Monday, 31 December 2007

Re-supply trip to Bahir Dar

Friday, 28th December 2007

I woke up at 0500 and quickly got ready. I was at the gates of the college by 0550 and the guard helped me flag down the bus at 06:05. I boarded and my convertible bag/backpack was fairly empty so I unzipped the "day pack" which is like a mini-backpack connected to the main one and kept that with me and then the rest of the pack in its bag form (shoulder-straps zipped away) fit in the overhead storage which saved it being outside which was good. It was 33 birr all the way to Bahir Dar (less than £2!) By the time we actually left Gilgel Beles it was 06:36! (I could've laid in and just walked a little further to get it!) The journey was slow and bumpy but I got to see the sunrise, and the mountains of the ridge we have to climb about 15km away from Gilgel Beles were really impressive at that time in the morning. The climb takes us from Manjura (the next small town on from Gilgel Beles) at 1400m to Chagni at 1700m. Some of the peaks in the ridge exceed 2000m.

At Chagni (a big town 35km from Gilgel Beles) we had a 20 minute breakfast stop, but other than a quick use of the Shintabet I stayed on the bus until 08:10 when it left. The air pressure in Chagni (following on from my entry last week) was 835mb (about 65mb less than Gilgel Beles as it is that much higher.) The drive to Kosober was very long. The highest point about 7km from Kosober is 2635m and the bus was climbing at around 14km/h near the end. This was the highest point of my journey and the pressure was 743mb (less than three quarters of the pressure at sea level!) I was also cramped into a small seat next to someone and couldn't stretch my legs – it was less leg room than a plane! My backside was killing me.

At 10:05 I was really glad to get to Kosober and when we departed at 10:20 I looked forward to being on the asphalt road to Bahir Dar – some of the bumps on the other road had literally lifted us out of our seats. It was smoother, but the bus kept stopping to drop off and pick up people. The cry "waredge" which you cry out to stop was heard a lot. At one town the bus stopped for about 30mins while the driver had lunch! At these various stops a number of sellers get on the bus and walked the aisle selling a variety of wares including bananas, oranges, gum, soft and some kind of cereal like wheat-toasted (you get it by the cup-full.) Also a blind beggar got on at one point – luckily he couldn't see I was white so I didn't get any hassle (cruel comment maybe, but I'm writing this after getting back from the "ferengi nightmare that is Bahir Dar!") Then we had a priest on, blessing people (for a fee of course – religion is for everyone – as long as you have money (see monastery visits later…))

We eventually pulled in to the Bahir Dar bus station at 13:45. My 200km (125 mile) trip had taken nearly 8hours. I was exhausted. I converted by bag to a backpack in the bus and set off quickly and directly out of the station to avoid hassle. About 10 metres from the entrance I ran into the Ethiopian whose house I had been to last time – all I needed. He's nice enough though and doesn't ask for money. First on my list was to get a few photos printed in the while-you-wait colour lab. These included photos of my nephew and niece at Christmas that dad had emailed me. Then to the restaurant with a terrace I had been to with the VSO guy I met last time in Bahir Dar. I had fish and veg. I told my Ethiopian friend I needed some time on my own and he did leave without a problem before I ate. Next it was about 500m to the Post Office to follow up a request delivered to my post office to visit the large packets counter here (only 8 hours away to collect your post – see previous entry.) I was fairly overwhelmed to find I had 10 parcels of various sizes. Now I had only lightly packed my backpack, but even after loosening the straps and expanding it, I only managed to fit seven of them in and it was getting a bit heavy. With full backpack and carrying three brown-paper packages tied up with sellotape, I walked the 1km journey to the Ghion hotel where I met another VSO (Caroline) from the Netherlands with her boyfriend who had been on a short Christmas break and were visiting Bahir Dar for a couple of days. We had a drink and arranged to meet for dinner. Next, yet another VSO (actually based in Bahir Dar – who I was going to stay with,) made contact and I walked the 500m from the hotel to her apartment (government owned for education workers.) Erzabet lives alone, but has a big lounge with a three-piece suit, kitchen (with small hot water boiler, fridge etc) clean bathroom with flushing toilet and hot shower! And three bedrooms!
A friend of hers, another VSO, was staying in one room, and I got the other. She gave me keys to the apartment so I could come and go, and then she took the two of us to a supermarket about 1km away. Wow – lots of ferengi tinned food, sweets, biscuits etc – I stocked up with 400 birrs-worth in two bags and then dumped it all in the apartment. Then it was a quick hot shower – luxury, and back out to the Ghion to meet up for dinner. I had a cheese omelette (a change as I haven't been able to get eggs for a while, and I haven't had cheese since Addis.) I walked back to the apartment, had a quick chat then had a fairly early night.

The night noises were different here – I think there was a pub or something next door. The noise from this was punctuated by cow moos, cockerels and what sounded like dogs fighting. There was a call to prayer at around 5am, but it was the Muslims and theirs only went on for a couple of minutes (Orthodox Christians take note!)

Saturday, 29th December 2007

The previous day I had arranged to go with Caroline and boyfriend on a boat trip on Lake Tana so I got ready quickly, said goodbye to the other VSO staying with Erzebet who was leaving today to return to her placement and walked to the Ghion. They have their own boats on a jetty right next to the hotel. The three of us and a couple of Germans were in the boat. First we went about 5km to a small island where we climbed up and (after paying the 30 birr entrance fee) had a look at the monastery which had a flat cone-shaped roof with an overhang, on top of a cube central area. The sides of the cube were painted with bible story pictures. We reckoned this was the tourist monastery and they actually use another one a bit further away!!! It was ok, but relative to other things, for 30 birr it was a bit steep. As Caroline said later, she is a Christian, why does she have to pay to visit what is effectively a Christian church.

Next, it was a short trip to the next island which was larger. Unfortunately woman are not allowed (something to do with stopping the monks getting frisky I think!) so Caroline had to remain on the boat. This one had a small museum with crowns, crosses on sticks, legends about a guy killing a large python on the island, bibles in Fidel (Amharic script) hand-written on goat skin pages and some other stuff. Then we went to another similar-to-the-first-one cone-shaped monastery. (Of course all this cost another 30 birr each but I guess we got a museum as well this time.) It had more bible story pictures painted on it.

Another 6km on we stopped at a peninsular and visited yet another monastery.This one was interesting as it had a mobile telephone mast right next to it. It also had loads of children trying to sell us model boats made of papyrus reeds and further up, huge stalls with jewellery and crosses and stuff. Oh and the monastery was cone shaped, had bible pictures on the walls and cost us 30 birr each to get in.

Overall it was a pretty good morning. It was nice getting out on the lake in a boat and visiting the islands, but it is very touristy and you wonder if all you are seeing are buildings put up and painted for tourists rather than any particularly historical or important sites. I'd much rather be kayaking in Irish loughs to little islands with real remains on them, like I did in 2005 & 6.

We had lunch together when we got back (after having an argument with the boat pilot about the cost we had been quoted and the money he was asking for now), I had a rather nice omelette-coated fish, then I went back to Erzabets and got my shopping list ready, checking off what I had already bought.

Then it was my late Christmas. I sat for almost an hour unwrapping and sorting out all the packages and parcels that I had picked up the day before. It was great!

Next I walked to the supermarket and got the rest of the things I needed. I also wanted a couple of household items, but wasn't up to the mental challenge of visiting the market and bargaining etc so I returned to the apartment.

I took a long while carefully packing food supplies and presents into my back-pack – it was like a 3D jigsaw. Then I had a long, relaxing, hot shower. Refreshed, I made an omelette and Erzabet shared some cheese, tomatoes and bread she had.

Then she interviewed me about my experiences in Ethiopia for her English students to listen to. She worked for the BBC World service in the past so she keeps up her recording, like I keep up my photography. We ate some mini-Christmas-cake slices mum had sent and some chocolate penguins and snowmen a friend had sent me, then Erzabet turned in and after doing a bit more sorting – photos etc, I went to bed and read.

