Spicy Barley Balls
Aug. 10th 2003
I'll warn you now, some of this may seem a rant (especially if you get the private sections). Anger levels went well beyond the red zone, although not for the reason that some of you may think.

Myself and another member of staff had been told before I went back to the UK that we no longer needed to pay for food at lunch time. We had been asked for 140birr a month (a lot). The justification for not paying was that the other person is payed nothing from MIT, and I am not 'paid' as such, I get an allowance. This amount is much lower than an Ethiopian doing the same job, and as a Ferenj you cannot get money to go as far. Many places increase their prices for Ferenji.

However, we were recently told that yes, we did have to pay, and that they had 'only been joking'. Both myself and the other member of staff agreed that this was definitely not the case. And the person saying this was trying to avoid blame. It turns out that the very nice lady who serves our food has not been paid for three months. I wonder where the money is going. I have certainly lost all faith in finance here. It's been six weeks now since they could organize soft drinks. Although you will get a personal promise that somebody will get them. Of course, they do not. Incidently the same person in finance recently costed the equipment I predicted that we would need for next year. I thought that the value was too high on one of the sheets of paper. I looked more closely, one thing was listed as 60,000 birr. It was 200 cable clips, the white hooks with nails that you hammer into the wall to hold cables in place. Each box of 100 costs 6 birr. I already have two of them. Listed on the inventory, each single clip costs 300 birr. Competence is sadly lacking, and I am going have to be careful in case there is some corruption going on here.

I asked this person why the canteen lady cannot get the soft drinks. He said that she was not experienced or competent. I think a job swap is in order. So far she has never failed to serve us food.

During this week, we found that food was no longer being served at lunch time. I had just paid the money as well! On the Monday, myself and Sister Ruth hid ourselves in her office and ate biscuits for lunch. When you have Enjera nearly every day, many things are actually preferable, especially with a sweet tooth. We would look out for food in the canteen occasionally but there was none. I saw the other staff after lunch and asked them where they got food, and they said that they all went into town because there was none here, I asked if anyone knew that there would be no food, and it turned out that Ato 60,000 birr knew that the lady was not coming (because she has not been paid). He was also in the car that went into town for food. I found him after lunch and asked if he knew, and when he said yes, I asked if he thought that it would be nice if myself or Sister Ruth had been told. All you ever seem to get though is a hollow apology and a worthless promise. There are some people I feel that I just cannot trust - and this is not 'Ethiopian', it is personal.

Last weekend I was hoping to spend more of it away from MIT. However, I had to spend all Saturday there to set up the new desks that arrived. I was quite happy with the old desks, but my boss was insistent that we set up the new desks. There is quite a lot of work involved because I must put in all of the wiring and network cabling. In the UK, the floor would normally have enough sockets and network points accessible though the floor. Here, I have to tie or strap eveything onto the back of the desks to try to make it look neat. I managed to finish shortly before going home but that meant that I was not able to try to really set up the Internet connection on the weekend, which I had been planning to do. This annoys me because I am already using up my free time, and trying to provide something for the students. When I have to do this at the weekend, then it breaks my promises. I didn't really have much option because we had guests coming this week, and it needed to be done. I happen to know that the guests would have preferred a working Internet connection, but what would I know?

On Wednesday we had a number of guests arrive from America. They are from Wheaton College and have been very good to MIT. The reason for their visit is to have a look at MIT and to get some contact time with the students. There are five in total and they are all computing related.

A small reception had been organized, and our three female students were dressed in traditional clothes to greet the guests. They were then taken into the canteen, where the usual lady was there to make coffee for them. She had graciously agreed to come back in for that. We had some biscuits, fruit, and some bread. The bread was moudly but nobody else seem to notice. That's not surprising since most people took just one bite and then left it. Actually, maybe that's why they only took one bite.

Lots of photos were taken, and then the guests were whisked off to Bubu Hills by a TDA car. Bubu hills (get the 'I know a friend that you don't know' out of your head already) is a very posh restaurant being refurbished on the side of a hill overlooking Mekelle. It has been closed since I arrived. However, we noticed on the Sunday that the lights appeared to be on. I had been here once before in a TDA car but I had not realised what it was. Our guests are the first ones to stay here, although it is not fully open yet.

