Monday, 2 November 2009

About Ethiopia Site Update

I've spent the day updating and adding to my "About Ethiopia" site. I've added icons to the front page, sounds of Gilgel Beles for you to listen to, and a large photo section. Don't miss visiting

Monday, 7 September 2009

New "About Ethiopia" Website on-line

Having just come back from a motivating VSO RV (Returned Volunteer) weekend, I've finally got round to starting a website where I will be gradually adding videos, photos, sounds, educational ideas etc over the next few months.

At time of writing, there are already a couple of videos, and my complete "Virtual Gilgel Beles" where you can "walk" around the whole village.

Check out the site at:

I also plan to visit as many schools and groups as I can to spread my experience. Email me if you are interested. Contact details on the site.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

What's it like being back?

Well, I've been back in the UK for one week now.

It was very easy to get back into UK living - in the house at least. Everything is the same and I can drive a car easily even after not driving one for 10 months. I have had a couple of twitches on things like putting toilet paper down the toilet instead of a bin by the side. Also having an urge to keep a torch with me at night incase the power goes off.

At first I was a little overwhelmed with broadband internet and spent ages on it look at news, reviews, finding what films I had missed, TV sites, ordering books and DVDs on Amazon etc.

I have also bought a new TV (my old one was over 15 years old and a new TV was something I promised myself when I got back.)

It was weird it being light outside at 21:00. In Ethiopia it only varies between 18:00 and 19:00 all year round. My sleeping was a bit disrupted with this and all the technology I had to play with. It was like I didn't want to go to sleep as there was so much to do, watch, search for.

Outside the house I feel a bit slow, for example in the big supermarkets, like everyone is moving around fast and I'm just looking at all the stuff and everyone going by in slow-motion.

I also have a sort of numb feeling, especially at first, and felt like the last two years hadn't happened. (Apparently this is normal.)

During the week I went to my niece's sports day, my nephew's drama performance and my old school summer fayre. It was good seeing everyone again and I still have the programmed Ethiopian "shake hands" build in. It's like an instant reaction now to shake people's hands as soon as I see them.

That's it for now - back to all the technology!

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Back in the UK

I've just arrived back in the UK and have been able to add all the new posts for the last week. Don't miss reading them. (Start with the oldest first and work your way up to this one last.)

My journey home was something like this:

Friday 21:00 unable to have a shower as no water in the hotel (pump broken.)
22:30 Tried to get some sleep. Did sleep a little, but not much - kept waking up.

Saturday 01:15 Got up, took bags downstairs and was taken, by taxi, to the airport where I breezed through security - they didn't ask to look through my back-pack or cases, breezed through check-in (41kg total in the cases - no excess charge and they didn't notice my carry-on back-pack weighed in at over 12kg!!!) and straight through immigration with my exit visa.

So, not bad so far. It was 02:00, flight due to leave at 04:15.

The flight finally left at 05:10 - I was very tired by now and, like I said I am blanking my emotions quite a lot, so wasn't thinking about whether I am sad or not about going.

Arrived at Cairo 3h30 later and made my way through the checking to get to the connecting flight due to leave at 10:30. Boarded plane on time. By 11:00 they said they were waiting for air traffic control clearance in Europe and there would be a 10 minute delay. Around 11:30 they said that due to a "go-slow" strike by the Athens ATC, there would be a 2 hour delay, and could we get off the plane and go back to the gate. After another 10mins, still no-one had been allowed off the plane and they said that they had been given an alternative route, avoiding Athens airspace and around 12:00, 2h30 late, we took off. I slept on-and-off having now been awake pretty-much since midnight. When I was awake, there were some pretty spectacular views. When we got to the UK, I could clearly see from Margate, down to Dover and across the channel to Calais. While on the outskirts of Cairo I saw, for the first time in real-life, but from a long way away, the pyramids (see photo)

After a short delay to get a gate and a bit of a queue to get through immigration, I collected my luggage, which had joined me on the connecting flight, luckily! and finally met my parents after 10 months.

Within an hour, I was having a drive thru McDonalds, then home. Again, like last time, it was like I had never been away. It's really weird. Anyway, I will stop now, as I am very tired. I'll write more about how I am settling in in a few days.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in Addis Ababa

Basically I spent the last few days in Ethiopia finishing off a last few jobs, and killing time.

One problem was no electricity for the entire three days (except a few hours over night which was no good to anyone, and a period of a couple of hours when the voltage was around 120V (it should be 220V)) Luckily the Yonnas hotel I am staying in has a generator which they put on from around 6pm until midnight.

The first job I had was to collect my passport from VSO and then change my remaining Ethiopian Birr currency into something useful in the outside world. The government is very tight on loosing dollars - which is a stable currency with world backing. The Birr, on the other hand, is only worth the paper it’s printed on outside Ethiopia.

The first two stops had no UK Pounds, Euros or even US Dollars and the last place said they could only change up to $150 without a resident’s permit and receipts from previous dollar to Birr transactions. My resident’s permit had to be given in to get my exit visa so no luck there. I began to think I would be stuck with a pile of paper, or alternatively I would have to splash out on lots of extravagant meals, souvenirs and a night in the Sheraton hotel.

One taxi driver offered me black-market dollars, but due to a misunderstanding of the accent, I thought he was offering 1 dollar for 40 birr (the bank rate is 1 to 11.3.) I realised afterwards he must’ve meant 14. Anyway, the risk of fake money was too great, and in-case anyone official is reading this, it is illegal so I didn’t do it!

I finally managed to sort this a few days later, in a legal way, I believe. I gave my birr to another volunteer who will be here for another year, and they electronically transferred money from their bank to mine in the UK.

