Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Meskel, Goran and Tarantula

Goran has arrived, except you pronounce his name Yoran which is going to take a while to get used to. He has loads of gadgets like me and he knows the Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show. I’ve been showing him around Gilgel and it’s good to talk to someone with good English, but more importantly, someone who has a similar cultural background. Sometimes it can be hard here when you can’t refer to anything from modern culture or films. For instance, no-one here has heard of John Lennon – that kind of thing, and Darth Vader would be meaningless. He also doesn’t seem to mind my instant cooking – like some instant noodles with a tin of tuna we had tonight!!! It’ll be good when we share a house – I was woken by the baby again this morning, and what with the family going to bed around 2030 – it’s a bit limiting.

It’s Meskel at the moment (I remember it from just after I arrived last year) – it’s a Christian festival (the finding of the true cross – I guess someone tried to sell someone a fake one in the past or something.) Anyway, I basically spent an hour and half following the priests with their colourful umbrellas, then hung around in a field listening to Ge’ez (pre-dates Amharic language) before they lit the traditional fire after walking round it twice chanting – maybe it was the Ge’ez version of “Here we go round the mulberry bush”. The only thing that kept me sane was watching the children who were as bored as I was, doing gymnastics, running around and getting told off for doing gymnastics and running around. A highlight was when one little girl walked up to a priest and tried to pull his strap-things off.

Last night I found a 10cm tarantula outside my bedroom door – the first one I’ve seen in Ethiopia. I’ve seen a number of large spiders, but not an actual tarantula. So that’s five snakes, two scorpions and one tarantula. I feel a bit guilty to say that as it was nearly midnight, I didn’t have the energy to catch it and put it outside, so I sent it to the big web in the sky. I’m just glad I have bamboo at the bottom of my doors to block the big gaps (initially to stop the rats getting in the kitchen) otherwise it would’ve been in my room.

Additional (Monday)

I’ve taken Goran on some walks around Gilgel. He is staying in the hotel, but allegedly we will be moving into new house in a few days.

On the work front, I’ve had some meetings and seem to have had some success chasing the card, pens and paper order from six months ago. And, my line manager and I will be visiting the local schools tomorrow to find out if we can recruit a full-time counterpart for me.

The electricity has been good for 4 days, there was very heavy rain and thunder last night, it’s very hot and sticky and I feel sleepy a lot!

Friday, 26 September 2008

New Ferengi due to arrive in the village!

Hopefully in my next entry, I will be able to tell you that the other volunteer, Goran (from Sweden) has arrived. He is due later today.

I tried to get more Kerosene for my stove yesterday, but Gilgel Fuel station is out. Hopefully I can get some from Chagni sometime. I still have enough left for a while. It doesn’t use much and is actually probably much cheaper than electricity.

I’m getting post through from the Post Office here. Remember, if you want to write to me (new people are most welcome), the address is below. Remember to include your address if you would like a reply.

If you send a photo I can stick it on my “post” wall in my house. I have quite a collection now.

Mark Sidey

PO Box 47

Gilgel Beles

Metekel Zone

Benishangul Gumuz


I now have two sets of speakers here (one set is a small battery-powered set, which is useful during the frequent powercuts). Anyway, due to “doing-in” my output socket on my laptop, I got an external sound card. The good thing is that the quality is much better (especially with headphones – no hiss) and it does surround sound. So here I am in the middle of nowhere watching movies with 4 speaker surround sound!!!!

PS/ For the techheads amongst you, I’ve just pinged the bbc website and the average time was 2055ms !!! (At least all the packets were returned this time)

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Sad News

I found out today that one of the small group of eight children I taught English to just before I came back to England died a few weeks ago. He was bitten by a dog before I left and it must have been infected as rabies developed and two months after the bite he was taken to a hospital in Bahir Dar where he later died.

He was nine years old.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Going downhill (already!!)

Well the electricity has been off for two 18 hours stretches in the last two days. It’s back to candles and kerosene stove for cooking.

The baby is really getting annoying – as I mentioned before, every time I open a door he’s in there, and with urine-soaked feet and a potential to poo at anytime, it’s a nightmare. Also, all I hear is the mother or sister saying “abbi na… abbi na” which means “baby come here” every time he wanders near to something he shouldn’t. It gets grating when you hear it over and over again.

I also discovered that all my work on the Graduate publication before I left was pretty much a waste of time: the print shop couldn’t use the Microsoft Publisher format I used (as instructed) and the preview prints were basically scanned in (at low quality) and re-done in a garish format. It looks pretty rubbish really.

