Martin by Candlelight
Mar. 31st 2003
I am writing this in candle light. Admittedly, the screen of the laptop is bright enough, but I am not good enough at touch typing to be able to do this without some extra assistance. It is our turn not to have power.

At the end of last week, we were suffering most days from a lack of power. In general this is a pain. Right now it is very awkward because of the need to prepare exams, which are this week. If I do not have power, then my exams are in trouble. I have decided to give the students some practical exams. This is something that they have not done before. In fact, I am introducing them to many new things. This week saw them marching around in a circle pretending to be the surface of the floppy disk. I had one student standing on a chair to be the disk drive's head. I later found asked whether this was okay, and apparently it's not good to stand on chairs.

The power is a problem so I asked if there was a generator. I was told yes, and it was broken. After a bit of persuasion we were able to get a key. Unfortunately, it was a key to start the generator, not to allow us into the corrugated iron hut at the edge of the compound. We eventually got into the hut by forcing the bolt away from the edge of the door. With the beams made of wood, they had a fair degree of flexibility. Inside the hut stood a large generator that looked in very good condition. It had been painted british racing green but was coated in the ubiqutous Mekelle dust. It was not small, as most people were suggesting. It has output for three-phase electricity as well as the regular electrical power. I estimate that it is capable of generating 200A. On further investigation I found that it has come from England - I will need to contact the makers. I also discovered that it is missing its battery and is low on oil. Before I even attempt to start it, it will need a service and a battery. I think I will ask the company's advice first.

On the friday night, I met up with other volunteers. It was most of the volunteers within this region. We went to a 'chinese' restaurant. I had paella. We could find a single japanese dish but no chinese dish. They had taken the time to get chinese written onto the menu though. Despite the lack of chinese food - it was very good. I think that they had sharpened the end of the chop sticks to make it easier for habesha - they could stab the food. We played a game that appears to be like billiards. Not that I know how to play billiards but I am guessing that it is similar. There are four white balls, four red balls, and a blue ball. There are also some pins in the table that you should try to hit with certain balls, but not others. I don't think the rules are very complicated but they are not obvious. I was blessed by more than my fair share of beginners luck, as my team won both the games I played. It was a good evening, but one I paid for the following day. This was the first evening that I had been out drinking in Ethiopia. We ended up at a bar until about 01:30 with some locals from the university. I seem to remember people drinking 'nech ferris' - white horse whisky.

On Saturday I went to MIT to help run some labs. The registrar had kindly agreed to run extra labs for the students. I didn't spend much time in the labs - I spent more time helping the physics teacher prepare his physics exam. Because the power was unreliable I decided that it would probably be better if I typed it. If the power hadn't been an issue, then I would have left him to it. I had to keep popping out of the office for a bit of fresh air. Ethiopian beer has the same effect as European. Actually, if they could export it, then I think it would be a very good export.

In the morning of Sunday, my boss popped round to help me by organising a maid. I didn't want to try to organise this myself. Never having had a maid before, I had no idea what to expect. I am not a great fan of washing my clothes in a bucket though. After meeting the maid (who speaks no English), we had coffee with the landlady. She is really friendly, and she got one of her daughters to perform the 'ceremony'. Ethiopians call it the coffee ceremony, but there doesn't seem to be much ceremony to it. About as much ceremony as elevenses. Indeed, it serves the same purpose. My boss and I could sit talking to her while we ate some Ethiopian snacks - bean sprouts with the beans still attached. I can't say that they were the greatest but they weren't bad. Although I don't drink coffee, I thought it would be too rude to refuse. If I did drink coffee, then this is definitely the right stuff. The cup was very small, and the coffee was very strong and sweet. The landlady's daughter had roasted, crushed, and infused the beans as we sat eating the bean sprouts. I took small sips, fearful of the headache that this much caffeine could cause. In the end I didn't feel much of an effect but I was quite glad that I had drunky slowly enough for them not to ask more than five times if I had had enough.

The afternoon of Sunday was spent back at MIT. One of the jobs was stapling the physics papers together. Although this was my Sunday, and I wasn't getting any of my work done, it did feel quite good. It was nice to think of MIT as an institute that could become much larger, and better. Here we were in the first year of its life desparately working together to prepare the exams ourselves before Monday, the day of the physics exam.

Monday has been spent cursing Microsoft as I have been installing, or trying to install, NT on the computers here. I wanted to do this before there exam, but I will have to rely on the backup plan. One nice thing though, I returned to find my washing done and the floors cleaned. I pay a lot for the maid (as maids go), but she should come in every weekday. I just have to try not to become accustomed to it.