Flying Ant Day
July 29th 2003
This one will be quite heavy on the photos, and there is definitely some animal interest in this one.

Saturday was the last day for exams. I needed to run two extra exams, one was where I postponed an exam before it happened because it looked like a power failure was imminent, and the other actually had a power failure during it. Because it was a Saturday, and one that I was likely to have a bit of spare time on, I took in my posher camera to take pictures of any of the birds that I could find. Molla accompanied me in the morning before the exam as we went looking for animals around the MIT campus. The campus is not huge, but there is normally something new for me to photograph.

We headed into the now long grass behind the academic building. A month ago, it was very short and patchy. However, the heavy rains have given it the food it needs to grow, and the dew was wetting my trousers half the way up to my knees.

Joining us in the grass where some grasshoppers. Their camouflage was extremely good and I only managed to see it because it moved. There were also some pretty impressive cacti, so I made sure that I got some photos of these.

It seemed to be a day for the animals, because, although they did not come close to us, some of the birds with the blue breasts that I had seen previously posed for a few photos. I need to get some of the red breasted ones as well. They basically look the same except that they have a purpley-red breast. It was unusual to see just two of these birds. They normally hang around in gangs.

Back at the academic building I was able to take several photos of other birds. I was to find out later why all the birds were out and about, and not scared of being eaten by anything. The large black and white birds (with the ice cream removed from their beaks) were out in force on the top of the canteen. They were trying to show off to their friends with their 'trick' of standing on one leg. 'Look mum - no hands'.

Also, flitting about the building, were some orange breasted starling birds. I had been trying for some time to get a photo of these. In England I wouldn't normally care too much about the birds, but because they are new, and possibly because I have too much work to do, I am very interested in them at the moment. Also, I can probably speak nearly as much of their language as I can the local's. I think this means that I feel that I have a more personal relationship with them. Not true of course, as I was telling bill the greater stork, just the other day over tea. Once you can see the photos, please tell me exactly what these birds are - I cannot find out from the locals.

There was another bird, and one that I had not seen. The only thing that I can think that it looks like is a curlew but there isn't normally enough mud flats around for them.

I had a break between the exams and so I took the opportunity to take some photos of MIT for a brochure that they are preparing. There was an ulterior motive to this. Yes, MIT could get some photos, and I had an excuse to have a poke around the dormitories and other places to get some photos that I might not have been able to get otherwise. I'm sure the students would only be too happy to oblige though. Many of the photos are posed, but it will probably provide something more than other places in Ethiopia have. Although most of the animals seemed to be very lively that day, we also found a dead bat.

After the second exam, I made one of my most interesting discoveries since being here. Not that it's an original discovery, mind. As I walked out of the building I could see several flying insects but I didn't think much of it. I noticed on the ground two insects, one following the other one's bum closely. This I thought was a little bit comical, but that was all. I then noticed one of the other insects, the flying kind that seemed to have got itself stuck on the ground and was desparately trying to fly away. What I also saw littering the place was a large number of insect wings. But, this made sense because of all of the birds that were quite brazenly eating the insects right in front of me. Molla said that at this time of year there is often a swarm of these insects over a period of a day or two. Flying ant day, basically. This explained why all the animals were out and not afraid. A feast was laid in front of all, and they were not the main course. Although I did notice the fun that the ground squirrels had when then charged at the birds. They wouldn't eat or attack it properly but it seemed a very enjoyable game. Molla said that there would be a source in the ground for all of the flying insects and we set off to look for it.

I'm not sure when I made the 'discovery' but it came as a bit of a surprise. I was watching yet another one of these insects that had 'stupidly' got themselves trapped somehow on the concrete. Another one flew straight to it, and landed directly behind it. Then, and I had to look twice, they both discarded their wings and started to walk along, one following the other one's bum closely. The walking insect and the flying insect were one and the same. What I think is happening is that a female lands and wiggles her bum in the air to attract a male. It had looked to me that she was stuck and trying to get away. But no, she was giving her best seductive wiggle. When the male finds here, presumably they have flown far enough away from their old hive and so discard their wings to find somewhere to bury themselves. Once a pair have 'found' one another, no third parties can interrupt, they soon go away if they bump into a pair. Molla and I tried our best at a bit of match making but we only seemed to be able to catch females. We had a harem of about five but then we gave up. However, we know for sure that they must voluntarily 'give up' their wings because that is how we were catching them. Their wings were very strong. I spent a bit more time waiting to see the 'magic moment' again. And yes, you lucky people, I managed to get it as a movie, although there isn't much of an intro to it. It's just stright into hardcore, un-cut insect porno-filth. I am wondering if I should dub some music over the top?

