Capture of Baghdad
Apr. 13th 2003
This week has, again, been very busy. VSO tell you all about how the pace of life is slower in developing countries. I haven't seen much evidence of that. Although, I think that I am doing more than most of my colleagues. There are two colleagues in particular. Ato (Mr.) Hagos is the chemistry teacher and he seems absolutely dedicated to the students. Ato Goitom is kind of the institute's handy man and everything else. He is always busy.

I have been following the news casually on the radio. I have a sense of relief now that they have captured Bagdad. However, just to put things into context a little, the power and water situation here is not much better than Iraq. I mention this because the reporter was saying how terrible it was that they had had no power or water for 48 hours. The power here has just been off for two and a half days, it will probably be off tomorrow. I hadn't realised that the water was off (not since getting my big container), so I don't know for how long the drinking water has been absent. Obviously, the situations can in no way be compared like for like, but I did find it interesting the way the reporter was talking about these things. For hospitals it is a major problem. For ordinary people, they should have planned ahead.

Throughout this week I have been trying to set up the lab, and I must still do more work next week on it. Molla, the registrar, was helping me as usual. On the Tuesday, he came to work after not sleeping. I just assumed that he had wanted to keep up, maybe in practice for some of the religious duties he has. In the church here, they have some ceremonies that last three days. The people performing the ceremony must remain awake. He did not sleep on Tuesday night either. I think he had little sleep on the remaining days and went home early in the morning on Friday. Talking to other staff, it seems that one of his relatives has passed away. I hadn't realised this at all, and although I hadn't said anything insensitive, I do wish that I had thought there maybe was a reason that he was missing sleep.

Driving into campus on the Thursday, we passed an absolutely huge bird. I have never seen one before, and I must remember to take my camera more often. It was a grey colour and had a large knobbled bill. It didn't seem to fussed about the car as we passed it.

One of my jobs is to get the students at MIT to think. Education in Ethiopia is largely about theory and memorising facts. I have been trying to encourage the students to develop inventions. Inventions that can be made easily inside Ethiopia and would be of benefit to local students. I talked to some of them and suggested this. In fact, it turned into a little speech. I was quite surprised when they gave me a round if applause. But, they are the students with the best qualifications in Ethiopia. If they can think as well as recite, then they could really do something for the country.

Talking to Ato Hagos, we believe that it would be a good idea to encourage the students to invent through some kind of competition. On the Friday, I tried to se them a challenge. I asked them to build a clock using local materials, and to have it ready by the time I left. I was expecting a sun dial, but I did get some people complaining that they couldn't get the bits for a mechanical clock. I awarded a prize of being able to fly my kite. They hadn't seen a kite before, and were quite interested. MIT is blessed with lots of wind. However, the wind is not constant and the kite was a bit of a failure to be honest. But, at least, they saw something new.

As well as changing the attitude of students, I feel that I need to do a bit of work on the staff. I'm not sure that they appreciate the opportunity they have to make MIT the best technical institute in Ethiopia. In fact, I think it is the only one like it at the moment. It seems that all places look to Addis University as their role models. Some of the courses I have been asked to teach are based on those from Addis. Quite frankly, they're outdated. I want to foster the idea that MIT should be a place of invention and innovation. I am having to be quite forceful, and it is difficult sometimes fro me to talk at meetings. There is a tendancy for people to talk over one another. As a result I am finding myself starting to try to control the meetings more. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not.

One area of frustration that I have had this week is in getting equipment. I cannot buy the equipment myself, we have to get bids and then buy the cheapest. Although I cannot buy it myself, they keep asking me, and they keep getting too few bids and it just seems to be delay after delay. I have told the person doing the buying that I consider it to be their responsibility. If they do not give me freedom to buy equipment, then they can deal with all the bidding crap. I'm not sure whether this is adapting in the correct way. I have agreed to look at the equipment just before it is bought, but I do not have time to waste by going into town every week.

On friday, we had no power. This was a real pain because I still have computers to set up. I took the opportunity to move the twenty 486 computers from Kallamino out of the store and into a lab for which I have a key. I wasn't going to move all twenty computers myself so I asked the students and they were happy to help.

