Boss Eyed Bosses
July 16th 2003
I thought that I would show willing and write another diary entry today. The truth is that I don't feel up to doing much else. I have been feeling a bit off all day with a headache, stomach ache, and joint pains. That probably means that I ate something dodgy yesterday. I think the pineapple juice I had is to blame. It didn't quite taste right, even though it was in date. My toilet smells sweeter now, with what was left discarded down it. I have done the necessary checks to see if it anything really nasty, so do not worry. It feels just like something that I would get in the UK, but I will monitor it closely. I expect to go to work tomorrow.

I had to decide how the students' exams would work this week. I have decided to give them a partly practical exam, and a partly written. This is the last exam at the end of their first year. Although, they haven't really chosen their degrees, so I am treating it as a 'throw away fundamental year'. Next year's new intake will not have this luxury because the Ministry of Education is pushing for all degree programmes to be four years, and not five.

In their practical exam, they will be allowed to look at all of their labsheets, and even the newsgroup postings (where they can send messages that they can all read). I have been trying to encourage them for the last six weeks to use these, and it is a way of passing around information in the group. They can also do it in the local language. However, even with the threat of the exam, and the knowledge that they will be able to see all postings, they are still not using the newsgroups enough. I have yet to work this out. My theory at the moment is that once they find some information, they do not want to share it because of the competitive nature. I keep stressing the importance of the newsgroups (they will hopefully see this when we have Internet access). Yet, all to almost no avail.

I hope that the exam makes them realise that when I suggest that they do something it is a very good idea. In some ways (and not nasty), I hope that they get a slap across the face when they are in the exam, and I tell them that the problem they are faced with has been seen before by at least one of the students but because they failed to fix the problem, this student must relearn it.

The big news today is that the telephone line has been moved from administration to my office. This gives me a line through which I have direct access to the telephone network. I need this to provide Internet access for the institute. This will be another job for the weekend because I am so busy preparing for the exam. Internet access will not be offered immediately to the students because the next two weeks will be exam weeks. I do not want them wasting their time on anything new and more distracting.

I was quite surprised to see the men for moving the telephone line. There were three of them. Only one actually seemed to do any work. One was a boss-eyed boss. It was very difficult to see where he was looking, so I decided to avoid eye contact completely. The one that was doing work in the office pulled a thin pair of wires out of a knee-high hole in one of the walls. As he pulled it, a smell became apparent. It smelt like oil and stagnant water. I say this because I was trying to understand what the black liquid coating the wire could have been. I decided on oil, and since then that is what I have been able to smell. The wire snaked across the room causing black patterns on the floor. In fact black patterns were left on my chair, and I particularly like the black oily hand marks now on my walls. I did offer some soft (toilet paper) for him to wipe his hands, but he was not interested. Probably thinking that he was being polite in refusing.

The two thin, twisted wires were bound to the wall into the location I had asked for. They were partly naked, without an outer insulating layer that I would have expected in the UK. However, the phone does appear at least to work. I now need to do a fair bit of work on the server computers to provide a real Internet service, but the exams may give me the cover that I need.

After inspecting the work, I wandered outside of my office to find another hole where I had seen the 'boss' squinting at it diagonally. I figured that this was probably a place where they had fed in the wire. I braced myself for Ethiopian wiring delights and headed towards the hole. I was not disappointed. There, at the back of the hole were two fresh connections. Poking out of the whole were three pairs of wires: red, green, and blue. All had had their end piece of insultation stripped and were now poking into the corridor, like electric tentacles of some sea creature. Within me stirred a fascination to find out if they were carrying any electricity. It was extremely unlikely that it would be mains voltage, but it could be telephone voltages which wouldn't be a lot, but you never know. I turned my back on them pretty quickly and headed down to the lab. Curiosity has a nasty habit of daring. I wasn't going to give it a chance.

Normally with the students lab sessions, I would pop in and out every 15 minutes or so. However, with the exam approaching, I made a committment to be in the labs permanently. This is quite a drain when there are 24 hours of scheduled labs a week. However, I am trying to turn it to my advantage by reading and learning some Tigringa. Everybody says that Tigringa is harder. I have only learnt a little bit (personal pronouns and the present tense of to be), but it has been easier to learn than Amharic. I'm sure that will change though. You need a bit of phlegm in you mouth and sound angry to speak it properly.

One of the students, Tigist, was very interested in the book I was reading. I had laid it down on the desk to help another student. She edged towards it to read the inside cover. I think it may be a book that they have been told about, and it is a book that I should have read years ago. The book(s)? 'Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn'. I took it from another VSO who was going to put it in VSO Addis.