The next day the guests came in and we decided what we were going to do for the rest of the week. My job has been no teaching this week, but I am doing 'support' for them - making sure that they have all of the software they need and trying to keep the lab running smoothly. This means that I have only had two jobs this week, instead of three.

The Internet connection is being a pain to set up. During the day time I never seem to be able to get the computer at the other end to answer the phone using the modem contained within the main computer. It doesn't answer when I phone it manually either. The laptop seems to have more luck though.

Our guests did bring lots of nice equipment including the hubs that I needed and some extra large hard disks. Next week they are going to experiment with a radio link to see if it will reach the Administration building. This is all equipment that I will be able to use in setting up the computers for the next few years (I want to let my successor have an easier time).

On Wednesday, they started their teaching. They are teaching the students a bit about databases and PHP. I can teach databases, and I could do PHP on the fly, but it is so nice having some other computing people here. Someone that I can talk to using geek-speak. Someone that knows their ftp from udp, and knows how crap most Microsoft stuff is.

VSO were also in Mekelle this week for a conference that they had been organising. It had orginally been arranged for MIT, but it was moved to TDA at the last moment. On the Thursday night, I finally met up with Wendewossen, my 'boss' at VSO, at a local restaurant. I had missed them when they arrived because of the car dallying at MIT when the guests came. With Wendewossen came two other VSO staff, one of whom may be taking over from him soon. Also at the restaurant were the other Mekelle volunteers. Two of whom were about to leave. The Friday night was the last Friday night for Andy and Dave, two of the Mekelle volunteers. We went out with the VSO staff to a place where we could eat T'holo. This is a Tigrinian dish made from balls of barley which you dip into a sauce. Everyone is provided with a wooden, forked stick. The dish was served by a waitress who mixed the sauces together in their skillets and ripped off barley balls for us. As dishes go, it didn't appear to contain anything that vomit inducing. Indeed, the sauce was lovely and I am sure not as hot as it could have been. However, you had to make sure that you had plenty of sauce on your balls. The plain barley tasted disgusting.

We headed over to Raf and Evas for a party and it was there that I realised how many of the Mekelle people will be leaving soon. There are now only two volunteers left in Mekelle (myself and Charis), even one of our good Habesha friends is leaving for Addis soon. There is definitely going to be a huge hole left with all these guys gone. If Andy and Dave ever read this, then I certainly salute you and I have no idea how we can follow in your foot steps in any way. The bars are certainly going to be feeling the pinch. Maybe the Hawzen closed pre-emptively?

After losing Andy and Dave by accident we separated at about 2:30 in the morning and I walked back home. I picked up some unwanted company, that I just couldn't seem to get rid of. They kept asking if I knew Dave and I thought the best option would be to say no, and walk quickly. Quite typically, he thought I was 'running' and said don't be scared. I said I wasn't and that I was just walking. and I didn't want him following me. He kept dogging me for most of the way home, and I picked up another person although they were just intent with saying 'teacher I love you' and trying to attack the odd tree or door. There was definitely something not right in the head there. He was asking for money, and I refuse to give money because I do not see that as the solution. What really annoyed me was that he was asking me for money, but no one else and I asked him about this in pidgin amharic. Even when groups of well dressed people passed he did not ask for help from them. My street is quite dimly lit and although I was not scared I was getting ready for a fight, especially with the loco twin arguing with a rock on the other side of the road. In truth, violence is very rare so I did not really believe that any was coming but I did make sure that I knew where both of them were at all times. Fortunately, just before I reached the big door to my compound he slowed his walk. I was quite relieved that there was some light coming from the room/hut immediately inside the compund. This is typically where a guard would be, but I don't think that we have one. If I had been thinking faster, I should have said 'hello' to the imaginary guard. Once I got into my room I did not turn on any lights, just in case they decided to climb over the walls - I did not want to show which was my room. They would have had a choice of about six black windows. I watched out of my window but could not see anything or hear anything. I think the dogs would have made a bit of a fuss because they were loose but know me and so did not bark.

Saturday was a quiet day for me and I had assumed that Dave and Andy had got a bus early in the morning. However, this was not the case as I found out on Sunday when I headed into town, and to the Yordanos. Here I accidently found Charis, the remaining volunteer. She was tired and looked a bit upset. She had seen the boys off at about 5:30 that morning and Mekelle was seeming quite empty to both of us with the realization that they had both actually gone. Andy might be back, especially if a job is found for him. Dave is probably gone for good, save visits.