On the good side, I’ve been out walking in my favourite places. The river at this time of year (towards the end of the rainy season is very high and fast flowing. It’s amazing seeing rocks that were 2m out of the water that I climbed on before, now completely submerged.)

I had my first pancake session last night, starting with a tuna pancake, followed by a lemon and sugar, then a maple syrup one! (I had to buy some new flour, my old tin of flour is like a zoo full of weevils (black adults and white larvae worms!)

There doesn’t seem to be nearly as many insects and bugs around as last year. Maybe in the rainy season there is plenty of food outside and they don’t need to come in.

Friday, 19 September 2008

I have my key!

The instructor with my store room key returned last night so I now have access to all my things. I have started to boil and filter water again, had franks and tinned mixed-veg for dinner, and did some washing. Now I have all my things it’s seems easy to settle back into the routine. I have had email contact from Goran (the Swedish volunteer who is currently in Addis and will be joining me in a couple of weeks.)

The toddler in the house is cute, but a pain. Every time I open a door he tried to come in, and they wash him in the sink I use for cleaning my food stuff – so hygiene is not good!

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Back in Gilgel Beles

This blog entry means I have internet access (albeit dial-up) at the college.

The journey here was not too bad. A bit of hassle at the bus station as I was white, the minibus was a little uncomfortable, but the college car was waiting for me at Kosober and it was a smooth journey home.

It must’ve just rained when I arrived as there was basically a lake between my house and the college which I had to paddle through. There is about a month left before it stops.

I have spent yesterday and today meeting people again, checking the post office (three months-worth of National Geographic!) and going around Gilgel. It feels very easy switching back into “Gilgel mode”. The only problem is the guy who has the key to my kitchen/store room is away so I’m locked out. The room is where all my food, water filter, buckets, bowls, jugs, cups etc – basically all my stuff I locked away before I left as some people used my bedroom while I was away. He is hopefully arriving tomorrow, when I’ll be able to have a proper wash using the bowl and start washing some clothes.

The climate is hot and sticky. Having come from the pleasant 21C 70% humidity in Addis, it’s now around 25C and 80%.

On the work front, I have a couple of weeks before the schools go back to sort things out. The biggest problem so far is that the two counterparts I was promised to work with have not materialised and probably won’t, which is a big blow as I would’ve been able to get a lot more done and really felt like I was doing what VSO is all about and passing on my skills.

Oh well – be flexible!!!

The power was off for about 2 hours last night and some of the door handles in the new classrooms block in the college have snapped. How cheap does the metal (if it is even metal) have to be for that to happen?

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Bahir Dar cycling

I spent my last day in Addis sorting paper work, then I left half my luggage and all of my food shopping at the VSO office so that it can be driven up to Gilgel in the college car in a couple of weeks when they come to collect Goran, the VSO volunteer who will be staying with me. This means I will only have to travel with one case and my backpack, which is a lot easier.

Getting from the hotel to the airport, the flight and transport at the other end to get to Judith's (VSO Volunteer) apartment went smoothly, with the exception of waiting for the flight. They were trying to get two different flights-worth of people through one gate (even though all the others were free,) and it was raining very hard and there was lighting. Just before we took off there was lightning which didn't give me much confidence. Anyway, we took off, and other than a few lurches in the turbulence, we made it.

Today, after French toast breakfast in our favourite hotel overlooking the lake, Judith and I went cycling. We crossed the Blue Nile River (which is very high now as it is the wet season) cycled along a dirt track, passed rich ferengi houses overlooking the river, up a steep hill with a very good view to where Haile Selassie's palace is. The guard was most off-put that we were walking along the driveway in the middle (no cars or traffic of any kind of course) but we have to keep to the side. We weren't allowed in as there was an official there, but I took a few photos. It wasn't that impressive really.
We cycled back on my hire bike (stuck in one top gear with one break rubbing – so a nightmare going up hills) to a monument to soldiers. It's a huge area with marble steps and when there are visiting officials, water cascades down to the river in large steps. The spire itself must be over 20m high. (See if you can find it on Google Earth. Find Lake Tana (the huge lake in Ethiopia) follow the river coming out of the South and a short way down on the East Bank (on the right) you should see the huge complex.

Here are the co-ordinates:

11d 36.138' N 37d 24.752' E

It must've cost millions of tax payers' money, but we leave it to you to make your mind up about that one – I mean, we do the same in the UK, spend thousands on sculptures in city centres using council tax that could go to schools.