Sunday, 30 December 2007

After having a good breakfast including the cheese which was great as there is no cheese in much of Ethiopia, I crammed the last things into my backpack, and with a carrier-bag for the last few things set off for the bus station. This was the bit I was dreading after last time. I estimate the backpack probably weighed around 25kg and it was hard-going walking and not tipping backwards! Someone followed me to the station but I pretended to be French. He spoke a few words, but I spoke a lot more so he bought it and anytime he spoke in English I just gave him "je ne comprend pas!" Then I was"rescued" by my Ethiopian friend (he must spend his life by the bus station) and headed straight for a mini-bus. It took a long time leaving but once it did at around 1015, we were full and basically headed straight for Kosober – much quicker than a bus. It was much quieter at Kosober on a Sunday and an Ethiopian carried my bag to a bus to Chagni. I gave him three birr, which he seemed happy with and sat on the bus for a while waiting for it to go. At one point I saw what looked like a mini-tornado. It formed a dust funnel and sucked up paper, but it only lasted a matter of seconds before reforming a bit further on. After about a minute it was gone. It was probably a dust devil. In the bus, I was at the front on a flat padded area over the gearbox and I was squashed next to a policeman (with his large gun) without a backrest or anything to hang on to. Not good on a bumpy road. As it was mostly downhill all the way, time wasn't too bad, but it was very uncomfortable. As we arrived in Chagni, another bus was just heading out to Mambuk (Gilgel Beles is on the way) so a guy from the bus got my bag off the roof and legged it down the street, me in tow to catch the bus. I had a proper seat this time and apart from the road being even worse than the one to Chagni, it wasn't too bad.

Before I got home, I had one last challenge – getting off the bus. As we pulled up, around 50 people surged forward to the door and I couldn't get off. They were all trying to get to Mambuk and get a seat. A small space was eventually created for me to step down, but with all those people pushing to get on the bus, it took ages getting through them – holding my 25kg bag (I had re-converted it at Kosober) in one hand not being able to pull it through the crowd! When I did get through, whilst being watched by another crowd, I attached my day pack to the bag, converted it to a backpack again and walked almost a kilometre along dirt roads and paths back to my house.

And I have to go through it all again if I want more food when I run out…

Extra info - Babies

In Ethiopia, most babies are carried around much of the time (in the home as well) in big sheet-wraps on their mother's (or servants) backs. It looks quite cute and you hardly ever hear crying babies here so it must work –maybe it's because they're always with someone and feel the warmth, also they are always tucked up tight and maybe they feel secure.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Christmas Day in Gilgel Beles

I got up at 06:15 (as usual), had banana and biscuit breakfast (as usual) and set off for college at around 07:45 (as usual). I said Merry Christmas to a group of students on the way and also to my Line Manager who took me to the on-site café and I had buna (coffee) and a sambusa. Then in my office I prepared for my lesson in the afternoon and also called a few VSO volunteers for a Christmas chat. All of them were having a few days off and had done, or were about to do a bit of travelling. (To be honest I've always wanted to be at work on Christmas Day to see what it was like.) On the way to the shintabet (toilet) I saw the thickest trail of ants I have seen so far,
probably around 5cm wide and 2-3cm high. Later I walked up to the post office and was really pleased to get 7 letters and cards, a food treats parcel with Haribo Star Mix and some instant soups and cappuccinos etc and a parcel of DVDs Dad had sent me (including episodes of "Heroes" he's been recording for me. I received episode 22 last week but the package of 19, 20 & 21 which was sent about 2 weeks before that hadn't arrived – until today, which was good for Christmas.) I went back to "work" and read the letters, opened the cards etc

At lunchtime, I had a phone call from mum and dad and a friend rang straight afterwards. I ate my usual sambusa and doughnut that I put jam inside and watched some of "Heroes". Just before returning to work I had a mild dose of the "two bob's" which was nice for Christmas, but thankful up until now (20:00) the only dose!

In the afternoon I listened to the nine Christmas-related tracks (all I could find) on my MP3 player (including two versions of "walking in the air", John Lennon's "Merry Christmas – War is Over" and "Closing of the Year" – from "Toys" which some readers will recognise as the song I scored for the choir to sing last Christmas in Heathfield.) I also talked to some students who'd come to visit the model classroom and I'm sure I did some other work-related stuff…

At 16:00 I took my second English lesson with a group of trainee teachers being as active as I could, using my best teaching methodology, referring to always teaching by getting pupils to see, hear and most importantly do. In fact, picture this: Christmas Day, sunny, temperature around 30C and me teaching about fifty 20 year olds "Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" (with actions!)

After that it was back on with the MP3 player on a loop while planning the next lesson and tidying up in the office. I left around 1800 – the sun was about 15mins from setting, lots of bugs were flying in the air (as usual.)

Back at home, I started a fire to burn the soft (toilet paper) which was probably a good idea (see lunchtime paragraph) and also burned some rubbish that the family just seem to tip into the bushes. Then it was into my kitchen (a.k.a. cupboard) and had tinned tuna chunks and baked beans for Christmas Dinner, followed by chocolate porridge using the last of my oats and a packet of instant chocolate drink.

In a few minutes I will be having a shower (a.k.a. big bowl and flannel) followed by more "Heroes" which I will watch for about 30mins after taking my Doxycycline (anti-malarial) – you can't lie down for that long after taking it, or it inflames your throat.

Then bed to continue reading "Red Mars."

And that was my Christmas Day in Gilgel Beles, Ethiopia.

Monday, 24 December 2007

International Link and more walking

On Friday (21/12), after technical problems the day before, we managed to link up two schools, one in East Sussex, England and one in Gilgel Beles, Ethiopia via mobile telephone. The children asked each other questions (weather, school, etc) and the pupils in the school where I was tried to teach the UK children Amharic counting (which was funny). To finish off, the UK children sang "We wish you a merry Christmas", which will apply over here in about two weeks (I think Christmas is Jan 7, but like everything else over here, no-one seems 100% sure if it is then, or on Jan 8!) then the Ethiopian school sang a Christmas celebratory song back. It was a success at this end (the children had pictures of the UK children to see who they were talking to - sent the previous day by e-mail) and I'm waiting to find out how it went at the other end, because since that call there has been no mobile signal here.

Today, Sunday 23/12, I covered another 12 km on my morning walk. I found a small hill overlooking the Beles River, and another access point to the river. It was very peaceful by the running water and there is now a huge contrast in the vegetation in the open and by the river. Mostly it's all brown, but by the river it's still green. I saw more ants - going across rocks this time.

Christmas Message

This is taken from a video clip on a DVD just received from Mark:

"It's December 5 and it's hot and sunny, which isn't right for December - it's now 30-32C. I'm not far from the Beles River just the other side from the college. I just wanted to wish you all in the UK a very Happy Christmas. It isn't going to be Christmas here until 7 or 8 January so I will have to wait a bit.

Thank you to everyone who has made videos and sent letters. It's really great to get them over here and find them waiting for me when I go to my PO Box at the post office. Thanks very much, too, for the e-mails and 'phone calls.

Happy Christmas!"
Please keep writing, but note extra line in address as below:
Mark Sidey
PO Box 47
Gilgel Beles
Metekel Zone

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Weekly Update

Saturday, 15 December

Went to the market, got potatoes and bananas, but no eggs. Continued on to fuel station, but there is still no kerosene (for my stove in case there is no electricity) and no date as to when there will be any. I walked down to the river via a path I had been a few weeks ago. The river is noticeably down now with no rain and is looking clearer. I managed to walk about 30 m further along the bank than I had last time because of the low water level. People were crossing it, the water coming up to their knees. Something they couldn't do a while ago. I saw a woman crossing with bundles of logs - they carry things using a yoke slung over their shoulders with the items hanging on both sides. Then I went back up the path and climbed a small hill at the southern end of town. At the top there were good views of GB, and also a large storage tank for water - probably the town's supply pumped up from the river (and, hopefully, filtered in some way!).

Next I went back via the market and tried again to buy some eggs I saw, that turned out to be some already sold. Something that I have noticed - shiro weut powder, which is on sale at the market and on display in piles, always attracts loads of bees. They must use it for something.

Back at the house I finished my washing, had honey-porridge lunch, cleaned and mopped the kitchen, put up new curtains in my room (I took the three tea-towels and two pillow cases down that I had been using, attached by paper clips - most useful tools! - and replaced them with one of my bed sheets, doubled over) and added another sheet of plastic to my ceiling over my pillow area to stop the dust from the termites burrowing into the bamboo ceiling falling on me. Then I brushed and mopped the floor in my room, watched by the sister of the family I live with - most disconcerting!

