Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Bahar Dar for Christmas

So me and Göran made it to Bahar Dar for Christmas. We set off in the college car on Christmas Eve and as we drove around Gilgel collecting people, I foolishly thought that when we had three people in the front and three in the back that would be it, but no, another guy got in the back with us, making seven!

We stayed with volunteers in BD with nice apartments and I looked forward to a nice hot shower (my first in about two months!) So there I was, steaming water flowing, head shampooed up and then… the water stopped. I managed to find the taps to get a little water to get the soap out of my eyes, and then I waited, planning to use a bucket of water in the bathroom, but after about 5mins I heard some guys downstairs start the pump for the water tank and a minute later the water came on again, and I had a luxurious shower at last.

On Christmas day there were 11 ferengi round for Christmas dinner. We had fish in sauce and quiche that one of the volunteers had made, along with lemon rice and lots of different prepared veg. There was also Canadian salmon on biscuit starters. The nationalities of the ferengi were: 5 Dutch, 2 Canadian, 2 English, 1 Indian and 1 Swede.

On the other days, we bought lots of food shopping (I bought biscuits, sweets, jam, honey, peanut butter, syrup and tins of hotdogs and tuna – healthy stuff then!) I also bought some other bits and pieces like mugs, and had some photos developed. Göran bought some jeans from the market, which was fun. Apparently the style is flared at the moment. Check out the picture which shows his flower-power roots!

We also walked around the edge of the lake which was good, and fended off the usual barrage of people asking usif we wanted to buy stuff, go somewhere on a boat or taxi, give them money or bread etc which was not so good. And we had a pizza one night.

During the stay, Judith’s drains blocked and every time someone from upstairs used water, brown, smelly water came into her kitchen and through into the living room. At one point there were little 1cm worms in the water as well. We used some caustic soda and eventually the problem seemed to be fixed.

On 28th December, almost one year to the day I went last time, we went to visit the island monasteries on Lake Tana. Göran agreed that it was a bit “Disney monastery” – like the paintings are done just for tourists and the real monastery is down the hill or something. Also the monk telling us about the crosses and goat skin bibles was like a tape recording and questions only diverted him for a few seconds before he got out another Cross to show us, or tell us how a peacock’s tail represents Jesus’ love all over the world etc.

Today, getting a Bajadge (three-wheeled taxi,) the driver started with 30 ETB (white-skin price), but using my limited “I’ve been here a while” Amharic, I eventually got him down to 5 ETB to get us to the bus station. This is the usual thing that happens in many places, although a 600% mark-up was a good one!

On the way back to Gilgel the minibus stopped for a priest who came on and blessed people and let them kiss his cross. For this honour they paid one birr. I said in quite a loud voice: “God is free in England.”

The college car collected us at the end of the asphalt road and drove us back home, which is so much nicer than getting two buses.


Me and Göran have been placing a series of one-birr bets. In the house it has mostly related to when and for how long the power will be out and will someone be burning the grass around the houses as we walk home.

On our BD journey, the bets were:

  • We will leave between 3-5 local time (Göran won)

  • The driver will play the Amharic version of Staying Alive from his favourite tape both ways (Göran won, he played Sudanese music both ways, no Staying Alive.)

  • There will be a power cut of over 5 minutes on Christmas Day in the apartments (I won, it was only a minute on that day)

  • There will be some kind of live animal, such as a chicken, on the back of the car when we drive home, like last time. (I won, there were no non-human animals.)

  • We will stop for more than 10 minutes in Chagni. (I won, we stopped for 12 minutes to wait for, and collect the college Dean.)

So overall, I am up one birr!!!!

Food cache

My current canned food situation after having a delivery from Addis Ababa and our trip to Bahar Dar is this…

Tuna 28

Sardines 2

Beef Luncheon Meat 6

Chicken Luncheon Meat 14

Pork Luncheon Meat 16

Corned Beef 7

Pork Franks 16

Chicken Franks 12

Chicken and Beef Hotdogs 3

Total 104

This means that I can survive here until 12th April on one can a day!!!!

Day 400 and New Year

New Year’s Eve is my Day 400 in Ethiopia. I will have about 6 months left until I come home.

Happy New Year to all of my readers.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Water and RatMan

It’s been good since I’ve been back as, unlike last year when the water was on an hour or two in the morning and again in the evening, the water has pretty much been on over 90% of the time this year. The only problem we still have is that the toilet isn’t flushing, so we are using buckets all the time.

