Sunday, 30 September 2007

Sunday 30th September 2007

Today we had a late start which meant a lie in! Then it was language
training – recapping yesterday. I wasn't too bad as I had made up some
visual ways of remembering the numbers, for instance "thirty" in
Amharic sounds like "so-laster" so I pictured a needle and thread
sewing a plaster with 30 on it. Then we learnt lots of new
greetings and hit overload when we had to learn the male, female,
plural and formal endings!!!

In the afternoon we went to a town 25km South of where we are staying.
We walked through loads of people who didn't give us any hassle, maybe
because we were in a big group. Then we walked up to a volcano-crater
lake and loads of children followed us. Again, they were just being
friendly. Some spoke English and talked. I practised my Amharic
numbers on them and took photos, then showed them pictures of
themselves on my camera. Finally, we went to a hotel and had a Coke. I
don't think they do diet coke out here - certainly not citrus diet
coke. It cost 5 birr (about 25p)

The traffic was really bad on the way back, and I don't think people
stay in lanes on the road, there seemed to be cars, buses and trucks
passing on all sides, including the grass, hooting etc.

Tonight there are hundreds of mosquitoes and midges around – maybe
because unlike the other days it didn't rain heavily this afternoon.
At least they're not like Scottish midges with their vicious bites.

Saturday 29th September - Language Learning

I managed to get to breakfast for the first time today. There were eggs and bread and porridge, cereal etc. I took a spoonful of something that looked interesting, then noticed it was fried injera. At 8 o'clock in the morning, eating a fried sour vinegary roll of bread-like stuff is not good! (Actually the texture of injera is like a crepe on one side and the airy holes of a crumpet on the other and overall it feels like a rolled up sponge.)

Then to our first real training sessions – in the morning we talked about why we were here and what our professional and personal goals were. I have been a little dizzy now and then over the last few days, but at one point I came across really dizzy and had to sit down. This is probably altitude-related. I didn't have the headache or nausea of altitude sickness, but I did feel dizzy. Pleasantly dizzy as it happens – sort of spaced out. I was told to drink lots of water, which of course meant I missed parts of following sessions, going to the toilet! Later on in the day I felt better.

In the afternoon we started our Amharic language learning. My numbers skills I had learnt from the CD-ROM came in useful, but it was so hard remembering other words. I could remember one for a bit, then when we were told another, the first one went out the window. The hardest one was "ah-may-say-gan-ah-lu" which means "Thank You." It has six syllables and trying to remember them in order is a nightmare! There are also about 7 phonemes that we don't have in English with tongue clicks etc – it's very hard to speak them.

After that, I went to the computer room. Steven the VSO ICT guy had set up a network switch and seven of us with our laptops were connected to the VSO laptop acting as a server to a dial-up internet connection. Now remember how slow I said it was with one machine connected. Now imagine with seven sharing the line. (Broadband is usually 1000kbps+, the dial-up line was connecting at 40kbps and sharing between 7 laptops…) Anyway, I got through a whole charged battery and had only managed to see the welcome screen to my webmail. I tried signing up to Yahoo and Gmail because others were having luck with them, but that failed. Finally, and hopefully I sent in yesterday's blog using someone else's email. Then my webmail finally came through and I sent an email home after two and a half hours.

At Dinner, I sat with two Ugandans who were recruited by VSO in Uganda. It was really interesting hearing about their country. There's also a really nice guy from Kenya in my language group – also a VSO Volunteer. After dinner I sat outside and one of the volunteers had brought a guitar and people were taking turns singing. There was one young woman who sounded like Joni Mitchell and was really good. I don't think they're ready for Mr Bojangles yet, although I may get the old tin whistle out soon!!!

I think I mentioned the plumbing and fittings. Lots of money has been spent on this university, but it seems there has been no attention paid to the little things. For example: when the floors were tiled and grouted, it's like no-one bothered to wipe up the excess or dropped bits, so the floor and shower look dirty. Also, almost all the taps have not been tightened so when you turn a tap control on, the whole tap including spout rotates. The shower drips (also, still no hot water), the toilet leaks after flushing; in fact there was a major leak in one of the toilets near our training rooms. I know I don't know anything about the bureaucratic systems here, but I'm sure if someone paid a couple of qualified plumbers to come in with a few tools, they'd have the whole place sorted in a couple of weeks.

Of course all of this will probably seem like luxury to me in a couple of weeks time…

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Thursday 27th continued and Friday 28th

It was quite difficult emailing off the last blog entry. The office staff at the university where we are staying wanted to go home. Also the internet here is slow. I'm not just talking about it being a dial-up connection, it's the time it takes from the click on a link to retrieving the page that takes ages. (see below.) After emailing we had dinner – more injura and separate dishes with different meats and non-meats to eat. It's a good spread.

