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!)