On Monday of the week gone, there was a surprise in the form of
cattle grazing outside of MIT. Normally, the plain just
outside of MIT has no animals on it. Certainly no 'serious'
animals. However, this week, there have been Kudu grazing on
the plains. Large, cow like animals with big
horns. They come in many colours, black, grey, brown and any
combination and pattern in-between, all in what appears to be
one very large herd.
The rain has continued this week, and the Kudu have been
eating the new green grass. I am not sure whether the rain
is good or not. It might cause damage at the wrong time. I
know that the rain is now falling late, but if it is of
benefit to Ethiopia, then let it fall. The soil is dark in
colour and the grass is green, even without the benefit of
the polarising lenses in my sunglasses.
This is the first week that the students have been able to
use the computers. I was unable to use all ten computers
because of the lack of electrical cable. I am not sure of
the best way to approach this one. I think that I will write
a letter asking for a date when I might have the equipment
and a person responsible for each piece of equipment. At
least then I will know who to give some hassle to.
Because of my now very heavy teaching load (the labs), I was
unable to attend the faculty meeting this week. This was
actually in my favour though. After it wasted so much
time before, and making me angry. I think that it was a good
idea to miss one.
The physics teacher is always claiming to be busy, but I
fail to see how. He has a lighter teaching load than myself,
or the English teacher, and he has no labs to set up. I
decided to try to cash in the favour of doing his exam for
him and asked him to test some voltage regulators that had
arrived. It was also a little bit snidey of me because in a
previous meeting he had said how important theory was (and
he is good in theory). I pointed out that theory doesn't
mean anything if it couldn't be applied and have been
looking for something practical to give him. In the end, he
did not test the VRs himself and he tested only two out of
eight, but claimed that they all worked. I asked him if he
was sure that he had tested them all as I broke the seal on
one of the boxes in front of him. I didn't take it any
further, I think my opinion has been coloured.
Friday was a holiday. I would have liked to take Friday off,
but I needed to do work in the lab. The campus was largely
deserted, and with Molla's help I set about re-installing
the computers to give them more space. Molla is technically
competent and I have no doubt will make an excellent system
administrator for Ethiopia sometime. However, it does take
longer for me when I have to teach other people as I do a
job. That is part of being a VSO - it's skill sharing.
Judging from the reports of other volunteers I should be
happy to have someone learning from me, and I am. Sometimes it
would be nice to just do it though. I hope that I see a benefit
myself by teaching him. VSO is getting the transfer of skill
- I hope I get time back in the future.
Saturday was the day before Easter sunday. A holiday taken
quite seriously by Ethiopians. Even though I did not see
many people, I did have the feeling of anticipation from
those that I spoke to. I was, of course, at MIT working.
Again, with the help of Molla for much of the day. In the
morning he had to go into town with some of the students and
my boss. His task in town was to buy animals to eat on
Sunday. I think that he bought three goats and a sheep. The
goats were for the students, and the sheep was for himself
(and me as it turned out). The goats cost 110birr each, and
the sheep was more expensive at 150birr. I'll let you
convert that to pounds or whatever. Saturday itself was
still a fasting day, but at the turn of midnight, Molla
himself would slaughter all the animals and start their
preparation for the students. Part of me wanted to
experience this, but I think that I will probably get
another opportunity, and I needed sleep.
On the way back home, the smell of fear was in the air. Fear
from every goat with a bit string tied onto its horns being
dragged by unfamiliar hands into an unknown house. It seemed
that every other person had some kind of animal with which
they were tussling. I wonder if it was like a cartoon, where
they could see a joint of meat at the end of the string.
I wandered into town that night hoping to meet the other
VSOs. Alas, I did not meet them, and went into the Yordanos in
town. Because this was the last night of the fast, I thought
that I would take advantage of their vegetarian buffet that
they have every day during fasting time. The food is very
good, and you can eat as much as you like for 10birr. This I
proceeded to do, and filled myself.