It is a religious festival today (Meskel – Finding of the true cross) and there was a bonfire and the people danced around it clapping and chanting. Then we went to an even bigger one and there was an outside disco and bar – as well as the festival, it was the last day of another group (Ethiopian) training here at the university.

Oh, a man came about the shower this afternoon, fiddled around with the hot tap (it fell off in his hand) and said it needed a plummer. He may have also said in Amharic ((inhale) that's gonna cost yer!) but I'm not sure !! So I had to have a cold shower. The water isn't as cold as in the UK, but it was still very cold and I didn't stay in there long and probably said a few words I shouldn't have as I was rinsing off.

Friday 28th

Laid in again. Cleaner popped in again. Got up at about 0930, got ready and started to sort my stuff out a bit. I also took some pictures of vulture-like birds soaring in the distance. The cleaner came again twice, and then two of them appeared and I had to let them sweep and mop my room. They wanted to make my bed, but it was covered in all the stuff I had been sorting.
Then I got really tired again and had a nap until it was time for lunch. This was delayed a bit so I went to the computer room to find all the PCs had gone (I thought they were university ones, but they belonged to the people on the other course which explained why they were so anxious for us to finish using them yesterday.) A VSO guy had set up a laptop and I again tried to email. It was incredibly slow (lunch time is bad as everyone is using Internet cafés in Addis at that time and the phone network isn't up to it.) Anyway, after a long time waiting for the blue line to
slowly progress across the bottom of the screen (probably 5 minutes) I got to the log in page of my web mail!. In the end it took about 20mins to send a short message and read one of the 13 waiting in my in box. Someone else was waiting and as it took about 2mins from message to message, I didn't dare read any more.

Then I went to lunch, more injira – I'm getting used to tearing off a piece of the roll using one hand, collecting food in it, then eating it – all with one hand.

The altitude isn't affecting me much, although I seem to get a little more out of breath than usual, and every now and again I get a little dizzy spell. Some of this could also be tiredness though.

Tour of Addis

After lunch we had a bus tour around Addis Ababa. When
we got to the outskirts, there were hundreds of
"shops" lining the roads. They had no lights inside
and all the goods were out the front on display.
Everywhere you look you see corrugated iron. It's used
for fences, walls and roofs in the city, the shops
were also made of this. What was strange was seeing
modern goods like trainers, backpacks etc all on
display, but in these small dusty corrugated iron
shops. As well as the shops there were little stalls
(maybe even just mats) with fruits and other goods in front of the shops, or anywhere there was a free patch of ground. There were lots of children running the shops, and at one point I saw a boy who was probably about 6 or 7 under an umbrella, in the mud, selling fruit. (PT – I saw some shoe-shine boys!)

I knew the culture was to be smart in Ethiopia but it was funny seeing one family – a dad and his two sons (one only about 5) wearing suits in the market. Also, our tour guide on the bus was wearing a suit.

Of course you tend to look at and seek out the different, or what you're not used to, but among
everything I have written about above, there were also buses and cars, lit shops with windows, tall modern skyscraper buildings, people in sweatshirts, jeans and trainers etc.

I know we were isolated in our tour bus, but even through all the differences, I had a very big sense that there are a lot of similarities also between us in the UK and here. There were people selling things, buying things, getting on with their lives. I know this is a big city and it will be very different where I am going and that this is a bit profound or "lecturey" for this early in my tour, but I think it's easy to see we are all the same, we're all humans on this planet and we should just all get along!!!

It began raining heavily again and all the people crowded under shop fronts, or even under the shelter provided by telephone kiosks.

As we drove around, the roads were bad and traffic seemed to be everywhere, but as the guide told us, this was a holiday and it was much better than usual.

We passed some important buildings like the Ministry of Education, the university, the US Embassy (heavily fortified) and through what is apparently Africa's largest open-air market.

There are lots of decorations up (Ethiopian flags, and huge banners of the Ethiopian flag colours
"wrapping-up" buildings – this is for the Ethiopian Millennium (their calendar is 7 and a bit years behind ours and it was 2000 only a couple of weeks ago)

Some other things I noticed: The satellite dishes that are around in the city are basically pointing upwards – this is because we are near the equator and the satellites in geosynchronous orbit are basically zooming round thousands of miles above the equator. Also, the scaffolding on buildings being repaired or newly built (even up to about 5 storeys) all used wooden poles, not metal like at home.