At around 3 pm, after the strongest sun of the day, I set off on another walk. I had noticed a ridge about 1 km north of the college entrance. It was quite easy to follow as there was a track along the top and although it was only about 50 m higher than the surrounding area, there were good views from both sides. The only annoyance was walking through some kind of grass that littered the ground that had long, pin-like seeds that stuck to my shoes and socks and prickled around my ankles!

Other news this week

Yesterday, I thought the toilet flush had been fixed. The college had arranged a "specialist" to fit new parts. I did get it to flush a couple of times (only when the water is on, of course) but like before, it didn't stop once the tank had refilled so continued to flow. Today it seems totally broken again!

On Monday, we had arranged to go and visit the last four schools in the cluster. We agreed on a 7.30 am start and on several occasions the week before I checked that it was all going ahead and even gave both my colleages and line manager the plan (and times) written down. Needless to say, having waited half an hour with no shows from anyone, I left the front of the college, got my laptop and went on the net to tell home how annoyed I was. This was followed by finding out that a letter telling the Finance Department to pay me had still not been received and discovering that, not only were the pit latrine toilets still locked, but there was no key now either. Being the inventive person I am (I have had to be out here) I made a key using a piece of wood. It helped me lever off the nails, holding the bolt in place, and a firm nudge from my shoulder finished the job.

We did eventually visit the schools, and this allowed me to complete my GPS map of their locations and do a quick needs assessment. I also discovered one school had lots of packs of unopened text books and a big pile of "big books" that were not being used "in case the children tear them". At least my colleages, who accompanied me, agreed this has to change.


It's funny how the books I am reading seem to have a link with me here. I mentioned before that I was reading "Dune" by Frank Herbert (I think) and there is a lot of mention about preserving water and how precious it is - and me with my one to two hours water supply in the morning and evening. I empathised with the occupants of the Desert Planet! Now I am reading "Red Mars" by Kim Stanley Robinson about a group of colonists who go to Mars to set up a permanent base. They are in an alien place, solving problems, exploring and feeling homesick - there is a parallel here as well. I was quite disappointed the other day when I asked when it would rain next. I was told "April". It's sunny every day here, cool 14-15C in the morning on the way to work and up to around 30C in the late afternoon. What had been green and lush when I arrived is now withering and turning brown in the soil, which is also dry and cracking.

An interesting line in the book mentioned about how people are only truly happy when living in the present - occupied and active and just concentrating on what they are doing. It's when you start thinking about the past or future that depression sets in. Unfortunately, you only achieve things when you refer to the past and plan for the future. This is pretty similar to how I'm feeling. When I'm talking to students (we opened our model classroom in the college this week and I was showing them teaching aids, etc) or climbing hills, stepping across rocks by the river, etc I am happy. When I start thinking about the future (what happens when I come back to England, etc) I start getting depressed. I am going through lots of different phases, including apathy, not caring about anything I do that might offend people (although this was mostly thoughts in my head luckily), thinking about really going over the top in the street when people keep staring at me, to really giving them something to stare at and finally getting annoyed ....

Amongst things that are difficult at the moment are:

  • The family I'm living with not flushing the toilet with a bucket of water

  • The weird animal noises waking me up at night

  • The known animal noises waking me up at night (namely cockerels)

  • Being invited to coffee at lunch time when I need to chill out on my own

  • Being stared at all the time when I'm out

  • Not being able to speak English at full speed

  • Having children from 100m away yelling "Ferengi" at me as I approach (although usually I don't mind this or having to shake all their hands when they see me).

  • College cars either turning up too early or too late

  • Waiting outside the Post Office for up to 45 mins when the guy turns up late

  • Being a slave to the water and having to do things at particular times specified by an unknown agency who decides when to turn on and off the water (sometimes not at all)

  • Having to go through all the greetings you have to do when you enter a room and just want to print something. The other day when I was in a funny mood, I just looked round the room and very quickly went "Dena Durk, Dena Dursh, Dena Durk, Dena Durk" to the people there, then got on with the reason I was there. (Dena Durk is Good Morning to a man and Dursh to a woman).

And finally, the most difficult and annoying:

  • Religious institutions' "Calls to Prayer", especially the 1 and 5 am calls. I have been tempted to go out one night and cut the wires to the loudspeaker! Alternatively, I was thinking of setting up my own PA system and going on a 3 am chant, saying "Were you enjoying your sleep? Hard luck! It makes me question religions that call its followers to prayer in the middle of the night with no thought for anyone else!

Luckily I am pretty calm and adaptive most of the time and just take things a day at a time. Whether I can stick two years of this is another matter. What is more pressing at the moment is the fact that I am running low on Ferengi foods and calculate I will be out of franks and tuna, etc. in about two weeks. I'll have to get re-supplied somehow.


It basically isn't happening here. Nothing in the shops, no decorations, no trees, no Advent calendars, no preparing for concerts, parties, services, turkeys - bliss!!! I'll be working the same as usual on 25th. I think I get a day off on 8 January when it is Ethiopian Christmas, but I'm not sure what happens then. I think I can safely count out a roast dinner.

Temperature and Pressure

I've been monitoring the air pressure lately. Unlike the changeable UK climate (which I miss; I miss the wind and the rain on the roof. There's nothing here in the dry season - just boring old blue skies and sunshine). The pressure is pretty constant and only fluctuates by a couple of millibars. Last night the temperature went down to a nippy +10C - must be winter! Still, it'll be back to 20 by about 0900 and 30+ by the end of the day!

Wednesday 19 December (Id Al Adha - Muslim holiday and national public holiday)

Yesterday I taught an English lesson to a group of freshmen college students. I will be doing it once a week. I use some of the games I used for teaching my English school class French. It went well, I think, but was funny at the end. I told them to go but they didn't move. I repeated that they could go. One got up but was reprimanded by the others. Apparently they have to wait for the teacher to go first! (All these little things I have to get used to!)

At the Post Office I got a couple of Christmas cards and a small package from home, but then hit another snag I hadn't even considered. In with the post was a note saying that there was a package waiting for me. Now, in the UK you usually collect the package from the local Post Office but in Ethiopia if there is a Customs issue (like they want to look inside to see if there is anything illegal or electronic for tax purposes) you have to collect it in person so they can open it in your presence. The snag is the note was from Bahir Dar Post Office. This means I have to make the 6 hr (if I'm lucky) journey to Bahir Dar on the bus to collect my parcels! Great! I guess I can combine it with a food and supplies run, but other than the lake, Bahir Dar didn't endear itself to me (too touristy and therefore lots of hassle from the locals) and I don't even know if I can get canned meat the tuna there.

Today, having the day off and setting off early, I finally made it to a hill I set out for two weeks ago. Previously I had got the wrong hill on the map (the snake incident - see earlier entry), so last week I did some clever triangulation. I got the bearing of the hill from two points in the town and drew them on my map until they crossed and found the hill was a lot further away than I had thought. It was a 6 km hike (mostly on wide paths though). There was a flat plain for the last km at around 1070 m, then the hill went up to 1130 m. The last bit was hairy. First I scared some locals who were resting, and when a woman looked up and saw a white face she jumped up and ran a short distance. Luckily she stopped and laughed about it afterwards. What was difficult, thought, was climbing the last 30 m. It was through tall, brittle, reed-type things. I kept stopping to listen for snakes and when I was moving I made a lot of noise so that anything knew I was coming and wasn't startled.

This afternoon I went to a ceremony for the Islamic religious holiday. There were a few speeches in Amharic from the local Islamic leaders, the Dean, one from a Christian and one in English. The general feeling is that it is good that different religions respect each other in Ethiopia and people from one religion will attend ceremonies of another.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Update on work and life in Gilgel Beles


What have I been doing work-wise here! Well, initially I have made lots of teaching aids and sorted out the model classroom which we will open next week to let local teachers and teaching students at the college see what you can do to make a classroom more stimulating and interactive. I have also written an "action plan" (how I hate management jargon!) with about 10 main goals to achieve while I am here. These include: visiting and performing a needs assessment of the 10 schools in the cluster; purchasing resources for the schools to distribute and training on the use of teaching aids (at present there is a big focus on making a model classroom in a school, which then is not used as part of teaching). One goal, therefore, is to get some displays and teaching aids in all classrooms - ones that will actually be used. Later, I will develop a teaching programme on using active learning and child-centred learning and assessment for learning. There are problems with this, as many teachers know or are aware of the theories but can't or won't put them into practice in the huge classes.

