Cactus Jam
Nov. 4th 2003
This week, or couple of weeks, has again been very busy. It is a real struggle to find time to write the diary, let alone do any of the work that I would like to do in the evening (this isn't a moan about the diary by the way). Tonight has been spent having dinner with some guests invited round by a housemate. This is all very well apart from now it is after nine in the evening, and I get up pretty early to do things like check email. This weekend was spent mostly at MIT trying get the lab running for this week. In short, I am not getting the free time that I was expecting when applying for VSO. I might struggle remembering things for this week, but I will give it a go. There has certainly been enough happening.

On campus we have a dog. It now follows the staff or the students into the canteen to try to get some food. I may have mentioned the dog before, but I saw it do something unusual the other week. It wagged its tail. This is a relatively big and powerful dog by Ethiopian standards. Many of the students are scared of it and it has the name hyena-dog (jip-woosha). However, I left the lab one day last week, it looked at me, plodded to my office door, and waited for me to arrive with his tail wagging. He seems to be getting more and more tame each day. I think he might have a particular friendship with me because I was the first to pet him in anyway. Of course, he might just turn round and bite my arm off. You never know.

All of the students are back and were invited to an orientation. It was planned that they would have this year's arrangements explained to them. Myself and the other Ferenj had been pushing to have this meeting earlier. For various reasons, but mostly staffing constraints, we had to reduce the number of courses offered. And, because the ministry decided that all five year students must now be four year students, we decided to combine the two years, but try to change the freshman courses. As it turned out, the students were not told late, and were not really told in the best possible way. From that point on, there was a mini-revolt. Students stayed away from their lessons in protest. Another meeting was held, this time with only the habesha staff because it was in Tigrinian, and the students did not want us there. I'm not sure why, I would like to think that it was because their grievance was not with us. This second meeting didn't really help, and so the board of MIT had to have an emergency meeting, and some of them met with the students this weekend. I could have gone but I was too busy setting up the lab. The board have calmed the students down by saying that the do not have to take one of the courses. Unfortunately, this undermines one of the teachers here so I do not believe it to be an ideal solution.

I had my first lecture today and it appears that I had most of the students in it. The senior students paid attention even though it is stuff that they had covered slightly before. One advantage of changing to Linux is that the OS is new to them. I was able to do a bit of a dual teach with Ray in this lecture. Hopefully she will write the next lecture. There was one bonus to coming in at the weekend. On Sunday I took the opportunity to take some photos. I had intended to take photos of the many haystacks on the way to work, and indeed I did this. As we drive home we can sometimes see men in the field lifting the wheat high in the air to allow the chaff float away. I'm not sure how they build them up into such perfect shapes.

While working in the lab, a bird landed on what is like a large window sill outside. It was a baby amora. The kestrel like birds that are often circling over MIT. I was able to get very close to it, while being behind the pane of glass. It did not seem to be worried about me at all, and allowed me to take some photos of it. It has yet to get its really powerful wings so I am assuming that it is a young or juvenile bird.

Last night we had cactus soup. It had other things in it (mostly in fact), but we called it cactus. It tasted okay, and the cactus in it tasted better than the cactus jam that we had on some pancakes the other night. Hans is now officially the master of the pancakes, king of the crepes. The are always too many cooked. That means that we get to eat them for breakfast which is no bad thing. The only thing I cooked recently was pasta with tomato, olive, and herb sauce with herb bread (without the butter). Worked pretty well apart from the olive overload. The cactus comes from a local charity type place, the organizer of which keeps telling how wonderfully nutritous the cactus is. I think Alison has bought several kilos judging by the frequency that we are trying cactus this or cactus that. We had curry tonight. Cactus curry. Well no, it wasn't all cactus but there was cactus in it.

While all the problems where happening with the students, I would often be called into doorways or empty classrooms to talk to one person or another. I was able to build up a bit of a picture of what was really happening, but it was like a soap, or a murder mystery film more like. You didn't get all the information, and you knew that things were happening elsewhere. The students had some nice things to say. They were worried that I was not being used to teach them the higher courses. This is a good point, but given the number of staff that we have (and the ministry's edict of mixing 4yr and 5yr), it was not possible to run separate courses. They were also worried about me leaving already. I am not due to leave for over a year yet. In some ways it was nice, in other ways it was just another bit of added stuff. I am becoming more grouchy and recluse like. I thought that VSO would make me the other way.

Okay, to finish on a lighter note, and there are still quite a few laughs. When I came down to do emailling this morning, I could hear a loud noise coming from the fridge. As I approached the fridge the noise stopped. As I moved away, it started again. Alison told me to turn the light off. As I did this, the noise stopped again. The light switch was broken so that the light would come back on the moment you took your finger away. Of course, the loud noise would start again. I couldn't see how the noise and the light were connected, but then I realized that a cricket had got under the fridge and was happilly chirruping away. The noise sounded like something had gone wrong with the fridge's compressor. The noise was very loud and I was worried about it waking the others. I tried to get the cricket out with a stick but that didn't work. I'm not sure how it was hiding but it wouldn't shift. The end result was a toothpick jammed in the light switch to keep the light off. For some reason it wouldn't make a noise then. Unless, of course, you opened the fridge door and the light from the fridge would be enough to set it off again.