Signed by Maint Jaint
Feb. 14th 2005
Now the time is approaching for departure. The time is really flying, I am so busy trying to write things like the system operator's guide for Tsega, and handover notes for Chandra. But, this is stepping over a few things...

I can now claim to have been on national television. In fact, I had an interview on national television. Sure, ETV is not quite the BBC and the VSOs reckon that every one of our white faces will appear on national television at least once, but I was still there, reluctantly. Ali managed to get out of an interview by redirecting them to me. They were filming a special on things in Tigray, and MIT was being filmed over a period of a couple of weeks. Ali used the excuse that she was just the Enlgish teacher and for a better comparison of students here and the UK, that the film crew should go to me.

I didn't enjoy doing the interview. I found myself having to be so careful about what I was saying. Every answer had to be diplomatic. In hindsight, I should have just said no. I didn't actually get to see the invterview though. We don't have a TV and the only bit of the programme we saw was when myself and Ali were in a shop buying oranges. There was a small black and white TV on the counter and some mischevious girls serving. It was a shame that my face didn't appear on the TV, I would have liked to see what they would have done then.

Although I didn't see the interview, the students did. Obviously, they were interested in it because they would see themselves as well. I don't think they really appreciate that we do not have a television ourselves. Hence, it was a real surprise when they found out that I didn't know the changes that had occured to our names. Jon was upgraded to Dr. Jon Pledge, and I was downgraded and mis-spelled as Mr. Maint Jaint. So typical.

The final circuit training session was held well before the end of the term to make sure that they had time available for revision. We held it in the evening to allow the maximum number of students to attend. Throughout the term, we have been running circuits in the day time, just before lunch. I'd had enough of the early morning starts or late evening finishes.

The final training session took us through the 'twelve days of Christmas' christmas exercise. We start with one exercise, such as one press-up, run around the fountain and then do two exercises, followed by the previous one, e.g. two situps, one press-up. Exercises keep being added up to the twelth round. It doesn't seem like much when you start but at about eight you start to realize how difficult it is. Not all students completed it successfully. Ali was watching to see who was doing the best. Prizes of footballs and books were awarded to those that were deemed to be the best. The top prize was a football signed by the famous TV personality, Maint Jaint.

The students have had their Christmas and Epiphany times. Ali and I went over to see them for their Christmas meal, and I was the guest at their candle light evening at Epiphany. Although a little bit irregularly, the students arrange 'candlelight' evenings with guest speakers. Because I was leaving, they wanted one with me. There wasn't any candlelight on the night but there was plenty of silly games, some poetry, a short presentation by myself and then questions and answers. For the presentation I dug out photos taken while I was at university. These covered many different things, things that are not the same in Ethiopia. Simple things like cooking for yourself, or even paying rent to live at the university are not well understood by all of the students. I explained how I thought my life was different to theirs. The pictures getting the most interest was one taken just after I arrived at UEA, photos of girlfriends, and unsurprisingly, a photo with some of us in Rocky Horror gear.

For the question and answer session I was up on the front of the stage with two translators. There job was to repeat questions that I could not hear properly or to help understand questions. Some of the questions were interesting, but as commented by Ali it was the absence of some questions that was particularly interesting. Students were interested in how they compared to students in the UK. None asked the question about why did I volunteer. I have spoken about VSO to some of them, but not all, so this surprised us slightly. The event wasn't as embarrasing as I feared that it might be.

In preparation for leaving, I must get an exit visa from immigration. Apparently, you can be stopped at the airport if you do not have permission to leave. In order to get the visa from immigration, you need to get a letter from your employer. For me, this is TDA, not MIT. To get Mulu to write the letter for TDA, I had to get internal clearance at MIT. This is the trial by signature that I have mentioned before. I needed to get twelve signatures. All but one were relatively easy. I started early, giving myself three weeks, so I wasn't panicking as much as I might have been. The signature that was difficult was from stores. I knew that this would be a problem because I have signed for so much stuff. When a piece of equipment moves from stores to the lab, then someone needs to sign for it to say that they have responsibility. All equipment arriving should go through stores (officially anyhow). Yeshi is the store woman and she is great, but I knew this was going to be a challenge for both of us. Last time I was doing this I blew up a bit signing things over to me from Ray when she was leaving. Yeshi put herself to the task of making a list of everything that I had signed out. Once I had the list I could go through the equipment, finding where it had gone and then finding either someone else to sign for it, or to sign it back into stores. One sticking point was that the lab didn't have all of the required chairs. We appealed to the students to return any that they had borrowed, and please don't move them any more. Eventually everything was signed off and Mulu was very efficient in getting my clearance letter. This, my passport, and resident's ID then went down to Addis with Rob on the next flight to get the exit visa. This turned out to be half a piece of A4 paper with a stamp on it - nothing official looking in the end. Still, you have to follow the rules.

