Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Bahar Dar for Christmas

So me and Göran made it to Bahar Dar for Christmas. We set off in the college car on Christmas Eve and as we drove around Gilgel collecting people, I foolishly thought that when we had three people in the front and three in the back that would be it, but no, another guy got in the back with us, making seven!

We stayed with volunteers in BD with nice apartments and I looked forward to a nice hot shower (my first in about two months!) So there I was, steaming water flowing, head shampooed up and then… the water stopped. I managed to find the taps to get a little water to get the soap out of my eyes, and then I waited, planning to use a bucket of water in the bathroom, but after about 5mins I heard some guys downstairs start the pump for the water tank and a minute later the water came on again, and I had a luxurious shower at last.

On Christmas day there were 11 ferengi round for Christmas dinner. We had fish in sauce and quiche that one of the volunteers had made, along with lemon rice and lots of different prepared veg. There was also Canadian salmon on biscuit starters. The nationalities of the ferengi were: 5 Dutch, 2 Canadian, 2 English, 1 Indian and 1 Swede.

On the other days, we bought lots of food shopping (I bought biscuits, sweets, jam, honey, peanut butter, syrup and tins of hotdogs and tuna – healthy stuff then!) I also bought some other bits and pieces like mugs, and had some photos developed. Göran bought some jeans from the market, which was fun. Apparently the style is flared at the moment. Check out the picture which shows his flower-power roots!

We also walked around the edge of the lake which was good, and fended off the usual barrage of people asking usif we wanted to buy stuff, go somewhere on a boat or taxi, give them money or bread etc which was not so good. And we had a pizza one night.

During the stay, Judith’s drains blocked and every time someone from upstairs used water, brown, smelly water came into her kitchen and through into the living room. At one point there were little 1cm worms in the water as well. We used some caustic soda and eventually the problem seemed to be fixed.

On 28th December, almost one year to the day I went last time, we went to visit the island monasteries on Lake Tana. Göran agreed that it was a bit “Disney monastery” – like the paintings are done just for tourists and the real monastery is down the hill or something. Also the monk telling us about the crosses and goat skin bibles was like a tape recording and questions only diverted him for a few seconds before he got out another Cross to show us, or tell us how a peacock’s tail represents Jesus’ love all over the world etc.

Today, getting a Bajadge (three-wheeled taxi,) the driver started with 30 ETB (white-skin price), but using my limited “I’ve been here a while” Amharic, I eventually got him down to 5 ETB to get us to the bus station. This is the usual thing that happens in many places, although a 600% mark-up was a good one!

On the way back to Gilgel the minibus stopped for a priest who came on and blessed people and let them kiss his cross. For this honour they paid one birr. I said in quite a loud voice: “God is free in England.”

The college car collected us at the end of the asphalt road and drove us back home, which is so much nicer than getting two buses.


Me and Göran have been placing a series of one-birr bets. In the house it has mostly related to when and for how long the power will be out and will someone be burning the grass around the houses as we walk home.

On our BD journey, the bets were:

  • We will leave between 3-5 local time (Göran won)

  • The driver will play the Amharic version of Staying Alive from his favourite tape both ways (Göran won, he played Sudanese music both ways, no Staying Alive.)

  • There will be a power cut of over 5 minutes on Christmas Day in the apartments (I won, it was only a minute on that day)

  • There will be some kind of live animal, such as a chicken, on the back of the car when we drive home, like last time. (I won, there were no non-human animals.)

  • We will stop for more than 10 minutes in Chagni. (I won, we stopped for 12 minutes to wait for, and collect the college Dean.)

So overall, I am up one birr!!!!

Food cache

My current canned food situation after having a delivery from Addis Ababa and our trip to Bahar Dar is this…

Tuna 28

Sardines 2

Beef Luncheon Meat 6

Chicken Luncheon Meat 14

Pork Luncheon Meat 16

Corned Beef 7

Pork Franks 16

Chicken Franks 12

Chicken and Beef Hotdogs 3

Total 104

This means that I can survive here until 12th April on one can a day!!!!

Day 400 and New Year

New Year’s Eve is my Day 400 in Ethiopia. I will have about 6 months left until I come home.

Happy New Year to all of my readers.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Water and RatMan

It’s been good since I’ve been back as, unlike last year when the water was on an hour or two in the morning and again in the evening, the water has pretty much been on over 90% of the time this year. The only problem we still have is that the toilet isn’t flushing, so we are using buckets all the time.

Today someone came to repair an outside tap which had been dripping badly since we’d moved into the house. They did this while we were out and unfortunately the kitchen tap which it was connected to was on – we didn’t know as it had never worked. As you can imagine, after they had repaired the outside tap and turned the water on, the kitchen tap sprang to life and flooded the kitchen and water had started to come into the living room before we came home, turned it off and then spent half an hour brushing the water out and down the outside stairs.


There is an ex-instructor of the college back here at the moment. He is in the middle of his 2nd degree and is researching small-mammal pests to crops. He has several different areas (woodland, crop, scrub etc) which he is studying and lays traps for small animals. After he catches them, he measures them and identifies the species. One day he came into the college and produced a computer keyboard box. Inside the box were strips of cardboard, on which were stuck the skins of rats he had collected. It was like a set of rat lolly pops!!!!