Today someone came to repair an outside tap which had been dripping badly since we’d moved into the house. They did this while we were out and unfortunately the kitchen tap which it was connected to was on – we didn’t know as it had never worked. As you can imagine, after they had repaired the outside tap and turned the water on, the kitchen tap sprang to life and flooded the kitchen and water had started to come into the living room before we came home, turned it off and then spent half an hour brushing the water out and down the outside stairs.


There is an ex-instructor of the college back here at the moment. He is in the middle of his 2nd degree and is researching small-mammal pests to crops. He has several different areas (woodland, crop, scrub etc) which he is studying and lays traps for small animals. After he catches them, he measures them and identifies the species. One day he came into the college and produced a computer keyboard box. Inside the box were strips of cardboard, on which were stuck the skins of rats he had collected. It was like a set of rat lolly pops!!!!

Monday, 22 December 2008


Yesterday afternoon I told my neighbours and children about “Ferengi” Christmas. (Remember Ethiopian “Othodox” Christmas is on 7th January.) I showed them photos, got them to make paper chains and glitter cards*. They also sampled mince pies and Christmas pudding that mum had sent in the post. The children liked the food, but the adults found it a bit sweet. I don’t understand how they have coffee and tea with about 6 spoonfuls of sugar, but find our cakes and puddings sweet.

Me and Göran are still on target to have actual Christmas Day in Bahir Dar with some other VSO volunteers… we wait with baited breath to see if the car happens.

*The glitter came from Kenya – thank you Diana!

"Cold" mornings set in

Well last night, according to my thermometer, the temperature here in Gilgel went below 10°C for the first time since last winter. The days are now “only” 11h30 long near the shortest day on Dec 21st. The sun rises at around 06:45 and sets at 18:15. In the day, the temperature still goes above 30°C.

More hold-ups with my counterpart, who we “hired” about two months ago. A letter came, at last, from the regional education bureau permitting him to work with me for 3 days a week and I foolishly became optimistic that next week, starting Wednesday, I would have someone to work with and share my skills with, who could carry on the work when I leave. Yesterday, however, the next level down, the woreda department refused to let him go due to funding (and maybe still something to do with the fact that we didn’t choose the wife of one of the woreda officials – although this is just speculation.) We are talking about a payment of £28.00 per month here (3/5 of his salary) and I’m almost tempted to pay it myself, but that would give the wrong idea. In general, I’ve found that here in Ethiopia, from what others have experienced, that just giving money to people always causes more problems than solutions and perpetuates the “white people are rich” myth making life more difficult for others who follow.

When I came back to Ethiopia this year, I had been promised two fulltime counterparts who I thought would be in-place when I arrived. I had to advertise for, plan the interview/assessment, speak to officials and generally organise my own counterpart, who gradually got knocked down from fulltime to 3 days a week and at the moment, not at all. This has all taken three months! On top of that, I am trying to start the CPD programme in more of the cluster schools, but the car is broken, so not a lot is going on here at the moment. At least my recorder lessons are something I am in control of and happen twice a week regularly. The first group can now sight-read B,A,G,E,D and I may have a line on two teachers who would like to learn so they can continue teaching when I leave.

Monday, 15 December 2008

The Market (and Christmas, power and chanting)

The power finally came back after six days without. It took two days of repairing, and now it looks like someone just twisted the broken ends of wire together up on the power poles!!

Of course that doesn’t mean continuous power. It was off again on Friday night for an hour-and-a-half after dusk.

It’s coming up to Christmas, but the only sign of anything here is… absolutely nothing. No tinsel, no lights, no people going mad spending lots of money and no shops and TV showing Christmas this, Christmas that offers etc. Ethiopian Christmas (Orthodox church) is on 7th January and other than people visiting their families and lots of food (injera of course,) things are pretty normal.

The local Orthodox Church went completely mad on Friday morning with the P.A. up to maximum, waking both me and Göran up at 6am with chanting. Apparently it’s not just a “call to prayer” but some of the service as well, so if you’re too lazy to get to church, you hear the service anyway. I prayed for peace and the ability to lie in a bit longer and was rewarded with a power cut which silenced the priest, but unfortunately his power of prayer was stronger than mine and the power (and chanting) was restored after only a few minutes!

The Market

The twice weekly market in Gilgel sells spices, vegetables, fruit (oranges and bananas), posters, clothes, old bottles, goats and chickens, eggs and more. It’s open air and very busy. Here is a selection of photos. (Remember to click on them to see them in detail.)