We learnt some good news - the board had convinced Prof. Soori and Chandra to come and teach at MIT. These are two of the Indians who have previously worked on the curriculum. They had been teaching at the Defense University in Debre Zeit (close to Addis). Soori is to run Electronics, or at least be a full time lecturer, and Chandra is assigned to computing in the same role. I set about preparing a list of the things that I had done, and the things that needed doing in the form of handover notes. VSO requests that we prepare these as well so I was able to kill two birds with one stone. I am worried about the sustainability of my placement. This is one of the goals for which we aim. The ultimate hope is that when we leave, local staff will be able to continue in our position. For the system administration and lab work, I have Tsega, Yared, and Tedros. For the seminars, I have John (Yohannes), and for the lecturer there is now Chandra. I don't know how well this will all work, and it can be argued that Chandra is not local staff anyway so he doesn't count on the sustainability issue. What I do know is that I wasn't able to prepare the remaining staff as well as I would have liked. I know that we have done and achieved a lot, I just hope that they can continue. It's certainly going to get more difficult for them though.

There was one person that I hadn't seen in ages but I really wanted to see before leaving Mekelle: Molla. Although I had only had patchy communication with him, I still counted him as a real friend and wanted to take him out for food before I left. Culturally, you are expected to take your friends out for a meal when you leave. They will buy you a meal when you return. I had arranged to meet with him and expected to take him to a local restaurant. As ever, and generous to a fault, Molla had prepared some food at his new home and I was obliged to go there. His new sertanga (he moved closer to the bank) was an excellent cook and the sauce had a real 'twang' to it, almost cheesy. I was able to confirm that butter (Kibe) had been added. To make sure that I got a meal in for Molla, I inivited him to the pizza evening that I had been arranging for some time.

I had to decide what I was going to with the bits and pieces that I was leaving in Ethiopia. The flight's limit to the UK was 20Kg, although VSO will bump it up to 25Kg. That's still not a lot for two years so I knew that I had stuff that I needed to get rid of. Some things had specific places, e.g. the WorldSpace radio went to Teklay, one of my cameras went to the student's council, and one of the nice books went to the student scoring highest on my course. Most of the other stuff I wanted to give to the students but I didn't really want to decide on specific students receiving specific things. I then hit on the idea of them 'buying' the things being left. I knew that we couldn't use real money because of the differences in background between the students. Therefore, I decided to have a 'circuits auction', students could bid and pay for things in exercises. The afternoon proved to be a great success, only regret is not leaving enough time for it. Some of the things were going for silly prices, e.g. my sports top and shorts cost eighty-five oh-nos. This contributed to the time needed. The rules were quite simple, each lot had a 'reserve price' and a specific exercise. The 'successful' bidder would then have to do the exercise without stopping. If they failed, then they had lost that bid. The first couple of items to be up for sale were minor but one was a pair of my shirts. I didn't think it would have much effect but, as Ali had predicted, the recognition of what was being sold was plain on the students faces. They realized that I was 'selling' things that I actually wanted. For my part in the afternoon, I had great fun being the auctioneer. I have been on the bidding side, but never the auctioning side. I had asked the students previously whether they had ever been to auction. All that I had asked said no, so it appears that cattle are not sold in this way here.

Later in the afternoon I had arranged for laslasas and fruit to be served with their dinner. This was my way of buying food for the students seeing as I was leaving. The students presented me with some leaving presents and a certificate of appreciation. We were also trying to get into the assembly hall to show a film but unfortunately the university were using it and they had over-run and were refusing to leave. Once they were eventually turfed out we could finally set up the projector and speakers so that I could show the students a film that I thought they would enjoy: Back to the Future. It's a great film on its own but they had a connection with one of the characters although they didn't fully realise this. For my programming courses I had been giving them work on behalf of Dr. Emmet Brown, one of the characters from the film. Now it was their chance to finally 'meet' him and to relax a bit. Ali and I were a bit too busy contending with Scooby to see much of the film but she did make a connection that I hadn't seen before. At the start of the film, some terrorists are driving a white and blue VW camper van. Ali took one look at this and said 'it's a line taxi'. I wonder how many of the students had automatically taken it to be a line taxi anyway.

There wasn't much that I was arranging to take back to the UK. I did, however, take advantage of the tailor in Mekelle. Myself, Cactus, and Hans were getting suits made for Jon's wedding. That turned out fine so I asked for another couple to be made. The tailored suits, made of good quality material cost just 500EB. You would be hard pushed to find a cheap off-the-shelf suit for that in the UK. I was lucky enough to be able to borrow Ali to help choose colours and to bully them into getting things correct. In one of my fitting sessions I was in the unfortunate situation of staring down the barrel of a pistol. It wasn't being pointed deliberately at me and there wasn't a hand anywhere near the trigger. It was resting on a pair of trousers in the arms of a young boy. This didn't change the fact that the barrel was definitely looking directly at me with its empty black eye. I assume that the young boy was the son of another man having a fitting. I guess he was a policeman or military. I can't see any reason a civilian would carry a pistol. This isn't America.