Thursday’s job was to get police clearance by obtaining a “certificate of good conduct” that I will probably need in the UK when I get a police check to work in schools. This involved going to the Federal police department, queuing in several different queues, skipping some queues because I am white and handing over copies of passport, ID card and some photos. I also had to get fingerprinted (black fingers all day.) In about three weeks I will get the certificate (via VSO collecting it and posting it.)

On Friday I went to the VSO office to get my final clearance there and have an exit interview with my programme manager. I had a nice pizza on the roof of a 6-storey skyscraper looking out over the city for the last time, followed by a cake from a coffee shop. Then back to my room to see if I could do something about the excess baggage. (also finding out the water pump in the hotel is broken, so no shower!)

I think I managed to get the bags to within a kg or so of what they are supposed to be, so hopefully I’ll be let off with no excess charge. That’s as long as they don’t check my carry-on back-pack which is almost double the weight it should be!

Then it was watching TV and DVDs while I wait for time to go by before being taken to the airport.

This is the last entry written in Ethiopia.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

In Addis - quick update

I am now in Addis with about one day to go until I leave.

I have lots to tell you all, but the information is all on my laptop
which I cannot connect to the net at the moment as there has been no
mains power in Addis for two days.

Highlights include: college car breaking down, getting the squits just
before flying to Addis, being fingerprinted for my police clearance,
and more...

So stay tuned.

If not before, I will upload all the entries when I get back to the UK.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Tuesday: A typical journey to Addis

First last breakfast at the Ghion hotel overlooking the lake – nice. Then back to the apartment where I spent a good two hours sorting my luggage. Incredibly, after discarding some stuff, giving some to Judith and using the vacuum bags to squash the air out of clothes, I had done it, although a bit over weight (later I found I the total was 46kg – I need to be 40kg for the international flight)

I then went for a last walk around the lake, stopping at a posh hotel for an egg sandwich lunch (26ETB instead of a usual 6ETB!) but I sat in the garden overlooking the lake, so didn’t mind.

Back to the apartment for a rest, then out for another last meal and lake overlook: Dinner at the Ghion.

Then, the slightly odd stomach feeling I had had in the afternoon drew towards a “wombat’s leaving the cave” scenario. I had no choice but to crouch over the urine-soaked seat of the hotel toilet and download. (It’s at times like this, you wish it was a hole-in-the-ground toilet – Much more comfortable crouching right down and you feel like you empty out better like this (as nature intended) anyway – but no such luck. Back at the table, I quickly finished my pudding pancake and fast-walked back to the apartment, just in time for a second broadband download (with 30mins until the taxi arrived to take me to the airport.)

I had had two Imodium at the hotel and hope this would stop any repeats.

So, taxi to the airport and then, for the next 30minutes, at least, my carefully-packed bags were gone through by the airport security having seen too many electronic devices, batteries and wires for their liking. At one point my keys went missing. I later spotted them stuck under the conveyor belt leading to the X-ray scanner and it took a small-handed woman to get them out.

Finally packed again, I checked in, having to go upstairs to an office to pay the expected excess baggage (internal flights only allow 20kg, but the excess is only 5ETB per Kg.) Then someone asked me to go to the scanning area and I fully expected to go through the whole unpacking-process again at this next scanning stage. (The first one had been to get into the airport; this one was for the luggage to get on the plane.) Luckily they spoke to the guy at the airport entrance and I didn’t have to go through it again.

Next, to wait for the flight: 10pm departure. My stomach was feeling a bit dodgy again, so I checked the instruction leaflet and ended up having another Imodium. Then the announcement came about the 30 minute delay – the incoming plane hadn’t arrived.

Now this is another “look on the bright-side” situation (see yesterday’s entry.) At 10pm I was forced to visit the airport toilets and have a third download. Now if the plane had been on time, this would’ve been a tricky operation during take-off, so maybe it was a good thing the flight was delayed. Of course the 30 minutes turned into an hour by the time we actually left the ground and we finally got to Addis at 23:40 (on a fast jet – it used to be a prop plane, but apparently they are servicing this old fleet and running one jet a day instead of three prop flights.)

My luggage came quickly, and I had arranged a taxi to take me to the hotel which we arrived at around 00:30. No power in this district in Addis, and they turn the generator off at midnight, so scrabbling around for a torch, I got to my room and finally to sleep around 01:00. (Thankfully, there were no more downloading activities during the night.)

Monday, 29 June 2009

Monday: A typical journey to Bahir Dar

My last day in Gilgel Beles. I woke quite early and began to do the last bits in the house – burning the rubbish, emptying water bowls etc. I started getting a little panicky when I was packing as there was way too much stuff.

The car, as confirmed on many occasions for the last two weeks, was due to arrive at 10am.

At 9:20, with all my stuff spread all over the floor, the car arrived. I told them we had agreed 4 (local time) and they should come back then, so they left. I finally decided I would never have time to pack properly now and get it all down to two cases, so I got out a couple of big boxes and threw a lot of stuff there. I was ready at 10am, case, bag and boxes ready to load.

At 10:30am, still no car, I decided to walk up to college to find out what was going on. Anyway, after going round to all the offices and saying goodbye to everyone, we finally got into the car, drove down to my house to pick up the luggage and for the property person to check I hadn’t broken anything or stolen any chairs. We went back to the college so the property person could leave the keys (she was coming to Bahir Dar with us) and finally, at around 11:30, we were off… Goodbye college.

Now this bit is going to sound like I made it up, but it is true. Around 500m after the “You are leaving Gilgel Beles – have a good journey, sign” the driver stopped and told us that the rear suspension on the car had just broken. So, we limped back to the college.

It was like one of those horror films “You’ll never leave!” I’m so glad I’m a pessimist!

After lots of arrangements, we finally left in the college bus (used for taking students on teaching practice) around 12:45pm, stopping around an hour later for lunch.

