Two Propellors and a Flacid Table
June 1st 2003
Okay, big gap in diary entries I know. To be honest, I haven't felt motivated to write an entry. I hope that will change after writing one.

Before going back to the UK, I had a slightly less pleasant duty to perform. I had to attend a funeral. As usual, these are done slightly differently here. The mother of one of the students had passed away, and it is normal for some members of staff to attend the funeral. Both myself and sister Ruth went. It took a long time finding the family house of the student (he lives on campus). The house itself was built from the cut, rectangular blocks of stone that most of the houses on the outside of Mekelle have used. We entered through the outside wall and sat in the covered yard on the many low benches. We were not alone here, there were many other people. This is how you pay your respects. You sit in the yard for a short time, or if you're close family maybe a couple of days. What surprised me where the two groups of men playing cards. Clearly 'turning up' is sufficient. I was later informed that in Addis, there would be Araki (like gin) available for all.

We sat there in near silence, although Sister Ruth was telling more about funerals, and I was desparately trying to find if there was something that you should absolutely not do. The student came out from the house, clearly upset, and wrapped in a blanket. He sat with us for a few minutes before greeting us and thanking us for coming, and he then went back inside. That was our cue to leave, although we could have stayed longer if we had wished. The atmosphere was not too sombre or oppressive, but we did have to get home.

The following day was a holiday that I actually took, and then I had my flight up to Addis. This was the start of my trip to the UK. Fortunately, the car used at MIT was able to take me to the airport. As we left Mekelle, I was excited like a small child. This was the first time outside of Mekelle in about four months. The route took us past MIT and then onto the airport. It was carrying on beyond the turning for MIT that really got me excited. These were bits of mountains that I hadn't seen before!

I unloaded my bags and proceeded to check in. There was a slight bit of hassle with the bags. After they had been through a scanner, an attendant loaded them onto a trolley, and then asked money for it later. It was 2birr (17p), but that is a lot here for what they did. I will have to look out for that one and tell them that I don't need help, that's why I have a bag with wheels.

While waiting in the departure lounge, two men (one young and one old) went out onto the grass by the runway. A member of staff waited for them by the door. I watched as they seemed to pick up some of the grass and tie their shoe laces. I couldn't see their feet and it would probably have helped to realise that they were removing their shoes. They then went through a practiced sequence of actions with the younger man always slightly behind the older man. Maybe they were related or there was some other form of authority here. I then realised that they must have been performing some ritual for prayer. Looking back it is obvious, at the time I just wondered what they were doing, and why the had both tied their shoe laces.

The flight to Addis was quite pleasant. The plane was quite small, had two propellors, and a problem with its trays. It seemed that many of the trays wouldn't stay upright against the chair in front. Mine was one of them, so I had to relent and let it remain down for the whole flight.

As the flight progressed, I was able to see the landscape changing slightly from predominantly brown to green. The region that I am in is normally one that is affected by drought and it certainly seems to be becoming more of a problem, but maybe people are talking about it more because the big rains should be coming but there hasn't been much sign of them.

I arrived in Addis and got a taxi to the Yonnas (the hotel normally used by VSO). That evening I was absolutely amazed by a television. There were only three channels but one was playing western music videos and I was transfixed. I must admit to having the same experience in hotels in England. There is something about music videos that makes me want to watch.

The next day I headed into VSO to pick up things like my passport and money. I had a few jobs to do there with their computers, and then contacted another VSO to arrange a meeting with them and some of the other people from the same intake. I met Lynn in the bar that night. She is working in Addis, although she has the opposite problem to me. She doesn't have enough work to do. It was nice, but very odd to smell western perfume. I know it's an odd thing to notice, but then I am writing the things that are different. It was so good to chat to another VSO from my intake and to get our problems out in the air. Mine being too much work and the wrong kind of teaching. Her's was not enough work, amongst others.

The next day I met up with four of the volunteers working in Addis and we headed to the NGO fair. An NGO is a non governmental organization, such as VSO. This was basically just a 'ferenj fest'. I had never seen so many white faces together and so many 4x4s parked outside. This is how the 'other half' live. As VSOs we do not get the luxuries of other workers or ex-pats, although our salary is normally good for a local salary. The fair was selling mostly touristy stuff, and I got some tat for friends back home. I also had a very small tub of mango ice cream.

That night we went to a party held in one of the Addis VSO's houses. They all seem to be huge here and really nice, but I know that isn't the case in general. After all you wouldn't have a party in one of the dives. It was for a VSO who was leaving to go back to Canada the next day (on the same flight as me). She had got married to a habesha and the highlight of the evening was to be the wedding videos. We tried desparately to leave and managed to escape after only a few minutes of video. It was a relief to get back to the hotel.