Downtime in the village (Jan 2014)

The festive season is over – the meat has been eaten, the tella has been drunk….there’s not a whole lot going on around here. At the college, end of semester exams are coming up, and while there are a few keeno students hanging around the ELIC, most of them, and their teachers (who usually work seven days a week), are taking advantage of the chance to stay away from the college for a few days on study leave.
I think about taking a trip to a nearby village for a change of scene, but then I hear that the road is blocked again. Not because of the rain or construction this time, but due to the fact that, rather alarmingly, some fighting between two of the local tribes has broken out. Apparently they’ve got guns and everything! No one here seems that surprised or bothered about it, but I don’t think I’ll risk it.
No worries, I decide to investigate the entertainments of Gilgel Beles on a deeper level. I’ve done the big three – drink coffee, drink beer, chew chat – it’s time to see what else the village has to offer. I’m not hopeful of much – you can walk everywhere here in about 5 minutes – but I do find stuff and here’s my Rough Guide Top 5 of ‘What to do in Gilgel Beles’, should you ever find yourself here…

1) Gilgel Beles United. Ethiopia, even in the remotest areas, is football mad; watching – often Arsenal (two enterprising local shopkeepers have got satellite sports and generators, and charge 10 birr to watch a match) and playing. Every institution seems to have its own team, and they take it very seriously. Anyway, it’s peak season here, the college team made up of instructors and a few specially selected HPE students is on a winning streak and the matches (at the village ‘stadium’) are the highlight of the week – everyone goes to watch.
The first match I see is a league match against Mandurah woreda (a neighbouring district). The college won the league last year and are hoping to retain the title, and apparently this is a ‘crucial’ match for them. I don’t hear about it until five minutes before it’s due to start, when my counterpart, Tsehay, invites me along. It’s a Friday afternoon, and I should be working, in fact I have a meeting scheduled with the dean, so I hesitate. Then I see the dean in full football strip, sitting next to the vice-dean and other teachers on the school bus, waiting to go to the football ground and beckoning me to join them. It’s an unwritten rule here – football trumps all – so I get on the bus with the rest of them.
The ride there is actually the highlight of the match for me. Although the ‘stadium’ is less than 5 minutes’ walk from the college, part of pre-match procedure is for the team and as many other teachers and favoured students as can squash in, to travel there by the college (pre-war) bus. I’ve no idea if this is what happens in the UK or other countries, as I’ve never been on a team bus before, but it’s hilarious – a party bus! There’s loads of singing led by a guy standing up in the front, and everyone joins in clapping and dancing. One particular chant involves inserting the name of various people on the bus into each verse. Suddenly I hear my name (well, ‘ferenj’) from the leader, and everyone on the bus pisses themselves. I have no idea what they are saying, but decide to go for it and punch my hand in the air (why?), look pleased with myself and join in the chant, praying to God they’re not singing “The ferenj’s a twat…”

Party bus!

Party bus!

We don’t actually go anywhere for ages, and finally get to the stadium an hour late. But the other team is two hours late, so the college players do an extended warm-up, choreographed and led by their captain, the dean. The match itself is ok, though nowhere near as much fun as the bus ride or warm up, but the college are victorious (with a late goal by English instructor, Shewa) and go on to win the league. Get in!

The college dean (nearest camera, Ethiopia shirt) leads warm-up

The college dean (nearest camera, Ethiopia shirt) leads warm-up

and lunge...

and lunge…

Finally the match gets underway as darkness begins to fall.

Finally the match gets underway as darkness begins to fall.

The other match I see is an in-house derby, with the social science instructors playing the natural science department. This match is brilliant entertainment in every way. Firstly, the crowd (college students) are merciless. If anyone, on either side, mis-kicks or slips up in any way, they roar with laughter, point and scream abuse at them. They save their biggest jeers for Gashe Fantahun – a senior member of the finance department, who has been recruited by Natural Science. At maybe forty-fiveish, he is considered ‘way-old’, and every time he goes near the ball, the students have hysterics. (It’s weird because they are generally very deferential of the instructors, and age is particularly respected…it must be another strange, football-related social convention.) Secondly, the match is taking place on the college sports ground, (basically a large, unfenced area of waste-ground in the middle of the campus) and the pitch is constantly invaded by irreverent donkeys, sheep, goats and cows, which are chased, “tsked” and waved away by the linesmen. So much more amusing than a streaker! The match ends one-all, with both sides claiming ‘they’d been robbed’. Awesome!

No flags? No problem! The linesman improvises with leaves.

No flags? No problem! The linesman improvises with leaves.

Mohammed (social science) fights it out against Yohannes (biology instuctor)

Mohammed (social science) fights it out against Yohannes (biology instuctor)

What are you doing, Gashe Fantahun?????

What are you doing, Gashe Fantahun?????

Here come the donkeys!

Here come the donkeys!

2) Make injera. Injera is the Ethiopian staple, present at every meal, which looks like a large grey pancake. It is either served a bit like an edible table-cloth, with the rest of the meal spooned on top of it, or rolled up on the side of the plate, next to the wat or stew. (There is a great urban myth about injera. Some ferenjis go to a restaurant in Ethiopia, and are served rolled-up injera. They think it’s a towel, wipe their hands on it, and wait for the food to arrive.) Anyway, Ethiopians love injera – as my colleague Aboma put it, “we can’t find comfort with other food”. Girls are taught to make it by their mothers and being a good injera-maker is one of the signs (along with being quiet and polite…) of good wife material.
Injera takes three days to make, because, amongst other things, you have to wait for the teff (the main Ethiopian grain) to ferment. When the mix is finally ready, it’s poured from an empty kalabas shell onto a clay hotplate to cook over a big log fire. Mulu, my neighbour, had been promising to show me how to do it for months, and finally I was around at injera-baking time.
Well…I’m not sure I’m going to be over-run with marriage proposals from the local bachelors. We go to Mulu’s outdoor kitchen shack and she demonstrates first – filling the empty kalabas with the mix and pouring it in decreasing circles on the hot plate to make a perfect, circular injera. Then, when it’s cooked, flips it off (with her bare hands!!!) and puts it on the pile of already made perfect injeras. Easy! My turn! As I put my hand holding the kalabas over the fire, the heat is overwhelming…I lose all control of my hand, and instead of a perfect circle, my injera resembles the face in Munch’s painting ‘The Scream’. Embarrassed by my inadequacy as a woman, and worrying about the whole taking it off with my hands thing, I panic and make matters worse by kind of flicking it off before it’s cooked . Mulu calls out to her three boys to come and check out my handiwork, who think it’s the funniest thing they’ve ever seen, and call to the neighbours to come and have a look too. I don’t think they are that impressed – there’s a lot of shrieking and ay Suzie! (oh Suzie) and ferenji nesh! (you are white!). To save face, I eat some, smile enthusiastically and say yitafital (delicious). I’m lying – it tastes rank…

Mulu starts to pour...

Mulu starts to pour…

.., a perfect injera.

.., a perfect injera.

My effort...

My effort…

Honestly - it tastes delicious!

Honestly – it tastes delicious!

3) Get a shoe shine. Despite often having very little money for clothes (which are crazily expensive here), the average Ethiopian takes great pride in what he or she wears, particularly in their shoes, which should be smart, shiny and clean at all times. This is not easy in all the dust, mud and poop, but luckily there are shoe-shine boys on every corner, on every street in Ethiopia, who save the day. These tend to be young boys (often not even in their teens), who are supporting themselves and who sit under trees, with their brushes, foot-step and containers of water, ready to clean your shoes for a small fee.
I had one of these guys in my summer ELIC group. His name is Masresha and he is amazing! He is an orphan – he lost his parents to HIV aged 10, and has been supporting himself since then. At that age, he managed to get himself from his own village (over 150km away) to Gilgel Beles because he’d heard that there was work there. He then did odd jobs to earn money to buy his brushes and set himself up as a shoe-shine boy, so that he could put himself through primary and secondary school. (He also became the village information spreader – basically a town-crier. When the local council office want to get word around about something, say TB vaccinations, they send Masresha out on a bike with a loud-hailer to tell all the villagers what’s going on.) He is now 19 and in grade 9, and came to my daily class in the school holidays because he wants to improve his English to get into university. Seriously, he’s an inspiration and one of the nicest and smartest people I’ve met here.
Anyway, I’d never had a shoe shine before, but my trainers were starting to attract comments (my favourite, from a random fellow passenger on a plane- “Wow, I would have missed the flight- I would have been at home cleaning my shoes all morning…”), so it was definitely time to see Masresha under his tree.
Well…it was a bit of an event! I thought it would be a quick wipe over with damp rag, but it turned out to be an hour-long complex process, involving the following steps:
1) Take off customer’s left shoe and remove laces.
2) Place plastic bag over customer’s left foot (to thoughtfully keep sock dry) and put shoe back on foot.
3) Put customer’s left foot on wooden box foot-step thing.
4) Use cloth, brushes, water and mysterious white substance (not soap) to thoroughly clean exterior of trainer.
5) Take shoe off again and remove (forcefully if necessary) inner sole, (even if it was never designed to be removed.)
6) Place outer left trainer in sun to dry.
7) Scrub inner sole down using stiff brush, water and mysterious white stuff. (Scrub it hard, suggesting that the person’s foot is especially smelly and rank.) Place clean inner sole in sun to dry.
8) Take laces and soak them in dirty water. Rub them with mysterious white stuff then rinse in same dirty water.
9) Wring laces hard until they are three times their original length, then hang them on a tree branch in the sun to dry.
10) Repeat steps 1) to 9) with the right shoe.
11) When everything’s dry, reinsert inner soles, put shoes back on customer’s feet, re-lace and tie in an elaborate triple bow (to accommodate new length).

