Line Taxis are Cool
Jan. 13th 2004
I think that this must be the longest break between diary entries. This is partly due to the fact that I went to New Zealand for most of December. I had planned to write while I was away but I didn't.

There are a couple of things to say in this diary entry before starting properly. The reason that I had to visit my Dad is because he is seriously ill. Unfortunately I have a copy of the letter confirming the diagnosis. The only good thing is that they have used the words he did. His phrase is that his 'sell by date' is approaching. The diagnosis was cancer of the pancreas. It is not operable, and the doctor thinks that 6 months from the time of diagnosis would be quite good. The diagnosis letter is dated 10th October, for those keeping score. Obviously, this has a major effect on me. The biggest problem for me is that I cannot easily get out of Ethiopia. I need visas to leave - I have found it that it is not just for re-entry! For this my passport needs to be in the right places and it is not at the moment. Some how I have to get it down to Addis. I just hope that if I need to that I work it some way.

To look at, my dad looks fine. It's just knowing what will happen in a short period of time. In some ways, this could be considered a 'good deal'. My dad is not in pain from the cancer (although he has had to stop other pain killers), we have had a chance to see each other, and when the day comes it should be relatively quick. That's what logic says anyway. The people here are very interested in my dad, but they keep asking if he is any better. The simple truth is that he will never get better, but what do you say to them?

I think that my dad and I have pretty much said everything that needs to be said. I just want everyone to know that, as I have said before, I am proud to be my father's son.

My flight to NZ was a very long one, broken with a stop in the UK. The quickest route would have been through Johannesburg, this was also one thousand pounds more expensive. The trip through the UK gave me a chance to stop off and visit Mark, Ali, and Sarah. Which, brings us to the second thing to mention. This is just as important for any prospective VSOs that might read this on the web! About five or six months in, Sarah decided to break up. A decision that couldn't have been easy, and I hope that she didn't punish herself over it. I knew that I was taking a risk by going away (peversely it was a bigger risk to stay). I cannot blame her, or anyone else in her situation, for doing what she had to do. I am the one who buggered off to Ethiopia, a country where it can be difficult keeping in contact at the best of times. And, it can't be much fun when you boyfriend comes back from abroad with bugs that spoil your best laid plans. I can't say that I am happy about it, but I think I have almost accepted it. And, I think Sarah did the right thing.

I wanted to write those two things in the diary because although they are not related to Ethiopia, they definitely have an effect on me and what I write about. I have mostly been annoyed with things at work, and the fact that work has been so hectic means that I have been able to keep them in the background. That certainly wasn't true when I went to the UK, and NZ.

There were several things that I found exciting about the UK. Frost was a real pleasure, and cool air. It can get cold here, but in a different way to the UK. It was a real treat to walk around London on my day's wait before returning. The air had that sharpness to it, but because it was still, I did not really need the coat that I had brought. I felt that I could have gone straight back to wearing shorts. Both in the UK and NZ, the streets were clean. Yes, the UK has litter, but it doesn't have the dust that drifts in Mekelle. Also, it does not have people asleep (or possibly worse) literally in the street. A train journey was very exciting, but going near big shops again was quite surreal. And, it seemed that everyone now has a camera in their phone.

In New Zealand, we spent most of our time in the south island, partly looking at some of the places that my dad had not visited yet. I will set up some web pages for those photos separately. I was able to spend some time learning more Amharic in New Zealand. I concentrated on my verb endings. It starts pretty simple but is then talking about gerund forms and putting subjects into the verb and other things. Since being back I have done nothing with this knowledge and it is probably completely forgotten.

Upon arrival at Mekelle, I was met by some of the students and Dr Mulu. They had driven to the airport in MIT's new minibus. It's a very nice minibus, although probably a bit too refined and low sprung for the kind of roads that lead to MIT. The bus was crammed with students, wanting to greet me. It was really nice to see them, and great that they had come out. I was given two bunches of flowers picked from MIT gardens. Flowers as gifts are not very common because flowers are not exactly abundant. Forget interflora. I spent quite a lot of time in the house trying to relax before starting work again. I had the whole weekend away from MIT - that is pretty unusual.

Now that I am back here, the amount of work has got back to the stupid level. Ray was handling things while I was away. She hasn't taught like this before, and not in this subject so it was a real challenge, and I think one that she does not want to repeat. At the moment she is ill with typhoid and has not been to work since I returned. The drugs that she is taking are causing side effects so its getting worse for her. I wonder if the stress of doing all these things could have caused a previous typhoid infection to take hold once again. Typhoid can be very serious, but it looks like it was caught well in time. However, it may keep her low for a month or two.

Most of the others had been away to the VSO conference in Addis. This is the major gathering of VSOs and happens around ferenji Christmas time (Ethiopian is different - this year it's the 7th of January). I would have liked to have gone, it would have been nice to meet and party with the VSOs. It would also have given me the chance to drop off my passport. However, I had booked the next flight to Mekelle, and I was more interested in getting some sleep after the long flights.

