Friday, 30 January 2009

! ! ! Warning, more political, philosophical, ethical discussion ! ! !

We have been having discussions in our house about global issues that concern all of us, and thinking about why most people don’t do anything about them.

Scientific evidence clearly shows that global warming is happening (even if the media tries to water it down.) It shows that the temperature of the planet is rising dramatically, due to the (mostly oil-caused) green-house gasses. This will cause droughts, floods, sea-level rises, dramatic cooling of some areas while others become much hotter. It is now at a stage that this outcome is inevitable and it means that millions if not billions of the population will die in the next hundred years as a result of these changes.

Oil will run out in around 30 years. Pollution and waste is increasing. Animals are becoming extinct.

Why don’t people seem to care?

My contention is that our biological make-up causes most of us to behave in these ways:

  • Our main concern is living in the present: where are we going to get our next meal from? How are we going to get the most pleasure in the next couple of hours – eating? playing computer games? going for a walk? reading? We don’t really care about what happens to us in a couple of years, let alone what happens to everyone else when we are dead. (e.g. smoking, over-eating etc – it’s all about the pleasure now, rather than problems you might get later.)
  • To allow the survival of as many of our genes as possible, we are programmed to protect our children first, followed by ourselves, then close family (who share some of our genes), then relatives. There is also some concern for our small local social group of friends, but outside of that there is not much concern. For example, if you had fallen down a cliff with two people and had one hand free to rescue someone, you’re going to rescue your son over a friend who has no genetic connection.
  • If your child is ill, you are most concerned, if it is a friend or a relative, you show concern, but ultimately it doesn’t matter too much to you. If 1000 people die in the developing world of an outbreak of cholera you hardly even bat an eyelid.

I’m not saying we’re all “bad” it’s just the way we have evolved to take care of ourselves and close social group and also to do this using a range of short term solutions. Even government’s primary goals are only looking a few years into the future, mostly designed to get them re-elected. We are not designed, as a race, to care for our planet.

My prediction for the future:

We tend to be reactive rather than preventative – seat belts get fitted to school buses after one crashes killing children, river defences get built after an area has flooded, people get burglar alarms after they have been burgled.

I think this is what will happen with global warming. When coastal towns and cities start getting inundated with water as the ocean’s rise, the government will start to react as the people will want solutions and elect governments that do something about it. Of course by then it’s going to be a bit late and it will take hundred’s of years for the carbon dioxide to return to a reasonable level.

Also, the world is overpopulated. Maybe global warming is the Earth’s way of thinning us out a bit. Maybe some people think it is a good idea to let global warming continue and kill off a few billion (mostly developing world population as they will be most effected by the changes due to desertification, flooding – Bangladesh etc.)

Humans really are like viruses (as mentioned by Agent Smith in “The Matrix”) we consume all the resources in one area then expand and consume more in other areas until the entire planet has been taken over and laid to waste by humans. When a virus consumes all the resources in a person, they die. Will the same happen to the planet?

- Normal service will be resumed in the next blog entry (power cuts, no water, toilet troubles etc) -

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Explotation of the developing world


I’ve been reading an article in the latest edition of “National Geographic” on Gold and how the environment is being ruined to extract it. In some places it needs 250 tons of rock to be removed to obtain 1 ounce of gold (yes that’s tons – the gold is only there in tiny traces.) The waste is dumped, covering massive areas of rain forest. The mines themselves are vast holes in the ground and there is also a problem with the chemical waste used in the extraction of the gold from the rocks.


I have also just watched “Blood Diamond” about the “conflict diamonds” in Africa – diamonds that are fought over and sold to pay for weapons. It’s a dramatisation but based on some real events.

In both these instances governments and rebel groups fight over the money that can be obtained from these items (often used to pay for weapons), people work in dangerous conditions and are very poorly paid or are forced to work in mines or search for these items.


To complete the trio, last week I watched a film called “Crude Impact” about the horrors of oil. It seems that so-called developed world (in particular the U.S.A.) will stop at nothing to keep the oil flowing. In recent times they invaded Iraq under the “weapon’s of mass destruction” - guise, but many believe the real goal was to secure the oil supply.

There is evidence of the U.S. interfering with other governments (supporting current government’s suppression of the people – see Saudi Arabia) or funding and providing weapons to rebel groups to aid in over-throwing governments that don’t want to play.

Also, “developed world” oil companies seem to have less concern for the environment, waste and health and safety in the developing world when they are extracting oil from there rather than their home countries, for some reason…


Maybe it’s a good job Ethiopia doesn’t have any natural resources. I guess poor and peaceful is better than rich with others exploiting you and fighting over you.

(If Jorhan (probably spelt in some weird Swedish way) is reading this, I wonder if he knows who’s been talking to me!)