A quick achievable thing I have carried out is building a good relationship with Gilgel Beles Elementary School. I have observed lessons, trained teachers in the use of simple teaching aids and re-visited to see if they are being used; organised a "making" session with a group of children to produce a class set (100!) of number fans and last week I also taught demonstration lessons in the large classes to show the teachers that it can work with large classes. Hopefully it will give them confidence to try using the teaching aids themselves. I have really missed actually teaching children.

On Friday I went in to school and helped a class of 80 write letters to my old school in England. It was quite difficult for the grade 4 class as English is, at best, the children's second language. It could be their third language after their own ethnic language and Amharic. Also the English alphabet is a second alphabet for the children as their first way of writing is using Amharic script. I showed them some English money I had, and a short video of the children in school in England they would be writing to. I also videoed some short clips of the children to send back to England.

The children in the class ranged in ages from about 10 to over 20. This is because some of them didn't get a chance to go to school when they were children (maybe because they were working in the home, or with farming) so they come when they are older, and join in with the children.


Two nights ago as I was getting ready for bed I saw something scuttling in the corner of my room. It was a gint (scorpion) - my first seen over here. It was about 5cm long and had definite pincers and stinging tail. Apparently they are non-lethal here, but the sting can be very painful for a full 24 hours. I squashed it with my shoe, then I poked it with a stick and it got up and scuttled off, so I whacked it a few more times with my shoe. It was dead then! I put it on some card but a couple of days later it had disappeared from the card!!! (Who knows what took it and ate it - I think it was too big for ants to move!).

When I got home last night there was no power. It had been off for several hours before but it stayed off all night and was still off this morning. I had a cold tin of tuna, some crisps and biscuits for dinner! I used my head torch - which is very useful - and lit some candles. I had my "tub" wash, but without a kettleful of hot water to take the chill off and it was freezing!!

I watched a DVD and did some work on the computer until I had drained both batteries. Then I went to bed to read. (I'm reading "Red Mars" by Kim Stanley Robinson at the moment).

There is one advantage of no power - no loud distorted, droning "calls to prayer" from the local Orthodox church at one and five in the morning ....excellent!

There was no water this morning either. With no power I thought it was about time I got some kerosene for my (lethal-looking) kerosene stove which VSO had provided. I walked up to the fuel station at the far end of the village but there was no kerosene. I bought some candles and wondered if you can cook using multiple candle power! On the way back I went to the market to get some eggs and on the walk up and back I met another ferengi. He is Spanish and has lived in Gilgel Beles for two years in the Catholic mission at the other end of the village. Apparently he's been in Ethiopia for about 16 years. He was going to the prison to see if they'd let him in to do some missionary work. After the escape a few weeks ago, everything has been locked down. On the way back when I met him, he said everything's opened up again and he can continue his work.

Once I'd dropped off my purchases and sun-creamed up, I set off to another hill on the other side of the river. At one point, as I came through some trees a small (70cm) crocodile or alligator shot away and jumped into the river. I got to a fairly wide road that led into "Village 1". I think the "Villages" (there are about 100) were established by the Italians about 50 years ago. Anyway, there were many houses, mostly the round "Gumuz"-type.

Using my GPS, which I had marked with the summit of the hill, I followed the road and then turned at a track which seemed to be leading in the correct direction. At each fork in the track I followed the GPS direction. It was saying I was about 900m away from the summit and there was a shady overgrown patch ahead. I heard a rustling noise which sounded different from usual. Sometimes in undergrowth you hear something quick and small and it is usually a bird or a lizard, or sometimes it's larger and it turns out to be a goat or chicken. I was cautious and made a lot of noise to let whatever it was know that I was coming. Sure enough, about ten metres ahead I saw the tail of a snake slithering quite fast across my path. The tail section I saw was about one metre and I reckon the whole things must have been a good two to three metres long. A few seconds later I saw another one, or the same one which had turned around rapidly! Needless to say, I changed my plans and decided to head back.

According to my GPS I had walked 6.5km, as well as the march to the fuel station and market earlier and was exhausted. I had a sleep after a big bowl of porridge with honey, which I could make as the power had come back on.

While I was typing this blog I heard the water come on so broke off to quickly do my washing, cleaning, cooking omlette and chips for tea and refill my bowl ready for my wash in the evening.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Workshop in Addis

Saturday, 24 November 2007

I was going to go to Bahar Dar by bus, leaving Gilgel Beles at 0600. At the last minute, Friday afternoon, a couple of academics at the college said they were going to Addis, and the college car would take me to Kosober (Injibara) in the morning. I asked what time, and I eventually managed to get that it would be sometime between 0900 and 1000. Where, I asked, shall I come to the front of the college? Well if you're not there, we will come to your house. I confirmed all this a number of times with a couple of people. Sost se-at (or 03.00 Ethiopian Time or 0900).
So, this morning at 1:30 ET (07:30) the car arrived, me in my pyjamas having breakfast. Great! Anyway I rushed everything, including emptying all thewater, checking I hadn't left any food to go rotten or attract ants while I was away and was ready by about 0800ish when we left. At first it was a real squash, four people like kippers in the back seat. Gradually they got out at different places and from Chagni to Kosober (or Injibara – the old name before the government gave it a new name or something - I had reasonable room in the back. Good views again of the country, but in places the road was terrible - you get bounced out of your seat!!!

Anyway, arrived at Kosober at 10.10, and got straight into a Minibus bound for Bahar Dar for only 18 birr. There were two people who spoke reasonable English who I chatted to. After waiting to fill up the bus (they wait until they are full, then go) I left at 10.40 and had a reasonably fast and interesting journey on the asphalt road to Bahar Dar. The most interesting(and RSPCA moment) was when about 30 chickens tied by the feet in bundles were loaded onto the roof – still alive! I got to Bahar Dar at 12.35 and wheeled my suitcase the 500m or so to the hotel. I impressed myself by identifying it by the Amharic sign and checked in. It was 125 birr a night and had a shower (which was cold) and flushing toilet!!!! I had Satellite TV (I watched BBC World) and they even provided towels and soft (toilet paper)!!! Luxury. I could even see Lake Tana from my window and there was a terrace overlooking the lake where you can get drinks or eat!

After doing a quick sort, I went back to town where I had seen a photo lab to get some prints of the training I had done in the primary school – I said I would give them copies. On the way I bumped into a VSO Volunteer who had been in Addis with me 6 weeks ago. We talked a bit then agreed to meet up for a late lunch. I continued to the photo lab and found they printed them as I waited. It took about 5 minutes and they were really good quality!!

Then I met the volunteer again and we ate on a second floor, outside terrace restaurant. I had a gently spicy fish dish (one of the only places you can get fish - being near the lake) and rice. It was very nice. I was talking a lot, very fast, as, other than telephone calls from home, I hadn't had the chance to do that for about 6 weeks!

Next I walked around the town getting a few bits. Went through the large market, managed to find some bars of chocolate in one shop, picked up several trailing young Ethiopians - you wonder how long it will be until they ask for money. I stopped in a café and talked to some Ethiopian teachers and had a coffee, then down to the lake front and had a Pepsi while watching pelicans. Next, I walked past the hotel to a riverside path which I walked round and took some photos. Very pleasant. Back in the hotel I met two French people and practised my language – my French was better than their English. Down at the terrace I overheard some more French speakers – they were actually Belgian and I sat and talked to them for a while. Their English was better than my French (so we stuck to English). I keep thinking numbers and other words in Amharic now – even when talking French. Finally, I went back to my room to watch a bit of TV and eat the food I had managed to get including muz (bananas) some bread and a sambusa (semosa-type thing).