I realised something on returning - line taxis are great. There is something about them that I just love. For 1 birr (8 pence) they will take me from Ferenji Heights into town. They don't move quickly because they are normally knackered old minibuses and the roads do not allow for much speed. But they trundle along, full of Habesha and the occasional ferenj. I think one of the things that I like most is that they are a magic shield that stops hassle. You don't get the constant approaches you would if you were walking. Maybe this makes me a bad VSO but I find things much easier without it. Often, the driver will put on western music, as he did one time that I was coming back to ferenji heights. I don't know who sang it but it was some rubbish, the one that says 'I am your woman, and you are my man'. However, the tape was more than stretched and it sounded terrible. Halfway up the hill before the house, it ran out of fuel. There is something wonderfully bizarre about situations like that, you're stuck on a hill, the drivers assistant is trying to syphon fuel from their emergency can, and you have some real rubbish being played on the little stereo. In their defence though, they're cheap and you do not have to wait long for one. If you are waiting, then you can sit inside and wait.

While I was walking with Jon I noticed something strange. People would always talk to me and not him. I think this happens in the UK. I don't know why but people always seem to want to talk to me. It's like cats and people that don't like them. I wonder if there is a real psychological reason? Fortunately, after such a long break, I was quite willing to talk to the many people that wanted to practice their English.

My first piece of enjera when I returned came as a bit of a shock. When you first try new food, you are prepared and are open to new tastes. I knew that I had got to accept if not truely like enjera. So this was my frame of mind when I started to eat it again. It's bloody horrible if you're not ready for it. I think on my return, I will invite friends to an Ethiopian restaurant.

I am quite sure that my body is still infected with Giardia. I get occasional symptoms, but my body seems to be controlling things much better now. I have started to drink more of the tap water to try to get my immune system and guts working better. I think that before returning I will buy a lot of bug killing drugs (you do not need a prescription here), and then go through a full work out when I am back in the UK to kill off any of the more permanent residents in my stomach. The health book even recommends this.

The students were very interested in my trip and asked a lot of questions. Unfortunately the questions that they asked were whether my dad was any better, and how was Sarah. Some of them knew the situation, but it seems information does not get passed between people as it would in the UK. I think in the UK, 'gossip' would pass quite easily, everyone would know about something like my dad quickly, to save them the embarassment of asking. It was a bit difficult to find a good way to reply, the best I could do was to say that my dad was in good spirits. I wouldn't consider this kind of information to be 'gossip', and even things that are important to all students does not travel as quickly or as widely as you would assume. However, you are expected to know everything. I wonder if habesha are in some way telepathic.

As we approach the hot season, Mekelle is becoming more dusty. On my window sill was a thick layer of brown, sooty, dust. It's a constant battle to keep things clean. It is still cold at the moment though but each day the temperature seems to move a little bit further to the hotter end of the scale. Something I found very odd about Christmas here though was the smell. In the UK, I recognise Christmas by a slight smell in the air, one that I had always assumed had something to do with being early winter, or central heating systems being started for the first time in a year. Maybe it was my imagination but in the few days before ferenj Christmas here, I could smell it in the air. It definitely felt like Christmas was coming, although there was, obviously, very little in the way of decorations. But you could get a set of flashing tree lights.

On Christmas day, we went around to Terri's for a Christmas meal. I baked bread the previous night but it was eaten then when we were at Rob and Jackie's. The Christmas meal was fantastic. Unfortunately I probably drank too much of Terri's Sambucca - i'll have to get a replacement bottle. We didn't have presents to give to each other, the food was enough, and there was so much variety for Mekelle. We seem to be going through a good patch of supplies, although the regular supply of oranges has been replaced by mangos. I love the flavour of mangos but I had not tried eating a real one before. They're tricky little buggers, especially if you want all of the flesh. I think Alison is going to show me a good way of eating them.

In the town, Mekelle is undergoing some major changes. There is some 'master-plan' for how Mekelle should look. For one street, this means that it must now be demolished, its time of grace having ended. When I returned, I found one of the streets with one side nothing but rubble and empty frames where houses once were. They are being torn down by hand. My favourite place to get ch'imakkee (fruit juice) was one of the shops that is no longer there.

We are holding our lectures in the assembly hall. This is a nice hall in which to run them, but sometimes getting the key can be a problem. This was the case this Thursday. I accused Fithanegast of taking the key, but it appears that it was still held by one of the cleaners. I did not want to do the lecture (I have to do them 'on-the-fly' because there is no time to prepare) but I did not want to cancel it. Cancelling may mean having to run it later. Instead, I opted for an outdoor lecture. Despite not having the a whiteboard, it went reasonably well. I had been told previously, that outdoor lectures couldn't possibly work. Well, this one did. I wish someone had been able to take a photo. It's not something that you would see with English students. The students were sat on the steps of the assmebly hall and I was out on the gravel patch in front of them. My only worry is sun exposure, although the UV here is not as intense as it was in NZ. I could really feel the intensity of the sun in NZ. Think of films were you see ancient greek orators.

Ato Hagos has left MIT now, and he has found himself a new job in Addis. He has been to MIT a couple of times recently to get all of the signatures that he needs. Getting signatures when you leave can be a real problem. I remember this from when Dave, a previous VSO, had to get twenty signatures before he left. One of the problems Hagos was having was that he had a book out of the library, and until he returned the book he couldn't get the signature. I was happy when the librarian accepted the suggestion that the book could be transferred to my name and this would give Hagos the signature and more time to find the book. He came back on Thursday with the book, and I was able to get it crossed off against my name.

The next few weeks are likely, once again, to be very busy. However, I am starting to feel that many of the jobs that need doing are being done. The staff networking is expanding at last, the computers are mostly set up and able to do what I want them to do, and next semester I will be teaching programming - the area that I enjoy teaching. Exactly which courses will be taught is a different matter though. Although we have devised a suitable curriculum, Dr Mulu is still looking at what has been proposed by the Indian professors.