Scooby Doo, Where are you?
July 24th 2004
Once again, because of the lack of 'interesting' about which to write I have
not written for a while. I am assuming that the 'politics' and aggravation is not the most interesting of stuff but that's what seems to dominate most days. As I write this, I am sitting in my parent's kitchen in New Zealand. I have taken the opportuity to take a break and show them the beard (which is now no more). I figured it would give my dad a laugh.

I have left Tsega 'in charge' of computing at MIT. I haven't had an email from her so I guess that everything is okay. I was recently asked to help fix a computer at the university. Although it's a bit tarty I did quite enjoy them phoning up and then sending a car for us. I asked Tsega to join in with the attempted repair. Although we did not have time to fix it, after the initial investigations Tsega said that she understood nearly everything I had said. She's understanding two hours of UNIX geek speak - that's excellent considering what we were talking about and how the head of computing at the university clearly did not get as much as she did.

The call for us to go to the university was on the last day of term. Ali had

arranged a Sports Day for the students. Sports Day in the 'egg and spoon' race sense. This was something that they had never seen before. I had stressed to the students that it would be fun. Normally when you say 'sport' here that is taken to mean exercise rather than fun. Hans had pulled out all the stops and made some skis for his game. There were two sets of skis capable of having four people on each set. The wood came courtesy of Teklay. The straps were nailed-on pieces of car tyre. The other events included: egg and spoon, sack race, tug of war, three legged football, and shot-putt. It's very interesting watching them go from disinterested young adults to little children wanting to play all the games. It can be real difficult to get them to do things like tug of war correctly. There was only really space for four or five people in a team. Yet, as usual, they all tried piling in.

With it being the end of term, we have just had our final exams. Things went a bit better this time in terms of cheating. We were much more serious in terms of organising (i.e. we did it rather than leave it to Fithanegest). I managed to take quite a few bits of paper off students as they went in with notes. I still don't know whether they don't see it as cheating or that cheating is just more common here despite all of the rhetoric. I can hear it more and more in the hollow promises made by many of the African leaders.

An amusing story from the exams invloved a student who we suspected of cheating in the mid-term exams. I was being extra careful with this student and at the end of the exam I saw him fiddling with his shoes and I could see a bit of paper. I asked him to show me the piece of paper at the end. If it was notes from the exam then no problem because it would have had to have been written inside the exam room. Stuck to this piece of paper (which was okay) was a small frog. He peeled off the frog and gave me the piece of paper. I threw the bit of paper in the bin, he walked off with the frog in his top pocket.

Later, when he came to Ali's office I asked him about what happened to the frog. He said that he killed 'her' because he couldn't feed it. Of course we started to ask questions about what the frog needed to eat. It can be quite hard sometimes when views are so different. The belief of many Ethiopians is that they can do whatever they like with animals. According to the bible, they have dominion. Okay, the amusing story doesn't have an amusing end, sorry.

Going back a few weeks to just before the exams, we finally had a curriculum workshop.

I was actually quite surprised at how much progress we made. However, we still need to make much, much more progress before we are really at the stage where we have a decent curriculum. The indians were there, some members of the board as well, and some instructors from Mekelle.

We have had a guest in the house for a few weeks now. Bella is visiting from the

UK. Like Orsa last year she has come to Ethiopia by her own initiative. She contacted TDA and arranged a short voluntary placement. Her intention is to get some material for films, which she makes. She has got great access to people here, especially with Ali's contacts. With the room left vacant by Ray's departure she has slotted quite naturally into the house. Originally she was working with TDA but has now moved to working with 'Mums for Mums' an organization working with single Ethiopian mothers. It does a lot of good work and is really a very positive example of where funding should be helping.

The title for this diary entry has come from a time that Scooby the dog went missing. Ali and Bella had been walking him when he decided that he was going to run off with a local dog. The girls came back and got Hans, Jon, and myself to help look for him. All five of us headed to the place that he was last seen. It was an area of town that, although not far away, was unfamiliar to us. We did not have our regular 'bodyguard' children around us. Not that it was dangerous, just unsettling. We would ask locals about the dog in Tigrinian and once they understood what we were saying we would normally be met with laughter and derision. Eventually we found Scooby although we had trouble recognizing him in the dark. None of the five torches seemed to reach beyond about three metres. When he was found he was without his collar. Whether this had been stolen or had been pulled off when someone had tried to help by grabbing him is not known. Without a collar we had no way of attaching the lead so we started by calling him. When that failed we took him by the scruff of the neck. Then, when he was putting up too much of a fight Hans hoisted him over the shoulders. Scooby would try to bite (not too seriously) Hans's hands or neck. Although the ride was uncomfortable for Scooby biting was not a good idea. We were all pissed off with his little trip and for each bite attempt he would not only have Hans holding him onto his back but my hands would be up and on his throat in no time. Once we had got him back to the house, he had a bit of bad cop good cop treatment. Nothing cruel but he was held down to tell him who was boss and then had an hour or so of intensive coming when called training.

I did get a bit of revenge on the dog by drawing glasses on it using the whiteboard marker pen (non-toxic non-permanent before you start worrying). It looked so funny. Stress does that to you. It looked funny to the others as well. Shared adversity does that.

Just before leaving Ethiopia for the break, guests from Wheaton college were once again present at MIT. At a meal with the guests Fithanegest was on top form. I was sitting at a table with the two students from America, Tsega and the man himself. The discussions started well when we could not agree whether a chicken was a bird or not. The Americans were looking on in absolute astonishment, Tsega was looking for places to hide. I was enjoying the argument too much. And then, well then it took a bizarre turn. Fithanegest started to talk about Astro-Chickens. I guess he has read about them in a journal. He reckons that American scientists are creating cybernetic chickens that can travel though space using very little fuel. I have no idea how I managed to keep a straight face.

I was relieved to get to the airport when it was time for my flight. I made it with plenty of time to spare. Things often seem to get left until the last minute. I wasn't really interested in any goodbyes. I figure that it was the end of the term anyway so everyone will be going somewhere. During my trip to NZ I have been sending a postcard at each of the countries stopped at: Ethiopia, Egypt, England, Malaysia, and New Zealand. Ethiopia was the most hassle to get and send postcards. I must send a large batch off when I return - it will be the last chance. I guess that Ethiopia will also be the last to arrive if it arrives at all. Malaysia was interesting. I will be stopping there for a day on the way back to the UK, I did notice that some of their manners are closely related to the Ethiopian way of doing things. I was immediately able to be polite by giving things and receiving them in a certain way. I will be interested at looking at this in more detail. Slightly odder is the way that Arabic and Egyptian seem to make more sense to me when I hear them. I can pick out words that I think I can work out the meaning for. My Amharic and Tigrinia is still not good but I think that it has been of benefit.

I will finish this diary entry with one of the worst things about being a VSO: not always being able to take action. One time walking in, Ali and I saw a donkey that had just had enough carrying its load and so dropped to its knees. The donkey's owners were soon there to encourage it to continue by hitting it with sticks. The donkey was not getting up for them. It's at times that like you don't know what to do. It's probably no worse than the donkey has suffered scores of times before but you so want to be able to ask them what the hell they're doing. Maybe even turning the stick to them. However, this could seriously compromise VSO's position in a country. We have to keep moving. We tried asking why in Tigrinian but neither of us have enough language. I hope we can teach our students about taking better care of animals. Maybe we are just being 'soft British'. Who knows.