Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The EA Olympics

The London Olympics 2012 was over so quickly.  Without satellite TV or a strong internet connection to watch it on BBC I-player we were quite cut off from it.  We caught some of it when we were in the hotel and on FB but on the whole we didn’t see very much of it.  I am hoping that I will be able to re-visit both the opening and closing ceremonies when we get to the Sudan and are ensconced in our own apartment with high-speed internet!

So to make up for our loss we held an Olympic event at the school instead!  We planned to hold a variety of racing events for the first half of our morning session and then switch to high jump, long jump and ‘shotput’ for the second half.  Most of the children finish at the end of this week and so the idea was to do a test on the Wednesday, the Olympics on the Thursday and then on Friday have a party with sweets and biscuits, party games, test-results- giving and of course the awarding of the Olympic medals!

Fran and Martin with some help from Azeb made 120 medals in a variety of fluorescent colours and I masterminded the planning.  Naturally I started with a spreadsheet but this was a job that called for pieces of paper, a ruler, pencil and lots of rubbing out.   Actually, the act of drawing hundreds of lines with a ruler and pencil is quite therapeutic.  With the advent of computers, printers and photocopiers we have been denied this simple pleasure!

We gathered our equipment; hard boiled eggs, spoons, pieces of torn up material, 2 whistles, 2 measuring tapes (extendable), long rope, bag of plastic balls and 4 bins.  All we needed was the rain to stay in the clouds.  What you need is the rain to start at 2 in the morning and carry on till 7.  We have found that this will produce a sunny morning for school.  What you don’t want is the rain to start at 5 in the morning and carry on till 11.  What was the day going to be like?

Alas it was the latter L At breakfast we were looking at the rain and were thinking about what to do. Should we postpone to the next day? Why don’t we go to the Grade school first? Suggested Martin which was a brilliant idea!  Hopefully by 10:30 the rain would finish and then we will have 2 hours for the event.  Phone calls were made; sorted.  The rain stopped at 9:30 and we were in business!

It was a truly fantastic day!  I would like to use the dreaded ‘A’ word that our friends over the pond use to excess but I can’t bring myself to even though it was pretty ‘A’.  The kids loved it, we loved it and the teachers had a pretty good time as well!

We started with the running and the children were sorted by size and gender. Boys, girls, big, medium and small.  On your marks, get set,’peeeeeeeeeeeep’ on the whistle.  Mekdes was very strict, a line was drawn in the sandy earth and she called them back if there were false starts.  The older children had to run 3 lengths but the nursery kids just 1.  Everyone was enthusiastic especially Martin with his bright green whistle that came out of a cracker.

The eggs were not quite hard-boiled but we had no time left so we had to take them as they were.  But what this meant was that when they were inevitably dropped, they did crack and some were a little bit mushy and not reusable!

As always the three-legged race was hilarious.  Enough said.

The teachers were reluctant to join in the teacher’s race but I dragged them up.  Mekdes was as strict for them as with the children and called a false start on the first attempt.  Seble however was in her zone and run to the finishing line before she realised it was a no-start and so was already puffed out when we started the race again.  Martin was convinced that Fran ran in front of him at the end but in the final count, it was Fran 1st, Martin 2nd and Seble 3rd but it was very close and I have to say confusing!

We hadn’t planned on the nursery kids running at all and we thought the school carried on till 12:30, but they did and it didn’t, with parents arriving at 12.  So we had only just got started on the Long Jump, High Jump and ‘Shot put’ and it was time to go. 

None-the-less-it was a very special day and such a lot of fun for everyone.

In the Classroom

The funny thing about teaching is it is the same wherever you are.  I don’t just mean that classrooms, students, resources (regardless of what form they take) are common denominators.  More fundamentally it is the actual process of teaching that is the same.  In the classroom, I am looking for that essential communication between myself and individual students (however many there are in the class) that they have got whatever it is that I am trying to teach.  I guess this may be obvious to you, the reader, but it is new to me!

So how is it different, teaching in Ethiopia?  Well not a lot different to England or Georgia if we are talking about the essence of teaching, but a lot different if we are talking about the overall experience.

The English Alive Academy has been open since 2004 and is run by an English woman and her Ethiopian husband.  When Stephanie and Dawit first met, she was teaching at an International school in Addis Ababa and he was well-established in one of the Embassies.  They opened their first school in 2002 and their students were from the wealthier families in the city, but they felt strongly that this opportunity was not available to those without money and so took the step of closing the school and opening up again in Nazret which at the time was a small town, a 2 or 3 hour drive from Addis Ababa.  The English Alive Academy is open to all children and the fees are subsidised so that local children can afford to attend.  For those who are suffering hardship they can come to the school for free but they have to apply to the local authorities who confirm their situation.

The ethos of the school is to provide a quality education that is only available to children from wealthy families for the poorest children.  It’s an attempt to redress the balance and equip children from the poorest people to become a voice for their community, to give them the same opportunities as wealthier children and all the benefits that a good education provides.