Monday, 26 January 2009

The continuing story of CPD and walks and counterparts

I managed to introduce the CPD course to two more schools of teachers last week, which means I’ve now covered 6 of the 10 schools. It’s the “end of semester” break here this week, so the last four schools are on hold. We will also need to check that the schools it has been introduced to have actually started the course.

I suddenly found out on Friday that all the teachers from the zone will be coming to the college in a couple of weeks and I can do a presentation on active learning to them (all 500 of them!!! – should be fun.)

I also found out that due to mainly bureaucratic reasons, the local government office absolutely will not release the teacher who was going to be my counterpart – so with 5 months to go, I still haven’t got a counterpart.


I went on my favourite 18km walk on Saturday (3 litres of water, 6 hour trip) to the place where two rivers join, there are some fascinating rocks and a beautiful valley leading up to a 10m high waterfall.

Last Sunday I went on the same walk I took when I’d just got back here in September, when the rainy season was still going. I matched some photos I took then to compare vegetation, river level etc. Hopefully two of the shots are included in this entry. I took all the photos and made them into a video slideshow to music – matching the beat and pace of the music.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Recorder concert

Yesterday was the first performance of my recorder groups. They performed to their class (of about 50 students) and their teacher and it went really well. They played about 10 tunes including nursery rhymes, blues, waltzes and more. I joined them for one tune, a kind of Spanish tango, but they played the rest on their own.

CPD Programme, latest developments

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will be aware of the trouble I have had starting the CPD (Continuing Professional Development) course in the ten schools of our cluster. First, last year, it was not having the Amharic translation, not being able to get enough paper, the print machine being broken etc etc. Then on my return to Ethiopia, it was not having a counterpart as promised, problems with paper, toner, master sheets, the print-room guy wanting extra money for printing (on top of his salary) etc etc. Then when we were finally ready to go, and introduced it to the two nearest schools we used as a test, they rebelled and wanted paying for doing the training, even though, as in the UK, you are expected to do a certain amount of in-service training as a teaching professional. This we finally solved through a lot of long meetings with zonal (big area) and woreda (small area) officials.

Now that we were (reasonably) happy that the first teachers were doing the course, we planned to introduce it to more of the schools. Delays with transport again caused problems (the college only has one car for all its business now – it cannot afford repairs to the others which are broken – most likely because of the uneven road surface.)

Anyway, last week, after visiting the schools, we confirmed the dates when we could introduce the course to the teachers. I booked the car, I re-checked the car several times at several different levels of hierarchy including before lunch on Wednesday, the day of the first training session. All ok.

I arrived back at the college after lunch, collected my materials, walked to the car and with the mobile network down and 30 teachers waiting 25km away in an hour, was told the Dean said we couldn’t use the car because there is not enough fuel.

There is a bit of a fuel crisis in Ethiopia at the moment. Apparently it’s to do with the global fuel price fluctuations and the merchants wanting the government to absorb some of the cost changes. Anyway, there is currently no fuel in Gilgel, or Chagni our nearest town 50km away or even Kosober which is the first link to asphalt road, about 100km away. Even Bahir Dar has huge queues of trucks and buses waiting for fuel. So I guess the Dean had a little point, but they would’ve known this days before. As it was, I was told 10 minutes before I was due to leave!

Anyway, I went to the Dean and managed to change his mind, with the help of some others. On the way, we told the four schools due for the course on Thursday and Friday we would have to cancel. We finally reached our destination and, working as a team, with most being done by my colleagues in Amharic (passing on my skills and knowledge so that others can do it is working a bit!), introduced the CPD course to a group of teachers from two schools. They reacted positively, and hopefully will start the course very soon – we will be back to check in a few weeks. We thought it went well.

Now we have to figure out how to get to the other schools…

On the way back, a “quick” stop to pick up some computers for Göran to fix from another school turned into a one hour marathon: The “so you’ll have the computers boxed up and ready for collection” turned out to be “the computers are still in situ, we don’t have any boxes, and the woman who has to sign and stamp the release form lives 30mins round-trip walk away.”

Oh, and since getting home, we’ve had another 3hr power cut. I’m writing this on batteries!!!

Life in Ethiopia


Sometimes I think I am living my life in “Blog moments.” When something happens, I think ‘that’ll be good on the blog.’

Monday, 12 January 2009

Mouse, Power and joke

This is an Ethiopian joke someone told me about the English language. It works best spoken, but I will try and tell it written:

Two teachers are arguing about the pronunciation of the word “knife”. One insists it is pronounced ‘nife’ and the other ‘Ker-nife.’ In order to settle their dispute, they go to the school director (head teacher) and explain the situation.

