Ice Cream Beak
July 24th 2003
This entry is likely to be a little mixed. I am taking the opportunity to write this while I am invigilating the students' practical exams. They have been scheduled in their lab sessions, so that makes 24 hours of invigilation this week, and then I will probably have to help out in other exams later.

The weather is still pretty wet. It is the afternoon as I write this, and there is no sign of a storm yet. With the storms come power failures. This would be a real problem at the moment because I would have to re-schedule exams, and write some new ones. There was a storm during exams yesterday, and a heavy one. However, it seems that you have power if the storm is directly overhead, but a storm some way off is the most dangerous. I guess this is how superstitions start. The only way I know how much of a beating the electrical system is taking is by listening to the gasps from the voltage regulators. It is their job to keep the voltage at 220v in the lab.

I will give you a quick description of the eight students sitting this exam. I have to admit this is one of my 'dark' groups. I say this because I do not know much about them, not because of their skin colour! Sitting close to me, on the opposite side of the laptop's monitor is student X (their names have been changed to protect the innocent). It's warm in the exam room, but like many students he is wearing a coat. None of the students have less than two shirts on. Student X is interesting to me becuase he does not appear outwardly competent. By this I mean that if you were choosing people to be on your team, he wouldnt be the first. However, he has a knack of understanding some of the things far better than other people. And like a tortoise that can accelerate to 50mph as soon as you turn your back, he can complete that lab sheets within the last ten minutes of any lab session. There are only another two students that I can really say anything about. One of these is wearing his normal bobble-less bobble hat in the Ethiopian colours of green, yellow, and red. Yes, these are the same for Jamaica and you will find the history of Rastafarianism (sp?) interesting when you see its connection with Ethopia.

Moving along the students we come to probably the oldest. I assume that he is about 28, but I am not sure. I find judging ages very difficult. Like many of the students, he has a thin moustache. The usual joke amongst the VSOs is to describe someone as the black guy with the thin moustache. That narrows it down to about 80% of the men.

I have to confess to being a bit, well not cruel exactly, but cruel. Next year the students will have a choice of degree. The overwhelming desire is for computing, or at least that is what I am told. Electronics is not a favourite amongst the students because the lecturer, as an Ethiopian, concentrates on theory. I must ask them to fix a monitor and see what they do. Theory is necessary but so are practical skills. I have concentrated on practical skills so far. This is partly due to the fact that there are very few books in the library. The reason that I am saying that I am cruel is that if nearly all students want to do computing, then that hopefully means that I will get the better students. Some of the students find it difficult to understand some of the basics. And, unfortunately I do not enjoy teaching the basics. In fact in my application to VSO I said that I might leave if I was. So, hopefully I will be left with the most capable students. I don't feel too bad about saying this because I remember working as a lab leader and spending many hours building up the weaker students. I've done my graft.

If you're interested in their exam, then they have to fix a program that contains some errors, and then to create a very simple program. I have given them access to all of the labsheets and to the news server. So, they can get information if they need it. The exam is one and a half hours long. This is plenty long enough to complete it, but for most students it seems a very short and stressful time. However, this may be the most realistic exam that they ever do. They have a short time, access to resources, and are expected to fix and create things within that time.

Although the exams have been going well so far, there is one area in which I have a slight dilemma. I have told the students that they must stop typing at one and a half hours. Most of them do this but some of them try to continue. Some really push it too far, and I am recording all those that continue to type so that they can be penalised. I'm not trying to be cruel again, I am just trying to get them to follow instructions. I am more lenient here than I would be in the UK. Anyway, my dilemma is that one of the best students continued typing. In fact, his was one of the worst offences so far. I have separated the offences into those that just type a bit, and those that go out of their way to type. He definitely fits into the second category. This is the category for which I was going to award 0. I cannot make a special case for him; all offending students will face the same penalty. I worry that this may affect his mark too much, but at the same time there are some lessons that really need to be learnt by students here.

I have just given the half an hour remaining warning. As with every other exam so far, that produces looks of shock and an amazement, and then a minute's worth of furious typing or mouse movement.

The weekend saw a visit to what will potentially be the new house for next academic year. Next year, VSO hopes to send ten volunteers to Mekelle. Four of these will be going to MIT. The Ferenj population in Tigray is increasing greatly by this move. As a result of having more VSOs at MIT, my boss is looking for a house large enough to share. If he actually organises it (which I somehow doubt), then it will be an extremely nice house. There is only one problem with it - it's a long way out of town. However, it is in a good area, and there are many other 'Ferenji' mansions around. I am fortunate in that I have lived (almost) with an Ethiopian family, and I would not mind a bit of luxury sharing with other Ferenj.

The house itself is a large two storey, villa like building. It has a total of three showers and toilets. There are three rooms out in the compound, and at least six bedrooms. There is even a kitchen with a sink in it (don't mock, this is a *real* luxury). It looks fantastic and it would be well worth getting a telephone line for five Ferenjis. Apart from the distance, people might not want to share. As I said, I have done a bit of living alone as a Ferenj. However, I am interested to see what will happen with the house.

On one of the days this week, I saw something new. The large hills (I don't think that they're mountains) in which Mekelle buries itself were hidden by a cloud of mist. There was no mist at a low level, but high up there, the tops of the hills were obscured. There was something else unusual but good to see. I have been watching the increasing number of Barinto (although that is still a temporary name), the large stork like birds. We started with one mated pair. Then two, and the other week I counted six. This week, they threw a party. I counted more than twenty four birds on the roof of the academic building. I stopped counting when it felt that they were looking at me. The group has changed slightly to being more of a gang. Their deep crowing noises have a much more sinister edge to them. You can here the 'now!, his back is turned', 'quick!, he's looking the other way', and the most hurtful was the 'hurry up!, hide that ice cream, and wipe it off your beak'. It's funny what a desire for luxury ice cream will make you think. This was a craving that I fended off one lunch time by pretending that my water was vanilla flavoured and that the hard plastic bottle was the chocolate chips in the cookie dough. I wasn't going to try the same trick with the enjera. There are some things that even my mind cannot imagine.