At the end of all that, Masresha only wanted to charge me 5 birr (15p) and had to be pushed to take more! An absolute bargain!

The shoeshine area in Gilgel Beles main street

The shoeshine area in Gilgel Beles main street

Step 1 with Masresha

Step 1 with Masresha

Step 4

Step 4

After and before!

After and before!

4) Drink avocado juice. Although I’ve been here a year now, I only recently discovered that one of the shay bets (tea houses)also sells fresh juice. True, there’s not an array of flavours – there’s only one: avocado – and it’s only available sometimes, but it’s an exciting find when I thought I’d tried all the cold non-alcoholic drinks (water,  Mirinda, Pepsi) the village has to offer. So there it is – avocado juice! Sounds disgusting, tastes surprisingly delicious. Try it!

Avocado juice anyone?

Avocado juice anyone?

5) Take a hike. The best time to go for a stroll in Gilgel Beles is early morning (before 8am) or after about 6pm. These are the times when it’s cooler, and you don’t have to have a little sit-down after walking for more than a minute. There are a variety of routes you can take – the road through the Gumuz villages (great at sunset, not great during tribal fighting), round the stadium and market (only possible in dry season), up and down the main street (a bit boring, but always safe and possible), or just a loop around the little side streets past all the villagers’ mud houses. Wherever you go, you will not be anonymous. If you are, like me, ‘the only ferenj in the village’, everybody will know you and most likely greet you. Adult greeters fall into three categories:
1) People you actually know (colleagues, friends, shop-keepers, etc), who you should stop, shake hands / bump shoulders with, then spend a several minutes saying ‘How are you?’ in various different ways (Salam new? Indet neh? Aman new? Dehna neh? Peace new? Hulu Salam new?, etc).
2) People you don’t know who just shout ferenj! or anchee! (you!) at you from across the street.
3) The less bold (usually college students), who wait until you’ve walked past (and therefore have your back to them) to practise their English and whisper “Suzie, are you fine?” or “Where are you go?”.
The children are in a whole category of their own. Even after me being around for a year here, they still go a little bit mental when they see me, calling out Suzie meta! (Suzie’s coming), running after me, the brave ones shaking or kissing my hand. The children of Gilgel Beles address me in a variety of ways:
• “Suzie” (appropriate)
• “Sister”(fine)
• “Ferenj” (annoying at first, I’m over it now)
• “China” (in the eyes of these kids (and many of their parents) who haven’t had a whole lot of contact with people from the outside world, I am indistinguishable from the Chinese road construction team who are sometimes in the village)
• “Mister” (Slightly worrying – a vocabulary problem or do I look like a man?)
• “Abbat” (meaning “Father”, as in priest…similarly worrying. But I’m sure that it’s just because the only other ferenjis who are in the area are Catholic missionaries…It’s definitely not that I’ve become so slack with my appearance that my gender is now questionable…absolutely not.)
• “Mike” (yeah, yeah – before you say anything, remember the older guy Mike that used to be in the village? Well, his wife told the kids not to say ferenj, but to call him ‘Mike’, so now they think we’re all called Mike! Brilliant!)

So, as you see, I haven’t been bored. And it’s not just me who has been taking advantage of the village pleasures. Buzayehu the cat, (or as my neighbour Mulu calls him ye Suzie lij – Suzie’s child), has been larging it, and has only gone and got Miss Tabby up the duff! Mulu is delighted – “Suzie, you will be grandmother!” I’ve never been so proud in all my life 🙂

Greetings from Gilgel!

Greetings from Gilgel!

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Two Christmases

One of the good things about being an English girl in an Orthodox country is that you have the chance to celebrate Christmas (and therefore to eat and loll around all day) twice. And so I did…

Christmas No 1 (Dec 25th, 2013)
Christmas No 1 was to be spent in Kenya, with fellow volunteer Marlies, and Helen Masterchef, whose partner Herman had recently transferred from organising the youth scheme for VSO Ethiopia to doing the same for VSO Kenya. He and Helen, were now living in the coastal resort of Malindi, an hour’s drive from Mombassa, and I couldn’t wait to get there!

Anyway, as soon as I arrived in Mombassa (accompanied by a retired Italian called Luca, who I’d befriended when we’d both nearly missed the connecting flight at Nairobi) it immediately felt different from Ethiopia. Everything was different – the people, the scenery, the food being sold on the streets, the music playing in the taxi to Malindi – I felt like I was really in Africa. One thing I also began to realise was that my Italian friend was representative of the tourist demographic here. Malindi, it turned out, was a resort where middle-aged Italians came to hang out with much younger Kenyans. Gratifyingly though, it wasn’t just older men with younger women. On several occasions I saw Italian ladies of a certain age canoodling with hot, young Kenyan guys…awesome! It’s always good to see a bit of equality!

The local beach

The local beach

Anyway, all of that is completely irrelevant. I had a brilliant week in Malindi, which felt like absolute luxury after the village. Helen and Herman were the perfect hosts – unsurprisingly, we ate like kings (barbecued fish, anyone?), we relaxed in their beautiful beach front apartment, we went to the beach every day, (I even went scuba-diving at a nearby resort) and we had a lovely Christmas Day starting with bucks fizz and traditional Dutch Christmas poems (Herman and Marlies are Dutch), followed by Christmas presents, Christmas dinner, Christmas walk on the beach and ending with the obligatory Christmas film and falling asleep on the sofa. Nice!

Christmas dinner!

Christmas dinner!

Incidentally, most astonishing of all was the local supermarket. It was big, well-stocked, modern (with trolleys, barcodes and everything!), and I hadn’t seen anything like it for almost a year. Amongst other things, they sold Marmite, Dairy Milk and 8 different types of pesto! We went on several occasions, but I was so overwhelmed that I bought nothing except for some Go-cat for Buzayeu, and some Strepsils for me… How could I possibly choose what I wanted when the only choice I have to make at the market in Gilgel is “hmmm…whose onions look the best today?”

So it was a lovely week, but somehow I missed Ethiopia – the language, the people, the food (ok, well, not so much the food) – and as the plane came back into Addis Ababa I felt like I was coming home.

Between the Christmases
I arrive back in the village to find everyone preparing for Orthodox Christmas or ‘Gena’ as it’s called here. My neighbours (the instructors’ wives and families) are brewing ‘tela’ – a local, slightly-alcoholic beer type of drink, which looks (and perhaps tastes) like muddy water. Cows, goats and sheep have been bought for the big day and are tied up outside people’s houses, mooing, bleating and baaing respectively. (Maybe I’m imagining it, but I think they know what’s coming.) There are also more chickens than ever running everywhere – if I leave my door open, they just cluck-in, uninvited! I’m going to say this – controversial for an animal-lover maybe, but… – I DON’T LIKE CHICKENS! They’re noisy, smelly, they poo everywhere, and they’re scary and flappy when you try and chase them out of your house. (I’d even go so far as to say that they have a generally belligerent attitude…) I had hoped that Buzayehu the cat would be an effective deterrent, but he’s useless. He’s more scared of them than I am, and just runs away and hides when they invade my house.

Waiting for the big day :( Mulu's calf in her outside kitchen.

Waiting for the big day 😦  Mulu’s calf in her outside kitchen.

December 31st comes round, but in a remote village in Ethiopia, where they have a different calendar, and where there’s only one ferenj (me), New Year isn’t a terribly big event. In fact, it isn’t an event at all. I’m determined to stay up til midnight though, and try to find somewhere to go. Most of the ‘hotels’ (basically open air bars with a few rooms round the edge) close around 10pm, but there is one that’s open later called Kuda Guna. Kuda Guna is quite notorious in the village – it’s a ‘buna bet’, which literally means ‘coffee house’, but in Ethiopia is a euphemism for a place frequented by ladies of the night. It’s also the nearest thing to a nightclub in Gilgel Beles – the music’s loud, they play a mix of Ethiopian and African stuff, and some nights the dancing really gets going. December 31st, 2013 is not one of those nights, however, and we sit around, drinking beer slowly, and marking time til 12 o’clock. One of the Finnwash drivers (the one who rescued me from Bahir Dar) is there and we chat a bit. I ask about the meaning of Kuda Guna. (The hotels here have interesting names, eg ‘Netsanet’ – Freedom, ‘Kokeb’ – Star and ‘Kubiran’ – Gentlemen). Kuda Guna is Gumzinia – one of the local languages here – and when I ask the driver what it means, he cups his hands, moves them to his chest and says, “You know, female uhhh…” So, I spend New Year in a bar called ‘Boobs’. Classy!!

The other exciting thing that’s happened while I’ve been away is that Buzayehu seems to have hit adolescence and discovered girls…well, female cats. (Can I say pussies?? Ok, I won’t.) He’s not playing the field though; he’s got one special friend – a very pretty kind of tabby girl cat, who he shamelessly follows everywhere. Honestly, he’s got no idea of playing hard to get. She just rocks up outside, mews / whines a bit, and he’s up and out of the house after her. The only time he hesitates is if I put some food down for him at the same time as she arrives. Then he stops frozen for a few seconds, looks from his food bowl to the doorway a few times, before finally making his choice. This has led to a new game that I play with myself – ‘Girl Cat or Grub’? – in which I guess which way Buzayehu’s going to go… As I’ve mentioned in the past, I really need to get out more.