When you first look at the school it doesn’t seem like it is enormously different to what you’d expect.  But that is because I am looking at it with my experience of English schools.   The walls are covered with the children’s art work and there is a store room full of resources for the children, such as games, books and art materials.  There is a nursery for pre-schoolers and two kindergarten classes. (Ages from around 3 to 7)

Similarly in the Grade school, a separate compound, there are grades 1 to 4, (aged around 7 to 11).  However, age is a loose term as birthdays and age is not important and many people do not know how old they are or when their birthday is.  Also some children start school later than others and are therefore put into younger classes if they are late-starters. There is also a small library and a computer room.  Four old-ish computers had been donated and two of these were recently moved to the KG school.  Dawit is also in the process of applying for a grant of 20 new computers from the government which will be amazing for the students and the teachers!

In the class the children are well behaved and attentive.  They are in the habit of copying off the board and working from that and not interacting.  This is the traditional way of teaching in Ethiopia (like many countries) and Stephanie has given the teachers a lot of training to introduce them to modern teaching methods; so the children at the school are more used to interactive lessons and it is easy to see the difference between the students who attend the school and those who don’t.  The ones who don’t are VERY QUIET.

The children are also very innocent and playful. Even for the 13 year olds, they are happy to do as we ask them.  In particular they enjoy the many craft activities that we have arranged as they don’t do art in Government schools and so the older children love the opportunities we have given them to do this and play games.  They will happily join in in playground games such as ‘Oranges and Lemons’, ‘The Hokey Cokey’ and ‘The Big Ship sails on the Alley Alley O’ as well as Chinese jump rope.

It's not Georgia!

For the first couple of weeks in Ethiopia we tend to precede most sentences with “In Georgia….”  I guess this is only natural as we try to understand the culture we are now in and compare it with what we know about other cultures.  But sometimes there is no comparison to be made!

When we first heard about the Ethiopian education system we nodded our heads sagely and said “Yeah, we know, it’s like Georgia” We heard that the teaching method was for students to sit there quietly and just copy off the board, for speaking and listening skills to be weak as the focus was on reading and writing and not interacting and for English levels in the actual teachers to be low.  This is what we found in Georgia so it was logical to assume it was the same situation.  However it isn’t.

In Georgia, most teachers are untrained (although the majority have many years of experience) and in Ethiopia there is no required training for teachers either. However, one guide told us that if students leave school having completed grade 10 then they will be farmers or teachers. This is not the case in Georgia, where for example English Language teachers may well have a degree but it won’t necessarily be in English.  So I think it true to say that Georgian teachers are likely to be more educated than Ethiopian teachers.

What also makes it difficult to compare the two systems though is that we are teaching in a school where the curriculum tries to base itself on a UK system as much as possible and is therefore open to and already incorporates modern teaching methods, unlike Georgia which was just starting to think about it.  We have not had the opportunity to visit an Ethiopian government school to make a proper comparison.

In a funny sort of way, Ethiopia is like Georgia.  There is a huge rural population in both countries who live off the land and although education is free and compulsory in Georgia, many Georgian children are very poor attenders as they help with the farm work and this is not such a different situation to Ethiopia.

Here are some other differences.

There is a drinking culture in Ethiopia but it isn’t obvious to me in the same way it was obvious in Georgia.  I have rarely seen cigarette smoking in the street or cafés or bars we have visited.  Even in the large hotels, the vast majority of Ethiopians will be drinking coke or coffee.  Fran tells me that there is, but it is hidden behind tarpaulin curtains of the main streets.  This is also where the ‘Chat’ chewing goes on. (Legal high from chewing certain leaves)  However, in Georgia (after 6 weeks in the country we have now stopped preceding every sentence with this phrase!) people are not shy about drinking alcohol and we (well Martin) were regularly offered alcohol by strangers in shops and the street.  Of course smoking was a given.

There is a national shortage of serviettes in Ethiopia, I have decided.  Unlike Georgia, where you have serviettes coming out of your ears, here, you just don’t get them or if so very rarely.  As you probably know, I am a girl from the East End of London and not brought up with the niceties of polite eating but I am unsure as to what I am meant to do, if you are eating with your hands and get covered in gunk.  To be honest, this happens to me if I am using a knife and fork, too!  Doubly problematic, is that it is considered terribly rude to lick your fingers in this country.  What is the option?  My father-in-law Mac used to solve this delicate problem by wiping his sticky fingers on his socks, which I consider ingenious; but this is not an option when you are wearing birks. (Ah another difference between the nations – it was too cold to be bare-footed in birks in Georgia)  Bring your own is the answer.  Either that, or take a trip to the ladies for a wash-down.  However, like Georgia, I find it is best to avoid the facilities unless you are in a nice hotel.