As it happened, the bus was more comfortable than the car going over the bumps as I was sitting in the middle and it had a long wheel-base. Also, there was plenty of room to spread out as there was only a few people on it. Also, as the rain was heavy, it was much better that my stuff was inside the bus, instead of on the back of a pick-up truck. (Hold on, that sounds like I was looking on the bright side!!!)

We went through a good storm, fork-lighting flashing all around, torrential rain and at one point we saw what looked like snow on the ground – it was actually a huge amount of ice that had come from a hail storm we had just missed.

Finally we got to Bahar Dar at around 6pm, they all helped me get my luggage up to Judith’s apartment and we said our goodbyes. No power or water in the apartment of course!

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Sunday: Parents' Day / Leaving Do.

I went up to the school around 08:30 – found my recorder players, had a practice (the only girl player was missing – apparently she had missed the last two weeks of rehearsals as she was planting corn (girls have it much harder than boys in Ethiopia.))

The Parents’ Day programme included side-show games, traditional dancing from the various Ethnic groups, a gymnastics display, a report from the director (school principal) about the year in school, opportunities for the parents to ask questions, a speech from a couple of local education officials and certificates for some students. We were due to play at 04:00 (Ethiopian time or 10am.) We finally started at 11:45am – TIA (This is Africa!) They all took turns to announce the tunes and played very well in front of an audience which must’ve been at least 1000 people. I was really proud of them. As is tradition, someone stuck Birr notes on their foreheads to show appreciation (they do this with dancers as well.)

Afterwards, I was thanked for my help in the school by the director and given a present (see right)

I then had a bit of time to sort things out, moving cooking stuff into the store room etc before going to the college later in the afternoon for my leaving do. There were about 50 people there, instructors and support staff, (I’m not sure how much of the reason for this was a free meal!) but we had injera and meat and then speeches and presents. My first present was… well, different:

My second present was really good and will be useful if I do work in schools. (It includes some trousers as well.)

After that, back to the neighbour’s house again for some more card games (in candlelight – no power, obviously!) and finally back to mine.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Saturday: Last walk and Birthday celebration

Went on a walk up to the market and briefly visited the fathers at the Catholic Mission (the old one who visited last week was wrong about the dates the mission will be closed) and had a quick chat to say goodbye. Then I went to the river and walked along my favourite spots. The water was almost as high as when I arrived back in Gilgel after the summer in the UK.

Back at the house I did a bit more sorting, then in the afternoon I was invited to my neighbour’s house. It was the middle boy’s birthday next week and the family wanted to celebrate before I left. I gave him a recycled card (I had cut the front off a card someone gave me from the UK and stuck in on new card) and a few bits that I had got from Addis. At the same time I did the same treatment for the oldest boy’s birthday (which is at the beginning of September.) We played some card games I taught them last week.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Last entry from Gilgel Beles

This is probably (nothing is certain in Ethiopia!) the last entry from Gilgel Beles.

I’ve spent a couple of hours every afternoon rehearsing with the recorder groups ready for their performance at the parents’ day at the school on Sunday. One of the best players, a girl, has not been present and today I found out it is because she is helping with the corn planting in the fields at the moment. It’s a hard life for girls and women here in Ethiopia.

I’ve managed to finish off the last few admin things, tried as best I can to explain what I have left behind and what is happening next year, trying to get the college to hire the two guys who have been working with me. I have also added lots of my documents to the college computer, including recorder sheets and music. I’ve given recorder-related sheets and music to the local school and it will be interesting to find out how long any of it continues.

We’re well into the rainy season now, with very heavy downpours and storms at least every other day.

The water has been off for 3 days, and the electricity is off more than 50% of the time.

I think I am still blocking my feelings about leaving. Like I said before, I certainly won’t miss the lack of electricity and water etc, but I will miss the people, especially the ones I have worked closely with and the recorder group children. Maybe it will hit me on Monday after I have gone.

My plan is:

Fri 26 June: Last day at work

Sat 27: Clearing out the house and starting to pack (only 40kg and 2 cases back to the UK)

Sun 28: Parents’ day at local school + final packing

Mon 29: Driven (hopefully all the way) to Bahir Dar (5 hour drive – half on rough roads)

Tue 30: Day in Bahir Dar, then night flight to Addis Ababa

Wed 01 July: Get my police clearance (to say I haven’t committed any crimes in Ethiopia!)

Thu 02: Day in Addis

Fri 03: Exit Interview at VSO

Sat 04: 2am to Airport for 4:30 flight via Cairo to Heathrow.

My next entry will probably be from Addis on Wednesday or Thursday.

Friday, 19 June 2009

A Typical atypical day in Gilgel

Well the day started with me knowing that I had to sort out a recorder problem. Yesterday, I had been running the group through all the tunes we would perform in the parents’ day at the local school and one boy was significantly worse than the others – he started off well with the lessons, then a few months ago he seemed to stop practising. Anyway, he got upset and gave his recorder back to me saying he was going to quit. It is at these times that it becomes very frustrating that I cannot speak Amharic and try and talk him out of it. After this, another good player said he would quit because the first one had.

So back to the day: I had just sorted out someone to come to the school with me for translation purposes when I got asked by the Dean to go and sort out the continuing problem with the CPD Certificates.

Time for another flashback:

We had given out two certificates at the ceremony the other day. One for those who had completed the course (which includes showing some evidence they had filled in things in the manual and participated in the sessions, and also had an attendance of at least 80%.) and a “have participated in some elements of the course” for those who did not do this.

So, ready to visit the other school, I was then called in by the Vice Dean who the disgruntled teachers had called on next, obviously not getting a satisfactory answer from the Dean.

I got their manuals and the attendance register and showed them why they did not get the full certificate. They claimed the attendance register was falsified and that the sessions were informal at someone’s house and all sorts of other stuff. (This was all through translation by the way.) They also said they had not filled in the manuals because they were not told to… Even though it said in the book “complete this table” or “fill in this chart” etc. These sounded like excuses coming from young children.

