Friday, 29 May 2009

Health and Scorpions

Well I have had a rough couple of days. On Wednesday night I was coughing a lot, my throat hurt, blowing my nose, I didn’t feel that good and just wanted to watch DVDs, but at around 20:00 the last of my battery power ran out and the mains power didn’t come on until just after 23:00 (It had been off all day). Then, at around midnight and for the next two hours on-and-off, I was coughing up loads of mucus…. A few times I was sick and the other times I was just standing over a drain with my mouth open as a steady stream of sticky mucus dripped out… it was horrible. I was like that mother Alien in Aliens. Anyway, other than the cough, I don’t have a temperature and don’t feel too bad, so I guess it’s still just a bad cold (or two colds on top of each other.)

On the positive side, I went to my neighbours 5th birthday today, and then had a very good recorder session. This one girl is very good – can sight read and play very well. At one point there were over ten children in the room with us just listening quietly. They had drifted in from outside. Then it was Maths class, and again, we had about double the number of children we should. The others just came in and joined in. (see pictures of some of them.)

I’ve seen (and killed) two scorpions in the house this week and I also saw a huge beetle (see picture.) I recently heard that a VSO volunteer got stung by a scorpion last month. She may have stepped on it as she was walking along. She said it was incredibly painful, much worse than a bee sting, and after a while the whole of her leg started going numb. She went to the medical centre and was given anti-venom. When they examined her foot, they said she had been very rapidly stung six times!

How do I feel about coming home?

After spending nearly two years in Ethiopia, and with only 37 days left, I’ve been asked how I feel about coming home.

It’s a difficult one, as I tend to block my feelings quite a lot and I tend of avoid big issues.

I will certainly miss:

  • The freedom I have here, to completely plan my time and projects that I do, whether it’s training teachers, doing recorder lessons, teaching demo lessons in local schools.
  • The freedom the children have to wander and play outside, no-need for risk assessments before doing anything, no parents’ permission slips, no nagging for the latest toy or electronic gadget.
  • The people I have met and built up relationships with, including the counterparts I’ve worked with, my neighbours, the children in the maths and recorder classes, the teachers at the local schools.
  • Being able to walk anywhere in the local countryside.
  • Being the centre of attention in the village. Some people hate it, but I love it when the kids shout out and come and shake my hand.
  • The unusual creatures (Big bugs, lizards, local birds etc)
  • The slower, less-stressful pace of life.
  • The enthusiasm of the children to learn
  • Not having to worry about money – the college provide the house and pay the bills and my salary is enough to cover food.

What I look forward to at home:

  • The Sea.
  • No power cuts
  • No extreme heat
  • Water being on all the time (and no need to boil and filter)
  • Always on, broadband internet
  • Not being stared at and pursued for money in the big towns
  • Driving myself around (on asphalt roads)
  • Being able to use phone or email to arrange appointments and training.
  • Knowing the people will be on time.
  • Quiet nights (no bugs, no churches)
  • Being able to order stuff for next-day delivery on the net.
  • Hot showers.


  • Lack of TV/News. You know I really haven’t missed not having a TV. I have survived well with just DVDs and the odd recorded programme sent from home.
  • The bugs – I’ve got used to them, but don’t like the scorpions and potential of malaria with the mosquitoes.
  • The Language – I quite enjoy the challenge of teaching when I don’t speak the language, but can be frustrated if I trying to get a point across and can’t, especially when giving feedback to teachers.
  • Christmas – I liked the lack of a commercialised Christmas, but also missed my family get-togethers.

In Summary

On the whole it’s more technological things I miss and would like to come home to (with the exception of my family and friends of course!!!). As for the social and working life in Ethiopia, I could quite happily stay longer. I suspect that in maybe five years time, I may be off somewhere else.

How have I changed?

When I started to write this, I realised there were lots of personal things that probably shouldn’t be on the blog. I would say that as far as my personality goes, I’m pretty much the same - if maybe more tolerant of change and coping with difficult situations.

I noticed that the way I speak has changed - I have adopted some Ethiopian-English traits such as losing “a” and “the”. I assume it will change back when I am with people in the UK, but currently I use phrases like “There is problem” or “I went two weeks before.”