The director replies, “well, I’m afraid you are both wer-rong…”


We’ve had a little friend in the house for a couple of weeks. A little mouse with a body size of about 5cm. He’s been in my room nibbling on a box and sitting next to Göran on his bed while he was lying there. The funniest thing was one night when we heard a tapping noise and finally discovered it was the mouse. It had found some pasta tubes and the only way it could move them was to grab them in its teeth and leap across the floor in little bounds – each time making the tapping noise as the pasta hit the ground.


I still think it is funny when the power comes back on at night after being off for a few hours because out of my window I hear cheering coming from the prison. Every time there is cheering. It happens in the village too.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Second Ethiopian Christmas

Orthodox Christmas (7th Jan) here in Gilgel went pretty much like last year. Everyone goes to everyone else’s house and you have the same food and drink in every house – popcorn, meat and injera, tella (home brew), coffee and Ouzo. I am being fed, which is an Ethiopian custom for friends to do! As all the houses are built to the same design and you’re eating the same food it gets a little confusing as to where you are. Our first invite for “coffee” was around 11:00 and we finally got home after visiting the dean’s house, at around 21:00.

Web design

For the last couple of days I have been working on a web-page front-end for some documentaries and audio lectures Göran will be taking to Bahir Dar University for the English Language Improvement Program resource centre. We will also use something similar here (on a smaller scale) when he returns with two computers for the library.


The water has gone a bit like last year, only being put on for a few hours a day. I guess it will stay like this during the dry season. The electricity was also off for three hours last night.


The two teachers who said they wanted to learn the recorder so they could teach children when I leave have currently an average 38% attendance record, so not good. The children, on the other hand, are doing much better. They are always early and some have attended all the lessons, twice a week, for the last ten weeks.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Roaches, Power and Pawi

I was putting up some more photos of my family I had got printed when I went to Bahir Dar when I heard a noise behind some other ones. Then a cockroach poked its head out and as I touched other photos on my wall more roaches came out. There must’ve been a whole extended family living behind my photos. The “Roach Killer” spray came in handy.


The power has been off a bit lately. Last night it dropped to 160V on my meter and 40Hz which can’t be good (it should be 220V 50Hz), then after a minute it failed and went off most of the night.


It’s 22:00 at night and outside the temperature is 22°C. Overnight minimum last night was 16°C. What’s it like in the UK? Also the dust is getting quite bad now when buses and cars go by on the unmade roads.

Continuing CPD Problems

On Wednesday there was a meeting at the local school sharing their experiences about the CPD course. I didn’t understand anything and couldn’t read anything, but their posters of writing were colourful. The main problems they are still whinging on about are:

1: not being paid to do the training (I already explained there will be 200 teachers doing this and even at 10ETB per hour, that would be 60,000ETB (£2000) which is well beyond anything we have available). Also it is in their contracts to do a minimum amount of CPD training each year. I still think that if you want paying to do the training then you are more interested in the money than improving your teaching.

2: They can’t seem to understand that when it says “see Resource page 2.3” that this means in the appendix where all the Resource pages are, and not page 23 or 2 or 3 or 2.3 – I guess this is a cultural thing.

3: They complained there is no-one from the college supporting every group session. It is not designed to be like that. Over our 10 schools, there will probably be around 40 groups running. I also have said several times in the past that if they have questions or problems to come and speak to us at the college (or to me when I am in the school – which is often) but no-one said anything until now.

Anyway, at least it is happening.

Pawi – more tales of Ethiopian organisation

Today (Thursday) I had another typical trip into Pawi Woreda (a small region) to arrange the initial CPD program meeting with the teachers in five more of our schools.

This is going to sound familiar, but here goes

  • Car arranged for 2:00 (8am) – at 2:15 told there is no fuel and no fuel in the village. Finally depart at 3:15 (9:15am) after borrowing fuel from local construction site.
  • Get to first school (Village 7)*, director not present, but manage to arrange with the vice director a training session in a couple of weeks.
  • Driver now disappeared with the car. We take about 20 minutes walking to the village centre – still no car. My counterpart suggests a coffee.
  • Car finally reappears; we go to the Village 7 secondary school and arrange to use that for the training session. Visit next school (Village 30) and managed to get them to agree to come to that training session. (This needed translation. I knew it would be a problem after I said “Have you got this book?” to the guy and received a blank look in return.)
  • Went to next school on the list (Village 5) and it was empty. There was some sharing thing going on at the next school along. Went to this one (Village 4) and after been assured by my counterpart that it was Ethiopian culture to interrupt people during events and things, managed to arrange another joint training session in a couple of weeks.
  • Got back for lunch and nap. In afternoon I taught recorders for three hours.

*The children went berserk when they saw me. They were at break time and flocked over and were cheering/screaming and over 100 followed me to the office still making an incredible noise – well this is a very remote school and I am white.