A Machine that goes Bing
Mar. 2nd 2003
The week has been busy and I have been neglecting the diary. I am expecting the frequency of entries to drop anyway, but I fear that this might be a mammoth session.

Tuesday of this week I had my first lecture with the students. Unfortunately, I am teaching them Word. Shiver. I am trying to be excited for the students but Word is so dull. It has been a long time since I used chalk. I really appreciate white boards now. The chalk is quite loose here, it doesn't last long and the blackboards are covered in dust. The students are nice. They are polite but I am having trouble understanding some of their English. All tertiary education is done in English so if you're thinking that I should learn the local language, then Zim Bel, i'm supposed to use English. Zim Bel is Amharic for shut-up by the way.

There are only ten computers and one hundred and five students. The staff do not have computers apart from the two new ones that I want to steal and make into server machines for the network that we don't have. My placement description said that there were two labs (there's one), that they were networked (they are not), and that there was ten hours of Internet access every day (do I need to add anything here?). In the lecture I talk about Word and draw pictures of what they will see on the screen. It's a little bit surreal but that's how I am starting until I think of a better way.

I have run several computer labs, and on the whole, the students are well behaved but sometimes they step out of line. It's as if somebody hasn't told them off for things before. The most prominent example is when I opened the lab door and they rushed in to get a machine. With only ten computers and twenty to twenty-five students at a time, the space around the computers is quite limited. However, I don't think I would expect musical chairs in the UK. The students were running in, trying to get to the chairs. They were quite shocked when I told everyone that was sitting down to leave the lab. I figured if they had got to a chair, then they must have run. I let those that were still waiting to take a chair, and then let the other students back. Despite the rushing, they seem happy to share. The physical closeness between Ethiopian men seems to help. They will happily share chairs with their arms around one another. Of course, this is normal for hetero Ethiopians, they wouldn't even think that it could mean something else in another culture.

For my Tuesday afternoon, I went to Kellamino. Here they have some computers that I might be able to use. They are locked in a room. I was hoping to see them and decide which ones I could take. However, the store-man with the key had gone home that afternoon. In fact, I don't think that I will be able to see him in any afternoon. A shame because I can't do the mornings. Could he leave the key with someone? We'll you would think so, but this is one of the things that VSO has warned us about in a training courses. It is something that I will refer to as 'the curse of harborne hall' (Harbone Hall is VSO's training location in the UK). People with keys have responsibility and power. That power goes if they don't have the key. He doesn't trust his deputy to do anything, and as a result his deputy has an easy ride because he does nothing. He won't leave the key with the VSO at Kellamino despite the fact that as VSOs and Ferenj we are normally trustworthy without any question. That was a whole afternoon wasted. It is hard to get there - I need to organise a lift with the driver. You then arrange a time to go back. I spent four hours trying to hide from the sun. I did see some intersting bugs, a really big buzzing fly that I haven't seen again but I will take a photo if I get the chance.

On the topic of animals, Ethiopia has small lizards. I have only seen these on the concrete in the noon sun. They're fast. Real fast. If you get close to them they scuttle off at an incredible speed. Taking a photo of these could be difficult. I have also seen what I think might be a stork or a crane. I disturbed it the other day and it took off. It was grey, with a very long neck and a long bill. I'm not too good at identifying birds so it might have been a goose but it didn't look like a european goose.

I have been able to get on the Internet a couple of times but it hasn't been very successful. The one time that I did arrange to use the Internet and I could do so without being disturbed it broke again. For most of the week, the Internet has been unavailable becuase the telephone lines out of Tigrai have not worked. On Friday at 6:15 I found that it was working. On Friday at 6:20 I found that it wasn't. This means that sending or reading emails is not exactly easy. It should start to get easier. Especially once I have a phone line going to my office.

The weekend has been quite busy. On Saturday I met with a number of professors from India who are deciding the computing curriculum for MIT. Unfortunately, they are all electronics professors, and the curriculum is heavily biased towards electronics. So much so that computer science is a 'branch' of electronics. The politics are getting heavy here. I have to make sure that MIT has a sensible computer science curriculum. After the meeting, in which I don't think I was the most diplomatic but I did make sure that the right questions were raised, the professors were introduced to the students. They were arranged in the dining hall and the professors were asked one by one to introduce themselves, which they did in English. The students duly clapped each of them, although I doubt they could understand the English any more than I could. The professors then secured their status by donating a single oscilloscope. Obviously, MIT should be grateful for all such donations but I could see the students thinking 'Wow, it's a ... a ... a ...', lets clap. The students treated the professors with such high status. Yes, I am annoyed by this. They had bought adulation. I felt like shouting 'hurray a machine that goes bing!' but I thought better of it. After they had left I had many queries as to what the machine actually was. There will be another meeting in Addis next weekend, I will be interested to see if I can go there. One of MIT's directors was quite interested in the fact that I wasn't accepting the computing is electronics line. My next pitch is that MIT should be creating professionals for the benefit of the country, not lapdogs. Of course, put diplomatically.

When the students clapped for the gift, they used a slow, regular clap. A bit like the start of a slow hand clap. I was a bit worried initially that it had the same meaning, but it appears that is not the case.

I am starting to learn my way around the town, and on Saturday I got food at a restaurant, a snack in a bar, and I got my shoes cleaned. On nearly every street you will find young men and boys offering to clean your shoes. I decided that I would try it and they did a pretty good job considering the limited amount of cleaning materials they have. I did have to bargain with them though. They wanted 2birr which is a lot. I got them down to 75c but I payed 1birr becuase they did a good job.

On the Sunday I arranged some extra labs for the students although I would have preferred to do other things. We had about three and half hours of labs before the power failed.

Eleven hee-haws. Now that was a Donkey (aheyaa) with attitude!