Monday, 22 December 2008


Yesterday afternoon I told my neighbours and children about “Ferengi” Christmas. (Remember Ethiopian “Othodox” Christmas is on 7th January.) I showed them photos, got them to make paper chains and glitter cards*. They also sampled mince pies and Christmas pudding that mum had sent in the post. The children liked the food, but the adults found it a bit sweet. I don’t understand how they have coffee and tea with about 6 spoonfuls of sugar, but find our cakes and puddings sweet.

Me and Göran are still on target to have actual Christmas Day in Bahir Dar with some other VSO volunteers… we wait with baited breath to see if the car happens.

*The glitter came from Kenya – thank you Diana!

"Cold" mornings set in

Well last night, according to my thermometer, the temperature here in Gilgel went below 10°C for the first time since last winter. The days are now “only” 11h30 long near the shortest day on Dec 21st. The sun rises at around 06:45 and sets at 18:15. In the day, the temperature still goes above 30°C.

More hold-ups with my counterpart, who we “hired” about two months ago. A letter came, at last, from the regional education bureau permitting him to work with me for 3 days a week and I foolishly became optimistic that next week, starting Wednesday, I would have someone to work with and share my skills with, who could carry on the work when I leave. Yesterday, however, the next level down, the woreda department refused to let him go due to funding (and maybe still something to do with the fact that we didn’t choose the wife of one of the woreda officials – although this is just speculation.) We are talking about a payment of £28.00 per month here (3/5 of his salary) and I’m almost tempted to pay it myself, but that would give the wrong idea. In general, I’ve found that here in Ethiopia, from what others have experienced, that just giving money to people always causes more problems than solutions and perpetuates the “white people are rich” myth making life more difficult for others who follow.

When I came back to Ethiopia this year, I had been promised two fulltime counterparts who I thought would be in-place when I arrived. I had to advertise for, plan the interview/assessment, speak to officials and generally organise my own counterpart, who gradually got knocked down from fulltime to 3 days a week and at the moment, not at all. This has all taken three months! On top of that, I am trying to start the CPD programme in more of the cluster schools, but the car is broken, so not a lot is going on here at the moment. At least my recorder lessons are something I am in control of and happen twice a week regularly. The first group can now sight-read B,A,G,E,D and I may have a line on two teachers who would like to learn so they can continue teaching when I leave.

Monday, 15 December 2008

The Market (and Christmas, power and chanting)

The power finally came back after six days without. It took two days of repairing, and now it looks like someone just twisted the broken ends of wire together up on the power poles!!

Of course that doesn’t mean continuous power. It was off again on Friday night for an hour-and-a-half after dusk.

It’s coming up to Christmas, but the only sign of anything here is… absolutely nothing. No tinsel, no lights, no people going mad spending lots of money and no shops and TV showing Christmas this, Christmas that offers etc. Ethiopian Christmas (Orthodox church) is on 7th January and other than people visiting their families and lots of food (injera of course,) things are pretty normal.

The local Orthodox Church went completely mad on Friday morning with the P.A. up to maximum, waking both me and Göran up at 6am with chanting. Apparently it’s not just a “call to prayer” but some of the service as well, so if you’re too lazy to get to church, you hear the service anyway. I prayed for peace and the ability to lie in a bit longer and was rewarded with a power cut which silenced the priest, but unfortunately his power of prayer was stronger than mine and the power (and chanting) was restored after only a few minutes!

The Market

The twice weekly market in Gilgel sells spices, vegetables, fruit (oranges and bananas), posters, clothes, old bottles, goats and chickens, eggs and more. It’s open air and very busy. Here is a selection of photos. (Remember to click on them to see them in detail.)

Note the traditional balance scales and, fascinating to me, all the bees around the shiro powder. I’m not sure why the bees like the powder so much – it’s mostly ground peas and spices, but they get covered collecting it.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Holiday or not

Last year on this day there was a new “National Ethnic Diversity” Day created. The trouble is this year is that no-one knows if it is a holiday or not. Schools are closed, but here in college people are asking if they are supposed to be here or not. That coupled with Islamic holidays that may or may not be on a particular day based on The Moon, holidays are a bit mixed up here.

There is still no power in the house.

Monday, 8 December 2008

No Power and Language understanding

Well the water is doing pretty good, but the power has been off in our side of the village for over three days now. The reason is some people were cutting trees down near the prison and one fell on the power line. As there is a public holiday today (Id el Fatr – Muslim) and a national holiday (ethic diversity or something) on Tuesday, it could be a while before it is fixed. Me and Göran are well into our kerosene stoves now. Luckily, as the college is powered from another line, we can charge things there. Yesterday I was charging batteries for my torch, my electric shaver, my phone and my laptop while I went for a walk.

It’s really funny with the language here: many of the instructors say they can understand Göran and his Swenglish (Swedish-English) better than they understand me. I said “But we invented English!!!” I realise now it is the speed I speak at. We don’t realise how much we blend words, like answering “where is it?” by saying “s’overthere” (It’s over there) and “wherey’goin’” (Where are you going) etc. Because Göran is speaking slower and pronouncing all the words (even if he does have a problem saying “ch” as there is no “ch” in Swedish)* they understand him better. When I am speaking to people with poor English I make a point of slowing and pronouncing all the words, but when I am talking to the instructors who have better English, I sometimes forget and go into fast English.