For the evening, I headed into town and on the way met one of the 'house finders'. I tried to say goodbye as I went up the stairs to the hotel but his English seemed to stop working then. I figured that I was probably stuck with him so I let him sit down with me but then proceeded to be very rude by only talking to the other VSOs throughout the evening. He asked at one point why I was not buying beers, I told him that I couldn't afford it. In truth I didn't want to buy anything in front of him, and I certainly didn't want to give him the opportunity to order along with me. Yes, it was rude, but I figure that I have to start being rude to people, I can't be friendly to everyone. Especially people, that I dont want to be friendly to. Although the hassle hasn't become any worse, I have started to accept it more but try to have more fun at their expense. One of the games I have started now is that if children are asking me for money, I try to maintain eye contact and guide them into a lamp post. I haven't scored anything yet, but I will keep trying. It makes the constant requests for money more interesting.

I managed to lose Hailu, the house finder, by joining some other friends for food, while he sat with the other VSOs. I was worried that he would latch onto them, but it turned out to be the correct decision when we met up with in another pub called John's place. This has to be the nicest bar in Mekelle. It has a guard outside with a peaked cap, and when there is power it has those fake fire lights with a bulb and a bit of cloth flapping about over a fan. From John's place, we headed to the sports bar for another game of Carambola.

If I haven't mentioned it before, Carambola is a game that we think is originally from Italy. It is played on a pool-like table. Each player has four balls, and there is a blue ball that is not owned by the other player. The rules are not complicated but require a little bit of practice. You do not use sticks, instead you roll or bounce the balls. For some reason, we decided to let ourselves go. I think it was Seamus's fault. To fart or belch in Ethiopia is very, very bad form. To clear snot out of your nose or throat as loudly as possible is, obviously, very good form. That evening we decided not to bother staying to the Ethiopian conventions and I think we must have done more to taint Ethiopian - Ferenji relations than ever before. Although there were no other customers at the sports bar, and we did not fart in front of the Ethiopians, they must have been able to hear us. Trouble was, after keeping it all in for so long, it was intensely funny. It was, of course, the Belgians who started laughing, but then we all found it funny.

On Saturday, I was not feeling great. Although I had only had two bottles of beer, I woke with a hangover like headache. I wandered to Andy's house and we went to the University to get a CD. The University is far enough away to require a line taxi. I still find these fascinating. The one we had on the way was crowded. You could tell it was a hot day becuase a habesha acutally opened a window. This is a truly exceptional occurrence that only happens when the heat starts to melt rubber and straighten hairs. We sat at the university for an hour or so waiting to see if we would get any power, but none arrived. I was able to ask Andy lots of questions about his time as a VSO. The volunteers here are great, I can pretty much ask anything. Many of the things that we miss are the same. Although I think Andy's plans for life after VSO are quite different. At the moment, I am definitely thinking of going back to University. If anybody wants to give me any rubbish about the 'real world' I now have the perfect come-back.

The line taxi on the way to the University was good, but the one on the way back was better. There seems to be two basic designs. Those that are mini-buses, and those that are converted pickups. They put seats in the back on either side that run along the lengh of the 'pickup' part. They then create a cabin for it. This was the first time I had been in one of these line taxis, and we got a seet up the front. At the front, there was a window were you could see directly ahead. It was a bit like being a child and making sure that you sat on the top of a double-decker at the front. However, what made it special was the engine, or rather lack of. As we entered Mekelle we became more aware that the line taxi was coasting. The engine must have been running at some point but just before the bus stop area, it decided that it definitely wasn't going to be running any more. Thinking back, probably ninety percent of the journey from the University was downhill. Probably the engine has been idling or stopped for at least that long. We decided to get out where the taxi had stopped because it was outside the shop we wanted anyway.

After this, I went straight back to the house because I was still not feeling well. I got back at about 6pm and decided to see if I could go to sleep. There was still no power, so it seemed a good idea. I did actually get to sleep, and although I slept as if I had a fever, I stayed asleep until 7am on Sunday. I think that must mean that my body is fighting something, or it is just exhaustion. I even stayed in bed for another two hours. Still there was no power.

On Sunday, I dropped of some CDs at Andy's house and then headed straight back. I wanted to go for some food but my stomach and bowels dictated otherwise. My stomach still aches as I am writing this (8pm Sunday), but I have eaten and had plenty of water and salt. It is no worse than before and I have no reason to suspect anything serious. I hope it is clear by tomorrow - I don't fancy have squits on campus. We do at least have power now, but tomorrow is our normal day to not have power.