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
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
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.