Donkey Knacker Knocker
May 24th 2003
Wow! It's only been two days since the last entry. However, the last two days are packed with stuff, so I thought that I would write while it was still in my head. Molla also wanted to read today's entry so I need to do it quite quickly.

Yesterday, Friday, the invisible lorry actually arrived. Admittedly, only some of the things I ordered were visible, but at least it arrived. We got some of the voltage regulators that I had requested, all of the UPSs, most of the network equipment, but none of the tables or chairs.

The students, as usual, were keen to help by carrying things to their destinations. There were tables for the electronics lab. These were very large, heavy and made of metal. I think all of them had been damaged in some way in the lorry from Addis. I don't think that the lorry drivers really take much pride in what they do. When you have to wait so long for the stuff to arrive, you are less inclined to worry about such things. I wonder what would happen if they created 'ferenji shipping'.

On the Friday evening, I kept the regular VSO appointment at the hotel. I was a little skeptical about this. It is unlikely that Mekelle will be targetted by any terrorists, but this wasn't quite keeping a low profile and avoiding places frequented by westerners. Keith, the vet I had met previously in Mini Bu-Bu, was there. He had some fascinating stories about being arrested, and he was describing the technique for castrating donkeys. So, if you have a donkey and you want to lop its nuts off, I think I can probably do it. We ate at the Geza, and on the drive over he showed me the actual cutting tool. I was quite relieved to hear that they use two anaesthetics - a general and a local.

Friday was also the first night that the lab attendant scheme ran. It seems to have been successful so far. I saw some of them today (Saturday). I was quite pleased that the lab was not completely full but nearly all of the computers were in use.

I spent this morning tidying up the office and server room. It should be tidy for when I am not here - try to keep things simple for Molla and Hagos, another teacher. They will be looking after the 'girls' (the two server computers). I hope that this does not mean much more than making sure that they have power in the morning. Now that they have UPSs, they should be healthier.

Power could be a problem. There is talk of having two mabrat yellem days a week. This could even affect Ainalem. I haven't noticed the power being off that much here, well not regularly at least. If we do have more power cuts, this will severely affect the teaching. The good news is that the big rains should be coming soon. With them comes electricity from the hydro-electric plants.

Later in the morning, we started to set up a new server computer. Hagos, or Ato (Mr.) Hagos to be polite, had his first go at working on the inside of a computer, moving drives and inserting network cards. Molla had his first go at installing Linux. This was watched by a friend from Kallamino who also had an interest in Linux. We left the computer doing some formatting at lunch time and headed into a part of Ainalem for a wedding ceremony. This is really the bulk of today's entry, and I think the bit that Molla really wants to read! I am glad that I was invited because, as Molla said, I should really see one of these ceremonies before I take my break. This is really wedding season. Every day a procession of cars travels slowly through Mekelle blasting their horns to announce the marriage of a pair of habesha.

Myself, Molla, Hagos, and Genzeb (the friend from Kallamino) left MIT by the front gate and walked by the roadside along the outside of the high, barb-wired perimeter fence. The sun was hot but not unbearably so. I wondered how long the walk would be because I did not have any sun cream. As we walked, three young girls walked closely behind us. Curious about the ferenj in front of them. We didn't actually pay much attention to them. However, I was interested in some slender bushes that made a kind of hissing noise in the wind. Although I was interested in these bushes I was later told that the locals do not share the same interest and they have a less than pleasant name for them, something about cursed.

The ground we walked on was part dust, and part yellow, dry grass. The floods that have hit southern Ethiopia have not touched the north. As we approached the place of the ceremony, we passed low stone walls with cacti growing from them. The closer we got, the more cars we saw. We walked through a narrow passage where there were guards checking our tickets. They didn't bother with mine but the guards did say hello, using my name. Like so often in Ethiopia, I did not know if I have met them before. However, I shook all the hands I could (with the correct hand), and said hello while bowing slightly. I think that it is seen as a good thing to have a ferenj at a wedding, and I was the only one there.

Once past the guards, we were in a covered, low stone-walled enclosure that was packed with habesha. Some were dressed smartly, others casually. Some were dressed traditionally, some wore western clothes. The covering was provided by orange and green plastic tarpaulin held up by thin eucalyptus wood poles. The area was roughly square with each side being maybe 20m at most. The floor was covered in green plants, presumably to give the 'green' feel. Low benches had been created using planks of wood and concrete blocks. I say that they are low, but traditional seats are low in Ethiopia. Nobody stood out as the bride or the groom. I asked, and I was told that the party was part of the dowry. It certainly looked expensive. There were many people and a lot of food.

Molla instructed me to start taking photos. I think this was part of the reason I was invited. We certainly had fun with the camera.

Just to the left of us was a table with people serving enjera and wot. Molla grabbed a plate from me while I struggled to get the camera out of its case, we then took some seats in the middle of the room. Immediately, someone came over to give us some plastic cups and tella - the local beer. I am not expert in tella but it did taste pretty good. You had to ignore the bits of grass and whatever was floating in it, mind. The men with jugs of tella moved rapidly around the party, making sure that everyone's cup was kept charged.