Actually this is a similarity; uninhibited letching of single women.  Out of respect for Martin it doesn’t happen to me (not of course because I am not worth leering at).  On our journey to school, most men just openly gawk at Fran and call out to her.  At first this is amusing but it soon wears thin.  It is not that they just gawk either.  A woman on her own is just an open target here.  We were told that a woman drinking in a bar on her own is considered to be a prostitute; and if she is smoking then there is no doubt about it.  Fran went to Harare last weekend and after she had gone to her room for the night, her tour guide pushed his way into her room and told her that he had nowhere to sleep and he had to sleep on her floor.  He refused to leave, so Fran had to.  It was OK in the end but it so easily might have had a different ending.

One big difference between Georgia and here is the begging situation.  In Georgia there are gypsy beggars who moved into the country after the demise of the soviet system.  As everywhere they are really irritating and attack you in groups and pester the life out of you.  They climb onto the marshutkas while you are waiting to go and hover close by mumbling and feigning tears.  You will always find people in the metro subways with the same people there every day.  One particular underpass has several blind people – it appears to be a little community as well.  You also find some people begging outside the stations with missing limbs and they generally are very passive, just laying there and don’t accost you in any way. 

The begging situation is very different in Ethiopia.  We have been told that it is because the tourists before us have given money, sweets etc and that it just encourages the expectation that all tourists will thus provide, especially if you repeated request it as close as you possibly can.  It is actually really horrible to be subjected to this.  The thing is these people (adults and children) are not universally begging.  They are not asking Ethiopians, just the ‘farenji’ (foreigners).  They may be in a conversation with some other people as when they realise we are foreign put their hand out and rub their stomachs or make eating gestures with their other hand.  I want to punch them – hard.  I know that no-one really has a lot of money and we are perceived as having a lot of money (and literally we do) but as we know we are not rich in terms of spending power in the UK.

One teacher was shocked that a cup of coffee in a UK café can easily cost £5 which is 140 birr.  A teacher earns about 1000 birr a month so that is a HUGE amount to them. Of course we live at a far higher standard of living than they do but they also don’t understand this.  As I said the problem is that people have given in the past what are enormous amounts to Ethiopians and at the same time comparatively little for the Brits. For example it is very easy (especially when new in the country) to give a 100 birr tip(it is £3.60) but if you compare that with a teacher’s pay in the UK that is the equivalent of giving £180 tip.  No wonder that children don’t go to school and that people stand at the bus stations with their hand out when tourists have been so generous.

There are people who are homeless or in trouble in some way and beg on the streets and Ethiopians give them money.  That is a different situation.  But when well fed and clean children call out ‘You’ ‘Faranji’ or just ‘money, money’ it horrifies me and angers me to boiling point.  They don’t just content themselves with this either.  They persist.  We now walk straight ahead with sunglasses on and make no eye contact.  They maintain their dialogue of ‘give me money’ for a while and then when there is no response …. They touch me ….. “Get the fuck off me!” immediately comes to mind and on occasion uttered loudly and I push them off.  For crying out loud!   In Georgia we used to say hello to everyone and smile but here they see it as an opportunity to ask you for money. It is a shame but it makes a difference how you feel about the country.  We don’t even want to go out up the road because of the interference and it isn’t just the people in the street.  You always feel that in shops and restaurants you are given a different price to the locals (often true).  The sad thing is that it is the people who approach you who don’t need the money and  the case of tour guides etc the more unscrupulous of the lot.  The more honest or needy are not up front trying to fleece you.  We prefer to go to the expensive hotels where we know the price of a drink and can sit on the terrace without being pestered.  In Georgia we felt ripped off if a taxi tried to charge us 30p more than we thought was ok.  In Ethiopia, we pay 5 times the price at least in any tourist encounter.

Famine and Foreigners

As with Georgia (and Sudan) we didn’t really know much about the country before we came.  So I was pleased to borrow a book from the other volunteer Fran about Ethiopia called “Famine and Foreigners – Ethiopia Since Live Aid” by Peter Gill and English Journalist.  I found it really interesting and thought I would summarise it here.  Do you remember Live Aid?  When it actually happened I mean?!  It was 1984 and I was 23 with a one year old son, just pregnant or about to get pregnant with my daughter and like many, many people was horrified by the pictures of the starving people in Ethiopia and totally caught up in the Live Aid phenomenon.  What was so exciting was young musicians full of disgust at the lack of action by world politicians took matters into their own hands to respond to the suffering.  I didn’t like the fact that the Americans got in on the act (although of course that was entirely separate to the fact that money was being raised)!  I still can’t hear the song by The Cars “Who’s gonna drive you home tonight?” without seeing the face of that little child, from the video, covered with flies and close to death.  I watched the concert and pledged but didn’t actually pay-up (I was one of those) because we were very short of money and once the moment went I thought more about my own immediate needs and consoled myself with the fact that millions had been raised and my £10 wasn’t going to be missed.

So I was quite interested in the book’s strap line – Ethiopia since Live Aid. This is what the book was about.  I have used Peter Gills own word and paraphrased where I can, so no credit please for me!