Buzayehu looks for Miss Tabby

Buzayehu looks for Miss Tabby

"There she is!"

Buzayehu spots Miss Tabby

How you doin?


Christmas No 2 (January 7th, 2014)
I get woken up on Orthodox Christmas Day by a loud banging on the door at 7.30am. It’s not Father Christmas, it’s three of the local kids, dressed in their best clothes and armed with hockey stick-type things. (I later find out that they are for a game called ‘Gena’, which is traditionally played at Christmas). They bang the sticks on the ground and sing a song. It’s charming, but a bit early, and, frankly, I’m quite relieved when they leave (after I’ve given them sweets) and I can go back to bed.

Christmas wake-up call

Christmas wake-up call

I finally get up and I’m pottering around my house, filling water containers, doing a bit of hand-washing, when I hear more music. I look outside, and this time it’s a group of around 20 villagers who are going round the houses , all dressed in white, banging drums and singing Christian songs. They visit my neighbours, and I go out to watch. When I arrive with my camera, and ask if I can video them, they get excited, and the leader says, “Oh. This is a great chance for us!” I feel like Simon Cowell.

The Christmas singers, off to the next house.

The Christmas singers, off to the next house.

I’ve promised to go to my neighbour, Mulu’s house for Christmas lunch, but I almost don’t make it. When I’m watching the music group, my other neighbours, come up and, in the typically kind and hospitable Ethiopian way, invite me in to their houses saying ‘Buna teji’ (drink coffee), ‘Tela teji’ (drink Tela) and ‘Injera bi’ (eat injera). Not wanting to offend , I say yes to everyone, and am wandering off to my line manager’s house, when Mulu sees, grabs my arm, and says “No! You are my guest…and where are white Christmas clothes?” Realising my mistake, I say meekly, ‘Ishi’ (ok), pop in to my house, grab
a white scarf I got in Egypt and head straight back to Mulu’s.

Christmas lunch is good; ‘Tibs’ – pieces of beef cooked with onions, butter and chilli (I try not to think about the friendly cow that has been tied up outside Mulu’s house for the last two weeks), injera, bread, popcorn, tela (the muddy water drink), and arrake (a lethal, locally-made spirit, similar to Italian grappa). I have brought bottles of beer and a chocolate cake from Kenya, which go down well. It’s a bit strange though; meals are usually so communal here, but today everyone seems to be eating separately. Mulu and her family have eaten theirs before I arrive and some other relatives have turned up but are eating in another corner of the room. I’m alone, in pride of place, at the table next to the plastic flowers and the popcorn holder. It’s all a bit surreal.

As always in Ethiopian hospitality, I’m offered more food than I can manage, my drink is always refilled before I can say no, and after a couple of hours I’m starting to feel quite sleepy, and ready for a little lie-down. When the oldest boy comes up, armed with his high school grammar book, and asks me to teach him about the past perfect tense, I decide enough’s enough. I promise to help him tomorrow, make my excuses, and go back home to give Buzayehu his special Christmas day Go-cat treat. But of course he’s off out, galivanting with Miss Tabby. Now that’s gratitude for you…

My Christmas No 2 hosts

My kind Christmas No 2 hosts

Christmas dinner, Gilgel Beles style

Christmas dinner, Gilgel Beles style

Eating alone, but well looked after. Cheers!

Eating alone, but well looked after. Cheers!

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Doing stuff (Dec 18, 2013)

I’m exhausted… but I feel good. Tomorrow I’m flying to Kenya (well actually, I’m getting the bus at the crack of dawn to Bahir Dar, to get the evening flight to Addis, then the next day I’m flying to Kenya) to spend Christmas with some other VSOers (hooray!) And, to make it even better, I’m going with the satisfaction that we (the college and me) have done some good stuff in the last couple of weeks.

Coffee ceremony number 4
Having ‘done’ the boys, it was time to get a guest speaker for the girls. I wanted to focus on health stuff because a high number of girls drop out of high school / college here because they unintentionally get pregnant. And of course, the issue of HIV is pretty big here. So, I asked the lovely Nurse Ethiopia (yes, that’s her real name) – neighbour, and nurse at the local clinic – to come and speak to the girls about family planning. She doesn’t speak English, so it would be in Amharic, but sod it, I thought, let’s just forget the frigging English – some things are more important! (And this, my friends, turned out to be the key…)
So, anyway I’d found 2 excellent students, Maritu and Zufan, to lead the discussion, and they took it upon themselves to do the introduction and links in both English and Amharic – kind of Eurovision Song Contest style. Then, amazingly, when the other girls got up to share their ideas and opinions, they did the same. I couldn’t believe it…after 10 months of nagging the girls, and saying over and over ‘please speak English’, when they were given the option to use Amharic, they chose to show off their English!! Lesson learned! All I can say is – “Girls of Gilgel Beles – douze points!”
But more importantly Nurse Ethiopia was brilliant. She had a great rapport with the girls, they were really interested in everything she had to say, and they had genuine questions for her. We gave out photocopied pamphlets at the end, and it was literally like we’d given them the latest copy of Heat magazine – they were enrapt! So, I was really chuffed – I think it was an interesting and useful event (and I honestly can’t say that about everything I do here) and if it stops one girl from dropping out or getting sick… awesome!
Incidentally, my personal favourite part of the whole event was the day before. Because coffee is made from scratch here, and therefore an extremely lengthy process, the girls always do the washing, roasting and grinding of the beans the day before these events. Usually they go to the ELIC ‘librarian’ – Worke’s house to do this. ( I think I may have mentioned Worke before in an early blog. She is a nice woman, but probably the most passive person I have ever met. One day, totally frustrated by her lack of activity and interest to actually do anything, I asked her what her job involved. Her concise and quite fantastic reply was “Sitting”. Well…you can’t really argue with that, so I didn’t.) Anyway, despite her passionate inactivity, the one thing she does do, and it helps me out a lot, is let the girls come to her house and prepare the coffee beans before an ELIC event. However, on this occasion Worke was sick. So, I borrowed all the coffee washing, roasting and grinding paraphernalia from my neighbour and they came to my house instead. All of them… It was meant to be 6 girls, but then, when they realised they would have a chance to see the ferenji’s house, 17 turned up. Seriously, I felt like I was on MTV Cribs. They checked out my wardrobe, my photos, my cosmetics – minimal, btw – (best moment, one girls spraying herself liberally under the arms with deet insect repellent, thinking it was body spray), the contents of my kitchen, and were extremely excited by my hair straighteners and an old copy of ‘Glamour’ that was passed on to me by another volunteer. After the initial excitement, however, they were let down once again by my music selection. “Suzie, do you have Chris Brown?” “Suzie, why don’t you have Chris Brown?” I felt old and uncool. (Why don’t I have Chris Brown?..)

Nurse Ethiopia, her husband, maths instructor Genetu, and their 2 boys.

Nurse Ethiopia, her husband, maths instructor Genetu, and their 2 boys.

Peer Mentoring for Girls
When my VSO programme manager visited way back in June he suggested I apply for a grant and implement a gender project that had been successful at another college. Basically it involved selecting the strongest female students in each department, and paying them a small amount to tutor the weakest, ie, those in danger of failing and therefore getting kicked out. Sounded great. A good chance for the struggling students to improve their chances of graduating, and a nice opportunity for the very academic girls to practise their mentoring skills, gain confidence, and a earn a few birr.
I managed to enlist one of the special needs instructors, Gizachew (who is also nominally assistant head of gender), to set up the project with me. He agreed to help me get lists of suitable students from the heads of departments and speak to the girls. A good start….but as usual the process wasn’t exactly smooth, due to a few ‘challenges’…
1) The attitude of some department heads – some told me there were no strong female students (not, of course, true), and wouldn’t it be better to use male student tutors instead? (“Um, actually no, it wouldn’t, and I think you’re slightly missing the point, you sexist, misogynistic axxxhole!” – This is what I thought, but thankfully – and I think you’re going to be proud of me here – not what I said.)
2) One department head actually produced the list of students, one gave it to me in Amharic script, some asked what payment they would receive for producing the list (WTF?) and the others just didn’t bother. So, in the end, I got the lists myself from Tadele, the ever-helpful college registrar.
3) We had to have two attempts at getting the relevant students together – at the first meeting only 6 turned up, so they were delegated the task of bringing the others the following day. This time was slightly more successful – almost all the selected girls were there – but then, something I hadn’t really anticipated (in retrospect, very naively) happened. Gizachew explained the idea of the project in Amharic – the reasons behind it and the benefits for all involved. Unfortunately, the lack of enthusiasm from the girls was overwhelming. It was honestly like we’d suggested going for a 10 mile walk in the scorching midday Gilgel heat…barefoot…carrying a bag of rocks. I couldn’t help feeling that I’d got something badly wrong here…
Anyway, despite this great, encouraging vibe, the girls did manage to organise times for their sessions together, and the groups did start this week. And some even managed to look like they wanted to be there. Who knows…maybe it will work.

Group 1: Amina and her natural science mentees.

Group 1: Amina and her natural science mentees.

Group 2: Getting down to it. Belaynesh and her physics girls.

Group 2: Getting down to it. Belaynesh and her physics girls.

Group 3: Is it all getting too much? Haregua doing civics.

Group 3: Is it all getting too much? Haregua doing civics.

Group 4: Merima's biology group. OMG - are they actually enjoying themselves???

Group 4: Merima’s biology group. OMG – are they actually enjoying themselves???