Anyway we finally decided to go and speak to the facilitators who ran the sessions on Monday.

Next, the Vice Dean asked me for some photos of the college – some people were here with a song they had recorded about Benishangul Gumuz Region and had mentioned Gilgel Beles College in the lyrics or something. So they wanted photos to make a VCD (Video CD - Ethiopia’s cheaper equivalent of DVDs.)

It was now that I said I had to go to the school to sort out the recorder problem. I went with the translator and we did arrange for the recorder students to come to the college in the afternoon, even though the whole of Grades 1-4 were not at school – a Grade 4 girl had died and they were all at church mourning.

Back to college to sort out the photos, which in the usual array of miscommunication turning into: “they needed a video clip of the singer miming to the backing music.” I started getting a little suspicious as to the amount of time and how involved I would be getting in this and kept confirming that they had someone to edit this and put it together with the music (something I suspected I would have to do.) They said they had someone in Addis to do this.

So, I was told I would be videoing the guy for the 6 minutes of the song miming and dancing away in front of the college. But of course they hadn’t arranged anything to play the music back on for him to mime to, so after 10-15 mins we had arranged to borrow the coffee shop tape player and bought some batteries from town and were ready to record.

But of course that wasn’t all I had to video. We then had to get some students to dance around as I recorded the whole song again in a different location, followed by filming a mock classroom setup where the lead singer is giving “sight love” looks to a girl, another setup in a dormitory room, and more “we have nearly completed” scenarios. In the end I got away for lunch a 1pm (we had started at 11am and I normal go for lunch at 12 noon!!)

Then of course they had no way to get the 3Gb of Video Data back to Addis so I used one of my own blank DVDs to copy it for them after convincing them that it is not a DVD as in “DVD Player movie”, but just a Data DVD like a Data CD.

I used to laugh at the cheaply made pop videos I saw on ETV (Ethiopia Television) but now I know why they are like they are. They turn up without any kind of storyboard, or even a camera, find a hapless ferengi to film it for them etc etc

So, onto the next thing: recorders. The players arrived; I found someone to translate and help me convince the boy with a problem to continue, which I did, just started the lesson with the others when a guy turned up with a satellite dish for Göran which he needed to take to the house. (It was from the other Swede in the village who is leaving tomorrow morning early.) I managed to get someone to go in my place with the house key while I continued the lesson. A few minutes after that, a rather old Catholic priest (who I have met a few times from the mission) turned up to say the mission is closing for the summer and no-one will be there for me to say goodbye to (had I not got the invite before? – Of course not). He stayed and listened to the recorder playing / practicing for quite while.

I’m loosing the thread now, I’m sure you are if you’ve got this far, anyway, next the pop video guys are back asking for maps of the area to copy onto CD. Ok, I said, but at 5pm because I need to finish a recorder lesson with a teacher (who had turned up for his lesson.)

5pm came, I went to find the guys, and at that point the guy with the satellite dish turned up again with some more boxes for Göran – needing to get back into to the house (oh and collect payment for the dish – money which Göran gave me before he left.)

Luckily, again, I managed to find someone to give the key to and go with him.

[Oh, I just remembered, our clothes washer, who is supposed to come twice a week, came last Friday, was due at least to show today (one week later), but didn’t. I’m out of shirts, with the dampness in the air it’s now taking two days for stuff to dry, so that’s a job I’ve got tomorrow.]

So, back to the pop guys and the maps: I showed them the photos of the “OS-type” map I had, and some GPS maps I had made, but no, they didn’t actually want maps, they wanted “beautiful photos” of Gilgel Beles. So the next hour was spent going through my photos trying to find scenic views, pictures of the bridge, the college, and as the music is sort of a pop-i-fied version of Gumuz music, I was asked if I had any photos of Gumuz women with no clothes on top (which admitted they do sometimes do (or don’t) but I haven’t got any photos of that kind of thing.)

It poured with rain at some point during all this, making it hard to talk at times as the droplets hit the corrugated metal roof.

I finally called it a day as I said I have to go and pay for the dish (which was true.) They asked me for a meal as thanks (which I managed to get out of – Göran.)

Then it was home to dump my stuff, (managing to get to my room past the huge satellite dish now inside the house blocking my way to the toilet) collect the money to pay for the dish, and, umbrella up, in the still-raining, dusk-time, I set off.

So there I am, at the end of this long day tramping through the mud and rain in the near-twilight, trying not to slip as I pass next to the “Nest Houses” (local mud and stick houses with conical roves) near our back gate, hearing “abba” and “ferengi” eminating from the interiors.

I got back safely and now have pork hotdogs and peas (rare in a can from BD) for tea, cooked by electricity in the incandescent light for the first time in four days, instead of kerosene with a head-torch.

.... How was your day?

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Amazing Storm

On Wednesday night there was another amazing storm. At around 1900 there was the high gusts of wind which usually signify an incoming big downpour. During the next 30 minutes, I estimate about 20mm of rain fell and the lighting was amazing. Each individual stroke was a multiple flash of maybe 5-10 rapid flashes, and there were whole sequences of strokes one following another right across the sky. Maybe more than one different stroke per second.

Unfortunately, most of the strokes were obscured by cloud, but every-so-often there was a stroke in the clear.

This picture is a composite image I made of one series of strikes over 1-2 seconds that went across the sky.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Usual problems with services + last signing lessons

Well the power was off all day yesterday from 05:00 and didn’t come back until 00:15 this morning. That lasted until lunchtime when first it went off, came back on at around 100V (instead of 220V) then kept flashing on and off, then went off completely.

The mobile network has been Yellum (there is non) for the last couple of days.

Water came back at last though. I do still get quite impressed when a few days ago I had collected enough rain water to do my washing and cleaning the dishes.

