A Bucket of Donkey Sticks and Some Whips
July 13th 2003
The last couple of weeks have been rather mixed. Some days seem to have gone very well, but other days I have come home in a storming mood. I really didn't have these extremes of anger in the UK. I am controlling them, but I am certainly learning more about myself, and what happens if I don't get enough laslasa (soft drink).

The diary has been a bit neglected again, and for that I apologize. I did spend some time walking in on a Saturday to take photos and prepare a 'photo special'. However, if you are reading this by email then it will be a while before you get to see these pictures because I do not have the bandwidth to upload them from Ethiopia. The photo special is now ready, and I hope to create some more.

The weather has been quite wet over the past two weeks. More rain has fallen in storms during the afternoons. It never seems to rain in the morning. Although we get a storm it is not often that we get to feel the full force of it. Normally it seems to pass by Ainalem, giving it a little bit of rain but not much.

With the storms come power failures and the students are learning to save their work regularly. Anyone who can remember Microsoft products from a few years back will be only too familiar with having to save their work every five minutes. There is good news from the point of power. The heavy rains means that there is now power for seven days a week.

I have to admit that Microsoft products have been a bit of a pain this week. I fell, again, for the 'nobody would be that stupid' mentality. Yes, someone would be stupid enough to create an OS that copies the whole profile regardless of whether it needs to. Microsoft - please do some design first. Excuse the rant if you are not geek inclined.

I have been discussing creating an inverter with Michael, a volunteer from a German organisation. He is not convinced that my design will work, but if I can find the parts, then I will try to prove him wrong. The ultimate goal will be to get the students to build such things and sell them within Ethiopia. This will be a way to get MIT's name known. I can't see there being much impact in my time here though.

There has been some more argy-bargy on the curriculum front. My boss is in Addis this weekend putting forward the views of the Academic Commission. In some ways I hope that it is out of my hands. Then I won't have any work to do on it.

The students are learning the basics of computer programming at the moment. One of them has surprised me by really taking to it. He has written a quadratic equation solver. It even works with complex numbers. I know that the maths is fairly simple, and it has possibly been partly copied from somewhere. Regardless, the application of what has been learnt by this student is nothing short of amazing.

There are still stresses to do with equipment. Firstly, there have been no monitors for the second computer lab. Then there is a continued lack of soft drinks. Yes, this is pretty minor even for me (I do not drink tea or coffee). However, getting the soft drinks in is not exactly a difficult job so it makes me quite angry when people keeping asking me to do other things, but this cannot be sorted out. Another place with some sorting out to be done is Ethiopian Telecoms. They have still not moved the telephone line, despite continually saying that they will do it on the following day. What I keep thinking we need is a big bucket full of donkey sticks. This is what I am calling the sticks used by habesha to get their donkeys to move. It looks like some of the habesha need to be prompted by a well aimed thwack. I am even tempted to put in an order with finance.

It certainly hasn't all been negative. I haven't had a bout of being really ill for the last

two weeks so I think that my stomach may be learning to cope. I have stopped eating Kolo, and this might have something to do with it. Something that I have not tried eating yet is Beles, the prickly pear. I want to but I have a little while yet, and I have been told that it can do odd things to your stomach. They will be out of season by the end of August. Currently they are being sold on nearly every street corner. Occasionaly you see a slight Ethiopian woman frantically hitting a large cow that has taken an interest in the contents of her bucket of pears. Most of the sellers have a pile of skins, which are not eaten by people, close to where they are selling the pears. Donkeys and cattle eat these up on their way past. Nature needs no rubbish collections.

Another seasonal feature are the whips that many of the young boys have. Michael has a theory that they are only present at the moment because of the slightly increased humidity in the air. He says that he has seen the same thing in Ghana. As you walk down the street, you can hear them being cracked (this is all they seem to be used for). It obviously gives the boys a sense of power judging by the looks on their faces. I have been told that they have some religious signifcance, but the person couldn't remember what this actually was. There was definitely a 'whip day' on Saturday. I woke at about 4am to what sounded like bacon cooking. I then thought that it must be gentle rain on the tin roof, but this did not quite fit. My half-in-slumber brain eventually worked out that it was the sound of these whips being used across all of Mekelle. Groups of whip cracks in the distance merging to form a sizzling sound.

Saturday was quite a busy day in fact. I helped Michael at his office in the morning. As we drove through Mekelle it was clear that it was graduation day. In Ethiopia you have many graduations throughout your life. I wouldn't be suprised tio find that you get to wear a gown with a rosette and carry some flowers once you can tie your shoe laces. As Michael tactfully put it, 'it's obviously a holiday because they are wearing their bedsheets'. Actually, there was as many people in suits but people were obviously making an effort today.

The trouble with graduation day is that you get pulled into them. I was glad that I was only pulled into two parties, and even then only for a brief time. One graduation party was for Girmachow, our librarian. I have no objection to going but I had only just arrived back from town when I was asked to join by some of the other staff.

The graduation parties are held at the person's house. They do not seem to have a party at the college or university. There were several relatives at his house, and all seemed happy to have their photo taken. Again, people were very excited to see their photo on the back of the camera. The food at the graduation party had a similar look and feel. It was the typical party food that I had tasted before. Enjera, some spinach, some potato and meat, and a bit of doro wat. I wonder if the food at western parties is as predictable.

As I left to meet with the other VSOs on Saturday night, I was pulled into the second graduation party. This time, it was inside my compound. A friend of Abebe (works at the university) was graduating. I got the digital camera out and took some photos for them. They insisted that I stay for a short while and had some cake. It wasn't bad cake either. I stayed for the shortest time I thought I could without causing offence and then left for Mekelle town. Sometimes life seems to be bouncing about just trying not to cause offence, but getting very little of what you want to do done.