Trying to let go
One of the things that’s hard for me here, is that as VSO volunteers, we’re not actually meant to do everything – what we’re meant to do is demonstrate, encourage, motivate, facilitate, and basically cajole the local people into doing things for themselves. Essentially, capacity-build, which is, of course, absolutely the right policy. There are 3 main reasons why this can be difficult, however. Firstly, my local colleagues often don’t want, don’t have time, or simply aren’t interested in doing these things. (Understandably, given that it generally means a bit of extra work for them.) Secondly, constant cajoling is hard work. I don’t know how much you’ve cajoled, but I find it absolutely exhausting, and it can be slightly dispiriting. (On the other hand, when it pays off, it’s well worth it!) Finally, it’s generally just much quicker to do things yourself, and (without meaning to be rude), you know that it will get done. On top of this, I can be a tiny, weensy bit of a control freak…say no more.
However, on this occasion, which happened to be a debate on whether women in Ethiopia should focus more on having careers or being good mothers, I was determined to sit back and let my counterpart, Tsehay, take the lead.
Ok, so I didn’t stay completely out of it, (there was definitely more than just cajoling going on), but I definitely did less. Even to the point where, when inevitably the hall wasn’t free as promised at the start time of the debate, instead of getting in everyone’s face, I just went to the staff cafeteria, had a coke, and let Tsehay sort it out. (Note to self – not only good for capacity building, but also excellent for my mental health). And the debate was great. The team advocating women having careers were particularly good – (and the thing about here is, even if the language isn’t always brilliant, they say it all with passion) – and we had a full house, with many of the students (even one female student!!!) wanting to get up and offer their (passionate) opinions on the subject.

Full house for the debate

Full house for the debate

Abdise - voted best speaker in debate.

Abdise – voted best speaker in debate.

Passions are running high!

Passions are running high!

Running even higher!

Running even higher!

Whoaaah! A whole load of passion!

Whoaaah! A whole load of passion!

Tsehay (my counterpart) overwhelmed by all the passion...

Tsehay (my counterpart) overwhelmed by all the passion…

These 3 things happened in the space of a week, so at the weekend I felt I deserved a bit of a reward, a bit of a chill-out sess, a bit of a treat. But what would it be? A hot bath? A slap-up meal? A few glasses of chilled sauvignon blanc??? Sadly, none of these are available in Gilgel Beles, so I went for the only other possible option – I decided to chew a bit of chat. Now, in terms of drugs, I am probably the squarest person I know. My experience is limited to a few unsatisfactory puffs of weed on a couple of occasions at music college, (the first just made me feel sick, and the second meant that I couldn’t focus on my violin practice the next day, so there was no way that was going to happen again… ) and a bit of experimentation with laughing gas on a ‘crazy’ birthday a few years ago. Therefore, I’m not the obvious candidate for chat chewing, but hey, there’s precious little else to do on a weekend in Gilgel, and it’s only chomping on a few leaves – how bad could it be?
And, actually it wasn’t bad at all. In fact it was rather pleasant! Nothing happened for the first hour or so, I just felt quite chilled and really wanted to listen to ferenji music, then I got extremely talkative, and finally felt the need to give everyone present advice on love and relationships…. (Why I thought I of all people was qualified to do that, I have no idea.) Went to bed at 2am (wild, I know!), but couldn’t sleep all night. Check me out…I’m soooo rock n roll.

Chat - the slippery slope? :)

Chat – the slippery slope? 🙂

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Weird November

‘Hidar’ (or November as we know it) has been a strange month in Gilgel Beles. It seems like something bizarre happens on an almost daily basis. (Don’t get me wrong – it’s been a good month for me,  just weird.) And I feel the need to share some of the weirdness with you all. So here it is…

 1) Georgebush. After a recruitment drive throughout the region, the new first year students have just arrived at the college, and this year, a high number are from the local Gumz people. (A consequence of the government’s current policy to get more of the local communities into education.) Anyway, we were doing conversation club with some of the newbies, and I was asking them their names, and one guy said “George Bush.” So, I’m like “Sorry?”, thinking I must have heard it wrong. “George Bush”, he says again. And it really is!! And it’s not like George is his first name and Bush is his surname. His full name is Georgebush Takele! (I find out later that, in the Gumz community, it’s not unusual for parents to name their kids after a word that’s common or being used a lot around the time that they’re born. Now, this kid must be around 17 or 18, which means he would have been born around 1995… But, Clinton was in then….Even more baffling!!) Anyway, whenever this guy comes into the ELIC I find myself saying , “How are you Georgebush?”, “What do you think about that Georgebush?”, “Are you listening, Georgebush?” Not questions I ever thought I’d ask!!!

 2) The curse. Last week, in the town, I bumped into the college history instructor – a nice, newly-married young guy. We were having a chat, and I’m thinking – “this is cool – I know my colleagues pretty well now” – and then I asked how his wife was:

“Oh, she’s not good. She is very sick.”

“Oh no! Is it woba (malaria) again?”

“No. Someone has stolen her success.”


“Yes. They put a curse on her. They make her unsuccessful.  They take her success.”


“So, I inform the priest and he will come and remove the curse.”


“Yes, he will come tomorrow.”

“Ok..well I hope she gets better soon. Please give her my best wishes.”

God, I’m so British. Sometimes, because I have a good relationship with my colleagues now, and we chat and have a laugh, I forget how different our backgrounds are. Anyway, the good news is that the priest came, and the wife is on the mend!

3) The resignations. There seems to be a culture in Ethiopian government institutions of annual public denunciations. These are free-for-all meetings where any employee can stand up and accuse / blame / criticise any other employee in front of all the staff. They often result in sackings, demotions, side-ways movements and other ‘redeployments’. (Thank God we don’t have them in the UK…do we?)

Anyway, this month there was one of these hideous occasions at the college. I wasn’t involved (thank God again!!) but apparently this years’ was pretty bad, with one particular member of staff getting it from all corners. The fall-out started the next day. First of all, there’s a strange atmosphere in the college and all the instructors are huddled in small groups having hushed conversations. Then, the head of the language department comes and tells me he’s resigned. Noooo!!!! Despite a shaky start, we’ve developed a really good working relationship, and he’s one of the most co-operative and supportive members of staff for me now. This is not good! Then, the next day, I check with my line manager that he’s still able to attend the College & VSO Annual Partnership Review meeting the following week. He smiles, looks at the ground, and says, “errr…actually I don’t know. To be honest, I don’t know anything now…”. Ominous.

Later, my source (well, one of my neighbours who I walk with sometimes after walk and get all the college gossip from) tells me that my line manager has also resigned, having been accused of corruption. Noooo again!!! My line manager has just started being brilliant – he can’t leave now! Then, he goes on to tell me that one of my other neighbours, one whose wife is my best friend here, has had enough, and is also resigning.  Nooooooooo!!!

That night, I go to bed worried. I know it’s selfish, but these are 3 key people for me here. If they go, things could get bad…

Anyway, it turns out to be a storm in a teacup. A few days later everyone’s kissed and made up and no-one’s going anywhere. Apparently it happens every year…I wish I’d known – that’s several days of angst wasted!

4) Power! I don’t want to say this too loud because I don’t want to jinx it, but (whisper) since they got a new transformer at the main power station, the electricity has been really good here… like REALLY good! It maybe cuts out for a few minutes or an or hour or so now and then each day, but otherwise it’s brilliant! True, we had a week this month when there was nothing (apparently someone stole the new transformer…) but even then, I think I’m getting better at dealing with it. And I think I’ve got the cooking without power sorted. I managed to get some (very impure) kerosene on the way back from Bahir Dar last time. No, I’m not using the bloody kerosene stove again – our relationship is over – but I’ve found the perfect use for the fuel. Pour some on charcoal, put a match to it, wait 10 minutes for the towering inferno to die down, and you have lit charcoal, ready for cooking. No flapping, fanning, or tantrums required! Problem solved.

5) It’s a yes. In mid-November, Tesfaw, my VSO programme manager came from Addis for the VSO – GBCTE APR (Annual Partnership Review). This is a meeting when we look at what the volunteer has achieved in the past year, and what progress has been made as a result of the partnership…eek. Anyway, about 20 of us were involved, including key members of college staff and  some ELIC committee students. Tesfaw made a speech, I gave a short presentation on what we’d done, they did some group tasks, my line manager made a speech…and it was all going swimmingly – in fact, it was one big love-in…and then suddenly, Tesfaw introduced a hideous activity! He brought out a wall chart with tick boxes ranging from ‘Highly satisfied’ to ‘Not at all satisfied’, and invited each person present to come up one by one, assess my contribution, and tick the relevant box IN FRONT OF ME! (WTF?) Seriously, I felt like I was on the X-Factor or something, waiting for the judges’ decision – my heart was pounding, my palms were sweating…I honestly had to go outside and pace nervously until they’d finished. Luckily the ticks were at the right end (I don’t know what I’d done if they hadn’t been..?!) and I was through to the next round! So..I’d just like to thank my family, and all those who’ve supported me to this point…I just never thought this could happen…I never believed this day would come…sniff

6) Suzie’s ark. Recently, it seems that every creature known to (Ethiopian) man wants to hang out at my place. Of course, Buzayehu the cat is still number one, guest of honour and the bat is still around, (though he’s been somewhat flaky of late…)but now everyone (everything?) else, from pregnant dogs to toads to preying mantis’ (s???) wants to move in (see gallery). They just want to be near me! I’m not sure how I feel about it…though I’m definitely less freaked-out by it than I was. (Except for the time when I got up off the toilet, flushed it, and a small frog jumped out from under the rim – a bit of a shock, tbh!) Oh, and the damn scorpions are back! The one saving grace of the rainy season was that the scorpions disappeared. But the other day I found one, under my boots, in my bedroom. Welcome back scorpies! It’s on!