*As Göran pronounces “ch” as “sh” it would be fun for him getting something for his feet. He would Shoose Shoes.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Astronomy, VSO visit, active teaching and Recorders

On Monday night I saw a pretty cool alignment of a couple of planets and The Moon. If you enlarge the photo (that should be here soon) by clicking, you’ll see the view I got. (The photo was taken on maximum zoom on my camera.) It shows Venus on the left, then The Moon, then Jupiter. As the night went on, it was like The Moon passed through the gap between the two planets. I checked out my Astronomy software and found that from my home in the UK, The Moon would actually pass in front of Venus.
On a pretty gross note, when I closed the window after taking the photos, I heard a kind of rustling noise by the window frame. It was dark as we were in the middle of a three hour power cut, but using the torch to see, I opened the window and a lizard tail plopped on to the floor and continued wiggling for quite a long time. I must’ve accidentally shut the lizard in the window! Yuck! At least lizards can grow their tails back!

Tuesday was very busy: Our programme manager from VSO visited and had meetings with us and our line manager. Also, I had to arrange a group of teachers to attend a discussion with someone else from VSO. I also taught two English lessons (to Grade 2 and 4) showing the teacher how you can teach using games and number fans to make the lesson more active. Then, in the afternoon, I taught more recorders, including the second session with “Group 2” which included the introduction of “G”. There are two boys and two girls in the group.

On Wednesday, I had some students in making number fans. During the small-talk I asked about one of the student’s hometowns and asked if he would be visiting his family for Christmas. He said no. Then my brain ticked for a bit… “You’re a Muslim aren’t you?” “Yes”!!!

Also, on Wednesday, I taught again in the local school. This time the teacher didn’t watch as she went to collect her salary – this is not in my plan. They are supposed to be observing to see the techniques I use. Still, it’s a crazy system here where the teachers have to go by bus about 15km once a month to collect their salary leaving the class unattended! One month I remember a whole school of over 1000 children being looked after by about three teachers as the rest had gone to get their salary. As it was, after I had done the hour in the grade 2 class, and was due to teach in grade 4, I just had to leave the grade 2 class unattended for the rest of the morning with no work or anything – it wouldn’t happen in the UK!

BTW the fish tank thing in a previous entry was to check if one of Göran’s friends was reading this blog! (It’s a pain typing Göran’s name, as when I get to the “ö” I have to press “Num Lock” then hold down “Alt” and press “0 2 4 6”!)

Monday, 1 December 2008

Big problem

Göran had a big problem today: There was only 11 minutes left before he had to give his afternoon computer training session and he still had pillow lines on his face from his lunchtime nap!

Thursday, 27 November 2008


Today (27th November) I hit day 366 in Ethiopia so have completed a whole year here. On Saturday I also hit another landmark, Day 300 in Gilgel Beles.

Yesterday, while being watched by the class teachers, I taught Maths (or Hesab) to a grade 2 class (8&9ish years old + older ones) and a grade 4 class (10&11ish + more older ones who didn’t get schooling the first time round.) I used number fans a lot to easily assess the level the children were at, which, on the whole, seemed to be at a much lower level than the work they usually copy off the board. Luckily I managed to get by without an interpreter (they were both busy) and when doing units, tens, hundreds etc, I luckily knew that in Amharic the columns are called “und-bet”, “asir-bet”, “meto-bet” etc (or one house, ten house and hundred house etc.)

On Tuesday I visited the Catholic Mission School (for about 150 under 7s) which is really strange compared to the national schools as it is well funded, has brick built buildings, little mats to sit on, posters on the walls etc. It was really nice. The teachers are all Ethiopian and don’t have to be Catholic. I think they are Orthodox Christians. The children were really cute, and as the priest and brothers at the mission are European and white, the children didn’t really react that much to having me there as well.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Virtual Gilgel Beles

I have just finished “Virtual Gilgel Beles”.

It is a website of over 400 linked photos with notes of Gilgel Beles that you can “walk” around to find out what it’s like living here. I designed it, along with a video I made with my neighbours’ children to give people a greater understanding of Ethiopia. I have posted it to the UK (it would take far too long to email the 40+ Mb) and then I hope it will be seen by lots of people, especially my old school.

Eventually, when I get back to the UK, I will publish it on the Internet.


The weather is great at the moment. Now, in my room at 20:00, it’s 21°C, and in the mornings it’s a fresh 10°C outside. There is no rain, just sunny blue skies and the humidity is reasonable as well. I remember from last year, this is the best time of the year, weather-wise. I don’t look forward to March/April when the temperature hits the upper 30’s and the water supply and electricity supply becomes very unreliable.

Little things

It’s the little things in life that please. I am currently very glad I have: my nice new pillow (instead of a second pillow case filled with clothes); my huge bowl, which I put my normal-sized one in, and it catches most of the spilled water when I have a wash in my room; a tin of orange drink powder – I found you can buy it in Gilgel; my large-digit clock radio I brought from the UK so I can see the time when I wake in the middle of the night; and I got eggs from the market on Saturday and made egg-bread (French toast) and had marmalade on it - yum! Compared to this time last year, I am really enjoying it here at the moment. Mostly because of living with Göran instead of in the house with unhygienic toilet / sink, baby running around, no privacy etc.


I’m thinking about setting up an aquarium out here and wonder if any of my readers have any experience and knowledge on this subject?

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Observations + breakthrough!!!

It’s been a busy couple of days. I did an observation at the local private kindergarten (KG), taught them using number fans the following day and wrote a report with some active learning improvement suggestions.

