Mary's Birthday
May 15th 2003
I could say that I have been a bit slack at writing the diary stuff. However, as per the previous, weeks I have been extremely busy. I fear that I might not be able to remember everything from the last couple of weeks. And, I don't think that I will bother trying to get things into chronological order. However, here is the assorted randomness.

Today has been a pretty bad day as far as anger management goes. I seem to have some days when I am very angry. Although I get frustrated and annoyed in the UK I am normally pretty good at finding a way of getting rid of it. However, with no sport, that's a bit of a problem here. The physics teacher asked me to install some software and I had a bit of a go at him. While I think it was actually justified, it isn't my usual style. It turned around to me asking him how he has helped me. The truth is he hasn't really, and I have helped him lots. He always says that he is really busy but he probably has the lightest load. He caught me at the wrong time. All things that added up to something that was short of an argument but not the best of things.

During the day I was conscious of how things might be interpreted. When he came in for lunch, I was getting up and leaving. This was because I had work to do, but it may have been seen differently. In the car on the way back, I got into the back seats, he was in the front. Normally the lecturers go in front. I had sat in the back because I though that there would only be a few people in the car and that there would be more space this way. Still if it means that I do less favours for people, that has to be a good thing.

My stomach has been fairly random this week. I am showing a mixture of symptoms for the different 'diseases' you can get, but I think that I will follow an experience friends advice. He asked 'is there fever?'. This would possibly mean Malaria. There is no fever and seeing that I don't have to make any changes to what I do, I will give my body a little bit longer to sort it out itself.

On the Monday of this week, the students asked me if I could fix lawn mowers. MIT has a lawn mower that does not work. After explaining the basics to them and telling them that it was NOT a good idea to get the fingers anywhere near the blades, I started to investigate it. Whether it is fatalism I don't know. But, they were happy to touch any part of the mower while somebody else was near to the controls. I had to give them a bit of safety talk.

I have not been able to find exactly what is wrong. It seems to be in good condition though. One thing that worries me is that the gardener pointed to where he had put the 'benzine'. It was in the fuel tank, but I don't know if he really meant benzine. It smelt like petrol to me, but then I have never smelt benzine before, and I have no idea if the engine could run on it. It's at times like this that I really appreciate being my father's son. So when you read this bit, you can choke up a bit dad. It's nice having the skills to fix pretty much anything (even if I haven't yet). Skills that I learnt from you.

I had a surprise telephone call from Sarah this week. That was great, although it was to the landlady's telephone. I'm not sure how I stand with that telephone. I feel as if I am intruding because I have to go into their lounge. Obviously it was worth it for the phone call but it doesn't feel right. My boss, says this is just what you do in Ethiopia, you use other peoples' phones like this.

While on the phone one of the landlady's dogs joined me. It gave an ocasional lick on my bare knees (I rarely wear shorts at the moment because of cultural considerations). After licking my knees again, it sat on its side, farted, sniffed its fart, looked proudly at me, and then decided that it had better looked embarrassed. This seemed to be a practiced look and I wonder if the whole action had been performed previously.

The students have now had their vote for the lab attendants. I am desparately hoping that this will mean that I can use my time more constructively. I think this is the main reason for my anger. I have so much that I need to do for the students, and running labs is eating away at that time. I really do not enjoy teaching at this level, I would much rather leave it to someone else. I know what will happen, I will do the preparation work, working very hard. Then someone (probably an indian) will come and continue and have an easy life by comparison. I don't know that for a fact. But angry thoughts like company.

By the way, what I called kudu last diary entry. They're just big cows or oxen. Doesn't sounds as good does it?

The friday was a special day, although not a holiday. It is celebrated as the birthday of St Mary. This I thought was a little odd because Ethiopians do not normally bother with birthdays, especially over ten. Mary's getting on a bit now.

At lunch time there was a small coffee ceremony. The implements were lain on leaves inside the canteen. There were some biscuits and popcorn. I had to leave before the real start of the ceremony to give a lab. I was quite impressed when all of my students turned up. While I was running the lab, the ceremony was continuing. As far as I know, we do not have such a ceremony in the UK although I kept being asked what it was called. The idea of the ceremony is that you promise a gift to yourself or to someone else for that day next year. I think the physics teacher promised a bottle of whisky to himself.