7) Post office melt-down. There’s no Royal Mail here – in fact, people don’t even have addresses – so when I first got here, I opened a PO box at the tiny post office. (It’s not the best set-up as it’s run by one woman and only she has the key…which means that if she doesn’t turn up to work for any reason – and this is an extremely common occurrence – no one else can give you your mail, even though it’s sitting there..) The PO box costs 68 birr for the year – just over 2 quid. Not exactly a lot, but on the other hand, 2/3 of a day’s salary for me. Anyway, I go to see if there is anything for me, and there are 3 lovely-looking packets…cue major excitement! (Remember , not much happens here.) Unfortunately there seems to be a problem. My PO box seems to have ‘expired’ and they won’t give me my parcels. After a lot of confusion, gesticulating and really bad Amharic on my part, I ascertain that despite my receipt saying I have my PO box until Feb 2014, everybody’s ran out in July. It’s the rules… OK, whatever, I’ll just pay for another year, chigar yelem…BUT THEN, they want to charge me a penalty fine because I’m late paying for the next year! WTF!!!  After a lot more confusion, gesticulating (in particular pointing at the clear date on my receipt – to which the woman shrugs, and says she didn’t write it – she’s not lying, she’s new ), and even more bad Amharic from me, I realise that this is a battle I cannot win, and that my wish to see what’s inside my parcels is far stronger than my principal of not getting taken for a ride. So, I pay up, take my parcels, say thank you and walk back to college, (wondering all the time why I bothered to argue over less than 3 quid, and worried that I’ve got Emebet’s (post office woman’s) back up. I need to keep her sweet – she’s my link to peppermint tea bags, cereal bars and other necessities from the developed world…)

Incidentally, I don’t think  it helped my case that I mixed up the Amharic word for ‘mistake’ and ‘monkey’…Unsurprisingly, she didn’t seem convinced, just completely baffled when I kept bleating, “But it’s your monkey! Not my monkey – your monkey!” Oh dear…

8) Trouser-terror! I can’t really explain this better, but recently, while visiting Debbie in Assosa (6 hours away by car, and the capital of my region), I found myself cowering in a local’s house, trying to escape from a well-known crazy man who attacks ferenji women who wear trousers. Apparently, he cuts the legs off (the trousers, not the ferenj) with a pair of big scissors he always carries round with him…. Fortunately, my friend (she was fine – she had a skirt on) and I were able to hide until the mentalist disappeared, so my pantalon remained intact.

9) And the weirdest thing of all this month…wait for it…I had a night out …with other people!!!…. in Gilgel Beles!!!! Seriously, I was out til after midnight and I had more than 2 beers!!! Go me!!! Yes, flushed with the success of the coffee ceremony for male students, I went out for a few drinks with the speaker and his colleagues, and it was almost like a normal night out (except for the music selection and the squat toilet…) As we walked (stumbled) back, one of the guys said, “Ahh, intoxication..”, and I’m thinking ‘yeah, I remember this…’)

 So it’s been a month of brilliant bizarreness / bizarity / ??? I’m never bored here (and I usually have a really low boredom threshold) – even when I don’t do anything. I realised this month that I love it here, and it’s going to be really hard to leave!

Suzie’s Ark Photo Gallery

(NB. These are only a fraction of my current creature tenants…)

One of many millipedes (known as ‘hamsa igur’ or fifty legs in Amharic) The first time I saw one…I almost cried.

Weird snail/slug thing  - no shell, just shell-shaped...

Weird snail/slug thing – no shell, just shell-shaped…

Friendly preying mantis

Friendly preying mantis

Buzayehu transfixed by friendly preying mantis

Buzayehu transfixed by friendly preying mantis

Scary preying mantis

Scary preying mantis

Bees making nest in brickwork

Bees making nest in brickwork

One of the local stray dogs affectionately named 'Preggers'

One of the local stray dogs affectionately named ‘Preggers’

Bathroom spider

Bathroom spider

Bathroom toad

Bathroom toad

Bathroom bug

Bathroom bug

Bathroom little frog

Bathroom little frog

Little frog jumps out - I jump higher!

Little frog jumps out – I jump higher!

Buzayehu's latest victim

Buzayehu’s latest victim

A hungry and indignant Buzayhu

A hungry and indignant Buzayhu

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Coffee for boys (21 November, 2013)

I think I may have made the odd (shrieking) reference to organising coffee ceremony events at the college before. Well, it was time for another one, but this time, and (drumroll) for the first time ever at Gilgel Beles College of Teacher Education, it was for the boys – a chance to have an open discussion about gender equality.

I’d always focussed on the girls before when I’d had grant money from VSO to spend on gender projects. However, recently I’d heard such comments from (otherwise lovely) male college students as “blah blah blah (insert ridiculous opinion here) because boys are better than girls” and “but..but…women are not good at xxx”. Worst still, I couldn’t give them a hard time about it, because they genuinely seemed to believe it – they weren’t even trying to be annoying – they were irritatingly earnest. But, anyway, it was time to act, and so it was time to start roasting those coffee beans again!

I’m proud to say, that after almost 10 months here, I know exactly what’s required for a coffee ceremony. (So, if you have a function where you think a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony might be the finishing touch, I’m your woman.) And, having secured the money from VSO myself, I didn’t have to go through the whole waiting for finance to pull their fingers out of their **** shenanigans. I could just go and buy all the stuff. So, already things were going much better than usual!

The thing was, I needed a guest speaker – a male, Ethiopian speaker with really good English, charisma, some knowledge of gender issues and a genuine belief that men and women are, in fact, equal….a tough call in a remote village in a developing region of Ethiopia. Luckily, I had just the man in mind, and  unbelievably he was actually in Gilgel Beles! This was someone I met through Mike, a guy called Addis, who is the gender expert in a consultancy company to Finnwash NGO, fluent in English and who was really up for speaking. Awesome!!!

I’d also checked the hall was free and managed to find a group of girls who were willing to make the coffee, etc. Seriously, I was on fire!! (I actually wanted to have boys preparing the coffee, given the topic of the discussion, but unfortunately the college dean wasn’t really up for it. “Maybe in England, Suzie, the boys can make coffee, but in Gilgel…” It was one of those ominous, hanging, unfinished sentences again. I guess I could have pushed, but honestly this wasn’t a battle I was prepared to fight.  That’s one of the tricky things here – you never know quite how far to push things. I’m not part of the culture, I don’t truly understand it all yet – and the worst thing ever would be to push cultural boundaries too far and offend everyone / make people uncomfortable…. So I let it go. This time… 😉 )

So, guest speaker – check, coffee ceremony girls – check, coffee, popcorn, candles, etc, etc bought – check, bread and soft drinks ordered – check, hall booked – check!!!  I’m a pro at this now! (There hasn’t been any electricity for the last week, but we should be ok, as nobody else is using the hall that day, so we’ll easily be able to start at 4pm and finish before dark.) I might actually get through this one without having a nervous breakdown!

The day before

Amina, one of my lovely (and very smart) student committee members arrives in the ELIC with some of the other coffee ceremony girls.

“Hey Amina. Everything ok for tomorrow?”

(Rapid discussion in Amharic between girls.)

“Everything’s ready, right?” (God, please let it be ready…)

“Yes, Suzie. No problem.”

(Sigh of relief). “Fantastic! It’s going to be great!”

“Um, Suzie – There is college football match tomorrow afternoon. No one will come to coffee ceremony.”

(Oh f***!) “What? …Who?…When did this happen? “

“Ato Asfaw. He tell us today.”

 Brilliant! Oh, how I love this last minute arranging of everything culture!!! I spend the next 45 minutes, running around the college campus, trying to track down Ato Asfaw (the PE instructor). I eventually locate him (with the help of the college guards) heading into the town. I run after him (not easy or attractive in the mid-day heat), catch him up, and, panting like a heavily pregnant goat (there are many here), explain the situation to him. Bless him, he says he’ll postpone the match til Friday, so we can go ahead as planned. (Doubly nice of him considering that the day before I’d had to reluctantly say no when he’d asked if his entire family could move into my house, as his rent was high, and he’d heard that I lived alone. Awkward!!! )

 The day itself

10am: The hall looks suspiciously full…and not with students. But…I don’t get it…a week ago, the dean assured me there was no training / meeting in there today!! I check with my line manager’s secretary. Oh great! The hall is being used by some engineers to discuss drainage issues in the area. And it has, in fact, been booked for weeks.

I go and speak to some guys who seem to be officiating at the meeting, and explain the situation to them. I try to be my most charming, and use my feminine wiles (whatever they are) in an attempt to reproduce yesterday’s magical solution…but my feminine wiles are clearly a bit rusty, cos it’s a no-go.

Me:        (fluttering eyelashes) “…and I was told the hall was going to be free today..and I have over 200                students coming, a guest speaker, and I’ve ordered bread and soft drinks and everything..”

Them:   “No problem. You can do it tomorrow….and do you have something in your eye?”

Me:        “…but I can’t do it tomorrow, because there’s a college football match.”

Them:  “Ok, so you can do it at the weekend.”

Me:        “No..I can’t, because the students are all leaving for practicum on Saturday. It  has to be today.”

Them:   “Oh, I’m sorry.”

Me:        “Ummm..(charmless and desperate) there any chance you could finish early…say 10 o’clock  (4:00pm)?”