I have also started the mini “active teaching” programme, beginning with observations of two teachers at the local primary school this morning. Next week I will do some demo lessons for them, leading to team teaching active learning lessons, then observe the “hoped for” improvement.

Of course there was the regular recorder lessons and making number fans.

A breakthrough today, was actually observing the start of the CPD programme at one of the local schools. It’s taken so long to get the course in Amharic, get it printed and once given to the teachers, a month to convince them to do the course without payment. It’ll take a while to sink in that it has actually started.

Now I have to convince eight other schools.

Also, surprisingly last night there was a moderate amount of rain. It was unexpected, but also, after just getting comfortable with lower humidity over the last week, it’s back up again with all the evaporation. What a pain.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Clean undies.

At Goran’s request, we now have a maid visiting twice a week to do our clothes. I don’t actually mind doing them, but it was the first day today and she can certainly get the shirts a lot cleaner than I can. The only thing which was odd was that our socks and underwear were left in the bag. We found out later that she won’t do those as they are “personal.” I think a couple of my boxer shorts got done, but I guess Goran’s g-strings put her off!!!! I can’t understand why she won’t do the socks though… maybe she saw the opening scene of “American Pie”!!!!

So… no clean undies!

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Buna bet shocker!!! (coffee house / café)

Our college café closed for a day a couple of weeks ago in a big shock. Goran and I were wondering where on Earth we were going to get our daily supply of “sambusa” and coffee. It turned out that the reason was that the café owner had signed a contract with the college to supply drinks and food at a fixed price, and with the inflation in Ethiopia, he was now losing money. The only thing he could do, was close and force them to re-negotiate the contract. Buna (coffee) is now 1birr25cents (up from 1birr) soft drinks are now 3.50ETB up from 3ETB!

One of the instructors got a new satellite pay-TV card from Addis Ababa the other week meaning the TV in the buna bet is on all the time now with films, news and sport and they can all watch UK Premiere-league football when they want to in the evenings. This means productivity in the college has dropped somewhat!!!

The electricity is always on and off, but the other night it went off and we found out later it was just our house. Luckily, with Goran’s background in electrical work, he discovered there was a problem with the underground cable between the meter on the power pole and the fusebox in the house. He has now rigged up an external cable that runs into the house and we have power again… well, actually we don’t as it is off in Gilgel Beles at the moment, but when it goes on there, it will go on in our house.

I’m still on B, A and G with my recorder group, but they are gradually improving. They’re now attempting to play along with the CD that came with the book I am basing some of my teaching on. It’s good fun, and something that is working without lots of bureaucracy!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Recorders and Counterpart II (and Guy Fawkes)

I took the third recorder lesson today – they now know B, A & G. It’s fascinating how different they all are. There are a couple who are picking it all up very quickly, reading the musical notation etc, one who I believe might be dyspraxic – he is very bright, but has trouble with which hands to use etc. Then there is one girl who really isn’t getting it at all. When I get some more recorders from the UK I can start new groups and maybe ability-mix them a bit.

If you would like to purchase, or have a good condition second-hand recorder (descant) and you would like a child to have it here in Ethiopia so I can expand the lessons, then please send it to me at:

Mark Sidey, PO Box 47, Gilgel Beles, Metekel Zone, Benishangul Gumuz, Ethiopia.

Thanks very much.

(I guess a decent new recorder will be anything from £6 to £15 and the postage will be around £5.)

In return you will be giving a child here in Ethiopia a chance to learn a musical instrument and musical notation and you will receive a photo (or email picture) of the child you have given a recorder to. (Don’t forget to include your email address.)

No fireworks though!

I told my “sort of” current counterpart about Bonfire / Guy Fawkes’ night on Wednesday (5th November) and we had a small fire and he drew a little guy… English culture in Ethiopia!


Getting my new counterpart is still proving to be a problem, partly because one of the unsuccessful candidates has a husband who works in the woreda (small region) education offices and is causing problems saying that his wife should’ve got the job. They are making any excuse they can, like the one who got the job was observed teaching a class that was not his normal class (he was showing he could teach a younger class that we will be focusing on, instead of his regular older class) also, and this is petty, that he was born 300km away and may not be committed to stay here! Watch this space! In the meantime, I have been told that another instructor in the college will work with me until the fulltime counterpart has hacked through the bureaucracy!!!!


The days are getting a little shorter (not compared to you) - the sun sets at its earliest in about a week at 18:08 and it's currently rising around 06:25.

Last night was the coldest yet - it went down to +13°C !!!!

US Elections

The instructors here are all fascinated by Obama winning the US elections and keep asking me about what I think. I pointed out that although they keep quoting Martin Luther King:

"Judge a man by the content of his character and not by the colour of his skin." (paraphrased)

The main thing that is being mentioned on the news is the colour of his skin and not the content of his character.

Additional added 9 Nov (couldn’t get a connection on Friday)

On Saturday I did a 14km round-trip walk to the rapids on one of the rivers. It’s an amazing place, about 100m wide across the river “valley” with lots of rocks, some smoothed by the water. Last time I visited this place was back in March and although the rainy season finished a couple of weeks ago, there was still much more water going through the system at this time, with many more little water falls. I saw a little crocodile (I think) zip through the water and up rocks away from me, and later I heard rustling in the bushes and thought a person was coming. Then I saw a large lizard head. The whole thing must’ve been around 2m long with tail. Luckily it ran off when it heard me!

