Monday, 2 November 2009

About Ethiopia Site Update

I've spent the day updating and adding to my "About Ethiopia" site. I've added icons to the front page, sounds of Gilgel Beles for you to listen to, and a large photo section. Don't miss visiting

Monday, 7 September 2009

New "About Ethiopia" Website on-line

Having just come back from a motivating VSO RV (Returned Volunteer) weekend, I've finally got round to starting a website where I will be gradually adding videos, photos, sounds, educational ideas etc over the next few months.

At time of writing, there are already a couple of videos, and my complete "Virtual Gilgel Beles" where you can "walk" around the whole village.

Check out the site at:

I also plan to visit as many schools and groups as I can to spread my experience. Email me if you are interested. Contact details on the site.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

What's it like being back?

Well, I've been back in the UK for one week now.

It was very easy to get back into UK living - in the house at least. Everything is the same and I can drive a car easily even after not driving one for 10 months. I have had a couple of twitches on things like putting toilet paper down the toilet instead of a bin by the side. Also having an urge to keep a torch with me at night incase the power goes off.

At first I was a little overwhelmed with broadband internet and spent ages on it look at news, reviews, finding what films I had missed, TV sites, ordering books and DVDs on Amazon etc.

I have also bought a new TV (my old one was over 15 years old and a new TV was something I promised myself when I got back.)

It was weird it being light outside at 21:00. In Ethiopia it only varies between 18:00 and 19:00 all year round. My sleeping was a bit disrupted with this and all the technology I had to play with. It was like I didn't want to go to sleep as there was so much to do, watch, search for.

Outside the house I feel a bit slow, for example in the big supermarkets, like everyone is moving around fast and I'm just looking at all the stuff and everyone going by in slow-motion.

I also have a sort of numb feeling, especially at first, and felt like the last two years hadn't happened. (Apparently this is normal.)

During the week I went to my niece's sports day, my nephew's drama performance and my old school summer fayre. It was good seeing everyone again and I still have the programmed Ethiopian "shake hands" build in. It's like an instant reaction now to shake people's hands as soon as I see them.

That's it for now - back to all the technology!

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Back in the UK

I've just arrived back in the UK and have been able to add all the new posts for the last week. Don't miss reading them. (Start with the oldest first and work your way up to this one last.)

My journey home was something like this:

Friday 21:00 unable to have a shower as no water in the hotel (pump broken.)
22:30 Tried to get some sleep. Did sleep a little, but not much - kept waking up.

Saturday 01:15 Got up, took bags downstairs and was taken, by taxi, to the airport where I breezed through security - they didn't ask to look through my back-pack or cases, breezed through check-in (41kg total in the cases - no excess charge and they didn't notice my carry-on back-pack weighed in at over 12kg!!!) and straight through immigration with my exit visa.

So, not bad so far. It was 02:00, flight due to leave at 04:15.

The flight finally left at 05:10 - I was very tired by now and, like I said I am blanking my emotions quite a lot, so wasn't thinking about whether I am sad or not about going.

Arrived at Cairo 3h30 later and made my way through the checking to get to the connecting flight due to leave at 10:30. Boarded plane on time. By 11:00 they said they were waiting for air traffic control clearance in Europe and there would be a 10 minute delay. Around 11:30 they said that due to a "go-slow" strike by the Athens ATC, there would be a 2 hour delay, and could we get off the plane and go back to the gate. After another 10mins, still no-one had been allowed off the plane and they said that they had been given an alternative route, avoiding Athens airspace and around 12:00, 2h30 late, we took off. I slept on-and-off having now been awake pretty-much since midnight. When I was awake, there were some pretty spectacular views. When we got to the UK, I could clearly see from Margate, down to Dover and across the channel to Calais. While on the outskirts of Cairo I saw, for the first time in real-life, but from a long way away, the pyramids (see photo)

After a short delay to get a gate and a bit of a queue to get through immigration, I collected my luggage, which had joined me on the connecting flight, luckily! and finally met my parents after 10 months.

Within an hour, I was having a drive thru McDonalds, then home. Again, like last time, it was like I had never been away. It's really weird. Anyway, I will stop now, as I am very tired. I'll write more about how I am settling in in a few days.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in Addis Ababa

Basically I spent the last few days in Ethiopia finishing off a last few jobs, and killing time.

One problem was no electricity for the entire three days (except a few hours over night which was no good to anyone, and a period of a couple of hours when the voltage was around 120V (it should be 220V)) Luckily the Yonnas hotel I am staying in has a generator which they put on from around 6pm until midnight.

The first job I had was to collect my passport from VSO and then change my remaining Ethiopian Birr currency into something useful in the outside world. The government is very tight on loosing dollars - which is a stable currency with world backing. The Birr, on the other hand, is only worth the paper it’s printed on outside Ethiopia.