One thing I have learnt is not to be so worried about discussing race and appearance of people. In the UK so many people are so frightened of mentioning anything about the appearance of race of people because of “political correctness gone mad.” If someone’s skin is dark and at dusk it is hard to see their expressions, it’s not racist to say that, it’s physics. The same when Ethiopians with dark skin come through the door and are backlight by a bright sky: Sometimes I find it hard to work out who it is because they are like a silhouette. Again, it’s physics – dark skin does not reflect as much light as light skin. In fact, I would say that some Ethiopian’s are a little racist – they regard some ethnic groups with very dark skin as more primitive. I thought it was strange when I gave a photo I had taken of someone to them and they asked if there was a different one as they said they looked too dark. There is this underlying idea that the lighter you are, the better. Anyway, I know that when I came back to the UK last summer I noticed how old and fat everyone looked. No sweets or cakes, no sitting in front of computer games all evening, no driving everywhere and short life expectancy certainly makes more people here in Gilgel look more attractive and healthier to me. (Due to no sweets and no car, I lost about 10kg when I was here last year (which I put back on in two months in the UK!))

Well that’s it for now. I may add further thoughts as it gets closer to my leaving date.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009


Something you’ll never experience in the UK is how happy it makes you when you turn on the tap and water comes out.

You spend the next two hours cleaning dishes, washing clothes, boiling water to drink, flushing a few buckets of water through the toilet, filling buckets and bowls that have been empty for days. Generally luxuriating in the magical transparent liquid. Safe again for at least three days.


Well the cold, although annoying, seems to be just a cold.

Also, we found out today that Jemal is actually called Ahmed! There was some confusion with a friend of his and he couldn’t tell us. Anyway, it is very difficult for us to stop calling him Jemal now after a month! At least soon, when he has learned all the signs, he will be able to tell us (with finger spelling) what his name is!

We’re well into the rainy season now. It rained a lot last night, and was windy, and we have no power now – but the water is back and I’m on the generator at the college at the moment.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Workshop in Addis (part 2 + comments)

Monday 18th May and the N.G.O. problem

Well the leavers’ workshop wasn’t too bad. Found out a few things about what we have to do before we leave, like a police check, exit visa etc and had a chance to think about successes and problems we’d had during our time. I managed to get across the point that maybe N.G.O.s (Non-governmental organisations) are actually making the situation worse here. I have already written about this before, but I keep hearing more and more evidence, like someone told me that in certain regions they don’t plan and store food for when the rains fall because they know that an aid agency will fly food in if that happens.

It’s pretty obvious really: NGOs have built roads and donated transport for better food distribution, installed better/cleaner water supplies, given medicine and medical help and this equals fewer deaths. No education or cultural change re: birth control means this is not balanced with fewer births. The net result is a massive population increase caused by external intervention – a population increase that cannot be supported without continued aid from the rich countries.

I still think it is frightening to see the countryside when I fly from Bahir Dar to Addis. It should be tropical rainforest, but it is agricultural land as far as the eye can see. As wood is the primary building material and charcoal the primary fuel, without trees the population is in big trouble.

Tuesday 19th May and the begging problem

First I went to the VSO Programme Office and sorted out a few pieces of paperwork and money, then got a line taxi to Meskal Square (sort of the Trafalgar Square of Addis used for parades and New Year celebrations etc) and walked the length of Africa Avenue (no trees) otherwise known as Bole Road which goes South to the airport. It’s the rich part of town with lots of “ferengi”-style supermarkets, electronics / computer stores etc. At one point it rained quite heavily but not the mega-tropical rain yet. I bought a few books, sweets and biscuits, had lunch at a sort of “Starbucks”-coffee shop and had the first scoop of ice-cream I’ve had since least summer. I was also checking out cameras for the guys back at the college. They all want to buy my one before I go home and I said I’d see if I can find anything in Addis. The cheapest basic one was 3000ETB (about £190) which in the UK would probably cost around £60. Something like mine (which is pretty decent and around £100 when I got it) was more like 4-5000ETB.

During the walk I had the usual beggars sticking their hands out for free money, children trying to sell me chewing gum or tissues, guys trying to sell me “original” DVDs in their photocopied pouches, other guys trying to sell me “Ethiopian Sex DVDs” (I was tempted, but then thought that they may involve unconventional use of injera and have badly produced synthesised Ethiopian jazz music in the background!!!) and taxi drivers stopping all the time to see if I want to go anywhere.

I have said before, but my policy is never to give to beggars. I am here in Ethiopia to share my skills, not my money. Helping one or two or even 100 beggars is not going to help the country. Some beggars are not genuine and earn more money through begging than working – some even fake limps etc. If I give to beggars it helps contribute to the “white man is rich image” which makes it even worse for future volunteers. It’s because in the past, unthinking, rich white tourists have given big (relatively) amounts of money to beggars, that there is the problem now. Finally, if I didn’t have this policy, every time I saw a beggar I would have to make a decision whether to give or not and it would be a nightmare on my conscience – You probably see about 10 beggars a mile and if you gave to all, you would be out of money, so you would have to choose – do you give to the woman with the baby? The man with a swollen foot? The old man smelling of alcohol? The guy with mental problems? The child putting their hand to their mouth saying they are hungry and need bread? The woman bent over shuffling along on all-fours with wooden grips on her hands because she can’t walk upright (or can she?)