For Richer or Poorer

Ethiopia is one of the richest countries on earth – in its civilisation, history and culture.  For as long as Europe has known of a wider world, Ethiopia has held our imagination.  The story of King Solomon’s seduction of the Queen of Sheba and the birth of a boy was the foundation of an imperial line which was only extinguished by the murder of Emperor Haile Selassi in 1975.  The Greeks gave modern Ethiopians their name “burnt faces’ and applied it to anyone living south of Egypt.  Ethiopia became of the powers of the world, a century before Christ and converted to Christianity before Rome and has strongly resisted attempts to convert from Ethiopian Orthodox to Roman Catholicism.  This independence has been sustained.  In 1935 Mussolini bombed and gassed Ethiopians and Emperor Haile Selassie was forced into exile.  The old League of Nations did nothing to halt the march of fascism and Ethiopia’s independence was restored in the aftermath of the Second World War.

In the past 29 years, instead of its glorious past and rich culture we now associate Ethiopia with famine.  It has become the iconic poor country.

In 1984, the World Food Council of the United Nations said “Hunger today is largely a man-made phenomenon: human error or neglect creates it, human complacency perpetuates it and human resolve can eradicate it.”  Since then we have had (from 1985) “Make Poverty History in 2005” and Christian Aid in 2009 ran a campaign “Poverty Over”.

However the hunger persists, people still die of starvation and no country in the world confronts the threat of famine more frequently than Ethiopia.  Ethiopians ask themselves why it has become so difficult for the country to feed themselves, like it is rocket science.

So twenty five years on was hunger becoming history in Ethiopia?   When Peter Gill was researching this book in 2008, it was a time of optimism shared by Ethiopian government and the foreign aid givers. But in 2009 when he returned he found that the situation had changed.  There were still achievements to be recognised but things were slowing down and the effectiveness of foreign aid was being seriously questioned and the role of the aid-givers in doubt.  While it is agreed that world poverty is to be shared another principle is that poor countries can only emerge out of poverty when they take full charge of their destiny.  Ethiopia has always believed this an d Peter Gill asks whether there is sufficient Ethiopian institutions and policies in place to actual deliver what is known as ‘development’.

In the 1990s the Ethiopian Government (it overthrew a powerful communist dictatorship) set out to build a new Ethiopia and has diligently pursued it strategy for development.  The government has also insisted on retaining a vision of its own in the face of changing western perspectives on how to tackle poverty.  Aid-receivers and Aid-givers have often clashed with each other.

One lesson of Ethiopian history is that foreigners with ambitions for the country do not have Ethiopia’s interest at heart.

1. There was a famine in 1973 but the Haile Selassie Government did not want the embarrassment of this to be released to the rest of the world, preferring to see the situation as normal.  Although it was reported by UNICEF there was a lack of response from the donors (foreign officials) who were unwilling to jeopardise their jobs or comfortable relationship with Haile Selassie’s government.  The UN took the position that until the government said it was a problem then it wasn’t.  A student movement set out to publicise and protest at the famine but this was eventually hijacked by the army.  Celebrations for the Emperor’s 80th birthday were still taking place and it was media coverage of this shown with footage of the unfolding famine that was the downfall of the Emperor.  The army arranged for special showings of this around the town and in the end the army dethroned the Emperor, drove him off and he was never seen again.

2. Once in power, the Derg began a sweeping and murderous crackdown on the political parties that grew out of the student movement.  For months on end, the ‘Red Terror’ arrested people and dumped the bodies in the street the next morning.  Many fled the country or to the mountains to avoid capture.  Regional freedom movements, notably in Tigray, came into existence.  Unlike the 1973 famine, the situation in 1984 had been researched and reported n the media for months; but still there was national negligence and international indifference.  After TV media coverage in the UK, Britain came under pressure to respond to the famine.  However, Thatcher’s view of Ethiopia was that it was a wasteful and bureaucratic socialist state in military alliance with the Soviet Union and did not want to give aid.  Why hadn't Oxfam responded sooner?  In the 1980s, Oxfam had been determined to move from relief to development.  This was the era of ‘Give a man to fish and he can eat.  Teach a man to fish and he can make a living’ an inappropriate observation in famine conditions where rivers have dried up.  Oxfam chose to focus on development and not relief even when the prospects of famine were already apparent.

3. Hunger as a weapon.  Within weeks of the television reports of a catastrophic famine and as foreign aid began to trickle in, Ethiopia’s military government launched its own anti-hunger program.  If people were starving in the highlands then it would pack them off to the lowlands where land was plentiful and they could start again.  This resettlement program was applied so ruthlessly that the Colonel Mengistu was likened to a pocket African Stalin.  The starving peasants were considered to be 5th columnists , undermining the government and supporting those political groups who wanted to overthrow the government.  Now they could be sent to re-settlements where they could be controlled.  The people suffered terrible hardships in the settlement camps and promises of land etc were not met.  The aid agencies did not want to publicise this as they would be liable for expulsion.  In the post Band-aid era, income for all agencies had increased dramatically and  they did not want to put themselves at risk.  Medecins sans frontiers did raise the issue and was expelled.  They estimated that 100,000 had died through insanitary conditions, lowland diseases and lack of food.  Even worse was the claim that 6,000 children died in one camp where they were denied help on the grounds that not enough adults had agreed to be resettled. 

