Saturday, 31 May 2008

Water and good deeds

There hasn’t been any water since I’ve been back. Luckily I had two big buckets filled before I left, but now I’m down to about 2 litres – enough to wash my hands during the day. I am now running out of clothes as there wasn’t any water for a week before I went to Addis and I have all the clothes from my trip.

I have enough to drink, but not enough to wash and definitely not enough to wash clothes. I hope it comes on today.

I have a guy pestering me to edit his wedding video. It’s the one good turn deserves a lot of hassle. I edited one person’s video in the past and it came back to bite me because now this other one wants me to do his, and it’s not “when it’s convenient”, it’s “now”!

Also I printed lots of photos for people in Addis and gave them out, and one guy suddenly comes up and says “where is photo?” because I had printed him (free) about six photos, but there were two of him in a school and I had only printed the best one.

I’m always very cautious of relationships because they often seem one-sided or unbalanced – either one person is using the relationship to get something, or one person wants more from the other than they want to give. I always find that staying in and watching a DVD is safer and more enjoyable than “going out for a drink”. This, of course is coming from my “post arrival in hell-town”-mood and may change when I get used to it again.

Blue Nile Falls

I’m back in Gigel Beles and it’s taken a little while to adjust again. While I’m here it’s ok, but after being away for nearly two weeks in the comfort of a hotel and then apartment with hot showers, supermarkets with sweets, restaurants with ferengi food etc, it comes as quite a shock to return to no power, no water, smelly toilet and also to find it’s been raining for the last week and everywhere is slippery mud! I had the “what am I doing here – what a hell-hole” experience for a while.

Going back in time: on Monday I flew back to Bahir Dar after leaving most of my shopping with Belay (my programme manager) who will bring it when he visits Gilgel next week. On Tuesday, another volunteer, Marta, joined me – ready to return with me to Gilgel for two weeks to help with ELIP (English Language Improvement Programme) and on Wednesday, Marc, a German VSO Volunteer joined us – he was also coming to Gigel to do a quick one week computer sort out. He was one of the volunteers evacuated from Assosa.

On Wednesday it was a public holiday and all five of us (including Judith and Elsa who are based in Bahir Dar) went to visit the Blue Nile Falls. We knew it would not be “full power” as most of the water is diverted to the hydro-electric power plant and only turned on full on Sunday, but it was beautiful countryside and the falls were still impressive. We will return in the rainy season on a Sunday to see the difference. The walk around the valley involved paddling across a stream at one point, and getting a boat across the river above the falls at another.

The three of us returned to Gilgel on Thursday. It was the usual “run the gauntlet” at the bus station in Bahir Dar with all the attraction of three ferengi, but we got a fast minibus down to Kosober. Then we were lucky and got three seats on a pretty speedy bus to Chagni – much faster than last time – the bus was smaller and the new stretches of road are now accessible. It took us about 4 hours from entering the bus station at Bahir Dar, to reach Chagni. The next part was fairly horrendous. From arriving in Chagni at around 7:15 (local time = 1:15pm ferengi time) it took about three hours of waiting on the bus for it to go, stopping to drop off and pick up people and just generally being very slow on the bumpy, unpaved road.

Back in Gigel, it must’ve been raining a lot as streams were filling, the place was really green, but the downside was the unpaved streets were muddy and slippery. I paid a guy to carry my suitcase back to my house, and then went straight back out to help Marta and Marc. I had rung the college to book rooms for them at the local hotel, but as expected it doesn’t really work in the sticks and they ended up with rooms without a shower, toilet or any furniture other than a bed, and this meant they would have to use a stinky shared pit latrine and have no water in wash. It has now been sorted though and Marta and Marc spent the day in college do their thing.

I collected my post, including the January issue of National Geographic – I think it had been all around the country as the address was incorrect and instead of using Metekel Zone – where Gilgel is, they had put Makale – which is a town the other side of the country. Anyway, it got to me!

A rat has been visiting my kitchen while I’ve been away. There were droppings on the shelves and a couple of plastic lids had been nibbled! (Oh, and I saw it tonight.)


Today (Saturday, 30th June) is 37 days to go until I come home for the summer.

Sunday 1st June will be my 200th day sleeping in my house in Gigel Beles

Monday 2nd June is my 250th day in Ethiopia

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Quick update from Addis Ababa

Sun 18 - Flew to Addis, met up with volunteers - overwhelmed by all
the ferengi (white) faces and repeating my news over and over again.

Mon 19 - School cluster workshop - I did my presentation about what I
am doing in Gigel including photos and video clips and it went well.

Tue 20 - More cluster workshop - nice lunch!

Wed 21 - Went shopping with Kev (the man who buys and sends food to me sometimes) - looking at flights home for the summer etc.