Sunday was probably the most eventful day of the week, and
one that I shall describe in detail while I can remember it.
Hagos, the driver picked me up at 8:30 and took me into MIT.
Once there I did some work that did not require power. The
power at MIT is best not touched until 10:00 in the morning.
Out of my window, I could see something a little bit
strange. Four amora (eagle like birds) were on the ground
and next to them was a squirrel. This was strange for at
least two reasons. Firstly, the amora normally stay in the
sky - I had never seen one on the ground before. And, why
would a ground squirrel be next to them. Surely it was food
for them. As I walked out of the building with Molla, the
amora took to the air, and the squirrel darted into its bolt
hole. I asked him about this, and he said that the bones
were on the ground. He pointed to the remains of the goats -
leg bones spread in the area where the amora had been
moments ago. They had been dining on these, and it would
appear that the squirrel felt safe enough.
It was about 10:00 when we walked out of MIT and into
Ainelam - the village that contains MIT. I had agreed
the previous day to join Molla for food. This was my chance to
experience 'real' Ethiopian food. The timing was a bit
inconvenient because I was at work for a reason. However, it
would have been rude not to accept, and this is one of the
good things of doing VSO.
As we left the compound, I spotted a feather on the floor
and picked it up. I had to explain to Molla, that many of
the things that seem normal to him are different to me. The
feather was brilliant green on one half and an attractive
brown orange colour on the other half. I slipped the feather
into my top pocket, and we kept walking.
As we reached the houses, the children spotted me. Ferenji!
Ferenji! Ferenji!. This wasn't the 'you' and 'ferenj' calls
that you get in the town. This was genuine amazement and
excitement. The sort of thing that you would see on comic
relief as Billy Connoly walks into a village and all of the
children touch his hair. I was able to joke with the
children and I asked them where the Ferenji was. I joined
in, looking for the Ferenji, and they seemed to appreciate this.
They did not ask for money, and it was nice to see some
people from outside of the town. Although the children laugh
at you, it is not a nasty laugh. I worry that I might take
it badly when I am working so hard. It is very easy to get
angry at minor things. Fortunately this had the opposite
effect and I could relax as MIT was obscured by the village's
stone buildings. On the approach to Molla's house stood a
water container perched on high metal legs. Children were
climbing on these legs and playing in the dust and stone
We went into Molla's room. I think it is quite good by
Ethiopian standards. He had a large bed, and an extra
matress, a low table (and the obligatory low ethiopian
stools), shelving units, and a display cabinet. Molla's maid
was busy preparing food when we arrived. She was a friendly
person, and I think that she is treated well by Molla. In
Ethiopian culture, it can be the men that eat, and the women
must prepare the food but they cannot join in the
conversations. That is the impression I have, don't quote me
on it. She joined in our conversations, although Molla had
to translate a lot of the time. My Amharic is still prety
Grass was spread on the floor of Molla's room. I had seen
this many times before, in restaurants particularly. I had
assumed that it was because the grass released a fresh smell
when it was crushed under foot. I asked Molla if this was
the case, and he seemed a little surprised. It was not for
the smell, but to make the ground look green. Probably an
important thing in a country that suffers droughts.
While waiting for the main course, a bread made of wheat was
put on the table before us. It tasted quite good, but I knew
that I should avoid eating much. I might need to be really
hungry to eat whatever was coming next. The maid also poured
us some drinks. I didn't recognise the taste, but I thought
it might have been made using ginger. After some discussions
we agreed that it was orange, and maybe it was orangeade
(the non fizzy kind). The maid then showed me a tin -
marmalade. They make a drink out of canned marmalade. The
first few sips were not great, but it grew on me quite
quickly, and I also knew that I might need something to wash
the food down with.
