I had lots of flashbacks to home. Apparently though, this is just a few days thing and it will be hot and dry again very soon until the tropical rain comes in a couple of months.

Thursday 10th April

The final in the series of training went well. Lots of displays made by the students helping and the teachers at the school. It poured with rain after, then I was teaching English to admin staff till late, the last part being by torch light as the power was out again. On the way home I noticed a big puddle and realised that that is something else I haven’t seen for many months. Weird the things you notice. Anyway, the power is on this evening in the house and I can cook with my electric hob and recharge things. Not sure how long it will be on though.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Running out of motivational energy.

The power was off virtually all day today. The biggest problem for me, apart from laptop batteries running out in the middle of a DVD is that I boil my water using an electric hob: No electricity, no water!

I cooked pasta and chicken luncheon meat using wax power again for dinner.

Another typical day training:

(Remember I said yesterday we went on a mini tour of schools. One of the reasons was to remind them of the training this week.)

Having given the bloke who organises transport my list of intended training weeks ago, re-reminding him of it yesterday, I did my re-re-check this morning by giving him a note in big marker-pen letters saying 7:30 to V5 (1:30pm to village five.) Needless to say, the bus arrived outside my house, just after my lunch-time nap at 7:00!! So, tired, p-ed off that the timing was out again, we went to village 5, passing a two-bus collision on the way.

When we got there the driver asked me what time to return, I said 10:30, he said 10:00 so I made some comment about “Why the **** does he bother asking me if he already has a time he wants to go back.” I always have the feeling that the drivers have ulterior motives for everything, they seem to use the cars and buses as their own transport picking up and dropping off whoever they like. I may just be being paranoid, but I’ve lost count of the number of times we drive off somewhere unplanned.

Anyway, into the school. We had brought some students from the college with us, so I got them all to make large multiplication squares while we waited. The training was due to start at 8:00 (2pm) and by about 8:45 with three teachers (of 15) in attendance, I started the training. After the 20min intro, the idea was the teachers made some resources for their classrooms. They couldn’t be bothered and basically went home. Great.

If you look on the bright-side, we made about 10 multiplication squares, but it is so hard being positive and trying to be motivational all the time when some teachers don’t give a ****.

Anyway, I got a lot of post today – sweets and food, DVDs and music and the power is back on (for now) so it’s not all bad.


I just walked to work in the rain, which has now got even heavier!!!

First time in… since I got here. It’s never rained in the morning before. Grey skies at last!!!

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Success? Weather and Family

One of the big problems with work like this (VSO) is that you do some training and it gets forgotten and nothing changes. Well I’m glad I started with simple teaching aids training – something that can be tried out and used straight away as it seems to be having an impact. Last week I saw a teacher who had made her own count stick, another school we went to are using number fans and have made their own, and today, on a tour of a couple of the schools, I observed one teacher using Letter fans of English letters that she had got the children to make. Not only was it a new idea that I didn’t train for directly, but this teacher wasn’t actually at my training, the information had been passed on by teachers who were, so this is great.

On the way back the bus stopped suddenly. The driver had forgotten to check the fuel and we had run dry. There were about 40 of us on a bus designed for 30 and we all disgorged and stood under trees while we waited the hour for a guy to come from the college with fuel.

The power is going off regularly now, often early evening (around 19:00) and staying off until the next morning. It’s just gone off again and I am really glad I have a laptop where the battery takes over immediately. I’m also glad I bought a spare battery before I left.

The temperature has taken a turn for the worse in the last couple of weeks. My room pretty much doesn’t go below 30C overnight. During the afternoon the temperature outside is between 35 and 40C. I actually am not really noticing the heat directly. As it is always hot, my body has adapted. A bit like when you go in a room that smells and after a few minutes you don’t notice the smell. I now don’t really notice the heat. What I do notice is the constant sweat. It’s dripping down me constantly at the moment. When I wash in the bowl, it doesn’t take long before I’m covered in sweat again.

Another weather phenomenon is wind. For the last week or so, there have been weather fronts passing over around dusk. Lots of cloud, wind (which brings with it cooler air (28C instead of 33C!!!)), storms in the distance and a few spots of rain at times.

I heard today that the family will return to the house at the end of the week. I’ve become used to living on my own and it’s going to be hard living with a family again. I am going to start off with some house rules this time. Last time I was trying to fit in and didn’t want to offend anyone, but now I’m settled I’m going to insist on a few basic things – mostly related to hygiene (like using the buckets of water I bought to flush the toilet when there is no mains water, not spitting in the sink I use for washing up – that kind of thing.)

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Yellum Meurbrat

It’s really hot this morning. Yesterday there was cloud and wind in the afternoon and a few spots of rain, and the overcast night kept the heat in and at sunrise the outside temperature was 27C! Goodness knows what it’s going to be like this afternoon.

Also the power was off (“Yellum meurbrat” = there is no light) for most of the evening so I boiled my potatoes by candle power, and later heated water for my “bowl” the same way. I’m having some problems with the candles. I need a better way of separating them because the heat of one is melting another and if you don’t get the spacing right they end up as a big heap of wax on the floor.

With the lights off, there were more creatures than usual in the house. There were three spiders in the 5-7cm range (which thankfully don’t bother me much because I am building a tolerance out here – I leave the little ones alone as they get the mozzies.) There was a mouse in my kitchen cupboard and I could hear the rat in the family’s kitchen gnawing at something, but could do nothing about it as they have locked me out.

This morning the toad/frog was back and there was a tiny mouse (body about 3cm) in the bathroom.

The power is on in Gilgel, and in most of the other staff houses, but it’s still off in the three houses on my side of the road.

The water was off last night, and the net has been bad for days. As I write this, the computer has been re-dialling and re-dialling for 30mins.

I’m well into the training about making teaching aids and find it very interesting that the students who are helping have very little in the way of practical drawing skills. Even things like marking a piece of paper with a measurement each side and connecting them with line to make sure it’s straight is unknown or difficult for them. Drawing big bold pictures for the wall is also difficult – they often draw tiny pictures, not using all the paper. It reminds me of the level children in the UK are in Year 2 or 3 - “Don’t forget to use all the paper.” They also leave lids off pens which means they dry up very quickly in this heat wasting 8 birr a time. This can be accounted for in that they have never had any art training or teaching in their lives. There isn’t really art on the primary curriculum and if there was, there would be no money for resources.

The motivation in the schools is also very different from school to school. There are a couple we have visited who have been using number fans frequently and got straight into making resources in this training. There is another where one person has tried the cards once and the teachers just sat there and took lots of prompting to get started on the resources and are very unresponsive during training. The head also said they tried putting up displays last year but the children destroyed them. There is a definite attitude in some schools that there is no point changing as the children and students will destroy things or become disruptive. I need to think of a way to address this.

Still no net connection so I’m giving up and will try to send this later.