Sunday, 25th November, 2007

I got packed and ready for a 07.00 departure by the free shuttle to the airport. The other VSO volunteer had asked if he could go with me for free (he is staying in another hotel) and was told OK last night as he had eaten at my hotel and taken a couple of tours. This morning they asked for 20 birr! He was really bitter as he had spent the last few days doing touristy things and had been ripped off a number of times. Tourist places really attract the kind of Ethiopian out to make as much money as possible, usually by quoting one price and later it becomes more (lying basically.) Anyway, at the airport we had a coffee and during this, I was summoned to the security area as they wanted me to open my case. It was the batteries! The flight was reasonably on time. I noticed how everything wasn't as green as it had been six weeks ago. In Addis, we managed to talk a taxi down from about 80 birr to the expected 40 birr. At the end of the ride, he tried it on and asked for 50, but we got away with 40. We were at the hotel before checkout time of 12.00 so the rooms weren't ready. Also there was an overbooking problem and at one point it looked like I might be sharing a room. I met up with lots of volunteers and we walked up to two older volunteers' house. We sort of regard them as our Ethiopian Mum and Dad. "Dad" was the one who sent me the rescue box of food a couple of weeks ago. We walked to their house and had nice crusty tuna and egg rolls. Some of us went shopping after, then we met up with more volunteers who had been at "In country training." I became very whingey and moany as I hadn't had anyone to gripe to for 6 weeks! One thing that's really good in Addis, (and Ethiopia) at the moment, is that there is not a sign that Christmas is on the way. I'm going to escape all the advertising and shameless financial exploitation in the UK this year!!!
We ate with a group – I had a burger, then back to the hotel where I had a treat, a shower! It was my first hot shower for 6 weeks. Not only that, but also it was powerful. After washing, I just stood under it, luxuriating for a few minutes. The temperature was great in Addis. Sunny, in the low to mid twenties and at night, nice and cool in the room (about 20).

Monday, 26th November 2007

Biscuits for breakfast, then the 10min walk to the VSO office. I got my official government residents permit. This is good as it enables meto get cheaper prices in hotels and on flights. We were taken to the country director's house (which is big) for the training sessions. It was OK and we learnt some new things, but I had flashbacks to "Harborne Hall" and some of it was a little tiring. Still, it was good to meet up with everyone. We were taken back to VSO around 17.00, and I walked the couple of kilometres to a supermarket near Meskel Square. Someone tried the old "do you remember me from this morning, I've changed my clothes?" scam on me, but I got rid of him when I told him I'd been here for two months. I got a few things inc. sweets and biscuits, then walked all the way back via another supermarket. It was quite late and dark when I got back to the hotel. It's quite a long walk. Some others were just finishing their dinner in the hotel. I had another burger, before having another shower!!!

Tuesday, 27th November 2007

More training, same routine as yesterday. We got back a little later, and I got a few more bits from a supermarket near the hotel, impressing them with my Amharic (mainly as it was numbers and food nouns!) Then a group of us at the hotel decided to go to a pizza restaurant above one of the supermarkets (Get Fam.) It was a pretty decent pizza, and I had an amazing fruit drink with three layers of different puréed juices. I followed this with a tiramisu for pud, then a coffee. All this for about 50 birr! My last decent ferengi meal for a while!

Wednesday, 28th November 2007

I had the morning to do more shopping. First I got a line taxi to Meskel Square and walked up to the Hilton to get some more money. My Visa card didn't work, and one of the banks refused to cash a traveller's cheque without the purchasing receipt! Luckily the other bank in the Hilton cashed it. Then I walked across the road, fending off a couple of map sellers, taxi touts and beggars to the mapping office. I managed to get an A2-sized 1:50000 map of the area around Gilgel Beles for just under 14 birr. The survey is about 20 years old, but it has the course of the river and contour lines of the land. I had to go to one room to choose the map and get an order form, then up to the next floor to the sales room where they got the map from the store and filled out a payment form, then I went three floors down to actually pay for it and get a receipt, which I then took back to the sales room and collected my map. On the exit door, the guard asked to see the receipt and check that I hadn't nicked the map!

After that, I walked back to a supermarket and got one of my best purchases: a nice soft pillow (the one VSO gave me was basically filled with foam off-cuts and was full of lumps. I also managed to get some small clocks for my room and kitchen. They were the only ones I had seen and were not exactly what I wanted. One was a tacky dog clock with a tail that wags! I also went to Bambis (the expensive ferengi supermarket) and got some more bed sheets. Finally, after taking a line taxi back to Higher Hulet (where VSO is) I got some plastic for my ceiling to stop the termite dust, then went to VSO to get a few bits – including an XP Pro disc (see virus entry previously), with no luck. Then it was back to the hotel to cram everything into my suitcase and new bag (I got this to put the extra supplies in), checked out, and got a taxi to the airport. Amazingly I was not charged excess baggage! The flight was a touch late, but I got to Bahar Dar around 16.00 and was told the "free" shuttle to the hotel was full, so I had to go with another hotel shuttle and pay 20 birr!

I walked along the edge of the lake again, then to a new bit of town with lots of electrical shops. I also found the bus station. Along the way, I met Tail - a boy in Grade 7 at school. I was practising my Amharic on him, and he, his English. He invited me back to his house to meet his mother for coffee. It was one of the wood frame with mud-fill-in type houses. His sister was there as well as a neighbour who was 21 and was very interested in writing to me to practise his English. I think that he thinks I might be able to get him a place at GB college. They followed me back to the hotel, but didn't ask for money. I ate on the veranda overlooking the lake, and the younger boy climbed a tree outside and kept pointing to his bare feet and was obviously asking for some money to buy some shoes. He eventually went away!

After eating I managed to have a hot shower from a boiler with the most dodgy wiring you have ever seen – actually, the most dodgy wiring was on the lights by the bed which were bare twisted together ends!

Thursday, 29th November 2007

Today had me a little worried. I had to get back to Gilgel Beles on my own with a very heavy (full of food cans etc) suitcase, a bag and a backpack. I had been told of a bus at 06.00 or 07.00, but to be honest I didn't want to get up that early and find there wasn't one, so I didn't actually check out until about 09.00. I walked to the bus station wheeling my case (attracting a few offers of help… for money) and when I got there I was immediately set upon by over ten people trying to get money from me through various scams. The young man from yesterday showed up (he had probably been waiting for me since 0600 knowing I was going on a bus) and helped somewhat. I had found a bus going to Kosober, but the person trying to take 15 birr from me with a pad in his hand seemed a little suspicious and unsure as to when it would leave. I tried to give the ticket back but he said I had touched it so had to pay. I walked away and headed for the minibuses (with some help from the young man.) There, I got a place on a minibus for 18 birr, which you don't pay until you're moving. It left fairly quickly and it wasn't until I saw in the reflection of a window my case on the roof, that I was happy. I was in the front and it was a very quick journey with very few stops as the minibus was full and everyone seemed to be going to Kosober. There was no-one to talk to this time, but I was quite tired and it wasn't a problem. I used my GPS to keep track of where I was.

When I got to Kosober someone took my bag and led me to a bus. There wasn't one going straight to Gigel Beles, but there was one going to Chagni. It was 10 birr, and the person who carried my case asked for 10 birr. I gave him one birr – he didn't seem happy, but the conductor on the bus said that's all I should pay and shooed them off, which was nice.

The journey was slow, bumpy and cramped (I was sitting sideways on what I think was the cover above the gearbox.) At least it was mostly downhill (after it reached the peak over 2600m.) When I got to Chagni, the whole "taking your suitcase and putting it on the roof of another bus" happened again. The guy wanted 10 birr (the bus ride was only going to cost 7 birr) and I offered 1 birr. He was not happy. All the Ethiopians on the bus were watching with amusement. I put my birr away and he was shooed off as the bus was about to leave. He swore at me through the window.

I did worry that he might try and take my case off, and it wasn't until about half way to Gilgel Beles when the bus stopped at a region crossing point and we all got out for five mins, that I saw my case strapped to the roof and was happy.

It was a relief to reach GB at last. It was around 1430. My case was taken down and one guy from the bus refused the birr I offered. A boy (probably from the school) asked to take my case for a birr and wheeled it to the college entrance. I gave him 1.5 birr which at first he refused to take.

Next, back to my house – what I relief. I hadn't drunk during the journey and now re-hydrated myself with a bottle of water and, shortly afterwards, an ice-cold Marinda (fizzy orange) at the college café (which was full of strangers from somewhere else who gave me the ferengi stare.) I chatted to a couple of them and eased the tension. Next I went to the Post Office where I had quite a few letters and the first big package to arrive from home. I went back home, via another Marinda and coffee at the best café in town.

