not written for a while. I am assuming that the 'politics' and aggravation is
not the most interesting of stuff but that's what seems to dominate most
days. As I write this, I am sitting in my parent's kitchen in New Zealand.
I have taken the opportuity to take a break and show them the beard (which is now
no more). I figured it would give my dad a laugh.
I have left Tsega 'in charge' of computing at MIT. I haven't had an email from
her so I guess that everything is okay. I was recently asked to help
fix a computer at the university. Although it's a bit tarty I did quite enjoy
them phoning up and then sending a car for us. I asked Tsega to join in with
the attempted repair. Although we did not have time to fix it, after the
initial investigations Tsega said that she understood nearly everything I had
said. She's understanding two hours of UNIX geek speak - that's excellent
considering what we were talking about and how the head of computing at
the university clearly did not get as much as she did.
The call for us to go to the university was on the last day of term. Ali had
arranged a Sports Day for the students. Sports Day in the 'egg and spoon' race
sense. This was something that they had never seen before. I had stressed to the
students that it would be fun. Normally when you say 'sport' here that is taken
to mean exercise rather than fun. Hans had pulled out all the stops and
made some skis for his game. There were two sets of skis capable of having four
people on each set. The wood came courtesy of Teklay. The straps were nailed-on
pieces of car tyre. The other events included: egg and spoon, sack race, tug
of war, three legged football, and shot-putt. It's very interesting watching
them go from disinterested young adults to little children wanting to play all the
games. It can be real difficult to get them to do things like tug of war correctly.
There was only really space for four or five people in a team. Yet, as usual, they
all tried piling in.
With it being the end of term, we have just had our final exams. Things went a bit
better this time in terms of cheating. We were much more serious in terms of
organising (i.e. we did it rather than leave it to Fithanegest). I managed to
take quite a few bits of paper off students as they went in with notes. I still
don't know whether they don't see it as cheating or that cheating is just more common
here despite all of the rhetoric. I can hear it more and more in the hollow promises
made by many of the African leaders.
An amusing story from the exams invloved a student who we suspected of cheating
in the mid-term exams. I was being extra careful with this student and at the end
of the exam I saw him fiddling with his shoes and I could see a bit of paper. I asked
him to show me the piece of paper at the end. If it was notes from the exam then
no problem because it would have had to have been written inside the exam room.
Stuck to this piece of paper (which was okay) was a small frog. He peeled off the
frog and gave me the piece of paper. I threw the bit of paper in the bin, he walked
off with the frog in his top pocket.
Later, when he came to Ali's office I asked him about what happened to the frog.
He said that he killed 'her' because he couldn't feed it. Of course we started to
ask questions about what the frog needed to eat. It can be quite hard sometimes
when views are so different. The belief of many Ethiopians is that they can do
whatever they like with animals. According to the bible, they have dominion. Okay,
the amusing story doesn't have an amusing end, sorry.
Going back a few weeks to just before the exams, we finally had a curriculum workshop.
I was actually quite surprised at how much progress we made. However, we still need to make
much, much more progress before we are really at the stage where we have a decent
curriculum. The indians were there, some members of the board as well, and some
instructors from Mekelle.
We have had a guest in the house for a few weeks now. Bella is visiting from the
UK. Like Orsa last year she has come to Ethiopia by her own initiative. She contacted
TDA and arranged a short voluntary placement. Her intention is to get some material
for films, which she makes. She has got great access to people here, especially with
Ali's contacts. With the room left vacant by Ray's departure she has slotted quite
naturally into the house. Originally she was working with TDA but has now moved
to working with 'Mums for Mums' an organization working with single Ethiopian mothers.
It does a lot of good work and is really a very positive example of where funding
should be helping.
The title for this diary entry has come from a time that Scooby the dog went missing.
Ali and Bella had been walking him when he decided that he was going to run off with
a local dog. The girls came back and got Hans, Jon, and myself to help look for him.
All five of us headed to the place that he was last seen. It was an area of town that,
although not far away, was unfamiliar to us. We did not have our regular 'bodyguard'
children around us. Not that it was dangerous, just unsettling. We would ask locals
about the dog in Tigrinian and once they understood what we were saying we would normally
be met with laughter and derision. Eventually we found Scooby although we had trouble
recognizing him in the dark. None of the five torches seemed to reach beyond about
three metres. When he was found he was without his collar. Whether this had been stolen
or had been pulled off when someone had tried to help by grabbing him is not known.
Without a collar we had no way of attaching the lead so we started by calling him. When
that failed we took him by the scruff of the neck. Then, when he was putting up too
much of a fight Hans hoisted him over the shoulders. Scooby would try to bite (not
too seriously) Hans's hands or neck. Although the ride was uncomfortable for Scooby
biting was not a good idea. We were all pissed off with his little trip and for each
bite attempt he would not only have Hans holding him onto his back but my hands would
be up and on his throat in no time. Once we had got him back to the house, he had a bit
of bad cop good cop treatment. Nothing cruel but he was held down to tell
him who was boss and then had an hour or so of intensive coming when called training.
I did get a bit of revenge on the dog by drawing glasses on it using the whiteboard
marker pen (non-toxic non-permanent before you start worrying). It looked so funny.
Stress does that to you. It looked funny to the others as well. Shared adversity does
Just before leaving Ethiopia for the break, guests from Wheaton college were once
again present at MIT. At a meal with the guests Fithanegest was on top form. I was
sitting at a table with the two students from America, Tsega and the man himself.
The discussions started well when we could not agree whether a chicken was a bird
or not. The Americans were looking on in absolute astonishment, Tsega was looking
for places to hide. I was enjoying the argument too much. And then, well then it
took a bizarre turn. Fithanegest started to talk about Astro-Chickens. I guess he
has read about them in a journal. He reckons that American scientists are creating
cybernetic chickens that can travel though space using very little fuel. I have
no idea how I managed to keep a straight face.
I was relieved to get to the airport when it was time for my flight. I made it with
plenty of time to spare. Things often seem to get left until the last minute. I
wasn't really interested in any goodbyes. I figure that it was the end of the
term anyway so everyone will be going somewhere. During my trip to NZ I have been
sending a postcard at each of the countries stopped at: Ethiopia, Egypt, England,
Malaysia, and New Zealand. Ethiopia was the most hassle to get and send postcards.
I must send a large batch off when I return - it will be the last chance. I guess
that Ethiopia will also be the last to arrive if it arrives at all. Malaysia was
interesting. I will be stopping there for a day on the way back to the
UK, I did notice that some of their manners are closely related to the Ethiopian
way of doing things. I was immediately able to be polite by giving things and
receiving them in a certain way. I will be interested at looking at this in more
detail. Slightly odder is the way that Arabic and Egyptian seem to make more
sense to me when I hear them. I can pick out words that I think I can work out
the meaning for. My Amharic and Tigrinia is still not good but I think that it
has been of benefit.
I will finish this diary entry with one of the worst things about being a VSO:
not always being able to take action. One time walking in, Ali and I saw a donkey
that had just had enough carrying its load and so dropped to its knees. The donkey's
owners were soon there to encourage it to continue by hitting it with sticks. The
donkey was not getting up for them. It's at times that like you don't know what to
do. It's probably no worse than the donkey has suffered scores of times before but
you so want to be able to ask them what the hell they're doing. Maybe even turning the
stick to them. However, this could seriously compromise VSO's position in a country.
We have to keep moving. We tried asking why in Tigrinian but neither of us have
enough language. I hope we can teach our students about taking better care of animals.
Maybe we are just being 'soft British'. Who knows.
Once again, because of the lack of 'interesting' about which to write I have