The animal watching was rounded off at MIT by some photos of the ground squirrels who were, erm quite proud, to be in the photos. The abundance of food definitely allowed them to show their more playful side.

The animal activity didn't end at MIT however. When I returned home that night, I found that Nelson the gecko, or his relative, had returned and was sitting on my wall and in range for a very close up photo. I hope that he can still see after getting the flash in his face.

After the excitement of Saturday I found myself in a 'quiet' mood on Monday and not really wanting to talk to anyone after the written exam had finished. I'm not sure why, but I was all for hiding away somewhere to get the exams marked. However, when I got to the office I found that I just couldn't be bothered.

Tuesday was a pretty hectic day with lots of things appearing. In the morning, I had to invigilate one of the other exams. Then in the afternoon I had to visit a local garment factory. I knew that I was going to go but the fact that I was going today was a bit of a surprise. The idea is that we will network the factory, which is being built, using the students as much as possible.

The drive to the factory was interesting. This was only the second time that I had been outside of Mekelle since arriving nearly six months ago. The last time I had been along the road was to go to the airport. This time, we were going to the site opposite the airport. I had wondered at the time what the thing being built was. What was really noticeable was the change in the scenery. When I had flown to England, it was very dry. Not even my sunglasses could make the scenery look very green. This time, there was long green grass all along the main road and I was glad not to have my sunglasses. I thought that this must make the Ethiopians happy becuase they put grass on their floors to make them look green.

We arrived at the factory and went inside to have a look at where network cabling could be positioned. Although I had seen it before, it did seem odd to have women working with the men in construction. There certainly seems to be some part of the equality here. However, it doesn't stretch to the pay. The men are always paid more. In what seems normal for a building site here, there is always somebody spraying the walls with water. I'm not sure why, maybe the cement dries too quickly otherwise. This building site was no exception, in fact I think that there were two. As we walked through the mud I was looking around for all of the accidents waiting to happen. We certainly weren't issued with hard hats, and the nails sticking out of the wood were positively wishing that somebody would stumble near them.

Inside the administration building we were able to look at where cables were being placed and were the phone lines would be. I was drawing a little bit of attention, but not as much as I would have expected. It turned out though that there was another Ferenj here, working on site.

We also went over to the 'factory' part that appeared to be a large empty hanger. Workmen were scurrying about the metal rafters trying to fix a roof. Needless to say that they did not have any safety gear on. It was here that I met the other Ferenj. I think that he was Italian but it was hard to place the accent, it didn't seem to come from a single country, just like the equipment, neatly laid out and ordered on the floor; it had come from many European countries judging by its packaging.

I got very excited when I saw what I thought was a guinea-pig. However, it turned out to be just one of the orange breasted birds. Big dissapointment. It's odd when you are standing above a bird you can't recognise it. My boss also thought it was a guinea-pig, or a big rat at least.

The pickup took a detour to get back to Mekelle, through the town of Qihar (get the sniggers out of the way now). The electrician who had joined us to look at the clothes factory had to see the church here. As we left the main road, it was nice to see something that was more like a village. In a fairly central part I saw many little raised platforms of stones. These were only about 10cm high, and probably 2m by 2m. Composed of neatly arranged stones. The platforms themselves were arranged in a neat and regular pattern. It was only when I saw one with a wooden frame and mail sack roof that I realised what they were, and where I had seen them before. This was the 'market'. On a market day, this is where the stalls would be. Presumably they would bring their own rooves. I had seen this before when I had first arrived in Mekelle, at the new market.

As we approached the church I commented that it looked more like a mosque. They agreed that this had been one of their fears when they designed it. However, I was shown some of the features that made it Christian. Most importantly was the cross on the top. The church was on the top of a hill, overlooking the rest of the town and was surrounded in wooden scaffolding where it was still being constructed. It had a round shape and was topped with a green dome. It had been constructed from neatly cut, regular stone blocks and had large open windows. Once inside, I could see the wooden scaffolding filling most of the church and was shown the separate part where the model of the ark of the covenant was to be stored. I was told with a sense of pride that women are never allowed in there. It made me really wonder about their religion. I must subtly ask why women are not allowed. There is a special temple where no women are allowed to go. In fact, no female animals are allowed in there either. They're proud of that one as well.