As we got to the far side of Addis we started climbing (very steeply) up a mountain that over-looked Addis. It was a bit misty, but the countryside was beautiful – green, lots of trees and the view was very good. Apparently, when we were at the top it was 3200m high.

Finally, we arrived at the VSO Ethiopian Office which is surrounded by a high wall and is like a very large detached house building. Some people emailed home, some rang home although they only had about 30secs and we could all hear them! At the office, we also got our
Ethiopian money. My US$100 had been changed to 905birr. The 5 birr note (which is worth about 25p) looks like about a thousand people have used it before me – it's brown with all the wear.

The volunteers that had arrived early this morning looked very tired – like I was yesterday and I felt a bit sorry for them as they probably didn't enjoy the tour as much as I did.

It's true what they said about the sunset in the equatorial regions. We left the VSO office in dimmish light, and 30 mins later it was totally night when we got back to the university.

Once there, it was straight into dinner – variations of the same. It's becoming natural to use the injira as cutlery although I tend to use too much and need to get another roll to finish my food, or too little and the food goes all over my fingers.

This next part is a special request for Lynda: It's 21:15, exactly a week after you asked me to tell you what I am doing. (I can't believe it was only a week ago I was having a school leaving do!) Well, I'm typing this blog entry to send tomorrow, sitting at a table in my room – so that's a bit boring, although the noises outside are very different: There is traffic passing on the road a short distance away, and a little while ago I heard the call to prayer of the mosque next to the university, there is that cricket-type sound you hear on all videos set in Africa, but the worst are these very noisy birds that sound like smoke alarms going off in 5 second bursts every 30 seconds or so. Worst, because of trying to get to sleep! As I look to my left I see my A3 paper
blutacked to the window as curtains and two mosquitoes have just flown in front of my laptop screen. (We have been assured there is no malaria up here in Addis. I thought that meant no mozzies, and to be fair, there are probably less flies and insects buzzing around than there would be at home on a mild summer night, but still!) The temperature is 20'C in my room and
18'C outside. I really have been given a gentle introduction to Africa!

I'm not going to write this much all the time, it's just all so new at the moment and I keep noticing everything that is different.

*** I have literally taken 2h15 to send this blog entry. The first 1h45 then the battery failed. I
started again and have finally used someone elses account ***

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Thursday, 27 September 2007

I'm here

After all the planning, preparation and the highly stressful last couple of days trying to pack everything and completely set up and restore my laptop, I am now in Ethiopia.

Yesterday: With all the last minute reloading of the computer, I finally got to sleep at 0600 and woke at 0700 so I was just a little tired! I got to the airport after a couple of hold-ups on the M23 and M25, checked in, in plenty of time, had a last drink with Mum and Dad, said our goodbyes and went through security. Luckily, my bag wasn't searched – there were a lot of gadgets in there!

The plane left a bit late (about 1500) and our first destination was Beirut (Lebanon) to re-fuel, change crew and off-load a few people. After that, the plane seemed to mostly contain VSO Volunteers and we could spread out. There were 20 of us, 10 more arrive tonight, then 12 more on Saturday. I managed to grab some sleep.

The plane had LCD screens and you could either watch one of seven movie / comedy channels, or choose programmes on demand which kept me busy. On one channel you could see the flight status and a map of where we were which was very good. We mostly flew at 10000m and the outside temperature was about -50'C! I had my pressure sensor watch with me. I reset it to 0m at Beirut, and when we climbed after take off, the pressure in the cabin dropped to an equivalent altitude of 2100m. (That's what makes your ears pop – also I noticed when we had a snack that the packet of crisps were blown up like a pillow because the pressure inside the bag is much higher than in the cabin!) My ears didn't pop landing at Addis Ababa as that actually is at about 2100m. (see below.)

I flew over the coast of Africa at 21:27 (BST) (the first time I have been in this continent) near Alexandria.

I will now use Ethiopia time (ET) which is GMT+3 (which means at the moment it is 2 hours ahead of Britain and in the winter it will be three hours ahead.)

We landed late - after 0300 (ET), so 0100 back home. I thought it would take ages to complete all the formalities, but ours was the only plane in, and the airport is fairly small. It was very quick (maybe 10mins) filling in a form and going through immigration – (they let me in!), then baggage claim was quick, and through customs (I didn't have to fill in any forms, they let me straight through) to meet the VSO staff with their big sign. We didn't get any hassle as there wasn't really anyone else about.

Next we went to a bus which was taking us to the university campus we are staying at. It was all done up at the front with flowers and pictures, like a shrine. At first it could've been the UK – the road signs have the same pictures and were in English, then I saw a petrol station where the illuminated sign looked just like a BP one, but all the prices were in Amharic characters. Also, we had to slow down in a number of places where there were huge holes in the road.