This little project of mine; summarising this really interesting book, fell at the first hurdle!  It is taking me as long to summarise as it did read it in the first place and I am running out of time!  besides Fran needs her book back for her own research and I guess i will have to get my own copy!  if you read it let me know what you think!

Teaching the Teachers

The teachers were very keen to have English lessons and computer lessons and so we decided on four days a week at 2 o’clock.  We started in the second week and had 8 or 9 teachers coming but as expected this died down to a hard core of 3 or 4 and then finally 3.  The trouble is, learning English is hard work.  Many of the teachers have young families and homes to run and people just have lives.  However, for them it is a brilliant opportunity to have three native English teachers on tap to practise their English and also being shown how to use a computer.  It was only for 5 weeks.  But still people are people and in the end the ones who were really motivated came and those who weren’t, didn’t.

The plan was (there is always a plan that doesn’t work out haha) that I would introduce some aspect of computing and then take 1/3 into the computer room to do practical stuff while 1/3 did some English and then the other third looked at an interactive power point that I had from my ICT teaching days.  The thing is, in the early stages you actually have no idea what people know and what they don’t know.  With the English, it is hard to tell whether they understand or not and their difficulty is with actually speaking or listening so there is quite a bit of adjustment that has to go on.  So combined with the irregular attendance we settled into an introduction on the practical side of word or power point and then half went to the computers with me and the other half stayed and did ‘English with Fran and Martin’.  Originally it was the other way round but neither of them could cope with the strain of lack of mouse control from the teachers!  “left-click, no, left-click, try again, move your mouse so you can see the little white arrow change, hover, left-click, that’s it no, again, you are right-clicking, left-click”  They were pulling their hair out and my expertise in trying to get a class of 30 though an ICT BTEC qualification came into its own.

In this way, they have learned how to make folders, create word documents, change the font, the colour, size, align text, use bold, underline, italics, insert wordart, shapes, pictures and clip art and apply special effects and crop.  Mouse control is a huge challenge as is cropping but they are a whole lot better after four weeks of lessons four times a week.  Highlighting is difficult and they left-click when they need to right-click (but Martin does that still!) They made a school newsletter!  (OK with a lot of help from me giving instructions!)  They have also been learning Power Point and made a presentation about themselves.  It was clear here that their English is very bad and so now we combine English and Computer lessons by looking at what they are going to type and making sure they are not just copying off the board (where have I heard that before?!) They have progressed!  They made an interactive quiz where you could choose from a menu which question you wanted to have which takes you to that question page and then depending on which multi-choice answer you  select, you will be taken to either a ‘Well Done’ or an ‘Oops try again’ page, then back to the original question menu.  At the moment they are working on a presentation of the School Olympics!

I have also shown them ‘how’ to type, how to position their fingers on the keyboard and which fingers to use to type quickly.  They now use their thumb to hit the space bar but the rest will come in time!

This weekend we are taking the die-hard three to the hotel so we can show them how to use email and search engines. One of the problems for them is that internet cafes are very expensive and therefore not possible for them.  But without knowing how to use computers (and they did not know what a keyboard was) they will never realise why they need to know.

The internet is a doorway to information and 97% of this information is in English.  Unless people are computer literate and can speak English to a high standard then they will not have access to this material.  We talk about the widening gap between the wealthy and the poor but there is also a widening gap between those who know and can use technology and those that can’t and when this is applied at a national level this has huge implications for third world countries who are going to be increasingly unable to bridge that gap.  Understanding how to use a computer and the internet is a brilliant start for people who want to be able to improve their economic situation.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Our Hotel

We have, or I should say I have, had an altercation with the management and as a result we are leaving on Saturday to go somewhere else, as of yet unknown.

It is not a bad hotel.  It has 12 rooms set around a courtyard with lot of lush and well-established plants and a very, very large satellite dish.  Washing lines are strung across the courtyard and there are a few plastic chairs brought out when there is space.  It also serves as a car park and we have often found at least four UN 4 x 4s carefully arranged when we come home from school making it difficult to navigate to our room.  Running around the courtyard is a porch about 3 feet deep with a roof.  This provides protection against the sun and the heavy rains and a useful place for the guard to sleep. 

The guard at our hotel is a little old man and sleeps outside the end room next door to us, except when it is really raining hard and then he moves along to ours to get out of the rain that still manages to find its way over the barbed wire wall surrounding the compound.  His job is to open the gates to let vehicles in and out and to be on night duty, presumably to alert younger members of staff against intruders and let in any weary travellers who turn up past closing time.  I am not sure when closing time is as the bar goes on fairly loudly till at least three o’clock and the UN vehicle move out at five thirty with no consideration for anyone else, with loud bangs whistles beeps and conversations.  This seems to be the place to stay for the UN drivers whilst the driven stay at the plusher hotels on the main road.  We know our place! And luckily we are deep sleepers.