Thu 22 - HIV/AIDS workshop - some a bit dry, but some useful info
about bringing this more to the front in college "mainstreaming" it.
This may involve me doing a condom on a banana demo in October!!

Fri 23 - After a security meeting at VSO (see below) went shopping on
Bole road and managed to (at last) get some decent speakers for my MP3 player. I also found an SD card for 1800 ETB (about £70) which at home
would be £10 so left it! Also found a coffee shop like Starbucks and
even had hazelnut icecream - Addis is soooo different to Gigel, apart
from the open sewers and beggars you feel like you're at home!

Sat 24 - More shopping and eating in a place called "Piazza." There
was no power (the blackouts are rotated around the areas and many
shops now have generators on the pavement outside.)

Sun 25 - Nice omelette sandwich and chocolate donut for breakfast. And
now it's now.

I have eaten a variety of burgers and pizzas, tiramisu, cakes,
doughnuts and sweets while I've been here... yum! I also, for the
first time in 8 months, found a can of Diet Coke!!!

When I first arrived at the hotel, my shower was plugged into a bare
socket on the wall (no plastic blanking plate) and at some point in
the insertion process some wires touched and blew the circuit breakers
on the floor of the hotel. The guy did come and fix it, by buying a
new socket, really quickly though.

There is trouble building up in Assosa (the regional capital of
Benishangul Gumuz, but about 400km by air from me and a more like
700km by road so I'm safe) All the Assosa people have been evacuated
here to Addis and are waiting to see if they can go back next week.
It's really just the extra cautious approach of VSO, but on the good
side, it means some of the Assosa ICT people might come to Gilgel for a
week to sort out the computers while they wait to see when they can go
back home.

That's it for now, from the VSO office.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Free sky fireworks

Got another water delivery today – but this time I took my buckets to a collection point. The power had been off for 67 hours straight when it flickered to life at 1800. Then it went off again 10 minutes later. Then it was on and off until about 2000 when it went again and there was the most amazing lightning storm I had ever seen. As I walked back from the college (I had stayed late to charge things and use the net) the lightning was flashing constantly all around. It must’ve been a long way away, or (and I’m not sure about the physics of this) so high that the air is thinner and doesn’t make as loud a “bang” when it expands, as it was pretty quiet, with only the odd rumble. One part of the sky lit up, followed immediately by the opposite side. Flash, flash, flash. The lightning was fanning out across the sky in trails… Amazing.

Anyway, after cooking some noodles on my wax burner in a mosquito infested kitchen, the power finally came on around 22:00 and I quickly put some water on to boil as my water filter is almost empty and it would’ve taken ages to boil anything but a small quantity of water on my wax burner.

Graduation photos

I’ve now taken about 80 photos of the students for the Graduate Souvenir Magazine which will be published at the end of term. It took a while as the college only has one mortar-board hat and gown, and I had to wait while it was swapped from one student to the next.


I’m off to Bahir Dar on Saturday +/- 2 days!!! And fly to Addis Ababa on Sunday. I may not have easy internet access so may not update this until I get back.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008


A student dropped off a jerry can of water at lunch time in the bus. Of course this made me feel bad as all the others in the college are in the same boat and have had to walk and get water from streams, the river or a pipe in the town. I didn’t ask for it, I just asked where to get it from, and it just arrived. Ferengi privilege I guess!!



The slippery slope

(Originally written 11/05/08)


Nothing much is going on at the moment, college-wise. I am basically waiting (and have been waiting over two months in some cases) for supplies and resources. Until I get these, I can’t distribute them to the schools to allow the teachers to follow up the training by making more displays for their classrooms. Also, I cannot employ college students to make number fans until I have the card and marker pens to do it. It has now been about two months since the training and I am worried that by the time we do distribute the next lot of number fans, the teachers will have lost motivation / forgotten the training. On the other hand, I’m getting a bit of hassle for not spending my budget yet!!! I have been trying but when you order something and nothing happens even when you keep chasing it, what can you do?


Added to this, the next lot of training is based solely on a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) pack which I have been waiting to have duplicated - also for about 6 weeks – a part is missing from the copier. So, no booklet, no training and with the schools stopping for exams and then summer holidays in about a month, I will probably have to abandon that project until next school year.


On the plus side, I did enjoy teaching again at the local primary school and made some displays for that classroom which I put up on Friday.




I found out the day before that Ginbot 1 (9th Ethiopian month of the year which we started on Friday) is St Mary’s day (Jesus’ mum) and this involved sitting outside until late getting bitten by insects, eating goat (which this time I saw being slaughtered*), drinking alcohol and then writing on a list what you promise to get for next year’s one – I put down English sweets and cakes (Mum, remember next year I’ll need a package of cakes and sweets sent out!!!).