Them:   “Uh, no. We started late because of electricity problems.”

Me:        “Ok, so when will you be finished?

Them:   “11. (5pm)”

Me:        (Quick mental calculation) “And you’ll definitely be out of the hall by 11?”

Them:   “Yes, sure.”

It’ll do. If we start at 5pm, we’ll still have an hour before it’s dark in the hall. It’ll be a push, but we’ll manage. I go and change the time on all the posters, call the guest speaker, and then  round up the coffee girls and ELIC student committee,  telling them about the time change, and instructing them to be ready outside the hall at 4.45, ready to move in at the first opportunity. I’m exhausted already and we haven’t even done anything yet!

 5pm: The guest speaker’s here, the bread’s here, the soft drinks are here, the coffee’s made, the popcorn’s popped, the committee are all here and ready for action, and loads of male students are piling up outside the hall….and the bloody drainage meeting’s still in full flow, and showing no signs of coming to a close.

I have a brief terse exchange with the guys again (all attempts at charm abandoned)…

Me:        “But you promised me you would be finished be 5! This is not good for me!”

Them:   “Yes, but what can we do? And can you keep your students quiet, please? We are trying to        have a meeting in here!”

..then my line manager goes in and tries telling them they have to leave. But, after a few minutes, he comes out and tells me I’ll just have to take the guest speaker to the staff cafeteria, and wait. I do what he says, but I’m not happy, in fact I’m extremely pissed off. If this thing actually happens at all now, it’ll be in the dark…what am I doing here????

Then, miracle of miracles, after 7 and half days, the lights go on! The electricity is back at the eleventh hour! Hurray!! And then, a few minutes later, the meeting finishes, and we start at 5.30.

And it’s brilliant. Addis (the speaker) is amazing – funny, interesting, and he really gets the students involved in the discussion. He’s the perfect role model for them. (One of the instructors who has come to observe leans over and tells me, “You made a very good choice.” “I know,” I say smugly.) Some students get up and make amazing speeches about why women should play a bigger role in decision-making, the workplace, etc…and afterwards they tell me how they are going to work really hard at their English so they can be as good as Addis. And then, when they see me giving the coffee girls a dictionary each, as a reward for their efforts, loads of the boys say they’ll happily make the coffee next time, if they get a dictionary! Wow!!! Result!!! Seriously, I love this job!!!

The speaker entertains...

The speaker entertains…

The girls prepare the coffee...

The girls prepare the coffee…

The girls serve the time it'll be different!

The girls serve the coffee…next time it’ll be different!

A student shares his views on the economic benefits of women being equal.

A student stands and shares his views on the economic benefits of women being equal.

Thank God the electricity came back!

Thank God the electricity came back!

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Back to Gilgel

Well, I made it back, finally. The journey didn’t exactly go without a hitch, We set off two hours late, then a quick detour to pick up somebody’s wife’s sister’s cousin’s entire house contents, turned into 45 minutes of random driving getting lost in the back streets of Bahir Dar. An hour along the road to Gilgel, Gemer (the driver) gets a call from a friend saying he’s heard the road may be closed again, so for the next 2.5 hours I’m somewhat ‘tense’ to say the least (definitely a set jaw!), until we reach the point where we had to turn back last time. Thankfully, there’s nothing blocking our path this time. The road’s still really bad though, and 20 minutes later, we’re forced to stop and wait behind a long line of trucks, buses and other vehicles, because another car has got stuck in the mud. We’re waiting well over an hour, and as the sun sets, a woman offers me her baby for a small price. (I decline). It’s dark by the time that we and the other small cars are finally able to pass, and the Chinese road construction workers guide us through the mud ridges with torches. (The lorry drivers and bus passengers will probably have to spend the night there.)

We're all waiting.

We’re all waiting.

Darkness falls...

Darkness falls…

...and I'm offered a baby!

…and I’m offered a baby!

After another brief detour, this time to deliver something to somebody’s brother’s, friend’s, uncle, we finally arrive in Gilgel late at night. The campus, as always, is in pitch blackness (apparently the lighting has never worked), and our journey ends in a rather unfortunate and undignified manner as we drive into and pull down some power lines, which have mysteriously lowered since I left. Fortunately,  nobody’s power goes off, so we get away with it. My compound’s flooded, but my room and my stuff are safe, and I’m soooo grateful to Gemer and all the other people that have helped me get back.

My saviour, Gemer

My saviour, Gemer

And this is what has mostly been happening in the last few weeks.

1) The food situation in Gilgel has improved slightly as tomatoes have made a reappearance. Pasta napolitana is now back on the menu! (every other day…) I also had the usual honeymoon period for a week or so when I got back from the ‘big city’ with provisions – cheese, green beans, cucumbers, avocados and biscuits! Unfortunately these supplies have now run out, and it’s back to root vegetable surprise and eggs. But I do have one luxury left. When I was in Addis, an ex-volunteer who now lives here with his Ethiopian girlfriend gave me a bar of Irish Dairy Milk!! Anyone who has experience of either Dairy Milk or the dire food limitations in remote village in Ethiopia, will know that this was an act of extreme generosity. ( I certainly wouldn’t be giving it away!) I am so grateful to you, Mark and Eden! I allow myself one square a day, with coffee, after lunch. There are 24 squares, so it will last 3.5 weeks. 😉

2) Rain! It should have stopped by now, everyone here says so. But it continues, day after day, which is why the road is completely buggered and why my compound was flooded when I got back. Thankfully, it’s not coming into my room anymore, but I did have a slight leaky roof issue in the entrance. However, I told my line manager, and this time he got it sorted the next day!!! No tantrum, no tears, not even a mini-strop required on my part! Amazing! Which leads me to my next point…

3) …My line manager is on fire! (metaphorically…) At the moment he’s acting dean of the college (while the real dean is away on a summer Master’s programme), and I have to say this position suits him, and me! When I ask for budget from the college to buy listening materials, he sorts it! When I need letters sent from the college to local high schools inviting them to a workshop, it’s done within 24 hours! When I need refreshments organised for said workshop, it’s arranged (with a gentle nudge). Unbelievable!! He’s on it, and he’s on my side, and it’s brilliant!

My kick-arse line manager!

My kick-arse line manager!

4)Killer Cat! When I left Gilgel at the beginning of September, the cat was a slightly camp, mewing, needy ball of fur. When I got back, 5 weeks later, he had grown, but was a bit thin, and had a kind of wild look in his eyes. 4 weeks, half a box of Whiskas and an egg a day for breakfast later, he has become a well-built killing machine. He’ll torture / bat / tease anything to death now – frogs, huge crickets, rats, lizards… (The only thing that has beaten him was a large, shiny, flying bug thing that refused to die, and bit him on the nose.) In the last couple of weeks the cat has left me presents outside the bathroom of 3 dead rats, (one decapitated – lovely to wake up to), a tail-less lizard (the severed tail was still twitching when I discovered it) and numerous baby frogs. Unpleasant, but at least I know he can fend for himself now, so I won’t feel so bad about entrusting him to my neighbour when I leave Gilgel.

Beginning of cat attack. It didn't end well for the cricket.

Beginning of cat attack. It didn’t end well for the cricket.

5) It’s a new year, new semester at the college, so we needed a new ELIC student committee, as most of last year’s members graduated in July. I put up a notice, inviting anyone interested to come to a meeting in the ELIC, and expecting maybe 10 people, the usual suspects (the ones who are always in the ELIC) to show up. Over 75 students came!! True, some of them hadn’t really understood the poster, and could barely speak a word of English, but it was good to see so much interest. From these we selected a very keen group of about 20 who I’ll train to run the daily drop-in classes (conversation, computer training, etc), so that hopefully they’ll continue after I leave in February. Best moment so far? Ali, ELIC student co-ordinator, (last years’ assistant co-ordinator), turning up to the first committee meeting 25 minutes late, and solemnly (without a trace of irony) lecturing the new members (who had all managed to turn up on time) on the importance of punctuality….I had to turn my snort into a coughing fit.

Computer training in ELIC, run by students. Yay!

Computer training in ELIC, run by students. Yay!

Conversation club, led by student. Double yay!

Conversation club, led by student. Double yay!

6) Routine. When Mike left, my social life (such as it was) deteriorated significantly. Then, when the rainy season started, and most of the other people I knew here left for the summer period, it became almost non-existent. Since then, my evenings have become somewhat predictable. Those of you who know me well will know that I’m a bit of a creature of habit (you may have guessed as much from the ‘1 square a day’ chocolate regime). But recently, even for me, things have been getting ridiculous. My evenings look like this: Finish work at 6, go to the bread shop to buy 4 rolls – 2 for dinner, 2 for breakfast. (Sometimes I buy other exciting things, such as toilet paper or 10 eggs, and sometimes I go for a little walk round the village, but as it gets dark by 6.30 now, this is limited.) Get home, do some work or go online or do pilates for an hour. Give the cat his dinner (usually pasta). Make my own dinner – inevitably 2 bread rolls, salad (consisting of cabbage, raw carrots and tomatoes) and 2 boiled eggs. Start watching episode of Spooks (addicted – currently on series 4, episode 5) and eat my dinner. Pause episode of Spooks midway to wash up (using cold water from the bucket) and prepare papaya for pudding. Watch rest of episode of Spooks and eat papaya. Clean teeth, wash face and feet (using cold water from a different bucket), and get into bed.  ‘Treat myself’ to 20 mins kindle before I go to sleep. Cool, eh?