With my policy, I never have to decide – the decision is already made.

Oh, and there is a very loud Mosque quite near the hotel which does many noisy calls to prayer, my favourite of which is yelled over loudspeakers at 5am every morning followed by the Christian Orthodox church which does theirs an hour later. Thankful I come from a culture which values sleep and has noise pollution laws.

Wednesday 19th May

Went to VSO, no power there so went to a shopping centre where I had French toast and jam, had a quick net session (where I send the temporary blog entry) then got a few bits in the supermarket. Next to the airport where I got my afternoon flight to Bahir Dar.

Thursday, 20th May

I went in to Bahir Dar University with Judith (another VSO I am staying with) and did a bit of computer installing etc. In the afternoon Göran arrived from Gilgel, we chatted then went for a pizza.

Friday, 21st May

In the morning had a last face-to-face chat with Göran before he went to the airport to go down to Addis (then Asossa to do more computer training etc, then home to Sweden for the summer before returning to Gilgel in August.) Later, I went for a walk around the Lake path, only being asked if I wanted a boat twice!

Saturday, 22nd May

Packed and was picked up by the college car and returned back to Gilgel. It was an interesting trip as there was some very heavy rain for the last half of the journey. At one point it was like a river was crossing the road and we had to drive through it. Going down the side of the mountain range with no crash bars on the side of the road (just a drop-off) while the road was like a river was fun! When we went through Chagni, it was like a ghost town – no people on the streets and all the shops seemed to be closed in the wind and rain. Even the goats were squashed up against the shops trying to get some shelter. At one point, there was a few seconds of hail. I never thought I’d see ice coming from the sky here in Ethiopia.

At times I think of Gilgel as home, but when I got back in this strange humid, wet and overcast place, it seemed so different to when I left that it almost seemed a different place. I remember this happened last year when I went to Addis for a workshop and the rainy season got underway while I was gone.

There was electricity, but apparently the water has been off since last Sunday, so that is not good. I still have a bit saved from before I left, but I’m going to have to find a source on Monday. I am currently collecting rain water to flush the toilet.


The bad news is I started another sore throat on Thursday which meant the start of another cold. I must’ve picked it up from one of the people in Addis at the beginning of the week. I don’t believe it – none for two years, then two come along at once. I was at the tail end of the first one and was on medicine to stop my irritating dry cough and now I have a new one. In fact on Friday morning and evening I was coughing (and sicking) up a lot of mucus. I was having flashbacks to the chest infection I had a few years ago.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Workshop in Addis (Part 1A)

I'm in an Internet Cafe in Addis at the moment so do not have my
proper blog entry which is on my laptop. I will add that later.

Basically, the workshop was ok, I've eaten lots of sweets and
chocolate doughnuts, burgers, cheese sandwiches and french toast,
visited lots of malls and felt a bit like being back home (except for
all the beggars, the open sewers etc.)

Anyway, more when I can connect my laptop.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Workshop in Addis (part 1)

** Thursday 14th May

Got the college car to Chagni arriving around 09:00. I knew I would
have to wait until the afternoon to make the next part of my journey
so I checked into a hotel and watched a movie on my laptop. (They
didn't charge me for the room, which was nice!)

The people taking me the rest of the way arrived early (at 12:00)
which was good. We ate lunch together then set off for Bahir Dar at
around 13:00. They are part of another NGO (WASH) who Göran has had
dealings with. The journey was smooth (well bumpy until Kosober and
the asphalt road) but we made it to Bahir Dar by 16:00.

Since then, I've had pizza, lots of peanut M&Ms, ran a short workshop
at the catholic school (continuing from the previous workshop we did a
month back) about how to use resources and active teaching with the
English department. It went well, and I think I might have convinced
them to spend a week looking at children's books and getting the older
students to actually write their own books to then be read to the
younger ones.

** Friday and Saturday 15th and 16th May

Pretty lazy really, lots of spriz-smoothies (Guava, papaya, mango and
avocado) and coffees and a short walk along the lake (fending off the
usual "do you want boat?" or "gimme money" etc)

** Sunday, 17th May

Flight had been made earlier, but it all went pretty smoothly and I
got to Addis Ababa around 13:00. After a short nap in the hotel I have
come to VSO programme office and after adjusting my proxy settings, I
am now writing this.

