Apr. 28th 2003
Once again, I have been extremely busy. It is hard to explain to people how long things take. You definitely feel that you are the only one that understands. There is a limit to how many times you can patiently explain something.

On Monday of the week gone, there was a surprise in the form of cattle grazing outside of MIT. Normally, the plain just outside of MIT has no animals on it. Certainly no 'serious' animals. However, this week, there have been Kudu grazing on the plains. Large, cow like animals with big horns. They come in many colours, black, grey, brown and any combination and pattern in-between, all in what appears to be one very large herd.

The rain has continued this week, and the Kudu have been eating the new green grass. I am not sure whether the rain is good or not. It might cause damage at the wrong time. I know that the rain is now falling late, but if it is of benefit to Ethiopia, then let it fall. The soil is dark in colour and the grass is green, even without the benefit of the polarising lenses in my sunglasses.

This is the first week that the students have been able to use the computers. I was unable to use all ten computers because of the lack of electrical cable. I am not sure of the best way to approach this one. I think that I will write a letter asking for a date when I might have the equipment and a person responsible for each piece of equipment. At least then I will know who to give some hassle to.

Because of my now very heavy teaching load (the labs), I was unable to attend the faculty meeting this week. This was actually in my favour though. After it wasted so much time before, and making me angry. I think that it was a good idea to miss one.

The physics teacher is always claiming to be busy, but I fail to see how. He has a lighter teaching load than myself, or the English teacher, and he has no labs to set up. I decided to try to cash in the favour of doing his exam for him and asked him to test some voltage regulators that had arrived. It was also a little bit snidey of me because in a previous meeting he had said how important theory was (and he is good in theory). I pointed out that theory doesn't mean anything if it couldn't be applied and have been looking for something practical to give him. In the end, he did not test the VRs himself and he tested only two out of eight, but claimed that they all worked. I asked him if he was sure that he had tested them all as I broke the seal on one of the boxes in front of him. I didn't take it any further, I think my opinion has been coloured.

Friday was a holiday. I would have liked to take Friday off, but I needed to do work in the lab. The campus was largely deserted, and with Molla's help I set about re-installing the computers to give them more space. Molla is technically competent and I have no doubt will make an excellent system administrator for Ethiopia sometime. However, it does take longer for me when I have to teach other people as I do a job. That is part of being a VSO - it's skill sharing. Judging from the reports of other volunteers I should be happy to have someone learning from me, and I am. Sometimes it would be nice to just do it though. I hope that I see a benefit myself by teaching him. VSO is getting the transfer of skill - I hope I get time back in the future.

Saturday was the day before Easter sunday. A holiday taken quite seriously by Ethiopians. Even though I did not see many people, I did have the feeling of anticipation from those that I spoke to. I was, of course, at MIT working. Again, with the help of Molla for much of the day. In the morning he had to go into town with some of the students and my boss. His task in town was to buy animals to eat on Sunday. I think that he bought three goats and a sheep. The goats were for the students, and the sheep was for himself (and me as it turned out). The goats cost 110birr each, and the sheep was more expensive at 150birr. I'll let you convert that to pounds or whatever. Saturday itself was still a fasting day, but at the turn of midnight, Molla himself would slaughter all the animals and start their preparation for the students. Part of me wanted to experience this, but I think that I will probably get another opportunity, and I needed sleep.

On the way back home, the smell of fear was in the air. Fear from every goat with a bit string tied onto its horns being dragged by unfamiliar hands into an unknown house. It seemed that every other person had some kind of animal with which they were tussling. I wonder if it was like a cartoon, where they could see a joint of meat at the end of the string.

I wandered into town that night hoping to meet the other VSOs. Alas, I did not meet them, and went into the Yordanos in town. Because this was the last night of the fast, I thought that I would take advantage of their vegetarian buffet that they have every day during fasting time. The food is very good, and you can eat as much as you like for 10birr. This I proceeded to do, and filled myself.

Sunday was probably the most eventful day of the week, and one that I shall describe in detail while I can remember it. Hagos, the driver picked me up at 8:30 and took me into MIT. Once there I did some work that did not require power. The power at MIT is best not touched until 10:00 in the morning. Out of my window, I could see something a little bit strange. Four amora (eagle like birds) were on the ground and next to them was a squirrel. This was strange for at least two reasons. Firstly, the amora normally stay in the sky - I had never seen one on the ground before. And, why would a ground squirrel be next to them. Surely it was food for them. As I walked out of the building with Molla, the amora took to the air, and the squirrel darted into its bolt hole. I asked him about this, and he said that the bones were on the ground. He pointed to the remains of the goats - leg bones spread in the area where the amora had been moments ago. They had been dining on these, and it would appear that the squirrel felt safe enough.

It was about 10:00 when we walked out of MIT and into Ainelam - the village that contains MIT. I had agreed the previous day to join Molla for food. This was my chance to experience 'real' Ethiopian food. The timing was a bit inconvenient because I was at work for a reason. However, it would have been rude not to accept, and this is one of the good things of doing VSO.

As we left the compound, I spotted a feather on the floor and picked it up. I had to explain to Molla, that many of the things that seem normal to him are different to me. The feather was brilliant green on one half and an attractive brown orange colour on the other half. I slipped the feather into my top pocket, and we kept walking.