Then, the food itself was served. Many enjera were laid
onto a large plate. These plates are typically shared by all
that are eating. Into the middle of the top enjera was
poured some doro wot. I knew that this was coming and asked
not to have the egg that is normally served. In the doro wot
was a large portion of chicken. To one side of the enjera
was sheep meat and potatoes. Much of the meat was still with
its bones but it was cut into small chunks. On the other
side of the enjera was a delicacy. Those who are not feeling
well, look away now. It is only eaten the day after a sheep
is slaughtered. It was the intestines of the sheep. We're
not talking a long lump of intestinal tract snaking across
the enjera. But it was undoubtedly many short lengths of
tube, and other things that I did not identify and I wish
that I hadn't even looked at. It had a sour flavour, but it
was not as chewy as the more conventional sheep's meat.
Getting a taste for the marmalade drink definitely helped. I
was able to wash down most of the meat. To be honest, it was
well cooked, and it was probably only cultural differences
that stopped me from enjoying it.
The chicken in the doro wot was all mine. Molla had taken
some local medicine and been told not to eat chicken for
six months. It would be extremely rude not to eat this, and
although the meat was not the same as the UK, it was good
meat. Hidden in the sauce was a 'special' part of the
chicken. It is normally shared by man and wife, or given
whole to a friend. Molla gave me this piece of meat and
watched as I ate it but he never did tell me what part of
the chicken it was. To me it tasted like the rest of the
chicken, but the doro wot sauce tends to overwhelm any other
I was also able to try tella for the first time. This is a
local brew, and something for which Ainelam is supposed to be
known. Probably all villages tell you that though. It is
very hard to describe its flavour. It is definitely
alcoholic and is dark brown in colour, and opaque. Like most
things, I think that it was bitter, and it certainly
couldn't be drunk in the same way as beer. You could
however, develop a taste for it. Just like you develop an
addiction for touching and twisting a loose tooth when you are
a child and your adult teeth are appearing.
I managed to finish nearly all of the meat with the help of
the small glass of tella that I had, and the marmalade
drink. After this, the maid started to prepare coffee
properly, and placed two plates on the table. One with
popcorn and sweets on it (still in their plastic wrappers),
and the other containing what looked like pieces of fudge.
They were actually figs or dates, i'm not sure which but
they were a welcome change for my taste buds. It was about
this time that we were joined by Hagos, the driver. He
arrived in a good suit - ready for his easter celebrations.
The coffee was served, and I was told the three stages. The
first cup of coffee is the 'best', and then the next two are
progressively not as good. This is because they are weaker
than the previous ones. The coffee was, of course, extremely
strong but tasted good. This time I managed to drink all
three cups. I was asked if the coffee in Europe was as good.
Molla was asking to find out if the best is sent for export.
Somehow, I doubt that it is. Even if the best was sent
abroad, something is lost in the processing.
Hagos drove us back to MIT, where the students tried to get
into the land rover to take them into town for their
celebrations. There were a lot in the back when it
disappeared as myself and Molla returned to setting up the
In the evening the students were back on campus and were
dancing in one of the lecture rooms. Dr Mulu had lent them
his own stereo. They asked me to join them. I declined
partly because I was knackered, and partly becuase I didn't
really want to dance. I offered to take photos and they
seemed very happy with this.
The Monday (today) was definitely a day for pizza to provide
a pick me up. The day started badly - the food from
yesterday had given me a stomach ache for most of the night,
and the accompanying bowel movements in the morning. I had
had little sleep because of this, and I managed to get
toothpaste on my shirt. The toothpaste is a pretty minor
thing, but this morning it was just another thing that went
wrong. At lunch it was enjera and unidentified squidgy meat.
The Habesha were happy again.
The pizza in the evening was delicious, although when
getting out the money to pay, seeing Sarah's photo in my
wallet was quite hard. Memories of pizza in England came
back, and I had a strong need for her to be here. Still, it
won't be long until I am back in the UK for a short break. If
work continues like this, then I will need it.
Once again, I have been extremely busy. It is hard to
explain to people how long things take. You definitely feel
that you are the only one that understands. There is a limit
to how many times you can patiently explain something.