93 Charlies
Nov. 28th 2004
The frequency of diary writing has been dropping as I have had fewer new things to describe. I fear now that I am repeating things I have observed already, and maybe missing out some of the little things where I just cannot work out what to have and what not to have.

Every other discussion I have at the moment seems to include the departure. I am expecting to leave on March 1st. One month after my official leaving date. There are two reasons for this: MIT's term won't be finished and Jon's wedding. I had always realized that I might not be able to leave exactly on the scheduled day. Some people leave early, some leave late. Some like VSO so much that they just keep extending. Unlikely in this case. I know that the time will go quickly but it is still three months until departure and that's not a short amount of time, although I have already done 22 months.

Over at the university, there have been problems to do with food and corruption. Seven hundred students suffered from food poisoning. The student council there accused the university of corruption. It seems the food poisoning was the lever they needed because of the quality of the meat. The university has basically told them to leave. Hundreds of students could be seen walking into Mekelle with their bags. It may be that there is no regular teaching at the university for this year. There will still be extension classes in the evening though. We think that the students will return next year. Students have recently had to pay for their courses and if the university is paying too much for things like bread, then that will have a big effect. I can see funny things at MIT where the purchasing committee don't always get the best deal. It's odd because a Ferenji should never be able to get a better deal than a purchasing committee. Prices normally start three times higher for us.

Our student intake this year is very low, only twenty students. We had suggested taking no students and possibly that would look better. It is unlikely that we can continue with the four degree programmes. Another thing ham-stringing us is the use of part-time instructors. Myself and Jon remain the only full time instructors for degree programme subjects. Other courses are taught by part time instructors. The quality of instruction is sometimes questionable and it just doesn't fit in well with the timetable and logistics of it all. We are told that that's normal for Ethiopia, but people just scoff and scowl when we say that's no reason for it to happen here.

We have had some computers arrive from America. Wheaton college have been good to us again. Unfortunately, out of the 24 computers only about ten have been made into a working state. We will continue to set them up but it's a bit difficult now that Tsega is doing regular classes at the university as well as her night studies. Maybe the corruption business will mean that she can't do that. I can see that being of benefit to both MIT and her. There's just a bit too much happening, especially seeing as she has just got engaged.

As well as Tsega, I now have three other members of computing staff (but none are lecturers). Yared and Tedros have been hired as lab technicians. They look after the computer labs during the day. Yohannes (John) is a graduate assistant. He is running some of the tuorials for my course and is very good at getting photocopies done. That doesn't sound that great, but he just automatically took the job from away from me and tries to ensure that it is done. That's not easy considering the way things work. He is showing real initiative and potential in the tutorials. The great thing about the tutorials is that he can run them in Amharic. I attend the first one of the week to give some feedback and some help if needed. When he asks and answers questions in Amharic, I am seeing different people asking and responding. I think it's very good, in fact one of the few good things the board have actually arranged to be done. I can't understand the language but I know what is being said because of the topic, and in things like programming, Amharic has no equivalent words so every sentence is peppered with technical terms in English.

The new volunteers have settled in. There have been some problems as ever but things seem to be okay at least for most. We had a film night last weekend at Ferenji Heights to which most of the volunteers came. I was on pizza cooking duty for several hours. It takes a long time when you're cooking in fying pans! In the lounge I had put the laptop on a box, on a table. Arranged in front of it was nearly every chair we had. I think we had twelve people in total. That's a lot of ferenji in one place. Even more if you consider the size of the screen on the laptop. I'm not sure when we will be doing it again because the cost of the ingredients for pizza wiped out the money for this month. If you're interested, they cost about an eigth of the month's salary.

Daniel, our VSO programme officer, was here recently to conduct mid-term reviews for the others and a final review for me. I need to get my references written and I will also need to get the letter that allows me to leave. That will probably require me hanging around at TDA for ages. I'm sure I will have enough moaning to do about that when the time comes. I am thinking about returning quite a lot, but there is real uncertainty about what I shall be doing. I don't even know what the job market is like. Since giving away a backpack, I am restricted in what I can bring back. Of course, I could get another one. No problems. But I do like the idea of leaving stuff. It was so nice to get rid of things in England and with a real excuse. I wonder what I will find that I packed for myself. I wonder whether I will be able to reduce the things even further. I am also wondering why I enjoy this - is it a sign that VSO hasn't cured the travel bug? There is always the prospect of working in Asia. That definitely interests me, and South America was somewhere that I had hoped of with respect to VSO.

Right now we are looking forward to our Christmas conference. The usual places in Addis and Debre Zeit were booked so it appears that we will be going to Sodere. It's a conference venue and, what a shame, it has a swimming pool with water from hot springs. Swimming pools are rare here, but not because of a lack of water before you think it. There will be lots of 'real' work stuff at the conference but we are all hoping that we can get out and into the pool.