The electricity was off from 2030 last night until 1730 today.

Each Sunday I teach English to my neighbour’s son and in return they give me coffee and a meal (injera and tagabino (sort of a paste made with pea-powder and spices).) Today was tenses, especially with “to go” (partly because he started the conversation with “yesterday going of Chagni.”)

Additional additional added 10 Nov

Still can’t get through on the net. Today we held a meeting with the teachers who are supposed to be doing the CPD programme but are refusing because they want “an incentive” (for that, read money!) I started by telling them that if we gave them all 20ETB for each session, for all the teachers in the cluster that would cost us 60,000ETB which is impossible. I also told them about how good the course is and they will personally benefit and their teaching will improve. Eventually they agreed that, providing they got a certificate signed by the zonal officials, they would do the course. Watch this space.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Bahir Dar ICT purchasing trip

We were supposed to leave on Thursday at 0700, so both me and Goran got up early and were ready by 0700. We finally left Gilgel at 11:20. What can you expect! At around 0800 we went up to the college to find out what was going on. After a lot of questioning of various people, it turned out that the cashier was off with morning sickness and she is the only person with the key to the safe*, and in the safe was the 10000ETB needed by the purchaser who was going with us to actually pay for the computer equipment that Goran needed. Finally they dragged her in with her key, we were picked up from our house and after sitting 5mins outside someone’s house while a fridge was loaded onto the car, for another 20mins outside the college entrance while some paperwork was completed and a further 5mins outside another person’s house while a bike was loaded on, we were off.

We, of course, stopped so the driver could have lunch about 45mins later, but then we were really off and had travelled the 94km to the start of the asphalt road by 13:50. We covered the remaining 116km to Judith’s apartment in Bahir Dar by 15:30 (after another brief stop to pick up Goran’s and the purchaser’s bags from the road after they had blown off the back of the truck!)

At least it was more comfortable in the Toyota Hilux, than the bus and there were some good views on the way, including the highest point of 2646m

We had a look around town and ate overlooking the lake (as usual) but that night I felt very nauseous. The following morning I had a mini-squits and felt really weak and achy and basically slept the whole morning. I managed to get up for the 1400 rendezvous with the purchaser and driver to buy computer stuff with Goran, but we phoned them around 1420 and they told us at they would not be ready until 1600… I took Goran on a short lake walk, then we purchased our own supplies and by then I was all-in again and went back to the apartment while Goran was collected (at 1640) to do some purchasing.

I managed to eat a pizza later in the evening and pretty much felt back to normal after a good night’s sleep.

The next day I went with Goran to do some more purchasing (both for the college and for me) and on-and-off that took most of the day. We had a rather disappointing “special Chinese fried rice” which was basically “egg-fried rice” with no veg or anything else – but that did mean we got out of going to an Indian dance thing to celebrate 60 years of freedom or something. We did have some good chips (which took so long, I commented that they probably had to go out and kill the potatoes) and we laughed when they came up on the bill as “Plain of Cheeps.”

On the final day, we did some last minute purchasing and checking out the market, then left Bahir Dar around 1100. The highlights of this journey were big bowls falling off the back, the tyre deflating, being “mended”, deflating 15km down the road and being mended again – lots of coffee at each stop, a chicken being transported with us on the back, a very heavy rain storm (which never reached Gilgel by the way) possibly soaking all the paper that had been purchased in the back of the truck, and certainly soaking the chicken. The tyre deflating again, being “repaired” by two guys with a sledge hammer completely ruining the rubber of the spare tyre and making dents in the rim of the hub.

Anyway, we are back in Gilgel finally, after nearly 7 hours, and it is good coming back to our own house. The only problem so far was that Goran saw a bird fly out of one of my hanging shirts. I looked inside to see lots of moss and twigs etc. When was the last time you arrived home to find a bird making a nest in your shirt?

*I commented to the vice dean, that with only one person holding the safe keys, what would happen if she was in a car accident and she and the key were lost, to which he replied “She’s been in car accident?” and it took a while to explain that my comment was hypothetical. Goran was almost in hysterics at this point as you get kind of “high” when you’ve been hanging around for a long time. A similar thing happened in a computer repair shop when a miscommunication resulted in the answer to “When will the repair man be back from lunch?” being “one week.” “He’s gone to lunch for one week?” (It was the time the repairs would take!)

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Recorders and counterpart

I have just finished my first lesson teaching the recorder to five children in grade 3 (they were in the class I taught in last year.) Hopefully dad can upload a picture I took. Yes I can! I selected them last week by a class test and then individually assessing their musical ability. Some are picking up reading the notation really quickly. Today was A&B. This is a bit of an experiment (I pre-prepared a phrase-sheet in English and Amharic which I used to say stuff like “blow softer” and “check you have covered all the holes".) If it works, I might ask for more people in the UK to sponsor a recorder and postage to send it out here, then I can teach more children. I also want to train a couple of teachers so they can continue when I leave.

The latest on the counterpart is that there was one person who was clearly better in the interview and in teaching (he used teaching aids I had trained last year and made some of his own.) More news when all the bureaucracy is sorted and he is actually here with me in the college.

I go to Bahir Dar for a couple of days with Goran tomorrow. He is going to purchase computer bits for the college and I’m there as a guide (and to get supplies).