Had a really fun last session with the four children and teacher in the sign language class today, including introducing them to blow football (I had found a polystyrene ball. At first I used it to show the difference between “b” which doesn’t move the ball, and “p” which does when you speak it. Then it evolved into table blow-football!)

I also used a function on my digital camera where you can see the noise level and showed Ahmed / “Jermal” the different levels of noises and how it drops off at a distance. Interestingly, he showed his hand sign letters to the camera as he didn’t know the difference between sound letters and signed letters.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

CPD Ceremony

After two years of battling for resources, getting teachers to train without a “perdiem” payment etc, we finally had a certificate presentation celebration today, for two schools-worth of teachers who have completed the 15 week, Ministry of Education CPD (Continuing Professional Development) course.

(The teachers from one of the local schools show off their certificates of course completion)

During the celebration, the Dean spoke, I spoke and then I had two of my best recorder players playing a few songs for entertainment. It went really well, and during feedback, the director of the local school said it was like I was a regular teacher at her school as I was in so often doing activities. The children had played very well and someone suggested expanding the program to other schools!

So all-in-all, not a bad finish to my time here.

Termite swarm

That was a crazy half an hour: It started when I heard a fluttering at my net over my window. I looked and saw a four-winged termite, each wing about 4cm.Within a minute I could see about eight, and five minutes after that, around every light there were at least 50 I guess. The fluttering noise was pretty loud; they were like hundreds of little helicopters.

Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement on the ground. Two toads had appeared from nowhere and were having the feast of their lives, licking up termites left, right and centre (that was for mum.) It was an amphibians’ smorgasbord (that was for Göran!)

Very soon after that, more and more of them were dropping to the ground and beginning to shed their wings. I think I idea is they roam around, find a mate and set up a new nest.

Finally, the fluttering has stopped, and it’s a return to the chirping, cheeping, buzzing noise that is the usual Ethiopian cacophony of night.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Penultimate Recorders and more power problems

It’s getting on for the last recorder lessons now. Because the school was being used for exams, I had all the players at the college. Judging by the reaction when they looked out the window, I think it was the first time some of them had been upstairs. Also, as a treat at the end, I gave them all a fizzy drink, and again, I don’t think it’s often (if ever) they get one of them. They seemed quite overwhelmed with it all. As you will see from the picture, some of them haven’t even got shoes.

I think working with the children: the maths class; whole class teaching and the recorder groups, is going to be what I will miss the most.

Electricity and Water

Following up my previous entry, just to check you were not thinking, electricity 80% of the time, what are you complaining about, you have to remember that that was an average. I repeated the same exercise for the last 20 days, and the average power cut per day then is almost 12 hours out of 24, or 50%.

Over those 20 days, the longest cut was 55 hours. Also, a fairly common pattern is off around 05:00 and back on at around 23:00. If I stayed here longer, I would definitely invest in a generator. The houses across the street and my neighbours are even worse off, they are on a different phase to my house and they haven’t had power all week.

Also, the water has been off a couple of days, and the generator at the college is broken, so today, what with no mains power as well, the place was pretty deserted. It’s a good excuse not to do anything when the computers are down. The secretaries just sit doing nothing all day in the offices. There are manual typewriters but I guess now the “rich” countries have spread their evil PCs to Ethiopia, there’s no going back to the old ways, after all, you can’t listen to music and play patience on a typewriter.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

More cultural difference fun

I woke early this morning, and at around 06:45 as I was about to eat my breakfast, a head pops in my window and asks me to read a draft reference. He has his laptop with him, so for the next 20mins or so I check and edit the Ethiopian English into something a little more British. I’m guessing this has never happened to anyone in the UK?

I felt a little guilty doing it, as the reference was going to be used for about 10 different people in the college (so not an entirely personal document then!), none of whom, as far as I’ve seen, come anywhere close to this glowing superhuman idol mentioned in the text. Apparently they are completely up-to-date in their current field of study, are innovative and are open to new ideas; they work incredibly well in a team and show absolute dedication to their teaching. They would be a superb asset to any educational institution in the country.

Oh and more water came through the roof in my room tonight during another spectacular storm where at least 20mm rain fell in under an hour. The house was pretty flooded as well, what with the open roof portion.

Monday, 8 June 2009

False hope

I’ve written this before in a different way, but it’s an important issue effecting the development of Ethiopia (and I guess other poor* countries):

One of the reasons the country is not developing is because of “False Hope.”

I have based this opinion on many conversations I have had with instructors here in the college, other Ethiopian’s I have met during my travels, NGO workers and the findings of other VSO Volunteers. I am generalising, but this seems to be a very common theme in the country.

It seems that the goal of most people here is not to do things that would develop the country (e.g. learn trades that would improve and maintain the infrastructure, make agriculture more efficient etc) Instead they seem more concerned with how they can get as much for themselves as possible and this includes finding a way to emigrate to “rich” countries.

The reason they don’t try to develop is because they believe outsiders will come and solve the problems for them.

I’m not sure what order they should be in, but the three main outsiders that they believe will help them and change Ethiopia into a rich country are:

1: N.G.O.s (Foreign Non Government Organisations)

2: God

3: Obama

The first one (N.G.O.s) is based on experience. If they need a road or a bridge or electricity, or if they don’t plant enough crops and then there is a famine, don’t worry because some rich country will come along and lay the road, build the bridge or power station or drop bags of grain. Why bother planting and harvesting crops if all you have to do is wait for a plane to drop a bag of processed grain for you. The first thought isn’t “how can we solve this problem” it’s “someone from another country will come and solve the problem for us.”