The first two stops had no UK Pounds, Euros or even US Dollars and the last place said they could only change up to $150 without a resident’s permit and receipts from previous dollar to Birr transactions. My resident’s permit had to be given in to get my exit visa so no luck there. I began to think I would be stuck with a pile of paper, or alternatively I would have to splash out on lots of extravagant meals, souvenirs and a night in the Sheraton hotel.

One taxi driver offered me black-market dollars, but due to a misunderstanding of the accent, I thought he was offering 1 dollar for 40 birr (the bank rate is 1 to 11.3.) I realised afterwards he must’ve meant 14. Anyway, the risk of fake money was too great, and in-case anyone official is reading this, it is illegal so I didn’t do it!

I finally managed to sort this a few days later, in a legal way, I believe. I gave my birr to another volunteer who will be here for another year, and they electronically transferred money from their bank to mine in the UK.

Thursday’s job was to get police clearance by obtaining a “certificate of good conduct” that I will probably need in the UK when I get a police check to work in schools. This involved going to the Federal police department, queuing in several different queues, skipping some queues because I am white and handing over copies of passport, ID card and some photos. I also had to get fingerprinted (black fingers all day.) In about three weeks I will get the certificate (via VSO collecting it and posting it.)

On Friday I went to the VSO office to get my final clearance there and have an exit interview with my programme manager. I had a nice pizza on the roof of a 6-storey skyscraper looking out over the city for the last time, followed by a cake from a coffee shop. Then back to my room to see if I could do something about the excess baggage. (also finding out the water pump in the hotel is broken, so no shower!)

I think I managed to get the bags to within a kg or so of what they are supposed to be, so hopefully I’ll be let off with no excess charge. That’s as long as they don’t check my carry-on back-pack which is almost double the weight it should be!

Then it was watching TV and DVDs while I wait for time to go by before being taken to the airport.

This is the last entry written in Ethiopia.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

In Addis - quick update

I am now in Addis with about one day to go until I leave.

I have lots to tell you all, but the information is all on my laptop
which I cannot connect to the net at the moment as there has been no
mains power in Addis for two days.

Highlights include: college car breaking down, getting the squits just
before flying to Addis, being fingerprinted for my police clearance,
and more...

So stay tuned.

If not before, I will upload all the entries when I get back to the UK.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Tuesday: A typical journey to Addis

First last breakfast at the Ghion hotel overlooking the lake – nice. Then back to the apartment where I spent a good two hours sorting my luggage. Incredibly, after discarding some stuff, giving some to Judith and using the vacuum bags to squash the air out of clothes, I had done it, although a bit over weight (later I found I the total was 46kg – I need to be 40kg for the international flight)

I then went for a last walk around the lake, stopping at a posh hotel for an egg sandwich lunch (26ETB instead of a usual 6ETB!) but I sat in the garden overlooking the lake, so didn’t mind.

Back to the apartment for a rest, then out for another last meal and lake overlook: Dinner at the Ghion.

Then, the slightly odd stomach feeling I had had in the afternoon drew towards a “wombat’s leaving the cave” scenario. I had no choice but to crouch over the urine-soaked seat of the hotel toilet and download. (It’s at times like this, you wish it was a hole-in-the-ground toilet – Much more comfortable crouching right down and you feel like you empty out better like this (as nature intended) anyway – but no such luck. Back at the table, I quickly finished my pudding pancake and fast-walked back to the apartment, just in time for a second broadband download (with 30mins until the taxi arrived to take me to the airport.)

I had had two Imodium at the hotel and hope this would stop any repeats.

So, taxi to the airport and then, for the next 30minutes, at least, my carefully-packed bags were gone through by the airport security having seen too many electronic devices, batteries and wires for their liking. At one point my keys went missing. I later spotted them stuck under the conveyor belt leading to the X-ray scanner and it took a small-handed woman to get them out.

Finally packed again, I checked in, having to go upstairs to an office to pay the expected excess baggage (internal flights only allow 20kg, but the excess is only 5ETB per Kg.) Then someone asked me to go to the scanning area and I fully expected to go through the whole unpacking-process again at this next scanning stage. (The first one had been to get into the airport; this one was for the luggage to get on the plane.) Luckily they spoke to the guy at the airport entrance and I didn’t have to go through it again.

Next, to wait for the flight: 10pm departure. My stomach was feeling a bit dodgy again, so I checked the instruction leaflet and ended up having another Imodium. Then the announcement came about the 30 minute delay – the incoming plane hadn’t arrived.

Now this is another “look on the bright-side” situation (see yesterday’s entry.) At 10pm I was forced to visit the airport toilets and have a third download. Now if the plane had been on time, this would’ve been a tricky operation during take-off, so maybe it was a good thing the flight was delayed. Of course the 30 minutes turned into an hour by the time we actually left the ground and we finally got to Addis at 23:40 (on a fast jet – it used to be a prop plane, but apparently they are servicing this old fleet and running one jet a day instead of three prop flights.)