Where the guard sleeps

The room itself in a little run down but adequate.  The king-size bed is comfortable and fills the larger part of the L-shaped room along with a bedside cabinet , a small TV, a low bamboo table and a bamboo chair.  There is no wardrobe.  The bathroom fills the gap in the ‘L’ and is ok.  A western toilet; a shower tray and a sink.  We have an immersion heater for hot water but the socket is ill-fitted and there is a gap between it and the wall revealing taped up wires.  Unfortunately, the shower is positioned directly above it and the water runs over it.  I can’t remember when I stopped being terrified that I was going to be electrocuted.  The problem with the design is that the shower tray is in front of the toilet and so when you are sitting on the loo your feet are in the shower tray.  Staggering into the loo in the middle of the night can be a little disconcerting when you unexpectedly step down into the tray just when you think you are in reach of your goal and are making the turn to sit! It gets me every time!   There is plenty of hot and high-pressured water though, which is lovely.

The main problem is that we have nowhere to put our stuff.  It is a ‘Martin Challenge’ i.e. a packing stroke arranging stuff challenge of which Martin has three masters and a Phd.  You have to remember that we have a lot of baggage.  We came with five suitcases and two small cases as hand-luggage plus 2 laptops and a handbag! We are after all going to the Sudan and therefore not all is being used in Ethiopia. So there was yet another sort out, moving stuff that definitely wasn’t coming out to the suitcases at the bottom of the pile, the stuff that was coming out in the near future to the middle and our everyday stuff to the top.  Then on top of this we pile the clothes we have taken off, what has come back from the wash and anything else we just put on there.  Overall it is a bit of a mess but it kind of works. Except for when Martin hides things.

The room is cleaned every day and we are given a new piece of soap and some toilet paper.  Not a whole roll mind but a piece.  It is reeled off the roll and rewound into a neat pile for our use.  However it is not enough and is used on the first go.  Sometimes we are given soap and no paper.  We have a lovely pile of soap building up which will see us through the year in Sudan but it doesn’t compensate for the lack of paper.  At first we supplemented our meagre ration with our own roll of paper we had brought from England.  Then we (or rather I) had to ask the maid when we came back from school as there was urgent business to attend to and no paper in sight!  First of all she didn’t understand what toilet paper was and then directed me to the manager who also didn’t understand and I had to take him into the toilet and repeatedly say “paper, paper”.  Eventually he understood “soft paper?” A breakthrough!  I didn’t know if it was right but I was taking it anyway as my situation became increasingly desperate,  We weren’t there yet though, as the maid now had to be dug out of another room and sent to the place where the lone toilet roll could be removed from the locked cupboard where it could be preserved.  I watched as she started to unroll he sheets of paper and like Oliver, I shouted “More! More!” when she stopped.  “Martin has an upset stomach! I say with accompanying gestures. (How low was I going to sink here?) However, I was rewarded for my petulance and given another healthy supply.  Honestly I felt like I had brought home a prize stag from the hunt!   We weren’t given any extras after that and was back to the normal ration of five feet a day, two and a half feet each.

A new hotel had opened on the corner, a few compounds along from our hotel and the owner was often outside as we passed.  “Come and have a look at my rooms, tell me what you think” By any account that is an attempt to lure us to his hotel.  Well in England that would be thz case.  We went and had a look and for just 200 ETB (£7.20) per room we were currently paying 130 ETB – the hotel had just put the price up from 120 ETB and we suspected a fleecing was occurring) we would have had a newly furbished large room, with a TV that could get loads of channels and also a very large wardrobe.  The big one was that he said he was getting internet next month, I told him then and there that we could pay up front for a month’s room if he would get the internet now!   That threw him into a tizz and he said he would find out how soon he could get it installed.

In the meantime, the Aussie visitors were being installed in this hotel (it wasn’t finished when we arrived or we would have been there) and so we were trying to find out what was happening with the internet.  We had decided we would move there anyway because of the price hike in our hotel which broke our contract essentially, but we were turned down.  Apparently, the owner was really just asking for our opinion on the rooms and wasn’t trying to lure us to his establishment and was horrified that we wanted to take a room.  It didn’t matter that we wanted to go, the issue was that he would still be there after we left and he did not want to fall out with the owner, he didn’t want us!  Bummer!  But the Aussies gave us a toilet roll from the hotel when they left, so there was some compensation!

Anyhow, I digress.  At first, the manager asked us for payment every day and so we ended up paying a week in advance on the Saturday.  However he got used to us after a bit and then we ended up paying on the Monday or Tuesday, partly in arrears and partly in advance.  This week however Martin went to pay on the Wednesday and was informed that yet again the price had risen and was now 140 ETB.  What’s more the price was backdated to the Saturday.  Martin thought it was a bit rich but still paid it and I was pretty cross when he came back and told me.  We went to bed and I was laying there getting more and more angry about it. We had had an agreement.  We were staying for 6 weeks.  When it went up to 130 ETB we paid that amount from the day we were told about it.  This was really taking the biscuit, paying extra for the previous nights without being told about it!  And then refusing to void the receipt so we had to stay for an extra two nights!