The evening was spent sorting out all the stuff I had bought, and my suitcase (which had become covered in chicken or goat poo – there were both on the roof with my case!) The birds in the nest outside my room have hatched. One of the babies was perched on the washing line in the centre of the house and it let me go up and stroke it – several times! Later, I was invited to another coffee ceremony with the family where I had my first hold of the baby. It reminded me of holding my nephew and niece when they were young.

Monday, 26 November 2007


Weekend 17/18 Nov – Shopping and Walk

Put one lot of washing in and then headed for the market to make sure I got eggs. Unfortunately the market wasn't set up so I continued uphill and found a way to get down to the Beles River at the east of the town. It had big rocks, pebbles and sand. In the rainy season it must be much higher. I walked along part of the river and then back to the market, where I managed to get potatoes, limes and nine eggs! I walked back home, cleaned the kitchen and my room. The water was off so I couldn't finish my washing until later. I had franks and beans for lunch, which was good and then went to a coffee ceremony with the family. I watched more "Coast" and then later went for another walk west along the Beles. The river is orangey-brown all the time with carried mud, as it is quite fast-flowing. On the way back, near home, I saw a bees nest inside a concrete power pole and took pictures. I got too close and one came out and stung me on my
camera trigger finger, followed by another on the arm. I legged it as I remembered about the pheromone the stings give off to make the other bees attack, and at least one followed me almost to the gates of the college. I managed to get away with only two stings!

Night sounds and water

Normally I am woken some nights here by the local church "Calling to prayer". They use a PA system and sing/yell a chant over and over again. I think it's the Christian Orthodox Church. The worst ones are the 1am and 5am calls which I think are mainly on Sundays.

I was woken by a different sound this weekend. I heard gunshots, and quite a lot of them. There is a prison next to the college campus and apparently there was a break-out and around ten prisoners escaped. Well actually, about seven escaped because three were shot dead!

I am getting used to only having water a couple of hours twice a day but for the last two days it has not come on at all. All my reserves of cleaning water were used up by the end, so no washing of cooking equipment or me! Luckily it hasn't been quite so hot for the last few days and so I don't pong too much ....... don't ask about the toilet though!

Finally, the management have come up with a solution for my non-flushing toilet. Yesterday they gave me a can of air freshener - seriously, that's what they did - together with a can of "roach" spray for the termites in my roof which continue to drop piles of wood dust in certain areas of my room.


The college computers are riddled with viruses. When I need to print something, I put the file on a memory stick, take it to a college computer and print. The next time I put the stick in my computer, my virus checker sounds an alert and finds lots of viruses on it. Luckily, my subscription to an anti-virus programme is still active and I have been downloading the latest up-dates since I've had an internet connection, but the college can't afford this. I found a copy of McAfee on one computer yesterday that was last updated in May 2005!!!!

Friday, 16 November 2007

VSO Visit to Gilgel Beles and Latest News


I now have email at the College during the week, although only likely to be able to use it twice-a-week. I’m getting through my backlog!

Sat 10th Nov

Up and do hand-washing before the water gets turned off. Walk to the market to try and get eggs before they run out. Also, if possible, big oranges (which are sweeter than the small ones), limes (to squeeze and add to water to make a lime drink), roasted peanuts sometimes and bananas.

Tue 13th Nov

My supervisor from VSO Ethiopia in Addis arrived last night and today we had meetings and discussions about how it was all going, both personally – problems with the house etc and professionally – establishing a counterpart who will work with me and will be able to continue my work after I leave. It was very useful. Also, he bought a “rescue package” from another volunteer in Addis which includes franks, tuna, corned beef, sweets, biscuits etc – I had my first Mars Bar for about a month!

Wed 14th Nov

My first teacher training in Ethiopia. I went to the local school in the afternoon, with a colleague who acted as translator. I ran a session on using a counting stick and number fans/cards for 21 teachers and the director (head.) It seemed to go fairly well – they understood some English and the rest was translated. There was a slight problem when I asked “What problems might there be using a count stick” and some interpreted it as “What problems are there with education in Ethiopia” and I got responses like “need more chairs”, “only works in Developed World” etc. Also at the end I was told, that in future training the teachers need incentives to come to training (i.e. money.) Overall though, for a first go, I think it went well and the evaluation sheets look like most enjoyed it and found it valuable. Next I need to go in and see if they are using any of the training in the class.


Creatures found in kitchen so far: Gecko, Lizard, Toad, Frog, Ants, Weird furry caterpillar, cockroaches, black crickets.

Creatures found in bedroom: Spiders, Mouse, Ants, Mosquitoes, flies, cockroaches (two have fallen from the ceiling onto my mozzy net – good job I have it!) black crickets.

Other creatures in the house: Birds nesting in mud nests high up on the wall outside the toilet and outside my “kitchen.” A Swarm of bees came in one afternoon.

In the UK it really makes you jump when you lift up something on the floor and a spider or something shoots out. Here, already I am used to it. It happens so often, including opening my suitcase and a mouse ran across, that you almost expect it and it doesn’t make you jump much at all.


VSO warn volunteers about problems they will face adapting to the new situation. There have been many times when I’ve thought “what am I doing here.” For example when you’re in a car full of people speaking a language you don’t understand and laughing and not including you; finding the toilet full of stuff without a flush; not wanting to eat injera and shiro wat again; not wanting to dissect meat from the local “selling meat out of the back window of their house (butchers).

Thoughts I have had (which are apparently quite common) include – thinking abut recklessly walking through long grass to get bitten by a snake, thinking about drinking dodgy water, thinking about not using anti-malarials – all to become ill and get taken back home. Of course I haven’t done any of these, and there are days (more frequently now) that it feels normal and ok to be here.

"My Day"

A typical day

0615 Wake up. Make coffee and have a biscuit and banana breakfast while listening to MP3 Player. Take multivitamin tablet. Get washed and dressed etc. Boil water ready for drinking.

0730 Mains water comes on, refill bottles, replace wash bowl and jug water etc

0745 Walk to work

0800 In office working!

0845 Go and buy a semosa-type thing, a plain doughnut and bread roll for lunch from the on-site café.

1000 Possibly visit the pit latrines (which are now locked because “workmen” have been using them incorrectly – how you use a hole incorrectly I’m not sure although there were a few piles of something on the floor and not in the hole!!! Now, with the toilets locked, the piles just appear outside on the grass!!)

1200 Walk home for lunch, possibly watch a bit of DVD (I’m watching “Coast” at the moment – I bought three series on DVD as I knew I would miss the sea) – Read – I’m reading DUNE at the moment. Maybe a sleep. Put boiled water into filter to drip through ready for evening – fresh drinking water. (Sometimes I go for lunch with colleagues in town)

1400 Back at work for the afternoon.

1730 or 1800 (depending on the day.) Go out for a meal occasionally, or home. The sun sets at 1808 at the moment, the earliest time the sun sets in the whole year.

1810 Cook food and eat while watching DVD. Clean up before the water goes off. Take Doxycycline (anti-malarial) tablet and make sure I don’t bend over for 30mins otherwise it can make ulcers in your oesophagus!

2000 Have a bowl “shower”. I have pretty much mastered having a hair-wash and full body wash in a bowl about 50cm across. Hair is just dipping your head in, then washing everything else involves crouching in the bowl and putting water on using a flannel and letting it flow down without too much dripping on the floor.

2100 Ready for bed, read and sleep usually around 2130-2200. (After carefully tucking mozzy net around bed.)

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Gilgel Beles - Schools and Children

I've had my first bout of sickness and diarrhoea - not sure why as I've been very careful with cleaning, not eating anything suspect, etc - and it didn't help that I haven't got a flushing toilet!
The Dean and everyone went extra cautious on me and took me to the medical centre where I was made to drink two big cups of dehydration liquid (water with salt and sugar - disgusting) and given 300mg of a strong antibiotic. I spent the rest of the day at home sleeping. I had many visitors from the College after they found out I was ill, which was very kind, but all I wanted to do was sleep. Other than being tired , feeling nauseous through the day and a little odd the next day, I didn't have any more S and D! (I'm still being asked a week later if I am OK!) Anyway, I'm settling in and going out to the schools to observe lessons. I still need to improve my Amharic so that I can understand more. I have taught myself 25 out of 33 Amharic characters and each one has seven vowel variations.

Gilgel Beles

I went to the Post Office (open 2-5pm four days a week) to send a DVD and was surprised to find I had four items (some letters and DVDs) in my PO Box - some had only taken 9 days to get from the UK. Anyone can send me letters now - please get writing!!!