I should be going back to Gilgel Beles in the next few days and will not know until then if I will have Internet access. Obviously if I do, I will add another entry.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Melkam Addis Ameut (Happy New Year)

I’ve just been hanging around - sorting out forms, doing some shopping at the moment. Today is New Year’s Day in Ethiopia. It’s 2001 (“Open the pod bay doors please HAL".) Yesterday afternoon I was absolutely exhausted – tired and a bit headachy. I basically slept and didn’t go to the New Year Party, although everyone had forgotten that the Ethiopian Day starts at 06:00 our time so staying awake until midnight wasn’t actually correct! Still, this morning the hotel had a coffee ceremony in the foyer and we got bread, popcorn and a glass of Tella (the homebrew.)
I am flying up to Bahir Dar on Saturday, and will return to Gilgel next week.
The weather here in Addis is pretty like the UK at the moment, around 20C and intermittent showers.

I’ve just finished “Artemis Fowl and the Time Paradox” by Eoin Colfer and am currently reading “Superior Saturday” by Garth Nix. If there is anyone from PT reading this, you will remember I did the first in the series of these books with some reading groups about five years ago (“Artemis Fowl” and “Mister Monday”) I’m still reading the series.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Day 02

It was funny on a food bill last night when the date was 03/13/2000. It’s Pagme, month 13 here at the moment. Ethiopia has 12 months of 30 days, and a catch-up month at the end which is 5 or 6 days depending on whether it is a leap year. New Year’s Day is only 2 days away!

I bought more gadgets with me this time: one of them is a plug-in mains monitor. It shows various things, like power usage, but also voltage. I wanted to see how stable it is here. At the moment it is showing 188V and a few minutes ago it was 197V. 15 minutes later: Now it’s up to 209V! Not quite like the UK where they have special generators which they can power up to cope with all the kettles turning on after Eastenders. (It’s 22:20 now, I guess some people have gone to bed and have turned their lights off as it is now 218V.)

I still feel a bit tired from the flight (although I slept well last night) and dizzy from the altitude.

I’ve had a meeting at VSO and contacted the college. I think I will be flying to Bahir Dar at the weekend, then returning to Gilgel next week.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Back in Ethiopia

I had a great last day with my family yesterday. Everything was packed the night before, so we went to Eastbourne, had a walk (my last sight of the sea for about a year!) and meal. We got to the airport around 1800 and my flight, which was due to leave at 21:15.left at 22:00. Some of the reason for this was that the plane was a good 5-10min bus journey away from the gate, there was only one bus and it had to go back and pick up more people.

The plane seemed quite empty, but filled right up when we stopped in Rome. So much so, that some people’s carry-on luggage had to go in the hold. It was a bit chaotic and I thought there might be people on trying to sell us oranges, or knocking on the window to sell bananas like the buses in Ethiopia!

What with the landing in Rome, and the crew turning the lights on for breakfast at around 0400 (0600 in Ethiopia) I didn’t get much sleep.

We landed on time (about 08:45 Ethopia time (GMT +3, so 2 hours ahead at the moment)), and it was very easy getting through immigration, and customs just waved me through without x-raying my bags and needing information on all my electronic goods.

I got a taxi for 50 birr (they started at 70) and was at the Yonas Hotel by around 10:00. Then I crashed out for about 4 hours sleeping on and off.

Finally, feeling a little breathless (I’m at around 2400m altitude again) I have come to the VSO office, met a few people and wrote this blog entry!

The weather is just like the UK at the moment. The temperature feels about the same, and the skies are overcast and it keeps raining!

So far I have switched back into Ethiopia mode quite easily. Obviously it is a lot easier this time as I know my way around and seeing lots of goats in the street isn’t unusual.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Last day in the UK

Since I last blogged, I have been out kayaking again, around the rocks at Eastbourne, round the corner and saw Beachy Head Lighthouse in the distance. I've also seen some more relatives and friends, been on sing star again at another friends, and been busy backing up hard discs, and getting ready to go back to Ethiopia.

I packed tonight, and it was much easier than last time. Everything fit in my case and backpack, with a bit of space left over, and some 7kg under the limit. Also, my laptop works and the hardisc is doing fine, and I now have another one with everything on it ready to swap in (about a 2min job) should anything go wrong with this one (see my last departure problems.)

Anyway, tomorrow it should be fairly relaxed. I'm going to have a last walk at the coast, a meal with my family, then go to Heathrow for a 21:15 flight. I should arrive in Addis Ababa about 10 hours later, and all being well, I should be able to post on here Tuesday afternoon...

Watch this space.