Yesterday was Ledetu’s first birthday (assuming his actual Birth Day was his 0th one.) People trickled into the house from about 1pm to 9pm and had coffee, bread, popcorn etc. I was there for some of it. Ledetu is the baby of the family I live with. He is standing for several seconds now.




After the recent rains, it’s amazing how quickly everywhere became green again. The grass came back very quickly. Unfortunately it hasn’t raining for a few days now, and the temperature is going up again. It got to 32C in my room last night.




Electricity has been good for the last week with cuts only lasting a few minutes at the most. Water on the other hand has been only for an hour mid-day, and then only at low pressure. I’m glad I have all my buckets and bowls now, although my washing has been sitting soaking for two days as it’s difficult to rinse without running water. [Additional: Washing goes smelly if you leave it soaking for two days.]




Well, the honeymoon period with the family (I share the house with) is over. When they returned from Addis Ababa, I gave them a list of house rules (like pouring water down the toilet after using it.) Initially they were good, but then the husband went back to Addis to finish the job he is doing, and his mother and the younger sister (about 13) came to stay – maybe just for the birthday (hopefully!). Anyway, someone has pretty lousy aim in the toilet department, and the younger sister is already bugging me - I have to close doors otherwise she looks or comes in. Last night quite late there was a knock on the door and it was because someone’s phone didn’t work and then, while I was having my bowl wash – completely naked – the handle of the door turns and it’s her again. Luckily, knowing the Ethiopian policy of “open door first, knock later”, my door was locked. Anyway, I’m going to Addis next week so hopefully it will all be back to normal when I return.




I have been drafted in to take the photos and set the layout for the college graduate’s magazine. Apparently to get the pros in costs about 100,000 birr – I’m free!!!


Anyway, this may be the last entry for a while until I get back from Addis, especially if I find that there is a car suddenly available at the last minute, the day before I’m due to go!!!!



*The only sensible way to keep meat fresh after buying it here, is to keep it alive until you need it. This is no different to England 100 years ago. It’s a bit weird seeing a goat get its head sliced off in front of you and the body struggling after that, but you can’t anthropomorphise animals you eat. They are just meat factories: grass or corn in, meat out. In the developed countries that is pretty much what is thought anyway – you just get the pre-packaged meat from a freezer in a supermarket and don’t think about the animal it came from (unless you are a vegetarian.)


Additional (added 13/05/08): No water, no power, no telephone


The water has now been off for 48 hours (and it was only on low pressure for an hour a day for three days before that.) my reserves are almost gone and I seem to be having a great deal of difficultly getting information about where to get water from. There is one stand pipe actually in the college courtyard, but there was a massive queue for that yesterday (the students share it) and it seems to be off today. Apparently something is broken in the pipe. They’ve sent to Bahir Dar, but it could be a while.


Last night there was heavy rain. I left all my bowls out and collected enough to do my washing up that had been festering. Also, I very quickly filled the buckets to flush the toilet from the gutter pipe from the roof. The water was not clean from there, but it doesn’t matter if it’s only used for the toilet.


The electricity has been off for 36 hours, and the telephone network, both landline and mobile are out of action.


This morning there were about 100 bimbi (mosquitoes) in the toilet room, but when you have to go, you have to go.


Did I mention that Shintabet, Ethiopian for toilet, literally means “House of urine”. “Bet” is house, also used for things like buna bet (coffee house) temurt-bet (house of students – school); and “shint” means urine!!!


Friday, 2 May 2008

Holidays, family returns and september volunteer

It’s a funny time at the moment. Although officially Easter only had Good Friday as a public holiday, many instructors seem to have been off since and are only just coming back. I also discovered yesterday that today (Thursday) is another public holiday (International Labour Day) and there is another one (Patriots’ Day) on Monday, so lots of holiday all round. When in Rome

I had a bit of a dose Monday and Tuesday mornings after eating in all the different places on Sunday – it’s impossible to say which particular meal or glass or snack caused it. I obviously had something in my system as I was completely wiped out Monday and Tuesday afternoons and basically slept.

This afternoon the family who all live in this house returned from the instructor’s secondment to Addis. They had a big clean including removing the birds nests on the walls outside my room. The baby is nearly one year old now and stood unaided for a fraction of a second. I gave them a list of hygiene rules (e.g. use the buckets of water I’ve put in the toilet after going when the water is off) that kind of thing. They seemed to accept that ok. I’ll see how it goes.

Finally, there could be another volunteer coming here in September. He is Swedish and will be working with the ICT systems, sorting them out and training etc. It will be interesting to have someone to share with when I get back, someone to show around – hopefully he will like walking. Maybe he can set up a satellite internet connection in the house!!!