The children at school are graded according to their abilities rather than age so, for instance, there are eight year olds with 14 year olds. With such big classes - on average 60 pupils - it is impossible to observe all the children and so when they are told something, if they don't understand, nothing can be done about it and the teacher just has to go on to the next thing. Also, Amharic is not the first language of all the children so it is more difficult for them. They have maths, Amharic, natural sciences, geography and history, etc. At the start of the Amharic lesson they sing a song to help them learn the Amharic sounds. Most lessons are from books and are very impersonal and not child centred. Something I have been asked to do is to suggest ways to make lessons more interactive. The children have just one exercise book for all the lessons and use biros (probably cheaper than pencils?). The children are well behaved and when they are at break in the playground, it could be a school anywhere in the world with the chatter and noise of them playing; you don't notice the language. Some children don't go to school and I see them carrying huge loads; bags of grain and sugar to the market. There is new accommodation being built and unlike in Britain when a lorry delivers a load and dumper trucks carry it around, it appears that mostly women move the breeze blocks and bricks around the site.


The family sharing the house with me seem to have an eleven-year old girl staying sometimes (I think the sister of the mother) and she makes the coffee and the breakfast for them in the morning, rushes off to school and then does household chores and looks after the baby, often carrying it on her back, in the afternoon. We can still only get water from a shared outside sink where we do the washing, and that is for two hours twice a day. On Saturdays, I have to choose between doing my washing while the water is on or going to the market early. I did my washing this week and there were no eggs left at the market, which is my main source of protein. I did buy a piece of meat but it was mainly fat and wasn't too tasty. Chickens are available but you have to buy them live and deal with them yourself, which I don't fancy. Also sharing the house with me have been a mouse, a toad, ants (that carried off a piece of biscuit I had dropped) and a variety of insects, including a cockroach which landed on my mosquito net. It bothered me at first but you actually get used to seeing them.

I'll update again as soon as I can.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Gilgel Beles - 3 weeks in

I am now visiting a cluster of school and observing lessons. At the Gilgel Beles Elementary School, I was taken round all the classes and said "good morning" when all the children stood and "sit down please" and they reply "thank you teacher". There can be up to 100 children in a class, sitting on low benches. The classrooms are very basic and varied. Some have mud floors, some have concrete and there are others with bamboo walls. There was a combined school assembly outside for over 1,000 children, the teacher speaking to them with a megaphone! As you would expect, there is a lack of resources and I have been making counting sticks and number fans for a maths class. I took a group of children and taught them addition and subtraction using Amharic - went well and managed to communicate even though I have very little amharic. Now I've got to train the teachers!

With my GPS I've been asked to make a map of the local area, with the location of the schools as there is nothing like it available. Also asked to teach English to two trainee teachers at the college, which may have a two-way effect of also improving my Amharic.

I'm settling into a routine, which begins soon after 6am with the start of the water filtering process - in all it takes four hours during the day. The college working hours are 8am - 6pm. After working, most of the evening is spent cooking, cleaning and washing myself in a bowl. Still no working shower or water from the basin, only water from a shared sink - where water is only available for two hours in the morning and two in the evening.

A family has now moved into another part of the house with me. The father is an academic and speaks limited English and they have a five-month old baby so I'm really glad I have a supply of ear plugs! I was invited to lunch one day with them.

Gilgel Beles
The locals are very friendly and I'm often asked in for coffee. There is a local "market" twice a week selling eggs, meat, potatoes, oranges, and pulses and lentils. I eat out occasionally but always it's injera and stew available, so not much variety.

At the weekend I did a long walk and saw my first giant millipede (25 cms long). The vegetation is green with huge flowers on banana trees. From Gilgel Beles the mountain region can be seen in the distance. There are some amazing views.

I had two surprise visitors knocking on my door one night (whilst cooking pasta in the middle of a power cut!). They were Canadians working in Ethiopia for a similar organisation to VSO. One of their fathers put Gilgel Beles in a search engine, found my blog and traced me. I went out for a meal with them.

I'm keeping a diary and hope to take a bus to Chagne soon where I might get better email facilities.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Gilgel Beles - settling in

Just realised I spelt part of my Ethiopian address incorrectly. It should

Mark Sidey
PO Box 47
Gilgel Beles
Metekel Zone

Also to let you know that it's difficult to pick up or send emails at
present - there is either no connection or it is very, very slow and
expensive in the Internet Café. I'll catch up when I can.

I have been made welcome by the Dean at the College and have plenty of "followers" on the way to and from my home to work. It will take time to adjust to the working practices and things are inclined to happen on a day-to-day basis. In Gilgel Beles, there is a very limited supply of even
basic requirements, including food - a definite lack of protein - but I can get toilet tissue!

Monday, 22 October 2007

Early Days in Gilgel Beles (Con't)

Friday 19 October

Having asked the Dean for the day to sort out my house, it began with
a spectacular storm. I started to prepare my water filter which
involved boiling water in my kettle, then pouring it into my big
boiling pot and heating on the electric hob I was given by VSO. I had
to boil the "candles" which filter the water to sterilise them for
30mins. Then after that I had to install the tap (with was lubricated with
oil - nice!) and the candles. During installation, one snapped off
which was not good as it left a hole the water could pour through
without being filtered! I managed to block the hole with insulation
tape and hope a) it holds and b) it doesn't contaminate the water.

Next I had to boil water for five mins then wait for it to cool before
putting in the top of the filter. Then it takes a couple of hours to
filter through. Anyway, now I have boiled and filtered water to use.
During this time I was sorting other things in my room (which has a
bed, a desk, two chairs, a wardrobe with no shelves or hangers) and a
bedside cupboard but no curtains - out came the paper again!

I was exhausted and slept for a bit before heading to town for lunch.
I met the Dean on the way and he walked with me up the road to the
college (about 5-10mins from my house).

One of the first houses I came to in the village had a tiny window
with a few things for sale. I bought a pack of biscuits and was
invited in to the house for coffee. There were two young
children, a six year old, and two ten year olds who knew a few
English words (like body parts and animals) and the mum. We talked,
although I was way out of my league with Amharic. We learnt colours
and animals from each other and I was offered some spicy green stuff
on injera as well as the coffee. They showed me a tattered brown book
with some Amharic script and English words when I showed them my
Amharic phrase book. They were very kind, and it was just like talking
with French children, sharing language etc.

Next I went to one of the shops and bought a large bowl for washing
and a smaller one with a jug for washing myself + some cooking oil.
After that, to the hotel I have been to for the last few nights and
had a nice spaghetti + veg and meat sauce + Pespi (all for 10 birr -
about 50p)

Back at the house I tried to do some hand washing. A lot of dirt came
out, but my white shirt (that I used for days in the dusty conditions
of Addis) still looks brownish!!! (I'll have to look into hiring a
seretina - housekeeper.) I hung it out to dry, but with the humidity, it
will take ages I think.

The temp has been mid-20s in the house and the humidity dropped from
90% after the rain to 75% in the afternoon.

In the evening I made myself a cup of coffee using coffee grains -
it's ok without a cafetiere if you let the insoluble grinds sink to the
bottom. I also had one of my back-up instant noodles. As there wasn't
any light except in my kitchen and room, I have been using my
head-torch which is very useful.


I used my umbrella I bought in Addis for the first time today to
protect me from the sun. I don't seem to have had any solar
sensitivity that occurs in some people taking my anti-malarial

There are some very colourful birds with bright red heads that eat the
grass plants outside my room. There was a large lizard (about 30cm
long with tail) in the house around lunch and it was able to climb up
the wall and hide behind a cupboard. The ants have found my rubbish
bag in the toilet. I watched six ants carrying a large piece of biscuit I had dropped in the kitchen - I shall have to be careful as I currently have no brush or other cleaning materials! There are some birds building mud-nests inside the open bit of the house on the wall.

The location of my house is:

11d09.646'N 36d20.164'E at an altitude of 1010m

There are lots of quirks in the house. The toilet flushes (when it's
the timetable for water) but it doesn't stop and you have to turn off
the main valve on the wall. There is a weird powder that keeps
dropping on my stuff in my room. It maybe powdered wood, but I'm not sure why it's happening - termites maybe? My wardrobe door keeps opening. I tried to stick it with Duck tape, but in the middle of the night it sprang open waking me up. I have now wedged some cardboard under the front to tilt it slightly to keep it shut.