So we moved to the hotel on the corner, the one who was scared of the owner.  He was still really frightened and he insisted that Dawit cleared it with the owner first.  But here we are and It is much nicer. The TV shows all channels and it is nice enough to stay in the room and watch TV, PC, or work on stuff for school etc.  Very nice!  

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Walking home from school

There is never a dull moment walking to and from school.  It is always busy and there is always something interesting to see.  It begins when we step outside the heavy metal gates of the house when we look around to see how many young men are waiting to catch a glimpse of our fair maiden volunteer Fran.  She has gathered quite a following (literally) of young men who when they have a spare moment wait casually on the corner for her to appear.  They don’t do anything other than stare and feel satisfied that it wasn’t a wasted journey.
Looking back at the house
We set off to the KG (Kindergarten) school and this only takes a 5 minutes or so depending on how much it has rained in the early hours of the morning and when we arrive at school all the children rush towards us to welcome us.  Of course there are several ways they do this; 1) Formal handshake 2) Back of the hand is offered  3) shoulder is offered 4) a leap followed by cuddle and a kiss.  I have now introduced a new variant – when offered the hand, I shake it and then twist them around as if we are jiving.  They love this and the boys have now started to dramatically fall on the floor when I do this as if I have hurled them across the room.  (Ahh boys!)

Waiting for hugs at the KG school
 After class we usually stay for 20 minutes of break time and then set off for the Grade school which is about a 20 minute walk.  We are usually relieved to have finished class and do a post-mortem on our lessons, what worked well and how we could improve them.  Martin lights up and we dodge the puddles, mud, and rocks, tuk-tuks, donkeys and boys asking for money and make our way to the main road, passing a couple of coffee ceremonies and bike repair places positioned on the side of the road.  The main routes are nicely cobbled but the side roads are unmade and difficult to navigate when it has been raining.  The bike repair people have stopped calling out (presumably obscenities) to Fran now and less boys ask for money.  In the beginning we just had people following us putting their hands out.

Walking towards the bridge
What is interesting is the number of different modes of transport there are.  We see them all at the same time and is a curious blending of old and new.  Donkeys laden with hay or goods; tuk-tuks racing through the mud, splattering god-knows-what-is-in-the brown-liquid as they go; horse drawn carts with passengers, the occasional car.  At the main road we meet up with large trucks, lorries and buses that compete with the tuk-tuks for right of way.  This morning we saw a huge articulated lorry do a U-turn that only just made it.  Everyone and all vehicles just get out of the way.

Laden donkey
We cross the main road and this marks the next stage of our walk, up the cobbled road to the bridge.  This road is lined with small shops and a few vegetable and fruit sellers and of course another coffee ceremony site.  There are hairdressers and CD shops.  Most of the women and girls have their hair plaited and so they are kept in business.  The music shops play their music loudly all day and so entertain us all.  The music has a definite Bangla feel and is quite pitched and cheerful. 
We walk over the bridge which transverses a dry river.  Even in the rainy season it is dry quite often and on these occasions, you can see many young men digging up the sandy river bed, filling plastic sacks and carrying them up the steep sides to be tipped into a pile then spaded into a lorry, presumably to eb used for building.

Dry river
Wet and dry river
A house on the edge of the river was washed away just as we arrived and it is being rebuilt.  Every day it gets higher and higher.  Hopefully the next heavy rain won’t wash it away again.  We have to watch ourselves at this junction as invariably a horse and cart or tuk-tuk tries to run us over as they turn the corner.
After the bridge the road is no longer cobbled and very squelchy. There are a number of large lorries parked on the side and so we are forced back into the main road to walk and at risk of being beeped at and splashed by the traffic.  It is very muddy and slippery here and I have nearly fallen over several times!
The door to the Grade school is usually locked and we wait until the guard comes and unlicks the metal gates and let us in.  There are a lot less children for this second session and the welcome is tamer but still enthusiastic.  The playground is often flooded or recovering from flooding and this means that the children often are playing on the covered areas by the classrooms or inside the classrooms on the 2 computers or playing board games. We have introduced Chinese jump rope, bubbles, and various playground games such as ‘What’s the time Mr. Wolf?’, ‘The Big Ship Sails on the Ally-Ally-O’ and ‘Oranges and Lemons’ for when the ground is playable on.  ‘In and out the dusty bluebells’ is next.  Plus we brought with us some indoor games, ‘Guess Who?’, ‘4 in a row’, ‘Flounders’ and ‘Frustration’.  Not forgetting the famous Pom-Pom fest!
After class we have another enthusiastic goodbye session where we repeat the hand-shaking and then we head back to the house, with about 8 children in tow!  They insist on carrying our bags and boxes of colouring pens and then release them to another child when they come to their turn-off.  They like to chat and Martin and Fran are very good at this.  The girls love Fran and want to talk music and clothes and the boys hang around Martin and they have a good chat too.  Me, I am whacked and don’t really feel like giving any more, but I have a couple of lads who walk with me and I try my best to talk.  Silence is underrated I tell myself.