Note the traditional balance scales and, fascinating to me, all the bees around the shiro powder. I’m not sure why the bees like the powder so much – it’s mostly ground peas and spices, but they get covered collecting it.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Holiday or not

Last year on this day there was a new “National Ethnic Diversity” Day created. The trouble is this year is that no-one knows if it is a holiday or not. Schools are closed, but here in college people are asking if they are supposed to be here or not. That coupled with Islamic holidays that may or may not be on a particular day based on The Moon, holidays are a bit mixed up here.

There is still no power in the house.

Monday, 8 December 2008

No Power and Language understanding

Well the water is doing pretty good, but the power has been off in our side of the village for over three days now. The reason is some people were cutting trees down near the prison and one fell on the power line. As there is a public holiday today (Id el Fatr – Muslim) and a national holiday (ethic diversity or something) on Tuesday, it could be a while before it is fixed. Me and Göran are well into our kerosene stoves now. Luckily, as the college is powered from another line, we can charge things there. Yesterday I was charging batteries for my torch, my electric shaver, my phone and my laptop while I went for a walk.

It’s really funny with the language here: many of the instructors say they can understand Göran and his Swenglish (Swedish-English) better than they understand me. I said “But we invented English!!!” I realise now it is the speed I speak at. We don’t realise how much we blend words, like answering “where is it?” by saying “s’overthere” (It’s over there) and “wherey’goin’” (Where are you going) etc. Because Göran is speaking slower and pronouncing all the words (even if he does have a problem saying “ch” as there is no “ch” in Swedish)* they understand him better. When I am speaking to people with poor English I make a point of slowing and pronouncing all the words, but when I am talking to the instructors who have better English, I sometimes forget and go into fast English.

*As Göran pronounces “ch” as “sh” it would be fun for him getting something for his feet. He would Shoose Shoes.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Astronomy, VSO visit, active teaching and Recorders

On Monday night I saw a pretty cool alignment of a couple of planets and The Moon. If you enlarge the photo (that should be here soon) by clicking, you’ll see the view I got. (The photo was taken on maximum zoom on my camera.) It shows Venus on the left, then The Moon, then Jupiter. As the night went on, it was like The Moon passed through the gap between the two planets. I checked out my Astronomy software and found that from my home in the UK, The Moon would actually pass in front of Venus.
On a pretty gross note, when I closed the window after taking the photos, I heard a kind of rustling noise by the window frame. It was dark as we were in the middle of a three hour power cut, but using the torch to see, I opened the window and a lizard tail plopped on to the floor and continued wiggling for quite a long time. I must’ve accidentally shut the lizard in the window! Yuck! At least lizards can grow their tails back!

Tuesday was very busy: Our programme manager from VSO visited and had meetings with us and our line manager. Also, I had to arrange a group of teachers to attend a discussion with someone else from VSO. I also taught two English lessons (to Grade 2 and 4) showing the teacher how you can teach using games and number fans to make the lesson more active. Then, in the afternoon, I taught more recorders, including the second session with “Group 2” which included the introduction of “G”. There are two boys and two girls in the group.

On Wednesday, I had some students in making number fans. During the small-talk I asked about one of the student’s hometowns and asked if he would be visiting his family for Christmas. He said no. Then my brain ticked for a bit… “You’re a Muslim aren’t you?” “Yes”!!!

Also, on Wednesday, I taught again in the local school. This time the teacher didn’t watch as she went to collect her salary – this is not in my plan. They are supposed to be observing to see the techniques I use. Still, it’s a crazy system here where the teachers have to go by bus about 15km once a month to collect their salary leaving the class unattended! One month I remember a whole school of over 1000 children being looked after by about three teachers as the rest had gone to get their salary. As it was, after I had done the hour in the grade 2 class, and was due to teach in grade 4, I just had to leave the grade 2 class unattended for the rest of the morning with no work or anything – it wouldn’t happen in the UK!

BTW the fish tank thing in a previous entry was to check if one of Göran’s friends was reading this blog! (It’s a pain typing Göran’s name, as when I get to the “ö” I have to press “Num Lock” then hold down “Alt” and press “0 2 4 6”!)

Monday, 1 December 2008

Big problem

Göran had a big problem today: There was only 11 minutes left before he had to give his afternoon computer training session and he still had pillow lines on his face from his lunchtime nap!