Children, as usual, found me fascinating but they did not come close enough to talk to me. Most of them did not have the confidence. Immediately in front of us sat three young men doing, so it seemed, their best to ignore a musician singing in front of them. I have to admit that I think singing is too grand a term. It was more barking, and like most musicians that move around at parties or restaurants, he was dutifully being ignored by his immediate audience. He carried an instrument roughly the size of a violin. It had a long thin neck a single string, and had a diagonal box covered in animal skin of some kind. It was played using a bow but it was held vertically. Unfortunately I couldn't hear much noise coming from it. Maybe that was fortunately, actually. I could hear him saying something about ferenj, and I was told that he would come to us soon.

When he came to us, I took a photo when instructed by Molla. Being a digital camera, we have a bit of fun when we show them the picture on the back of the camera. We did this while he was either singing or saying something. I say this because he suddenly went silent and gently slapped his forehead with a look of confusion. This action got the attention of the other party goers. I think what he was singing had been a mild joke or comment about ferenj. I was told something about him singing about the number of cattle my dad had. The digital camera redressed the balance, as people were now gently laughing at him (but in a nice way). I think that people were surprised that he had seen something that would stop him singing.

Molla led me out of the back to a group of women who were preparing the enjera. I did as I was instructed - take some photos and show the subjects. This, once again, had a very good, and positive effect. You would take a photo, and watch their faces as they watched you fiddle with the controls to make the picture appear. When you turned the camera around to show them the picture, well this is when I really needed a camera! Mostly it was a kind of coy, shyness but always smiles.

Just outside this kitchen children leading a horse wanted their picture taken so I obliged. According to Keith the vet, getting people in the picture is not a problem. Keeping them out is. However, I took the picture of these children and a horse with its head being twisted into the group. They too were excited to see their picture. The horse didn't seem interested though.

Molla led us to another kitchen area where women (there were no men in either of the kitchen areas) were preparing more food. One of these women I think I recognised as Molla's seratagna but I am not sure. The photos had the same effect here. However, we received the high-pitched lalalalas. This is a sign of happiness and thanks. I don't know if men make the noise as well, but as well left the kitchen six women were warbling their gratitude.

We then went back into the main part of the party, found that our other two friends had left, and them joined them outside. It was a shame that we couldn't have brought a bottle of that tella back, it was pretty good stuff including the grass and dead flies. Not a bad way to go.

The walk back to MIT was quite eventful. It was a real 'Billy Connoly' moment. As we approached the corner of the perimter fence, near to the road. Children from the school opposite were leaving. Many of them were coming quite close to get a better look. I told my habesha friends that if they were not there, then the children would be more interested and would probably flock round me. Hagos did not sound convinced, so I told him, and the other two to walk ahead, and I said 'Selam' to the children.

The children did start to gather but they kept their distance and did not say much. I thought that one would be brave enough to shake my hand in a less than a minute. Hagos prompted them by telling them to say hello in Tigrinyan. I think it was one of the girls who was first to touch my arm. However she did so as if it was electric. It was a quick touch, the movement back had started before the movement to touch my arm had even finished. I don't know what the children thought would happen when they touched me. Pretty soon children were shaking my hand quite confidently. There was now a crowd of at least thirty children surrounding me. I could see Hagos and Genzeb in front of me. Behind me was Molla and I passed my camera to him. Partly so he could take photos, partly so I could concentrate on what was in my pockets.

I started to walk again, and the children cleared a path for me and followed us to the gate of MIT. It was a shame when one asked for 'money'. However, I did get to use a bit of amharic. When a child asks for one birr, and they say the number one in English. I ask if the want 'wenber', which is a chair in Amharic. This received laughs from the children, so I think that we were all happy.

On the approach to MIT we were met by our guard. This also meant that we lost the entourage. The guard made sure of that. I don't think that he threw it but he definitely picked up a stone ready. This is normal for guards and children here. The first duty inside MIT was definitely to wash hands. Snotty nosed children probably means snotty hands.

We returned to the lab to work on the server computer. While we worked, the wedding procession passed MIT and I went out to take photos. Unusually, this had riders on horseback. One carried a whip, and I could hear the crack arriving at my ears several seconds after it snapped beside the child he was trying to keep away from the horse.

I think that it is likely that there will be another wedding coming up soon. Goitom (the proctor at MIT) will marry soon. This really is wedding season. He asked if I would be his best-friend. I presume that he meant best-man. I have no idea what this will involve here but I am certainly game; especially if it makes it special to have a ferenj present.

On a more work oriented note I am now considering what I need to teach them on Monday and Tuesday, and how I am going to do everything I need to do before Wednesday. Wednesday is a holiday here, and I will be flying to Addis on Thursday. I sincerely hope that it is not Wednesday that we have no power. I need that day to take photos of Mekelle before my break.