Tomorrow we have the leaver's workshop which, mostly, we are not
looking forward to. When I asked someone why we were going, they said,
well it's sort of like a funeral – you don't really want to go, but
you feel you ought to.

Tuesday I plan to have a look round Addis, Wednesday I fly back to
Bahir Dar at lunchtime and hopefully the college car will be able to
take me all the way back to Gilgel on Thursday or Friday.

Last Thursday, before I left, was the last time I would ever be in the
house with Göran. We will meet in Bahir Dar next week before I go back
to Gilgel, but then he is off to Asossa in the South to do more
computer training before he goes back to Sweden for the Summer. He
will return to Gilgel, but I will be back in the UK by then.

So, (and this is for Jorhan:) no more ancient sumera, greenhouse
effect, Oil etc etc!!!!)

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Sign Language Lessons + training

Had another sign language lesson on Monday for Jemal (who has total hearing loss) and his friends. It’s funny as I forget to speak and ran the whole session through gestures and signs (as I can’t speak Amharic) so it actually means all of the children are at the same level with me, including Jemal.

Here is a photo of them signing the first four letters in American Sign Language. It’s going well because the class teacher is practicing with them back at the school.

Also, my MS Office training on Friday went like this:

Of the 25 instructors due to come, 11 came. The session was due to run from 14:00 to 18:00. Three instructors were present at 14:00 and the rest dribbled in until the last one at 14:30. At 15:40 I was advised that half of them had to teach now, so they left, and I was left teaching five!

This is a pretty typical scenario in Ethiopia!

I now plan to put up a poster / tell the heads this kind of thing:

I am happy to teach you, but you have to sort yourselves out, organise the session yourselves and tell me when you want me to come.

Additional: There were little rat footprints in the dust on the table yesterday morning! The dust in the air has now cleared.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Dust "storm"

Last night there was a strange smell in the air and the beam of the torch (there was no mains power) was very visible. This morning when I woke up, everything was orange. It was like a mist of dust everywhere. We actually made footprints in the house in the thin layer that had landed on the surfaces. I guess the dust has been sucked up from a desert area, maybe in the East of Ethiopia or Sudan and has now reached us and is suspended in the air.

At the weekend it was a local celebration linked to the local church, but which mostly consisted of two nights loud music, eating, drinking, singing and dancing until late. I went to one night, Göran managed to think of several excuses and managed to keep away from both nights!

Friday, 8 May 2009

Recorder Concert 2, training, cold and ants

Yesterday my recorder groups played their second concert to their class. This time they played one tune each as a solo followed by some ensemble pieces. It went well.

Today I will be running a four hour training session for instructors here at the college on Microsoft Office and skills relating to good design / good practice when working with text and photos etc.

I’ve had a nasty cold for the last few days (got through a day’s wages on toilet paper to blow my nose!) – it’s the first one I’ve had since 2007 back in the UK – and I caught it from a ferengi – Göran!!)

On Wednesday night there was a large number of ants coming in from the outside and going into a pipe that comes from the roof gutter. I couldn’t work out what was attracting them so by using my camera and a torch I video'd up the pipe (it was too low to look into by eye) When I played back the video I saw a brownish mass covered in ants and it wasn’t until I freeze-framed it, I suddenly realised it was a donut about 2m into the pipe. Then it clicked. We have a rat in the house which regularly uses the pipe as an access and it obviously stole the donut, tried to get it along the pipe, got it stuck, and later the ants found it. I have also had a number potatoes go missing over the last few weeks and it took me a while to notice – it was the rat again.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Latest Update from Gilgel

On Monday, I started session with boy with hearing impairment and his friends, teaching them the signs for numbers and A to E. The teacher was present and will continue to practise with them until next week.

Recorders and Maths lessons are continuing. We plan to do a recorder “concert” to the class next week.

Wednesday we did our last “active teaching” workshop to the “civics” second year students at the college. This means all 200 students have now received the training. (In every session at least one or two drew a 9cm line when asked to draw a 10cm one (they started at 1cm on the ruler instead of 0cm – this is down to them going right through the education system without using a ruler.))

It seems like the rainy season has started. We’ve had a couple of overcast days with some rain. This was preceded by some really hot days (when it was still 32°C when you go to bed in the evening.)

The electricity and water seem much more stable at the moment which is good (1 day off every four.)

I had another scorpion in my room last night – not as bad as someone in the village who recently woke in the night with one on his stomach – I’m glad I have a net tucked in over my bed.

Went to a wedding reception on Sunday and ate… Injera and spicey wat!!

It’s only about two months until I return to the UK. I have a leavers’ workshop in Addis Ababa in a few weeks – I will go via Bahir Dar and flying down.