Why Britney?
Jan. 18th 2004
This has been another week for preparing late for lectures. This week I really did not know what I was going to be teaching them until I wrote the title on the board. Next semester it should be different, but that's what I am thinking all the time.

We have a new driver that picks us up at 07:30 morning and returns us back to ferenji heights after 17:30. I find his driving quite scary. Even more so if you can't get a seat belt. However, the near death experiences are made all the more worse for his choice of music. Hans had never heard Celine Dion before. Lucky bugger. Not only does he now know who Celine Dion is, but he seems to be developing a nervous tick every time it is being played in the car. If it's not Celine, it seems to be Michael Bolton. Fate can be so cruel.

The students have now had Internet access for a couple of weeks. So what do we think is the most popular activity? Downloading pictures of Britney Spears it seems. I haven't really had any time to check exactly what is happening, and to which sites they are going - I am not going to police them. I just found it funny. I asked why they didn't download more pictures of black female singers. They said that there weren't any beautiful ones. This I think deserves further investigation. And yes, one had downloaded a picture of Celine. There are some very sick people. Surely, downloading porn is more acceptable.

Ray is still in Addis. The doctors there say that they do not think that it is either Typhus or Typhoid. Certainly the drugs she was taking were having bad side effects. They have taken her off those drugs and stopped her from having dairy products and food with too much fat. They seem to think that it is a regular but unidentified infection.

Tadesse is our guard. He basically hangs around the house to deter people from breaking in. It isn't a very exciting job but it helps him to pay his rent. Recently he applied for the job of a driver at MIT (we have the new minibus). We supported him by writing a letter of recommendation and making sure that he got to speak to the right people. It turned out quite frustrating because after the first visit they said that he hadn't brought the correct papers. In fact, we knew that he had. They then said that because he hadn't completed grade 10 he couldn't be employed. There was nothing about whether he was competent to drive, or that we thought highly of him. We didn't want to lose him as a guard, but we did want him to take this job if he could. If you're grade 10 but can't drive you might be able to get the job I guess. It's all arse about face, and I doubt they even looked at the letter of recommendation or just couldn't understand why we had written one. Partly because they don't know what to do with it, and partly why would you write a letter about someone else?

We have made Tadesse happy though. Hans had an idea, supported by the rest of us that if Tadesse needs to be grade 10 to do anything, then we can help him. As an 'employer perk', we have allowed Tadesse to go to school in the evenings (we are in the house) and we will pay the school fees (15 birr a month! (1 pound)). Hans and I told him in broken Amharic and his face was such a picture. It really has made his week. The guard stuff can't be very interesting, and he also has a chance to take something extra from the job.

The weather has been a little wet recently. We have had a couple of storms. This seems too early, especially from my experience last year. I hope that it is good for the crops. I am aware that a recent documentary screened in the UK showed this region and pointed out that the situation is worse than in 1984 when band-aid was started. This was why Michael Buerk (the great ham welcher) was here a little while back. However, here in Mekelle, I have seen very little of that. I must get out and see more of Ethiopia. Band Aid was an emergency measure, these are problems that people here must solve. I wonder if the 'chancer' culture I experience everyday was in anyway created by Band Aid.

On a more amusing note, I have another line taxi journey to record. This time it was from town back to Ferenji Heights. This line taxi didn't have a battery though, or at least one that couldn't be charged. It was the smallest line taxi I think that I have ever been in. But, once it had enough people in it, the driver got in and called over people to help push it. We were laughing in the taxi already. Five men push the taxi down the rough road, and it started. At the end of this road was a major road, that the driver wanted to turn around in to come back up the road where it was started. We got to the major road, and while the driver was trying a three point turn, he stalled it. We then needed another five men to push start us along the main road. He called them over using the minibus's horn which had just enough power for a half second blast before trailing off like a braying donkey.

Once the taxi was at last running, the driver had to put it in reverse pretty quickly. Ahead of us was a land cruiser coming the other way. Like a chase seen in a film, the battered line taxi was reversing, the land cruiser was charging us from the front.

When we eventually got to drive up the road we had been pushed down. One of the passengers had had enough and got out. She wasn't going to pay for this, and fair enough. However, we had to wait for another passenger before the taxi would leave. And then, after 50m, this new passenger realised that she was in the wrong taxi and got out as well.

When it came to the traffic lights I was sure that the taxi would stall again but somehow it kept running. It managed to keep running through quite a few 'woraj' (stops). But halfway up the gentle hill to Ferenji Heights, it stalled. No need for anyone to push though, just roll back down the hill and bump start it in reverse. Trouble was it didn't seem to be starting and we were moving faster and faster, snaking across the road. I was cursing my view out of the back window. The driver jammed it in gear and got started before things felt really dangerous. The rest of the journey was uneventful, but although I couldn't definitely translate I am certain that one of the women in the taxi asked for no more calls of 'woraj' until the final destination.