I now have a clean filtered water supply in bottles with their labels
on, and stored water in unlabelled bottles. When I am doing my teeth
for instance, I used filtered to wash my mouth out and clean the head
of the brush, but unfiltered to clean the handle and my hands.

The routine I will have to adopt is to boil water in morning, let it
cool (which takes ages) then put it in the filter. In all from filling
the pan to filtering all the water probably takes about 4 hours and
the water isn't really cool (room temp) until much later in the day.

Last night I had to wash using a bowl of water and jug - like the old
days in the UK maybe? All the taps rotate without opening any valves!

My breakfasts for the last few days have been biscuits.

None of the admin staff speak English; the academic staff speak some
English at varying levels. I seriously need to learn Amharic!

I will have to burn my rubbish (including toilet rubbish) soon.

I might have to wait until I go to Chagne to read emails and send more in the hope that connections are better there.

Early Days in Gilgel Beles

Wednesday 17 October

Set off from Bahar Dar at 0740. At first we had a smooth tarmac road and we got to Kosober at 0905. I took loads of pictures. The light was great. There were so many people walking along the road with sticks, goods, cattle etc (including young children.) The highest point we got to was 2600m. I talked a little with the driver using my Amaharic dictionary. After Kosober the road was not tarmaced and in many places would be impassable in a normal car. At 1020 we got to Chagne which looked like a shanty town – no paved road, corrugated iron shops. This started to give me a bit of foreboding if this was the big town I would use for supplies! I suggested stopping for a drink and I had tea and the driver and someone else in the car had injera. I asked about the toilets, was directed to a sign in Amharic and found what looked like a cattle shed. In here, with no lights, was basically a hole. (I hope it wasn't a well, because I used it!!)

We continued on to Gilgel Beles and dropped more altitude including some very steep twists and turns. We finally got there around 1110. First impression was of a town from a western movie: dusty roads, a few corrugated iron shops, cattle in the street. We went to a member of staff's house to drop off a freezer, then to the college where I met a number of people including the Dean Negussie, who told me he was leaving the next day and introduced me to the new Dean. I had a tour around and met Workneh who I would be working with. Then we were driven to the Dean's house where I had an injera lunch. We walked back to the college – the temperature was high and humid. My stomach was feeling a bit dodgy so I had a walk around the college, then back to the house where I got my bag. Afterward I went back to the college where after a while I was taken to a local hotel to spend the night (for 40 birr with a shower and toilet). They left and I walked out and found a shop and bought a few things including water which I was drastically low on. Then I got a Pepsi from the shop connected to the motel I was in and talked to a boy running it for quite a while. Back in my room I rested and nearly slept. It was 29C in the room and 61% humidity.

Later someone came to show me around the village. Some Gumuz children were pretending to ride motorbikes using sticks as handlebars and singing a song – very tunefully. Cattle followed us down the road. It was very dusty when trucks went by. Then we went to another hotel to eat. I had spaghetti and a spicy meat and some veg. I talked about the language to the guy and eventually at 1940 in the dark, got back to my room. Had a cold shower, sorted photos etc.

Thursday 18 October

In to "work" at 0800. I looked around the library – there are a relatively small number of text books on a variety of subjects. I was basically wandering around, then Workneh took me to the village. We ate a sort of triangular pasty with lentils and had a coffee. We went to the post office (which is just a room in a building) and the medical centre. He dropped me off at the Internet "Tele-center" where I tried to send an email but it failed to connect, sometimes because of inability to get a line and sometimes it just failed to log on.

I had lunch with the Dean again, then at 1400 I met up with the head of the English Language Improvement program who asked for some advice, but I didn't have much to offer as this is not my area.

I went back to the village. There are major excavation taking place on one of the roads on the way to the post office and I had to find my way down a little track.

I managed to purchase a PO Box for 28 birr.

My address in Ethiopia is:

Mark Sidey
PO Box 47
Gilgel Beles
Metekel Zone

and I'd love to receive letters.

After the third attempt I managed to get an email connection for about 10 minutes before it dropped. It is quite expensive (relatively) – 50c per minute so an hour would be 30 birr or almost ¾ of my daily salary!

In the afternoon I was taken to my new home. It must've been left quite a while ago as there was mess all over the bare floors and walls. It was dusty, the toilet smelt and the shower and basin taps don't work. I really wondered what I was doing at this point.

It has two bedrooms, one of which I am using; a store room which I am using as a kitchen; a bathroom (shared); a living room which another will use and a kitchen which they will use. All the rooms are connected via an open central area with a water tap and large washing sink and a garden with flowers in. My house is called "Block 18" and is at the end of a row with three others. There are also three more opposite.

Later in the afternoon we managed to borrow a brush and some labour and my room and the room next to it, which will be my kitchen, were washed. We put up my mosquito net.

There is a timetable for water. It is only on for a couple of hours in the morning and evening – I need a storage container!

I started to sort my things out and then the Dean and friend came to take me to dinner. I didn't realise they were just doing it for me – they didn't eat! I had injera with bits of meat. Then we had a coffee – I had to ask for it yellum sookor (without sugar) as they all seem to put it in without asking.

On the way back it was almost pitch black in the town. We needed a torch. For the first time in my life I saw fireflies flashing their bioluminescence tails – very impressive.

Back at "home" I started cleaning a bit with the only thing I had available – some dettox wipes my mother had thought to pack. It was only a preliminary clean, but I unpacked my frying pan, saucepan, pot etc. There was only one light working (in my bedroom) but luckily I had some bulbs and with a bit of tweeking of the wires on one, managed to get my "kitchen" light going. The rest of the house including the toilet are dark. There was a toad in the open central area, also some spiders in the walls (about 4cm across so not too bad!)

A family is supposed to be moving in with me at some point, I don't know when.

I couldn't shower so had a quick wash and slept on top of my bed (it was about 28C).

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Half-way there - Bahar Dar

I am on my way at last and have arrived at Bahar Dar. I flew over some amazing scenery and took lots of photos. The landscape was very green with many agricultural "plots" as it is the rainy season but have been told in June it's completely different and very brown. My luggage arrived 45 mins after me on a separate plane.

I am staying in a posh hotel at 270 Birr per night (a week's wages for me or £15 in English money). The altitude is 1800 metres. I will be driven to Gilgel Beles tomorrow - about a four hour drive by a driver with little English: should be interesting!

I walked out and saw Lake Tana this evening. I got lots of looks, giggles and "Hello Misters" but no real hassle. I actually found it quite amusing. There are flies and mossies around and now I will be very aware that they may be carrying malaria. I have a mosquito net over my bed. There has been a big thunderstorm.

This was dictated over the 'phone and I may not be able to do another entry for a while as I don't know what internet facilities there will be in Gilgel Beles. I'll catch up when I can. Watch this space!
Thanks for all the emails and 'phone calls so far.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Pictues during time in Addis

My upstairs room at uni, Is it a bird!
What is this?

Addis University

Fire celebrations! Sunset over Addis
Coffee morning

The lecture hall at uni, A local church
Another to identify?

Bahar Dar... the continuing story

Having stayed at a local hotel last night, with a couple of
cockroaches scuttling around the bathroom, a non-flushing toilet and a
shower whose plug sparked when I plugged it in as there must've been
loose wires, I waited at the VSO office all morning and was taken to
the airport at 12:00. I had about 70kg of excess baggage which
totalled 350 birr (about £20) which I guess is pretty good! The VSO box was
the heaviest with two blankets, my kerosene stove, voltage stabiliser,
electric hotplate etc.

After waiting until 14:10ish (the boarding time on the ticket was
12:35) we were given a free lunch on the house (or airport) which was
actually quite good. Then at around 15:00 we were told the flight had
been cancelled (due to not enough planes!).

So I'm now back at the VSO office having checked back in to the hotel!!!

The worse thing is the driver from Gilgel Beles TTC has been waiting
at the airport since about 11:00 and doesn't have a mobile phone. I
think someone has managed to contact him though, and he will stay in a
hotel in Bahir Dar for the night.

I hope my flight goes tomorrow!

(If you don't get another blog entry for a couple of weeks, then my
flight went!!!!)