Number 2 (God.) Well as an atheist, I would call this the first false hope. But I believe even Christians in foreign countries do not think that God is going to suddenly make Ethiopia a rich country with roads, stable power, food and clean water for everyone. Also, I’m sure foreign Christians would disagree with some of the arguments that I have heard along the lines of: “we don’t have to bother because God will come and sort it out.” I guess on the up side, religion does give a lot of hope to Ethiopians who do have a very hard existence; it also binds them together to a common cause. What I find very hard is that it also seems to be used as a control mechanism (like in Victorian times in the UK) with rules on what you can and cannot do and what and when you can eat. And these rules seem not to come from the bible, but from priests. I worry (worldwide) about organised religion and how unelected people, paraphrasing and selecting portions of the bible that fit their aims, can hold so much power. (But I digress – this is another issue.)

Number 3 (Obama.) You may laugh, but when Obama was elected, Ethiopia went crazy. I would even go so far as to say that some of the Ethiopians put Obama above God in the likelihood to save them. “Obama” bunabets, restaurants, Internet cafés and stationery shops sprang up everywhere as did the T-shirts and posters. I have had many conversations with Ethiopians asking “has he done anything yet?” “What do you think he will do?” “If American gives money to all the African nations, it won’t have any money for itself – is that going to happen?” but the false hope is very strong. Personally I think that Obama is the lightest “black” person I’ve ever seem, but that’s beside the point. I believe the U.S.A. is going to look after itself first and although it may donate the odd computer to Africa, it’s not going to make any real change here.

Well that’s pretty much the opinion I have developed over the two years being here. Hard as it is to say and depressing as it sounds, I believe that if Ethiopia (and other poor countries) continue in their attempt to become copies of rich countries, they are doomed to failure. They should concentrate on the foundations of their own society and develop themselves without external influence.

(Off course we’re all doomed anyway because of the oil running out and the greenhouse effect, it’s just that the Ethiopia will go down the pan first.)

*I decided that “poor” is the best description for countries like Ethiopia, even over the “VSO” and other NGO advice that this is not politically correct. They once called countries like Ethiopia “3rd World” then “developing” and at the training I went to in England they said the latest name is now “south” – as in most of the poor countries are in the Southern Hemisphere and the “north” countries in the Northern Hemisphere are the rich ones. But, as Australia, for example, is in the “south” and also some of the poor countries are not developing (maybe because of wars etc), I think the financial “rich / poor” description is more accurate than any other term.

Electricity Stats

I know I’m a slave to statistics but I can’t help it. I just find it interesting…

Since 1st Jan this year in my house in Gilgel (not counting the days I was away) the average time the power has been off is 4h40m per day which is around 19.5% or looking at it another way, the electricity is only on 80.5% of the time.

Of all the days during this period, there was either continuous power, or only very short cuts on 48% of the days. This means on 52% of the days there was a power cut of at least 30 minutes.

Sometimes the power cuts are due to “rationing” the limited generating capacity of the country (which is all hydro), sometimes due to technical problems and other times due to power poles being blown down in the wind, or in one case because someone cut a tree down onto the power lines!

And we complain in the UK if it goes off for 5 seconds!!!!

This does link into my case for development here. In the UK, we sorted out the power system over decades, then, only after it was stable did computers and other technology which rely on a steady power supply come along. Here they have all these computers donated by US-AID etc and are trying to use them on this unstable platform. Another example of trying to run before you can walk (or looking at it another way: foreigners not really thinking about what they are giving. I guess they get tax-breaks on computer systems, but not if they help build more hydro-electric plants and give training to people putting up power poles and operating the system.)

Friday, 5 June 2009

Power and Green

The power came back at 23:45 last night. Also there was yet another scorpion in the house. This time its end came via the handle of a broom. At least scorpions are relatively slow and easy to squash. Some just sit there. This is unlike spiders which see you coming with their top eyes and move very fast.

The place is becoming a little green again after the rains. It’s amazing that in about a week, in some places the grass is 10cm tall already. I guess it’s a combination of lots of water, lots of sun and high temperatures. This morning, outside the house I saw two oxen pulling a plough. It is very strange that there are some things here that are like the UK 200 years ago.

Thursday, 4 June 2009


It was windy with very heavy rain last night and as usual we have no power now because some more power poles came down, this time about 100km from here. Don’t know how long that’ll be off for - a few days at least. This of course means the water is off – no pump working.

I love the storms here. In the UK, you see about one lightning flash a minute. Here it is just continuous across the sky – sometimes one flash being replied to by another in different part of the sky. I would say there are at least 20 flashes per minute.

During the storm my roof leaked. Luckily in the middle of the room where there is just floor – nothing electrical. I think it was a combination of the amount of rain and the direction the wind was blowing.

Monday, 1 June 2009

CPD Update

I’m still blowing my nose a bit and coughing, but it seems to be tailing off at last.

There was heavy rain last night, but only after a gap of about a week. This time last year it was pretty much raining every day and was green everywhere. People are saying the rain is very late this year. The temperature is also back up. I think as I went to bed last night it was still near 30°C outside.

Today I went on a trip into Powe woreda (area) and visited five schools to check the progress of the CPD programme. We have two nearby schools who have completed, but I didn’t hold up much hope for the others, and I was pretty much correct. All five had completed less than 5 sessions (out of 15 in four months) and gave various excuses like “we were preparing for bazaar (fayre)” which maybe took one week, or we did not understand (they visit the college and could’ve asked and probably haven’t read the material as it is all explained in there.) Anyway, the college Dean is all for them doing the CPD program so will assign someone to find out what is going on and will push the schools to continue (or re-start) next year.

On the plus side, it means I don’t have to make as many certificates!!!!

I got the children I am teaching sign language to play a game today and it was really good to see them all laughing and playing together, whether they could hear or not.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Health and Scorpions

Well I have had a rough couple of days. On Wednesday night I was coughing a lot, my throat hurt, blowing my nose, I didn’t feel that good and just wanted to watch DVDs, but at around 20:00 the last of my battery power ran out and the mains power didn’t come on until just after 23:00 (It had been off all day). Then, at around midnight and for the next two hours on-and-off, I was coughing up loads of mucus…. A few times I was sick and the other times I was just standing over a drain with my mouth open as a steady stream of sticky mucus dripped out… it was horrible. I was like that mother Alien in Aliens. Anyway, other than the cough, I don’t have a temperature and don’t feel too bad, so I guess it’s still just a bad cold (or two colds on top of each other.)