Saturdays are wild. The cat gets Whiskas, while I watch a movie and have a beer. (One, mind you. Don’t want to go too crazy.) Oh, and sometimes I pop some popcorn for myself…Seriously, God help me!

So, when you think that I’m having a non-stop adventure here – in some ways, yes. In others, I’m just about the saddest person alive!

Party central! My room in Gilgel Beles.

Party central! My room in Gilgel Beles.

7) The workshop. When, I accepted this placement with VSO, I thought one of my main responsibilities here would be teacher training. I was wrong.  9 months in I do my first (and quite probably, last) teaching methodology workshop. There are many reasons for this, the main one being that teachers have to be paid per diem (almost twice my daily salary per day), on top of their salary, to attend any training or meetings in Ethiopia, and this, of course, requires budget. The college budget is very limited, and there always seem to be far more pressing issues to spend it on. However, in the summer I managed to acquire a small grant from VSO, to do a one-day workshop for the college English instructors and the English teachers from 3 local high schools. Grant secured – yay! – let the training commence. Of course, it’s not as simple as that, and getting the money turned out to be the easy bit.

First of all, there’s the usual backwards and forwards with setting a date, trying to accommodate all the instructors’ last -minute commitments. (Everything happens last minute here – instructors are quite often told that they are going on a training course or to a meeting, on the other side of Ethiopia, the next day. And they don’t have any choice about it…they are just told they are going.) So we arrange and rearrange the date 3 times for 2 instructors, who end up not being able to come anyway!

Thankfully, I do not have to apply for budget from finance, as I already have it from VSO, but I do have to organise refreshments, which like other things,  here must be right! Every single meeting or workshop I’ve been to in this country has exactly the same stuff – coffee or  tea + donut or lentil samosa in the morning break. Small bottle of water during the session. Then, fizzy drink (usually Coke or Orange Mirinda) in the afternoon break + kolo (dried barley snack). I don’t know what would happen if this wasn’t provided, but I’m not prepared to find out, so I negotiate prices in my crappy Amharic with the college cafeteria guys.

Then, the day before the workshop, just when I think everything’s arranged, finance tell me I have to write a proposal for them, detailing all the workshop costs. I have no idea why, VSO are providing the money, but rather than get into another confusing argument with them in Amharic, I just do it anyway. Whatever…

The  Big Day:

7:00 – Arrive in ELIC room an hour and a half early, to make last minute preps for workshop. I’m a bit nervous , not having done any proper methodology training for the best part of a year. I’m also in the unusual situation that I have no idea how many people will be coming today. My line manager sent letters to the principals of 3 local high schools inviting them to send 2 English teachers each. However, when I asked him if they had replied, he said “They will not reply.” “Oh”, I said, “so, how do we know if they are coming or not?” “They will come,” he replied. (Frankly, I do not share his certainty. When the Ministry of Education sent a letter to the college inviting me and my colleague to a conference, we never even heard about it. I only found out through another volunteer. So, I know that it’s not failsafe. The high school teachers may not even know about the workshop, let alone want to come!)

8.34 – We start (with 8 participants – 4 college instructors, 4 high school teachers, including one woman – amazing!) more or less on time. (I’ve learned how things are here, and, cunning little me, told everyone to come at 8:00, knowing that that way, we would be able to start around half past. I can play this game!!)

8.40 –  5th college instructor arrives. Apologises for being late, giving excuse that he has malaria. (His colleague had already told me that he is fine, but had just forgotten about workshop.)

8.42 – Same college instructor’s mobile goes. He apologises, but says he has to take call, and disappears.

8.47 – Instructor returns, whispers something in another instructor’s ear, who excuses himself, and doesn’t return for rest of first session. Session (on communicative grammar teaching) goes well, however, and everyone else participates enthusiastically.

Communicative stuff!

Communicative stuff!

10.00 – Break. Coffee / tea / donut / samosa.

10.30 – Session 2. Missing teacher has returned (the college dean ordered him to assist in some other training that’s taking place at college today), but now my counterpart is nowhere to be seen. Despite this, session (on active reading and listening) goes very well. Everyone seems to be having good time!

12:00 – Lunch – everyone disappears into town or back to their homes to eat. I go back to my house, and make some pasta (napolitana, of course . I’m tired already, and we’re only halfway through!

2:00 – Miraculously, everyone (except one high school teacher ) is back on time! My counterpart, however, has only come to “ask my permission to escape” – he needs to go to the clinic. To be fair, he does look pretty rough.

3:30 – Soft drink and kolo.

4:00 – Final session on reviewing vocabulary. Everyone (including myself) gets a bit giggly, as tiredness sets in, but instructors get right into the activities. In fact, they become so competitive that at one point I’m forced to step in and settle a highly-charged dispute over who ‘won the word.’

Getting giggly. I love these guys!

Getting giggly. I love these guys!

5:00 – Finish for the day. Everyone is exhausted. Pay teachers their per diems from my stash of birr from VSO. College instructors disappear. High school teachers linger, and ask if I can help them with the English clubs at their schools. (A good sign, I think.)We swap numbers and email addresses.

5:30 – Everyone has gone. Look at ELIC room. It is strewn with rubbish – papers, plastic bottles, etc. Cleaning up after yourself is not a widely-accepted concept here. Thankfully a student, one of the new keen committee members, arrives and helps me tidy the place up.

6:00 – Go to cafeteria to settle up refreshments bill. Discover college vice-dean has put his breakfast on tab. Apparently this is normal.

6:30 –  Go to town to buy bread. No walk today. Too tired.

7:00 – Get home. Just want to watch Spooks and chill. Electricity has gone. Collapse in chair in dark. Think about the day. Not sure what to make of it. Very happy it’s done – was great to do some training, and teachers all participated well, (when they were actually there) and really seemed to enjoy the activities…I’m just not sure it will make any difference. One of the vice-deans (not the breakfast thief) – a fantastic guy, a very committed English instructor, (unfortunately one of the ones who couldn’t make today due to a non-negotiable last minute workshop elsewhere) told me ages ago that the instructors have had a lot of training in modern methodology, but still they mostly continue to just lecture because it’s what they know. So, I’m not sure that a one-day workshop on communicative methodology is really going to change anything…

3 days later…

Get email from one of the high school teachers saying how much he enjoyed the workshop and how he’s trying out the different activities with his classes!!! Result!!!  I’m going to print this email and frame it…seriously 😉


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Angst, a visitor and culinary delights.

So, I’m back in Addis again. On the plus side, I’m staying with the lovely Cat and Marlies, they have a hot shower, and the gin and tonics are flowing. On the downside, I’ve got the whole purchasing / pro forma palaver to go through again…hmmm. This time I’ve got a grant to buy, amongst other things, 4 chunky portable CD players for the college English instructors, so they can do listening practice with the students.  How hard can it be?

Monday Sep16th

Spend day with fellow volunteer Debbie going to 3 different areas of Addis where we’ve been assured we’ll find said CD players.

End of day stats –

No. of electrical shops visited: approx 60

No. of rides in overcrowded line taxis  (public minibuses): God knows

No. of CD players located: 0

(Was I an idiot to imagine I could find such things in Ethiopia? Come to think of it, can you find them anywhere anymore?)

A line taxi arrives...

A line taxi arrives…

...and everyone crowds on.

…and everyone crowds on.


Tuesday Sep 17th

Arrive, with long-suffering Debbie, in Mercato – Africa’s largest market (allegedly) and quite scary place. (We’ve put it off til today, as it’s a bit of a hassle to get to, and we’ve been told  that it’s a hotbed of thieves and other shady characters,  and we should go with a local. Not being able to find a suitable, willing local (where are they when you need them??) and really needing to find some CD players today, we decide to go anyway .) Anyway , it’s absolutely fine – huge, noisy and extremely busy, but non-threatening – and,  after a long search, home to a shop that has 3 CD players!!!  The shop only deals in cash, so no pro formas, and there’s no electricity, so we can’t test if they work, but at least we’ve seen some! (They might well have to do!)

Wednesday Sep 18th

After more fruitless CD player searching, in yet another area of Addis, I decide that 3, possibly dodgy, CD players is the best I’m going to get here. Manage after begging (and then getting slightly arsy) to convince VSO to let me use a car and driver to pick up the CD players. (Carrying three large boxes on a crowded line taxi journey with two changes, could be risky, not to say a complete and utter nightmare).

 Arrive at the shop. They’ve only got 2 CD players – one doesn’t work. Whatever…the college instructors will just have to share!

Thursday Sep 19th (The haircut!)

Can’t face any purchasing crap today. Decide to get my hair cut. (It’s high time – I haven’t had it cut since I came here, so it’s looking bedraggled to say the least). I go to the ‘Boston Day Spa’ – a swanky, expensive ferengi place – where they are supposedly used to cutting non-afro hair. It looks modern and very clean, but my confidence is tested slightly, when I meet the very nice, but somewhat linguistically limited guy who will cut my hair:

“So, you want I cut your hair very, very much or little?”

“Errr, about this much,” I say, gesturing about an inch with my finger and thumb.

“Ok, no problem.”

I (hopefully)mumble something about layers, but he’s already cutting away.

I’m there for about 3 hours in total while he cuts, dries , teases and styles my hair. (I certainly can’t fault his commitment or enthusiasm). I come out looking like a back-combed poodle, and 600 birr (6 days salary) less well-off . Hey ho!

Monday Sep 23rd

Last day of purchasing – hooray! I now have 2 CD players, a load of batteries (for when there’s no electricity), blank CDs, and various other stuff to create listening materials.