Ant Invasion

On Sunday night I went into the toilet and saw hundreds of ants coming from behind the cistern. There were regular-sized ones and larger, big-jawed soldier ones and many of them were carrying eggs and white, ant foetuses. It looked like they were trying to set up a new nest.

Our first counter-attack was extensive blasting with “Roach Killer” insecticide spray. They started trying to escape along the place where there would be a skirting board in the UK, into Goran’s room, but he blasted them there. Then we poured a bucket of water to wash them all out. We went to the outside to try and find where they were coming in and sprayed again.

While all this was going on, there was loud crashing and running noises in the roof. We also have a resident rat family and the high pitched sound of the aerosol cans was probably freaking it out.

Also, on the subject of bugs, the other day I saw a spider “running” round and round in circles on a wall. It had caught a fly and was “tying it up” by letting out sticky silk and running round it lots of times. I’ve never seen UK spiders do this. It was quite funny to watch.

Monday update – How often do you flush the toilet and ants come out? When I flushed the toilet this morning (about once every three days it flushes) ants, left over from our battle last night, flushed down with the water. They must’ve been in the cistern!!!

Friday, 24 October 2008

Counterpart interviews and recorders

Recently, I planned and arranged the interviews and assessment of three possible counterparts for me. The assessments included making a teaching aid, role playing an interpretation between me and someone who could only speak Amharic, translations from English to Amharic and Amharic to English, and then there was the interview. Next we are going to visit their schools and assess their teaching.

At the local school I have been assessing the musical ability of children from the class I taught last year. From that, I have chosen the first five children to start learning the recorder with me. That should happen next week.

Last night, when we were outside, Goran was scared by a short, furry snake running past in the dark, purring.

Monday, 20 October 2008

One Year on

Last Friday (17th October 2008) was exactly one year since I arrived in Gilgel Beles!

I remember it like it was a year ago… the heat, the humidity, my water filter candle breaking, no ferengi food etc

Back to this year, I am still trying to sort out a counterpart – some people have applied for the job and I’ve got to sort out how to assess them and interview them. It’s still going to be a while, even if one of them is suitable.

I can’t believe the bureaucracy here. I need to get more CPD booklets printed and instead of just giving the master copy to the photocopy-guy, I have to write a request to get paper from the store, sign for it three times, collect it, write an order to get the purchaser to buy more paper to go back in the store. I also had to write a request, sign for, and collect toner and master sheets. By the time I had been backwards and forwards to get things done, I was exhausted. I has taken about three days (on-and-off) of chasing different people to sort it all out and at one point, I even said to one of the vice-deans “Is it because I is white?” – of course the inverted Ali G reference was completely lost on him. Anyway, now I think the printing will start. Then I can start thinking about getting the teacher training (CPD) programme going in the other schools.

I also plan to do some demo teaching in classes in the local schools. This should allow a more personal, direct approach to improve a few teachers’ teaching styles.

The rainy season is nearly at its end. There was a heavy downpour a few days ago, but that is becoming less and less. The electricity is being pretty good now – on most of the time with just the odd short power cut. Also, the water is reasonably reliable.

Goran and me are really enjoying our new house and are settling in well. Today (Saturday) was a day of jobs. We put up mosquito nets on our windows (glueing them to the window frames) – (Question for PTCPS: Can you remember why mosquitoes are bad?) I put up some curtains in my room (using some nails hammered into the wall, an old metal pole, and some old, dusty material we’d been given) I did a bit more clothes washing in bowls, put up a new washing line and put the external sensor of my thermometer outside. At the moment it’s 7pm, inside the room is 26C, humidity is less than it was a week ago at 77%, outside is 24C, but it got up to 32C this afternoon.

I seem to be getting bitten a lot more than last year. I have bite lumps and scabs all over the place, especially around my ankles and on my arms. Some of it must be flies and mozzies during the day, and the rest could be fleas in my bed. It’s very irritating.

I’ve nearly finished “Blue Mars” by Kim Stanley Robinson. It’s the last book of a trilogy “Red Mars”, “Green Mars”, “Blue Mars” I started about 10 months ago in Gilgel. It’s an amazing story that covers about 200 years from when the first people land on Mars and what happens as more and more people come from Earth to colonise our neighbour planet. It reads like it really happened as a lot of the science is based on current scientific ideas which have been extrapolated into the future. It also covers psychology, sociology, economics, ethics and more.

Next in line is the second book of a new series by Garth Nix (of Mister Monday and Sabriel fame). It’s called “Castle.”

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Moving Day at Last!!!

Well yesterday was the day.

I finally moved across the “road” (aka dirt track) to a new house. I am in an identical room to the one I had before which is quite weird. The only difference is the house is rotated 180 degrees so the sun is in different places at different times of the day.

I started transferring stuff Monday night, but still slept in my old house, then, yesterday morning I transferred the last of my things from my main bedroom, and the next family started moving in, freeing up the room Goran was going to have. Then I transferred my “kitchen” food supplies, bowl-ful at a time to the living room of the house while the kitchen /store room of the new house was emptied. The cleaners came in and did the floors and that took a while. It was all quite complicated logistically!

We had a lunch break then started work – nets up in both rooms, a bit of personal sorting, then Goran started on the toilet (using a razor blade to remove the brown from the seat (yes we have a seat) after the bleach failed to remove it.) At the same time, I got stuck into the sink which was covered in a thick gunge that was green in places, maybe 1cm thick in the bottom. I guess it hadn’t been cleaned since it was installed. It took ages and I thought I may contract something, but at last it looked like concrete and everything was solid and not squelchy. I later commented to Goran that it is nice that our sink isn’t photosynthesising any more!