On the positive side, I went to my neighbours 5th birthday today, and then had a very good recorder session. This one girl is very good – can sight read and play very well. At one point there were over ten children in the room with us just listening quietly. They had drifted in from outside. Then it was Maths class, and again, we had about double the number of children we should. The others just came in and joined in. (see pictures of some of them.)

I’ve seen (and killed) two scorpions in the house this week and I also saw a huge beetle (see picture.) I recently heard that a VSO volunteer got stung by a scorpion last month. She may have stepped on it as she was walking along. She said it was incredibly painful, much worse than a bee sting, and after a while the whole of her leg started going numb. She went to the medical centre and was given anti-venom. When they examined her foot, they said she had been very rapidly stung six times!

How do I feel about coming home?

After spending nearly two years in Ethiopia, and with only 37 days left, I’ve been asked how I feel about coming home.

It’s a difficult one, as I tend to block my feelings quite a lot and I tend of avoid big issues.

I will certainly miss:

  • The freedom I have here, to completely plan my time and projects that I do, whether it’s training teachers, doing recorder lessons, teaching demo lessons in local schools.
  • The freedom the children have to wander and play outside, no-need for risk assessments before doing anything, no parents’ permission slips, no nagging for the latest toy or electronic gadget.
  • The people I have met and built up relationships with, including the counterparts I’ve worked with, my neighbours, the children in the maths and recorder classes, the teachers at the local schools.
  • Being able to walk anywhere in the local countryside.
  • Being the centre of attention in the village. Some people hate it, but I love it when the kids shout out and come and shake my hand.
  • The unusual creatures (Big bugs, lizards, local birds etc)
  • The slower, less-stressful pace of life.
  • The enthusiasm of the children to learn
  • Not having to worry about money – the college provide the house and pay the bills and my salary is enough to cover food.

What I look forward to at home:

  • The Sea.
  • No power cuts
  • No extreme heat
  • Water being on all the time (and no need to boil and filter)
  • Always on, broadband internet
  • Not being stared at and pursued for money in the big towns
  • Driving myself around (on asphalt roads)
  • Being able to use phone or email to arrange appointments and training.
  • Knowing the people will be on time.
  • Quiet nights (no bugs, no churches)
  • Being able to order stuff for next-day delivery on the net.
  • Hot showers.


  • Lack of TV/News. You know I really haven’t missed not having a TV. I have survived well with just DVDs and the odd recorded programme sent from home.
  • The bugs – I’ve got used to them, but don’t like the scorpions and potential of malaria with the mosquitoes.
  • The Language – I quite enjoy the challenge of teaching when I don’t speak the language, but can be frustrated if I trying to get a point across and can’t, especially when giving feedback to teachers.
  • Christmas – I liked the lack of a commercialised Christmas, but also missed my family get-togethers.

In Summary

On the whole it’s more technological things I miss and would like to come home to (with the exception of my family and friends of course!!!). As for the social and working life in Ethiopia, I could quite happily stay longer. I suspect that in maybe five years time, I may be off somewhere else.

How have I changed?

When I started to write this, I realised there were lots of personal things that probably shouldn’t be on the blog. I would say that as far as my personality goes, I’m pretty much the same - if maybe more tolerant of change and coping with difficult situations.

I noticed that the way I speak has changed - I have adopted some Ethiopian-English traits such as losing “a” and “the”. I assume it will change back when I am with people in the UK, but currently I use phrases like “There is problem” or “I went two weeks before.”

One thing I have learnt is not to be so worried about discussing race and appearance of people. In the UK so many people are so frightened of mentioning anything about the appearance of race of people because of “political correctness gone mad.” If someone’s skin is dark and at dusk it is hard to see their expressions, it’s not racist to say that, it’s physics. The same when Ethiopians with dark skin come through the door and are backlight by a bright sky: Sometimes I find it hard to work out who it is because they are like a silhouette. Again, it’s physics – dark skin does not reflect as much light as light skin. In fact, I would say that some Ethiopian’s are a little racist – they regard some ethnic groups with very dark skin as more primitive. I thought it was strange when I gave a photo I had taken of someone to them and they asked if there was a different one as they said they looked too dark. There is this underlying idea that the lighter you are, the better. Anyway, I know that when I came back to the UK last summer I noticed how old and fat everyone looked. No sweets or cakes, no sitting in front of computer games all evening, no driving everywhere and short life expectancy certainly makes more people here in Gilgel look more attractive and healthier to me. (Due to no sweets and no car, I lost about 10kg when I was here last year (which I put back on in two months in the UK!))

Well that’s it for now. I may add further thoughts as it gets closer to my leaving date.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009


Something you’ll never experience in the UK is how happy it makes you when you turn on the tap and water comes out.

You spend the next two hours cleaning dishes, washing clothes, boiling water to drink, flushing a few buckets of water through the toilet, filling buckets and bowls that have been empty for days. Generally luxuriating in the magical transparent liquid. Safe again for at least three days.


Well the cold, although annoying, seems to be just a cold.

Also, we found out today that Jemal is actually called Ahmed! There was some confusion with a friend of his and he couldn’t tell us. Anyway, it is very difficult for us to stop calling him Jemal now after a month! At least soon, when he has learned all the signs, he will be able to tell us (with finger spelling) what his name is!