We got to the university at around 0530, collected our cases and two big bottles of water and went to our rooms. They are university staff and student accommodation. There is a lounge downstairs and a small kitchen, and upstairs a bathroom with flush toilet, shower (which only does cold at the moment – one of the pipes is broken – may get fixed tomorrow – could be a cold shower tonight!!!)

My room has a table (which I am sitting at now), two big lockable wardrobes, drawers and a door to a balcony. There are no curtains anywhere so I have to be careful changing with the light on!! But basically this is a very gentle cross over into Ethiopian culture. After a quick wash and doing my teeth (remembering to wash my brush and mouth out with the bottled water – it was hard as I kept reaching for the tap) I basically crashed into bed and put my earplugs in. There is a busy road about 100m away, and I heard the first "call to prayer."

I woke a few times, but eventually at 1030 when I heard the downstairs door unlock, someone walk up, unlock my room and (without my glasses) I saw a blur which peeped in the door and said "sleeping." – I found out later it was the cleaner.

As I mentioned before, the pressure is lower here because we are much higher than at home (my GPS says 2050m) and I have felt a bit dizzy every now and again. At sea level the pressure averages 1000mb, but here, this morning is was 794mb (so there is 20% less atmosphere here between me and space!)

As I mentioned, at the moment I could be in a training centre in England, but there are a few things I noticed that make it different:

1. Out of the window I saw a bird with a long curved beak sipping nectar from a flower (not as fast as a humming bird and bigger.)

2. I went outside after a quick sort and locking stuff away at midday. Then I noticed the sun almost straight above me (as I am near the equator.) My shadow was tiny.

3. There were a number of ant trails, they are black, but much smaller than the ones in the UK.

At lunch it was very nicely set out and I had my first taste of injera (the national bread made out of keff – a kind of wheat. It is rolled up like a toilet roll and you unroll it and use it (with your right hand) to pick up the meat and other food and then you eat all of it. The injera has a sort of vinegary taste. I'll have to get used to it, as it will be my main diet for the next 2 years!!!

Then we had a welcome from the head of VSO Ethiopia and a coffee ceremony – incense was burnt and we all had a cup of the very strong Ethiopian coffee.

Using my GPS, I have the co-ordinates of my room. For those of your with Google Earth (or similar) the coordinates are: 8d51.389m N 38d48.248m E (in Google Earth you enter: "8 51.389'N 38 48.248'E"

That's it for now. We are going to visit the capital tomorrow then have two weeks of training including language and customs. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007


Look at the time of this entry.
Got a new HDD. Been installing and copying and packing all day and night. I go in 3ish hours and haven't been to sleep yet.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Last day update and email test

This is a "writing to blog via email" test. I have a new HDD and am trying to install as much as I can, as fast as I can. Still not packed. Have checked in to my flight on-line

The Last Day (and problem 3)!

This is probably my last UK Blog entry - I fly tomorrow. I was hoping to have everything ready by now and have a nice quiet day, but everything is all over the floor and I am in the process of last minute sorting and packing. Hopefully I have everything!

Remember the TV and car problems, well last night I had the third problem which was/is a little larger. With only one day to go, the Hard disk drive on my laptop has failed. On the plus side I have all of my photos and most of my other files backed up. The big problem is time. Assuming I have a computer working later today (see below) to reinstall the operating system and the various programs I use will take longer than the time I have. Also, all the driver CDs are all over the place, some drivers I need to get over the Internet - it's a massive job.

I now have two options:

1: Try and get a replacement HDD from PC World and re-install the OS which in itself with all the updates needed will take 2-4 hours, will negate my extended warranty etc then transfer data back to it, re-install programs etc, as many as I can in the time.

2: Buy a new, cheap (£500) laptop which will have the OS on it already and install as much as I can on it. Then my expensive laptop can be sent back and repaired for when I get home.

I need a laptop to deal with my photos, sending messages home, reading documents I have on DVD etc. The only worse case scenario would've been if it had broken in two day's time.

What a nightmare!

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Leaving Do

Last night, loads of people from the school where I worked gathered for my leaving do. I don't do the posh restaurant-type thing, so we had Chinese at my TAs house and had a great evening. Thanks to A for hosting and the banoffee pie, P for collecting the huge Chinese order (apparently he held up the queue in the takeaway for ages), J for the huge meringue with strawberries and chocolate, P for the leaving speech and everyone else for coming and the present (an MP3 player to take with me and while away the dark evenings when the electricity goes out.)