We ate together in our living room looking out on a nice sunset, then continued sorting.

The kitchen is a complete mess and we’re leaving that until “phase-2” of the clean-up operation. There is a shelf unit which looks like the leaning Tower of Pisa., the ceiling is covered with cobwebs and the light doesn’t work… oh, and the tap in the sink doesn’t work – a tap which is too tall and doesn’t allow the window to open as it bangs on the tap!!!

But, despite that, at last I can leave doors open without old wee-feet coming in, and hopefully won’t have anyone staring at me through the windows. And, there shouldn’t be poo in the toilet when I go in there, and we can sit down without contracting anything, and I won’t be woken by a baby crying or kicking a football at my door.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Our New House (Still Not!)


On Friday I ran a training session for the facilitator teachers who will be leading the groups of teachers on the CPD course. It went ok, but I had a little trouble with the interpreter. I was making general statements like “On the first page of each session notes you see the learning objectives” and he was translating it by reading out all the learning objectives and taking ten times longer than me and slowing the pace. I was being general, he was basically reading everything in a specific session out.

Also, the facilitator teachers were being very negative about any other teachers showing up. I think we (from the college) are going to have to attend the first few sessions just to make the course seem more important!


One of the instructors, who is usually very happy was complaining about feeling unwell and was not his usual self. We couldn’t find out what it was. Later, the truth was revealed. We found out he had been told that he might have to move out of his house to allow me and Goran (pron. Your-Ran) to move in. On Saturday, however, we found out another instructor will be leaving and we can move into that house – just opposite the one I am in now. We were told Saturday, which became Sunday and now it’s Monday. It should be today or tomorrow…


I had my first minor case of the squits yesterday (and today) – I attribute it to a piece of roasted corn on the cob I was offered on Saturday which was handed to me by someone with a questionable hand-washing regime.

My neighbour’s son was hit (accidentally) by a stone in the face last week. It must’ve been hard as there is a large bloody area by his nose and his eye is bloodshot. Yesterday he was having trouble keeping his eye open (it had been ok before). All I could offer was some sterile eye-wash solution and an eye bandage. He is going back to the medical centre today – hopefully – although there are no doctors there – nurses only.

Monday, 6 October 2008

New house... not!

Current situation report:

Electricity: ok (minor cuts for a few minutes, but nothing too bad.)

Water: ok (seems to be on regularly in the morning and evening.)

Washing: underwear backlog cleared.

My stomach: No problems so far!

Bugs: No more tarantulas. One big beetle. No scorpions. I am being bitten by something at night though – fleas or bedbugs I guess.

Toilet: Relative of my family staying with them so flushing poos is inconsistent.

Weather: Quite pleasant. Not too much rain, low 20Cs at night, rising to mid 20Cs in the day. Humidity 75-80%


I have a meeting planned today with two directors (head teachers) from the local primary schools, and the printing of the CPD (continuing professional development) program has at last (after 6 months of chasing) been printed, so things are looking up.

I still do not have a counterpart (which is pretty important, as the whole idea of VSO is that we pass out skills to someone, and I have no-one to pass them to, so I am effectively taking an Ethiopian’s job at the moment.) We have sent a job description to the local schools to get a teacher to be a counterpart, but I’m not holding my breath!


Well of course Goran was told we would move into the new house on Saturday, so…

I am still in my house, he has moved from the local hotel on campus, but not into the final permanent house. We are told that it will now be next Saturday. I’m not holding my breath on this one either (except when I go into the toilet.)

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Meskel, Goran and Tarantula

Goran has arrived, except you pronounce his name Yoran which is going to take a while to get used to. He has loads of gadgets like me and he knows the Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show. I’ve been showing him around Gilgel and it’s good to talk to someone with good English, but more importantly, someone who has a similar cultural background. Sometimes it can be hard here when you can’t refer to anything from modern culture or films. For instance, no-one here has heard of John Lennon – that kind of thing, and Darth Vader would be meaningless. He also doesn’t seem to mind my instant cooking – like some instant noodles with a tin of tuna we had tonight!!! It’ll be good when we share a house – I was woken by the baby again this morning, and what with the family going to bed around 2030 – it’s a bit limiting.

It’s Meskel at the moment (I remember it from just after I arrived last year) – it’s a Christian festival (the finding of the true cross – I guess someone tried to sell someone a fake one in the past or something.) Anyway, I basically spent an hour and half following the priests with their colourful umbrellas, then hung around in a field listening to Ge’ez (pre-dates Amharic language) before they lit the traditional fire after walking round it twice chanting – maybe it was the Ge’ez version of “Here we go round the mulberry bush”. The only thing that kept me sane was watching the children who were as bored as I was, doing gymnastics, running around and getting told off for doing gymnastics and running around. A highlight was when one little girl walked up to a priest and tried to pull his strap-things off.

Last night I found a 10cm tarantula outside my bedroom door – the first one I’ve seen in Ethiopia. I’ve seen a number of large spiders, but not an actual tarantula. So that’s five snakes, two scorpions and one tarantula. I feel a bit guilty to say that as it was nearly midnight, I didn’t have the energy to catch it and put it outside, so I sent it to the big web in the sky. I’m just glad I have bamboo at the bottom of my doors to block the big gaps (initially to stop the rats getting in the kitchen) otherwise it would’ve been in my room.