We’re well into the rainy season now. It rained a lot last night, and was windy, and we have no power now – but the water is back and I’m on the generator at the college at the moment.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Workshop in Addis (part 2 + comments)

Monday 18th May and the N.G.O. problem

Well the leavers’ workshop wasn’t too bad. Found out a few things about what we have to do before we leave, like a police check, exit visa etc and had a chance to think about successes and problems we’d had during our time. I managed to get across the point that maybe N.G.O.s (Non-governmental organisations) are actually making the situation worse here. I have already written about this before, but I keep hearing more and more evidence, like someone told me that in certain regions they don’t plan and store food for when the rains fall because they know that an aid agency will fly food in if that happens.

It’s pretty obvious really: NGOs have built roads and donated transport for better food distribution, installed better/cleaner water supplies, given medicine and medical help and this equals fewer deaths. No education or cultural change re: birth control means this is not balanced with fewer births. The net result is a massive population increase caused by external intervention – a population increase that cannot be supported without continued aid from the rich countries.

I still think it is frightening to see the countryside when I fly from Bahir Dar to Addis. It should be tropical rainforest, but it is agricultural land as far as the eye can see. As wood is the primary building material and charcoal the primary fuel, without trees the population is in big trouble.

Tuesday 19th May and the begging problem

First I went to the VSO Programme Office and sorted out a few pieces of paperwork and money, then got a line taxi to Meskal Square (sort of the Trafalgar Square of Addis used for parades and New Year celebrations etc) and walked the length of Africa Avenue (no trees) otherwise known as Bole Road which goes South to the airport. It’s the rich part of town with lots of “ferengi”-style supermarkets, electronics / computer stores etc. At one point it rained quite heavily but not the mega-tropical rain yet. I bought a few books, sweets and biscuits, had lunch at a sort of “Starbucks”-coffee shop and had the first scoop of ice-cream I’ve had since least summer. I was also checking out cameras for the guys back at the college. They all want to buy my one before I go home and I said I’d see if I can find anything in Addis. The cheapest basic one was 3000ETB (about £190) which in the UK would probably cost around £60. Something like mine (which is pretty decent and around £100 when I got it) was more like 4-5000ETB.

During the walk I had the usual beggars sticking their hands out for free money, children trying to sell me chewing gum or tissues, guys trying to sell me “original” DVDs in their photocopied pouches, other guys trying to sell me “Ethiopian Sex DVDs” (I was tempted, but then thought that they may involve unconventional use of injera and have badly produced synthesised Ethiopian jazz music in the background!!!) and taxi drivers stopping all the time to see if I want to go anywhere.

I have said before, but my policy is never to give to beggars. I am here in Ethiopia to share my skills, not my money. Helping one or two or even 100 beggars is not going to help the country. Some beggars are not genuine and earn more money through begging than working – some even fake limps etc. If I give to beggars it helps contribute to the “white man is rich image” which makes it even worse for future volunteers. It’s because in the past, unthinking, rich white tourists have given big (relatively) amounts of money to beggars, that there is the problem now. Finally, if I didn’t have this policy, every time I saw a beggar I would have to make a decision whether to give or not and it would be a nightmare on my conscience – You probably see about 10 beggars a mile and if you gave to all, you would be out of money, so you would have to choose – do you give to the woman with the baby? The man with a swollen foot? The old man smelling of alcohol? The guy with mental problems? The child putting their hand to their mouth saying they are hungry and need bread? The woman bent over shuffling along on all-fours with wooden grips on her hands because she can’t walk upright (or can she?)

With my policy, I never have to decide – the decision is already made.

Oh, and there is a very loud Mosque quite near the hotel which does many noisy calls to prayer, my favourite of which is yelled over loudspeakers at 5am every morning followed by the Christian Orthodox church which does theirs an hour later. Thankful I come from a culture which values sleep and has noise pollution laws.

Wednesday 19th May

Went to VSO, no power there so went to a shopping centre where I had French toast and jam, had a quick net session (where I send the temporary blog entry) then got a few bits in the supermarket. Next to the airport where I got my afternoon flight to Bahir Dar.

Thursday, 20th May

I went in to Bahir Dar University with Judith (another VSO I am staying with) and did a bit of computer installing etc. In the afternoon Göran arrived from Gilgel, we chatted then went for a pizza.

Friday, 21st May

In the morning had a last face-to-face chat with Göran before he went to the airport to go down to Addis (then Asossa to do more computer training etc, then home to Sweden for the summer before returning to Gilgel in August.) Later, I went for a walk around the Lake path, only being asked if I wanted a boat twice!

Saturday, 22nd May

Packed and was picked up by the college car and returned back to Gilgel. It was an interesting trip as there was some very heavy rain for the last half of the journey. At one point it was like a river was crossing the road and we had to drive through it. Going down the side of the mountain range with no crash bars on the side of the road (just a drop-off) while the road was like a river was fun! When we went through Chagni, it was like a ghost town – no people on the streets and all the shops seemed to be closed in the wind and rain. Even the goats were squashed up against the shops trying to get some shelter. At one point, there was a few seconds of hail. I never thought I’d see ice coming from the sky here in Ethiopia.

At times I think of Gilgel as home, but when I got back in this strange humid, wet and overcast place, it seemed so different to when I left that it almost seemed a different place. I remember this happened last year when I went to Addis for a workshop and the rainy season got underway while I was gone.

There was electricity, but apparently the water has been off since last Sunday, so that is not good. I still have a bit saved from before I left, but I’m going to have to find a source on Monday. I am currently collecting rain water to flush the toilet.


The bad news is I started another sore throat on Thursday which meant the start of another cold. I must’ve picked it up from one of the people in Addis at the beginning of the week. I don’t believe it – none for two years, then two come along at once. I was at the tail end of the first one and was on medicine to stop my irritating dry cough and now I have a new one. In fact on Friday morning and evening I was coughing (and sicking) up a lot of mucus. I was having flashbacks to the chest infection I had a few years ago.