In my very unprepared speech (which I didn't managed to get out of, and during which, several people interrupted and got their names on the board) I included the line:
"Having worked with you for four years, I've come to think of you all as... people that I've met" (a Rimmer quote from Red Dwarf.)

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Ethiopia Talk and VSO Fund raising sale

This afternoon I went back to my old school and gave a presentation to all the children and also some parents who came in. I told them about what VSO does, about Ethiopia and what I will be doing there.

Afterwards we had a fund-raising sale for VSO (videos, cuddlies, toys and stationary I was selling after a clear out, mum sold her hand-made cards and I also sold the chance to have a personal letter from me in Ethiopia!)

In all we raised £149.50 which is brilliant. Thank you to everyone who donated stuff, helped sell and who bought stuff.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007


For the last five days I have been in France staying with two teachers and their family. I met them through the link my school had about four years ago. Since then I have visited them with and without my class in tow on several occasions.

On Friday, I visited both of their schools to tell their classes about my trip to Ethiopia or Éthiopie (Ay-tay-oh-pee as they say in France.) The children had some interesting questions after I had told them about all the problems that affect education in the country, and the limited living style I would have. My favourite was "then why are you going?" In my limited French, all I could manage was: "parce qu'ils sont très pauvres" (because they are very poor). The teacher explained in more detail about how I was doing a good thing helping others less fortunate than ourselves (at least that's what I think he was saying!)

On Saturday, the family took me to Étretat (about 50km West of Dieppe). There are some amazing chalk cliff formations with arches, tunnels and spires about 80m high. If you're ever over that way, it's worth going to see. In the evening I had a huge bowl of Moules (Mussels)!

On Sunday, I was guided around Rouen where there are some great old buildings and cathedrals. Finally on Monday I made my way back to Calais for the ferry via Berck-sur-Mer (a walk along a huge sandy beach, a crêpe and waffle lunch) and Montrieul-sur-Mer, a walled city I have been to before (including with my class in March.)

It's taking a while for me to stop thinking some words in French now. It was good practise comunicating in a different language with hand-signs etc, ready for Ethiopia. Also, it was very interesting explaining some aspects of my language. You really notice things you normally take for granted, for example: have you noticed the expression you put in "what's your name?" - the "name" is lower at the end. Then what happens when you ask the next person? You drop on "your" - weird huh!

Sunday, 9 September 2007


After my course I went to Tenby in Pembrokeshire, Wales. It is one of my favourite places in Britain. It has long sandy beaches to walk along, rocks to climb, a harbour, islands to go to and old walls to explore. I have stopped there twice on the way to Ireland in the last two years and this time I stayed for two nights. I managed to get a room with a view looking out over the South Beach and Caldey Island.

I walked, padded, climbed and kayaked right round the headland, into a sea cave, passed the lifeboat launch ramp and through a sea arch. You can see some of this in the pictures (click on them to enlarge, then use the back button.) Something else I did was phone home and get mum and dad to find me on the Tenby Webcam. I walked up and down along the harbour wall and they could see me back home on the computer!!! (I don't think there's a webcam in Addis!)

This is one of the first places I plan to visit in two years when I return. I'm really going to miss the coast and seeing how places change with the tides. I am taking the entire three series of "Coast" on DVD with me in case I get "lack of sea"-sick!

Friday, 7 September 2007

Teacher Training Development Course

Well I've just finished my last course with VSO at Harborne Hall near B'ham. There were some great tutors and fun people to work with. This was all about training teachers - a level above what I do in the UK. During the course we had plan for, and train the others both on our own, and with a partner - like we'll be doing in placement.

It's surprising how easily you get into the "Harborne" routine (see my previous comment about the SKWID course) but to break the cycle, we went for an Indian in the town on the last night - yum!

If you click on the picture above it enlarges. The right half of the building is the old manor house, the middle white bit is the chapel (it use to be used by nuns) and the left is the newer addition that contains a lot of the bedrooms. On the left is a picture of in the grand entrance hall. There is a desk where the night security guard sits after 7pm.

I have been reading lots of material VSO provides about Ethiopia and the state of the current programme there. Also, it gives lots of information about what to take and useful information to gadget fans about how the electricity can drop to below 200V sometimes and you need a special plug to iron out the dropouts. I wonder if it will iron out the dropouts if you're actually ironing?

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Family get-together

This arvo we had loads of relatives and friends over for a farewell do for me. It was nice seeing all the people again, and for the last time for two years. To be honest, I haven't seen some of them for two years anyway, so this gap isn't going to be too much of a shock! Mum made loads of lovely food as usual which was great.