My luggage came quickly, and I had arranged a taxi to take me to the hotel which we arrived at around 00:30. No power in this district in Addis, and they turn the generator off at midnight, so scrabbling around for a torch, I got to my room and finally to sleep around 01:00. (Thankfully, there were no more downloading activities during the night.)

Monday, 29 June 2009

Monday: A typical journey to Bahir Dar

My last day in Gilgel Beles. I woke quite early and began to do the last bits in the house – burning the rubbish, emptying water bowls etc. I started getting a little panicky when I was packing as there was way too much stuff.

The car, as confirmed on many occasions for the last two weeks, was due to arrive at 10am.

At 9:20, with all my stuff spread all over the floor, the car arrived. I told them we had agreed 4 (local time) and they should come back then, so they left. I finally decided I would never have time to pack properly now and get it all down to two cases, so I got out a couple of big boxes and threw a lot of stuff there. I was ready at 10am, case, bag and boxes ready to load.

At 10:30am, still no car, I decided to walk up to college to find out what was going on. Anyway, after going round to all the offices and saying goodbye to everyone, we finally got into the car, drove down to my house to pick up the luggage and for the property person to check I hadn’t broken anything or stolen any chairs. We went back to the college so the property person could leave the keys (she was coming to Bahir Dar with us) and finally, at around 11:30, we were off… Goodbye college.

Now this bit is going to sound like I made it up, but it is true. Around 500m after the “You are leaving Gilgel Beles – have a good journey, sign” the driver stopped and told us that the rear suspension on the car had just broken. So, we limped back to the college.

It was like one of those horror films “You’ll never leave!” I’m so glad I’m a pessimist!

After lots of arrangements, we finally left in the college bus (used for taking students on teaching practice) around 12:45pm, stopping around an hour later for lunch.

As it happened, the bus was more comfortable than the car going over the bumps as I was sitting in the middle and it had a long wheel-base. Also, there was plenty of room to spread out as there was only a few people on it. Also, as the rain was heavy, it was much better that my stuff was inside the bus, instead of on the back of a pick-up truck. (Hold on, that sounds like I was looking on the bright side!!!)

We went through a good storm, fork-lighting flashing all around, torrential rain and at one point we saw what looked like snow on the ground – it was actually a huge amount of ice that had come from a hail storm we had just missed.

Finally we got to Bahar Dar at around 6pm, they all helped me get my luggage up to Judith’s apartment and we said our goodbyes. No power or water in the apartment of course!

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Sunday: Parents' Day / Leaving Do.

I went up to the school around 08:30 – found my recorder players, had a practice (the only girl player was missing – apparently she had missed the last two weeks of rehearsals as she was planting corn (girls have it much harder than boys in Ethiopia.))

The Parents’ Day programme included side-show games, traditional dancing from the various Ethnic groups, a gymnastics display, a report from the director (school principal) about the year in school, opportunities for the parents to ask questions, a speech from a couple of local education officials and certificates for some students. We were due to play at 04:00 (Ethiopian time or 10am.) We finally started at 11:45am – TIA (This is Africa!) They all took turns to announce the tunes and played very well in front of an audience which must’ve been at least 1000 people. I was really proud of them. As is tradition, someone stuck Birr notes on their foreheads to show appreciation (they do this with dancers as well.)

Afterwards, I was thanked for my help in the school by the director and given a present (see right)

I then had a bit of time to sort things out, moving cooking stuff into the store room etc before going to the college later in the afternoon for my leaving do. There were about 50 people there, instructors and support staff, (I’m not sure how much of the reason for this was a free meal!) but we had injera and meat and then speeches and presents. My first present was… well, different:

My second present was really good and will be useful if I do work in schools. (It includes some trousers as well.)

After that, back to the neighbour’s house again for some more card games (in candlelight – no power, obviously!) and finally back to mine.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Saturday: Last walk and Birthday celebration

Went on a walk up to the market and briefly visited the fathers at the Catholic Mission (the old one who visited last week was wrong about the dates the mission will be closed) and had a quick chat to say goodbye. Then I went to the river and walked along my favourite spots. The water was almost as high as when I arrived back in Gilgel after the summer in the UK.

Back at the house I did a bit more sorting, then in the afternoon I was invited to my neighbour’s house. It was the middle boy’s birthday next week and the family wanted to celebrate before I left. I gave him a recycled card (I had cut the front off a card someone gave me from the UK and stuck in on new card) and a few bits that I had got from Addis. At the same time I did the same treatment for the oldest boy’s birthday (which is at the beginning of September.) We played some card games I taught them last week.