King for a Day
Feb. 28th 2005
The diary date is for the last night in Ethiopia. I am actually writing this quite some time later while sitting at my parents in New Zealand. There was far too much happening at departure to worry about diary entries. I hope I can remember enough of what was going on.

Time has been playing tricks on me. The last two weeks seem to have gone quickly, far too quickly. Tsega has been coping very well, although I can see that she is upset. One of the stangest things for me emotionally is how 'disconnected' I have been feeling. Presumably this is natural in these situations; because you know that it is happening so there is little point in being upset. Also, maybe because I have moved on many times in the past it is now easier. This doesn't mean that I am happy. I'm not sad either. I'm more devoid of these feelings, although there is obviously many things that I will miss so I am looking at these more carefully.

The VSOs were invited around to Prof. Soori's house one night for some fantastic Indian cuisine and to learn about where not to go in India. Also at the gathering were some board members who had managed to get something for me that had been proving very elusive. I had taken a fancy to the Ethiopian team's tracksuit, and there it was in all its oversized garish glory. I had tried to buy one previously and failed, Alison had also been trying. We found that they could be ordered on the Internet but only women's ones. The board, probably Araya, seemed to have had more success.

Before leaving I had to say my farewells to the VSOs and my friends from Mekelle. I booked us into the Yordanos that still sells pizza and brought all of the 5birr notes that I had been saving since arriving. Pizzas are expensive but I almost had enough to cover all of the food and beer. I had spent some of the money already on the student's laslasa. I made sure that I put some of the fives to one side for a tip for the waiters. The salary they receive is very small, and I don't know how much they would normally make from tips. This Yordanos wasn't the only one I had to make a trip to, I headed off to the one with Kibrom to say my goodbyes to him.

Before leaving Mekelle I was frantically trying to arrange hand over notes, system operator guides, and other training. It was a little stressful to say the least. However, I was glad that I knew that I had sorted out all of the VSO paperwork. I also managed to write reference letters for the computing staff so that if needs be they have an official bit of paper, stamped from someone with a Ph.D. Two days before leaving I posted the students' grades for their final course. They had done well. Unfortunately I had abandoned their main piece of course work because of time and power problems, but they performed well in the exam that I set to be at an equivalent level to an exam in the UK.

When the day came to leave, several of the students were waiting to say goodbye to me at MIT. I had told everyone that I would stop by on the way to the airport. Here too were Tsega and the lab tech guys. The Toyota pick-up that took me to the airport was struggling with the weight of students that had decided to jump into the back. They had a bit of trouble getting into the airport terminal because they didn't all have ID but with a little bit of persuasion, everyone came in to the terminal where I met Cactus who was heading down to Addis for Jon's wedding. The students took lots of photos, and then most headed back to MIT when the pickup left. Three students, Asfaw, Biniam, and Nesredin, remained to keep myself and Cactus company until the flight left. I guess because of the situation, they could be more relaxed and we were able to tell some jokes, rude ones included. These three students were amongst the students with whom I have had the most contact. In particular Asfaw this term has been a circuit training regularly and has probably kept it going. Before leaving, I gave him a personal present - my training watch. The watch has seen better days and in itself isn't a particularly good watch anymore, however it was a symbolic thing for the circuit training.

Just before leaving I was able to meet and shake hands with Chandra, my replacement. The aeroplane to take us to Addis had just brought him from Addis. Although I have yet to see how it will work out I hope that it will be better than the part time teachers that were used last semester. I have never approved of the use of the part-timers. Given a choice between nothing and the part-timers I would still need to think carefully. Of course, gven the choice between part-timers and an active method of finding full time instructors in time is a different choice, but not one that actually seems to be considered seriously. The students had made their opinions about the part-timers clear. I do feel sorry for them in this respect, having seen one of the white boards after the part-timer had been in there. I described the board as if the worms from the bottom of a bottle of tequila had been dipped in ink and told to crawl over the board. It really didn't represent anything useful for teaching. I think we have managed to eliminate this kind of scrawl in many of our students so it is such a shame that someone who is supposed to be their teacher is perpetuating shoddy practice. This is another area in which our work, if it makes a difference, might not do so for a considerable period of time. Our students, if they are teachers, may be doing things differently and will need to be both diplomatic and determined.

The flight to Addis was quick and easy, and after leaving the airport, myself and Cactus got a taxi to the hotel. I could have asked for the hotel's service but it has always been a bit flaky before. The only tasks to do in Addis were to have an exit interview with Daniel, my current placement officer, and to be a best friend at Jon's wedding to Mulu. The exit interview was simple enough and I picked up all of my credit cards and everything else that I had left in the safe at VSO when I had first arrived, two years previously.

Jon's wedding took place on Saturday, 26th Feb. However, before that, the best friends needed to meet beforehand to discuss what would happen. Also, the male and female best friends needed to meet one another. We already knew Jackie of course, but we were to be escorting Biznesh, Magleet, and Bimbi. Jon's four best friends comprised myself, Hans, Rob, and Cactus. On the day itself, best friends were dressed in the same suit or dress and we escorted the bride and groom to the wedding ceremony in a park in Addis. Jon had told me about where they were going to have the ceremony (they were already officially married at a registry office). The area was being dressed before the wedding so we wouldn't be able to see the highlight of a grafittied, over-sized penis drawn on a zebra on on of the walls. Sometimes there's no justice.

The ceremony was extravagant. That was how I was trying to politely describe to the Ethiopians that asked me. In reality, it was way over the top and cheesy in the extreme. It seems that the worst, most sentimental parts of a western wedding have been borrowed, but then maybe it's been borrowed from America. It seemed that time had to be inserted for the vows - these weren't as important as the cake (with a lovely advertising sticker on the front), the sparklers, or sitting up on a podium. The food was a mix of normal Ethiopian fare, and western food. Half a cow was hanging up to provide raw meat. The best thing about the ceremony for me was that it gave me a chance to catch up on what was happening with other VSOs. I also got to see Hagos for the last time, someone I hadn't seen in a long time. I guess that it is the only wedding that I have been to with guards with AK-47s. That many people in one place attracts thieves and street children. The guards keep an eye on things and throw them out.

The day after the wedding was a party for Jon and Mulu at the house of some VSOs in Addis. Alison and others had been helping by cooking enough food for half the day. The best friends had specific clothes to wear and had to escort the couple to the party. They were dressed as a king and queen for the night. I don't think Mulu was too happy about us asking whether Jon was going to pull a rabbit out of his sleeve or something. For me, the party was my last night to see VSOs - most of them would have left for their placements by the following day.