As we reached the houses, the children spotted me. Ferenji! Ferenji! Ferenji!. This wasn't the 'you' and 'ferenj' calls that you get in the town. This was genuine amazement and excitement. The sort of thing that you would see on comic relief as Billy Connoly walks into a village and all of the children touch his hair. I was able to joke with the children and I asked them where the Ferenji was. I joined in, looking for the Ferenji, and they seemed to appreciate this. They did not ask for money, and it was nice to see some people from outside of the town. Although the children laugh at you, it is not a nasty laugh. I worry that I might take it badly when I am working so hard. It is very easy to get angry at minor things. Fortunately this had the opposite effect and I could relax as MIT was obscured by the village's stone buildings. On the approach to Molla's house stood a water container perched on high metal legs. Children were climbing on these legs and playing in the dust and stone road.

We went into Molla's room. I think it is quite good by Ethiopian standards. He had a large bed, and an extra matress, a low table (and the obligatory low ethiopian stools), shelving units, and a display cabinet. Molla's maid was busy preparing food when we arrived. She was a friendly person, and I think that she is treated well by Molla. In Ethiopian culture, it can be the men that eat, and the women must prepare the food but they cannot join in the conversations. That is the impression I have, don't quote me on it. She joined in our conversations, although Molla had to translate a lot of the time. My Amharic is still prety shocking.

Grass was spread on the floor of Molla's room. I had seen this many times before, in restaurants particularly. I had assumed that it was because the grass released a fresh smell when it was crushed under foot. I asked Molla if this was the case, and he seemed a little surprised. It was not for the smell, but to make the ground look green. Probably an important thing in a country that suffers droughts.

While waiting for the main course, a bread made of wheat was put on the table before us. It tasted quite good, but I knew that I should avoid eating much. I might need to be really hungry to eat whatever was coming next. The maid also poured us some drinks. I didn't recognise the taste, but I thought it might have been made using ginger. After some discussions we agreed that it was orange, and maybe it was orangeade (the non fizzy kind). The maid then showed me a tin - marmalade. They make a drink out of canned marmalade. The first few sips were not great, but it grew on me quite quickly, and I also knew that I might need something to wash the food down with.

Then, the food itself was served. Many enjera were laid onto a large plate. These plates are typically shared by all that are eating. Into the middle of the top enjera was poured some doro wot. I knew that this was coming and asked not to have the egg that is normally served. In the doro wot was a large portion of chicken. To one side of the enjera was sheep meat and potatoes. Much of the meat was still with its bones but it was cut into small chunks. On the other side of the enjera was a delicacy. Those who are not feeling well, look away now. It is only eaten the day after a sheep is slaughtered. It was the intestines of the sheep. We're not talking a long lump of intestinal tract snaking across the enjera. But it was undoubtedly many short lengths of tube, and other things that I did not identify and I wish that I hadn't even looked at. It had a sour flavour, but it was not as chewy as the more conventional sheep's meat. Getting a taste for the marmalade drink definitely helped. I was able to wash down most of the meat. To be honest, it was well cooked, and it was probably only cultural differences that stopped me from enjoying it.

The chicken in the doro wot was all mine. Molla had taken some local medicine and been told not to eat chicken for six months. It would be extremely rude not to eat this, and although the meat was not the same as the UK, it was good meat. Hidden in the sauce was a 'special' part of the chicken. It is normally shared by man and wife, or given whole to a friend. Molla gave me this piece of meat and watched as I ate it but he never did tell me what part of the chicken it was. To me it tasted like the rest of the chicken, but the doro wot sauce tends to overwhelm any other flavours.

I was also able to try tella for the first time. This is a local brew, and something for which Ainelam is supposed to be known. Probably all villages tell you that though. It is very hard to describe its flavour. It is definitely alcoholic and is dark brown in colour, and opaque. Like most things, I think that it was bitter, and it certainly couldn't be drunk in the same way as beer. You could however, develop a taste for it. Just like you develop an addiction for touching and twisting a loose tooth when you are a child and your adult teeth are appearing.

I managed to finish nearly all of the meat with the help of the small glass of tella that I had, and the marmalade drink. After this, the maid started to prepare coffee properly, and placed two plates on the table. One with popcorn and sweets on it (still in their plastic wrappers), and the other containing what looked like pieces of fudge. They were actually figs or dates, i'm not sure which but they were a welcome change for my taste buds. It was about this time that we were joined by Hagos, the driver. He arrived in a good suit - ready for his easter celebrations.

The coffee was served, and I was told the three stages. The first cup of coffee is the 'best', and then the next two are progressively not as good. This is because they are weaker than the previous ones. The coffee was, of course, extremely strong but tasted good. This time I managed to drink all three cups. I was asked if the coffee in Europe was as good. Molla was asking to find out if the best is sent for export. Somehow, I doubt that it is. Even if the best was sent abroad, something is lost in the processing.

Hagos drove us back to MIT, where the students tried to get into the land rover to take them into town for their celebrations. There were a lot in the back when it disappeared as myself and Molla returned to setting up the labs.

In the evening the students were back on campus and were dancing in one of the lecture rooms. Dr Mulu had lent them his own stereo. They asked me to join them. I declined partly because I was knackered, and partly becuase I didn't really want to dance. I offered to take photos and they seemed very happy with this.

The Monday (today) was definitely a day for pizza to provide a pick me up. The day started badly - the food from yesterday had given me a stomach ache for most of the night, and the accompanying bowel movements in the morning. I had had little sleep because of this, and I managed to get toothpaste on my shirt. The toothpaste is a pretty minor thing, but this morning it was just another thing that went wrong. At lunch it was enjera and unidentified squidgy meat. The Habesha were happy again.

The pizza in the evening was delicious, although when getting out the money to pay, seeing Sarah's photo in my wallet was quite hard. Memories of pizza in England came back, and I had a strong need for her to be here. Still, it won't be long until I am back in the UK for a short break. If work continues like this, then I will need it.