Text my neighbour – there’s still no electricity in Gilgel. (Cue angst episode no.1). I really should go back now I’ve bought everything I need, but I can’t face the thought of the charcoal, the dependence on my neighbour to even boil water, and the darkness. And there’s a national holiday coming up, so the college will close for a few days, so I probably won’t even be able to use the generator there to charge my laptop / mobile…but I should get back.

Phone the vice-dean and he tells me there are no students at the moment, and advises me to stay in Addis until the new semester begins. Oh well…if I must! 😉

Wednesday Sep 25th

Have to change houses, because someone else is coming to stay at Cat and Marlies’. Move in with Helen – an ex-professional chef! Life is tough!!!

Spaghetti bolognaise for tea! (Wahoo!)

Helen working her magic!

Helen working her magic!

Thursday Sep 26th (Meskel – “The Finding of the True Cross” –  holiday)

Go, along with thousands of others,  to Meskel Square in centre of Addis to watch the Meskel celebrations. Lots of priests banging drums and dancing, candles and a big bonfire. Interesting!

Carrot and ginger soup + homemade CHOCOLATE MOUSSE for tea!!

Downtown Addis Ababa for Meskel celebrations

Downtown Addis Ababa for Meskel celebrations

Meskel candles as night falls

Meskel candles as night falls

Wide-eyed excitement at Meskel

Wide-eyed excitement at Meskel

Saturday Sep 28th

Get text from vice-dean. Electricity is back in Gilgel. Bollocks! Now I really have no excuse for not going back.

But the problem is, Lewis is coming to Addis on Thursday, bringing loads of listening books and CDs for the college (not to mention a few choice items from Tescos and Boots from me). If I go back now, I’ll have to turn round a couple of days after I get there, to come back and meet him. (Cue angst episode no. 2).  I discuss it with everyone, and they all tell me (in so many words) to shut up, get a life and stay in Addis. Point taken.

Sunday Sep 29th

Mustard chicken and roasted vegetables. (I’m in heaven).

Thursday 3rd October

Helen cooks goodbye dinner . She surpasses herself – mushroom risotto and roast chicken. I’m really going to miss this!

Last supper at Helen's

Last supper at Helen’s

Midnight:  At airport to meet Lewis. The flight from Istanbul has arrived and I’m straining my eyes trying to see if he’s coming through visa control. After waving to 3 different men thinking they are him, (but who turn out just to be Turks with similar dark hair and eyebrows), he finally comes through the gate lugging a small suitcase (containing his clothes) and a huge backpack, (containing  materials for the college, and amongst many other things, Tesco’s teabags for me and a box of Whiskas for the cat.) Yay!!

Friday 4th October

Quick tour around Addis then evening flight to Bahir Dar. We book into the nicest hotel in Bahir Dar (courtesy of Lewis’ end-of-year bonus) , and watch the sun going down on the Lake – lush!

 We’ll hang out here for a day or two, then I’ve  arranged with the vice dean that the college car will pick us and all the materials and equipment up from here on Monday and take us to Gilgel. It’s all going to go like clockwork!

Hotel poolside terrace, looking over the lake - it's tough this volunteering lark!

Hotel poolside terrace, looking over the lake – it’s tough this volunteering lark!

Saturday 5th October

Get text from vice dean saying college car is unavailable – it has broken down in Bonga. Brilliant…(and where tf is Bonga?)

Meanwhile, Lewis gets an email inviting him to an interview for his dream job…on Tuesday.

It’s all going pear-shaped!!

Move into yet another VSO house (this time with the lovely Katy and Richard). Thank god for other volunteers!

Sunday 6th October

Find out about hiring a car and driver to get me (Lewis has to go back) and all equipment back to Gilgel. It will cost 2500 birr – about £80. Given that we didn’t have to pay excess baggage or any delivery costs for the college stuff, it would probably be reasonable to pay for this out of the grant I have for the college project. But should I just wait to see if I can find a free ride?? Can I really justify spending the grant money?? (Cue angst episode no. 3)

Phone a few drivers I know through Mike, on the off-chance any of them are going from BD to GB in the next few days. None of them are. In the end (after boring everyone again with my dilemma), I decide to go for it. I need to get back, who knows when the college car will be fixed (if ever) – basically, I’ve been fannying around long enough! I book the car for 9am the next morning.

Take Lewis to airport catch evening flight back to Addis, so he can fly home for the interview tomorrow. Feel sad. Get back to Katy and Richard’s and they make pizza. Cheer up a bit…

Katy and Richard - my Bahir Dar saviours!

Katy and Richard – my Bahir Dar saviours!

Monday 7th October

8.30: Bags all packed, ready for drive to Gilgel.

8.50: Driver’s ‘agent’ calls to say driver wants to back out. He’s heard that the road is really bad. That  is, unless I’m prepared to pay an extra 800 birr. (aaaagh!) I have no idea what to do now. (Cue angst no. 4)

9.50: Phone college dean and tell him situation. He says he will send someone from the college to Bahir Dar to help me with the stuff on the public bus. I say I don’t think it’s a very good idea – from past experience I know there is absolutely no space for luggage on the bus, and the stuff is valuable, and could easily be nicked. After a quick conference with the finance department he calls me back and says I can get the car. OK. Despite resenting being blackmailed, I phone back the money-grabbing agent and agree to the new deal.

10.30: Load up car, do a quick trip to market to buy fruit and vegetables that are not available in Gilgel, set off for the village!

1.00: Drive onto dirt road that leads to Gilgel. Road is bad – very soft and muddy, huge pot-holes filled with water, but Ali the driver is coping.

3.00: Large steam roller type thing blocking road. Ominous. Ali gets out to investigate. He comes back and tells me the road is closed for construction and we have to go back.

Me: “We can’t go back!”

Ali: “We have to. He says some cars have been waiting here for four days. Didn’t you have information?”

Me (somewhat snappily): “Of course not! Nobody told me! We can’t go back! Drive through anyway! (Clearly an unreasonable option, but I’m thinking about the grant money I’ve spent that will be wasted, and how Gilgel is only an hour or so from here.)

Ali, fortunately, ignores my ridiculous demand, starts to turn the car round, and I have to accept we’re not going to get to Gilgel today. I call Katy and ask if it’s ok to stay a bit longer.

7:00: Arrive back in Bahir Dar. Unload all luggage, plus freshly bought fruit and veg. Extremely frustrated and feel terrible about the money. A beer with Katy and Richard helps, but I have a lot of questions. Why weren’t there any signs at the beginning of the road saying it was closed? How long will the road be closed for? When will I be able to get back? And how the HELL did nobody at the college know about this????

The road, just before we have to stop and turn back

The road, just before we have to stop and turn back

Tuesday 8th October

Phone college dean and tell him situation. He is surprised that road is closed. We discuss the options, decide there are none, and leave it that I will continue working on college stuff in Bahir Dar until things change. He says he will call me if he hears anything. Ok, so I’ll just chill out here and wait. There are worse places to be!

Wednesday 9th October

Not doing well at the chilling out and waiting. (A lot of angst…I’ve been out of my placement for several weeks now, and I didn’t come to Ethiopia for a holiday. )If I’m honest with myself, I know the dean will not call with a solution. Very nice guy though he is, sorting out logistical problems is not his strong point.

Decide to take control. Text all the drivers I know in the area, and anyone else (including 2 catholic sisters) who has access to a car. Ask if anyone has information about how long the road is going to be closed for, or if anyone knows of a car going to Gilgel soon. I send 11 texts and amazingly within the hour get 8 texts and calls back. (Nothing from one of the sisters though…) Even more amazingly, one of the NGO drivers, Gemer,  actually is driving from BD to GB, either tomorrow or Friday, road permitting. Result!! He’ll call me tomorrow morning and let me know.

Thursday 10th October

We’re going tomorrow at 12.

Friday 11th October

12:00 No sign of Gemer. I call his mobile, but there’s no reply. I’m sure we said 12 today (and NGO drivers are usually on time, because they work for  ferengis). The trouble is, there’s a bit of a language barrier between us. With his limited English, and my extremely limited Amharic, I could easily have got it wrong.

1:00 Still no Gemer. Call him again. His mobile is switched off – not a good sign. Call another driver, Meles, a friend of Gemer’s, who has great English. He is sure that Gemer was coming to Bahir Dar today.

1:30 Meles calls. He has managed to get hold of Gemer. He is somewhere on the road to BD from Gilgel (where the phone signal is patchy at best) . The road is really bad and slow, but he’s on his way, Meles assures me.

3:00 Gemer calls. The poor guy sounds exhausted. I ask him where he is. He’s in Kosober – still 2 hours from BD. We establish that we won’t be driving back to Gilgel Beles today. He’ll call me.

5:00 Gemer calls again. He has to change the oil and do a few things tomorrow morning, then , at 12, he will collect me and we’ll drive back to Gilgel. (At least I think that’s what’s happening…)

5.15 Meles calls and confirms the plan. It’s on! Decide to enjoy my last night in Bahir Dar – go for a late afternoon swim in the pool by the lake, watch the sunset with other volunteers, have a few beers, and delicious roasted fish for dinner – need to make the most of it, while I can!

Saturday 12th October

12:00 No sign of Gemer. But I feel quite chilled. I’m not sure if it’s the beers, or I’ve just got no angst left! So, I’m just sat here, waiting and writing this. Maybe we’ll go today, maybe not. I’ll let you know!

Bahir Dar sunset - things could be worse!!

Bahir Dar sunset – things could be worse!!

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