Additional (Monday)

I’ve taken Goran on some walks around Gilgel. He is staying in the hotel, but allegedly we will be moving into new house in a few days.

On the work front, I’ve had some meetings and seem to have had some success chasing the card, pens and paper order from six months ago. And, my line manager and I will be visiting the local schools tomorrow to find out if we can recruit a full-time counterpart for me.

The electricity has been good for 4 days, there was very heavy rain and thunder last night, it’s very hot and sticky and I feel sleepy a lot!

Friday, 26 September 2008

New Ferengi due to arrive in the village!

Hopefully in my next entry, I will be able to tell you that the other volunteer, Goran (from Sweden) has arrived. He is due later today.

I tried to get more Kerosene for my stove yesterday, but Gilgel Fuel station is out. Hopefully I can get some from Chagni sometime. I still have enough left for a while. It doesn’t use much and is actually probably much cheaper than electricity.

I’m getting post through from the Post Office here. Remember, if you want to write to me (new people are most welcome), the address is below. Remember to include your address if you would like a reply.

If you send a photo I can stick it on my “post” wall in my house. I have quite a collection now.

Mark Sidey

PO Box 47

Gilgel Beles

Metekel Zone

Benishangul Gumuz


I now have two sets of speakers here (one set is a small battery-powered set, which is useful during the frequent powercuts). Anyway, due to “doing-in” my output socket on my laptop, I got an external sound card. The good thing is that the quality is much better (especially with headphones – no hiss) and it does surround sound. So here I am in the middle of nowhere watching movies with 4 speaker surround sound!!!!

PS/ For the techheads amongst you, I’ve just pinged the bbc website and the average time was 2055ms !!! (At least all the packets were returned this time)

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Sad News

I found out today that one of the small group of eight children I taught English to just before I came back to England died a few weeks ago. He was bitten by a dog before I left and it must have been infected as rabies developed and two months after the bite he was taken to a hospital in Bahir Dar where he later died.

He was nine years old.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Going downhill (already!!)

Well the electricity has been off for two 18 hours stretches in the last two days. It’s back to candles and kerosene stove for cooking.

The baby is really getting annoying – as I mentioned before, every time I open a door he’s in there, and with urine-soaked feet and a potential to poo at anytime, it’s a nightmare. Also, all I hear is the mother or sister saying “abbi na… abbi na” which means “baby come here” every time he wanders near to something he shouldn’t. It gets grating when you hear it over and over again.

I also discovered that all my work on the Graduate publication before I left was pretty much a waste of time: the print shop couldn’t use the Microsoft Publisher format I used (as instructed) and the preview prints were basically scanned in (at low quality) and re-done in a garish format. It looks pretty rubbish really.

On the good side, I’ve been out walking in my favourite places. The river at this time of year (towards the end of the rainy season is very high and fast flowing. It’s amazing seeing rocks that were 2m out of the water that I climbed on before, now completely submerged.)

I had my first pancake session last night, starting with a tuna pancake, followed by a lemon and sugar, then a maple syrup one! (I had to buy some new flour, my old tin of flour is like a zoo full of weevils (black adults and white larvae worms!)

There doesn’t seem to be nearly as many insects and bugs around as last year. Maybe in the rainy season there is plenty of food outside and they don’t need to come in.

Friday, 19 September 2008

I have my key!

The instructor with my store room key returned last night so I now have access to all my things. I have started to boil and filter water again, had franks and tinned mixed-veg for dinner, and did some washing. Now I have all my things it’s seems easy to settle back into the routine. I have had email contact from Goran (the Swedish volunteer who is currently in Addis and will be joining me in a couple of weeks.)

The toddler in the house is cute, but a pain. Every time I open a door he tried to come in, and they wash him in the sink I use for cleaning my food stuff – so hygiene is not good!

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Back in Gilgel Beles

This blog entry means I have internet access (albeit dial-up) at the college.

The journey here was not too bad. A bit of hassle at the bus station as I was white, the minibus was a little uncomfortable, but the college car was waiting for me at Kosober and it was a smooth journey home.

It must’ve just rained when I arrived as there was basically a lake between my house and the college which I had to paddle through. There is about a month left before it stops.

I have spent yesterday and today meeting people again, checking the post office (three months-worth of National Geographic!) and going around Gilgel. It feels very easy switching back into “Gilgel mode”. The only problem is the guy who has the key to my kitchen/store room is away so I’m locked out. The room is where all my food, water filter, buckets, bowls, jugs, cups etc – basically all my stuff I locked away before I left as some people used my bedroom while I was away. He is hopefully arriving tomorrow, when I’ll be able to have a proper wash using the bowl and start washing some clothes.

The climate is hot and sticky. Having come from the pleasant 21C 70% humidity in Addis, it’s now around 25C and 80%.

On the work front, I have a couple of weeks before the schools go back to sort things out. The biggest problem so far is that the two counterparts I was promised to work with have not materialised and probably won’t, which is a big blow as I would’ve been able to get a lot more done and really felt like I was doing what VSO is all about and passing on my skills.

Oh well – be flexible!!!

The power was off for about 2 hours last night and some of the door handles in the new classrooms block in the college have snapped. How cheap does the metal (if it is even metal) have to be for that to happen?