In the evening, I met the other VSOs, and Raf and Eva from the univeristy. We went to Geza's for food. I have been here before. This is is the first place that I ever saw people eating raw meat. Literally a plate with some raw meat and some very sharp knives. However, we were definitely having cooked meat. I had the safe option of Tibes. This is basically just chunks of sheep with an enjera. However, Geza's is quite upmarket and they also brought some bread and a very interesting sauce. The sauce was in a shallow dish and was a dark red colour. I guessed correctly that this was berbery. However, laying on the surface of the sauce was another liquid, yellow in colour. I asked our habesha friend what it was and he described it as a nose mustard. I dipped a piece of bread into the thin sauces making sure that I had both. I could see why he called it a nose mustard. It was definitely mustard, and you definitely felt it in the nose. Much more so than English mustard. It is definitely an odd sensation but not unpleasant.

We were about to leave (in fact two of us had), when they announced that because it was St Mary's birthday they had some cultural dancers. This was the second time that I had seen such dancers. There were three women. One of whom stood out from the other two because of the speed of movement and the breadth or depth of movement. All dancers move their shoulders extremely quickly. Amazingly quickly. I think my arm would fall off I tried to do the same. However, I think that Marks and Sparks should send some of their bras over here to get a good work out. I'm surprised that she didn't give herself (or ourselves a black eye). Joking apart, the dancing is pretty amazing when you see it. Alas I did not have my camera with me.

Tuesday was a holiday (again). I spent the day working and trying to get some things done. I ended up talking with a neighbour for half an hour as he told me what they needed to do with the computers at the university. He wasn't asking for help, but he was telling me about things that I already know. And without being nasty, in considerably more depth. I had to switch off for the half hour and nod politely or agree at the right moments. He probably wanted to practice his English and he is a nice bloke.

On the Tuesday I also had a visitor. One of the landlady's daughters knocked on the door to show my visitor to me. This was a person I had never seen before. I asked him what he wanted and he said that he wanted to work for me. I invited him in but positioned myself so that he would not be able to move and see more of the house. Yes, I was suspicious. He was asking about work and I told him that I wasn't able to offer any, and that he should try applying at MIT. He said that he knew about VSOs because he had lived near one before. So, I hoped he understood that we do not have spare cash. Not as much spare as some of the Ethiopians anyway. I agreed to ask people if they needed help but I was quite happy when he left. They weren't threatening or scary in anyway. It was just more time gone. I asked him why he was asking me, and he said that he had seen me walking. This makes me think that this is opportunistic, and that he is after money. Suscpicous yes, correct who knows?

Tonight (Thursday), Eskinder, my visitor returned. I had just finished having a shower when he banged on the door. I went to the window with my towel around me. He said that he would talk after I had finished. I decided to use this to my advantage, and after refusing him entry I said that we could talk at the window. He was offering apologies for disturbing me but I figured it was best to go to the window in my towel, and then I could get rid of him quickly because I definitely had something to go to. Once I had made it clear that there was no need to open the door, we talked at the window. He was telling me how Mekelle was not good for him because there was no work, and that he wanted to go back home, and needed 25birr. After my day of being angry, I was not going to give any money here. I figure that I have given up two years of my life to help a country to solve their own problems. I am not going to give money for a local problem. This was, of course, if he was genuine. In fact, not giving money is one of the positive things that you can do as a VSO. Why was he asking me anyway? I didn't see him stop at anybody else's window. I don't know if you could call this racism. He was definitely asking me because of what he thought I was. He told a story of sleeping on the streets last night. However, I noticed that the clothes he wore tonight were different to those the other day. This does not seem to tally with someone that sleeps on the street.

I told him politely that no, I did not have money to give away and checked that he understood about VSOs. We said good night and shook hands through the bars of my window. I wonder if he will try again. I am fortunate that there are always people here so I am not worried about being robbed. This is a nuisance and I hope that other people do not try.

Okay, to finish this entry off, something a bit more positive. Oranges here are not orange, they're green. I don't know what Amharic is for orange (the colour), for the fruit it is birtukan.

Also, I learnt a valuable lesson about mosquito nets. They stop Gecko crap getting into your bed. I have a very small Gecko living in the cracks between the ceiling and the walls.