Martin and the boys
Fran and the girls
Me and my shadows
The bridge on the way home

The bridge on the way home
We arrive at the house and then every day the girl carrying Fran’s bag ‘forgets’ to give it back!  That is their little joke!
Lunch is ready more or less as soon as we arrive.  I so appreciate this!  I just turn up and get fed.  I bring over a bag of dirty clothes and then I get them washed and folded and put bag in the bag! It’s like being a man it’s wonderful!

Azeb our fab cook
After lunch we return to the KG school to teach the teachers and then finally at around four o’clock we are free!

Saturday, 11 August 2012

More little monkeys jumping on the bed

Dawit took me,  Martin and the two Aussie visitors to Soderee at the weekend which is a hot spa resort.  It is set in pleasant grounds with outdoor swimming pools that are filled with hot spring water and just half hour drive from Nazret.
I guess that Ethiopia being a landlocked country and very few public swimming pools (if any) the majority of Ethiopians cannot swim and so luckily for us they were crammed into the small pool where they could touch the bottom and we had the big pool virtually to ourselves.  It was lovely and hot!
Soderee had a good vibe

The hot spring pools
We had a nice walk through the grounds where the main spectacle are the monkeys who are very cheeky and will rifle through your bag looking for food while you are sitting there.  We saw one monkey go over to someone’s bottle of coke that was standing on the ground, tip it over and then drink the coke off the floor!
A giant termite hill

Walking through the grounds
Where's the inside gone? 
Fab picture taken by Rhonda
Of course they are a nuisance but we had fun looking at them as there were a lot of baby monkeys that are incredibly cute.  It was a bit creepy though when three or four of them, a couple with babies wrapped round them, came really close and sat there watching us eating ice-creams; honestly you thought they were going to rip your eyes out for a lick!
Hey you, faranji, me want ice cream
Next time I'll have your windscreen wiper

School Days

Yesterday, just before we were leaving the hotel to go for breakfast it started to rain.  Not unusual for the rainy season, but this was heavy.  Even that was not unusual for this time of the year and we have often been woken by the sound of the rain on the roof in the middle of the night.  This rain however was torrential.  Is that a big enough word for it I wonder?  It was really, really, really heavy.  We waited for a bit and when it didn’t subside we made a run for it.  The house is only about 300 yards away around the corner; but when we reached the end of the road there was a river running through it.  No I am not exaggerating at all. 
We walked up the other way for a bit to find a narrower to cross over but then it left us with another huge leap to cross the river on the other side.  The usual route of staying close to the building to avoid the mud (there is more stone close to the building) didn’t work.  In fact when I jumped I landed ankle deep in muddy rainwater; my Birks are the only footwear I brought with me, and although I tend to gather a lot of mud between my toes none-the-less they wash and dry out quickly. 
When we arrived at the house the back of my dress (I gathered up the front under my pac-a-mac) was like a water balloon.  Martin was completely soaked through.  This was just 300 yards.  I put up with the discomfort as I was only wearing a cotton dress but Martin had to go and change before we went to school (we got a lift in the end).

That's my rucksack, not my hump!
No-one likes the rain in Ethiopia and they will stay away from school if they can.  Consequently there were a lot less students in the KG school and so we put them all in the same large classroom and sang lots of songs until 9:30.  Then we decided to start break early and the Pom-Pom fest continued.  It was CRAZY like nothing you have seen.  The children who had started their pom-poms the day before wanted wool immediately and were calling out “Red” “Black” “Purple” “Can I have pink please?” plus seven kids at a time tugging on anything that was hanging and gesturing and making scissor movements to show that they wanted attention in some way.
The teachers loved it too!

How cute can you get?
All the children who had not started a pom-pom the day before poured out of the woodwork to make one today.  It was like Petticoat Lane! The teachers were quite keen to make their own pom-poms actually and they seemed to like it as much as the children!  Once the wool was out and the scissors distributed I moved to where the other volunteers were having fun; playing with the smallest children and a bag of those coloured balls you have in a ball pond.  One of the Aussie visitors held out a bin and the children threw them into it.  When it was full it was tipped back into the bag and so on. You know what little kids are like; they NEVER tire of games like that!  However some of the shots went wide and she got bashed in the face a few times!

Children never get tired of throwing things into a bin!

Trish gets one in the face
When we went to the grade school the playground was flooded and there were only a handful of children there.  So we had a very nice time!  I taught a couple of the older kids how to do animations and transitions on Power-point and the others played cards!
It must be over 6 inches deep

A bit of Nature

In our brief travels we have seen some lovely birds, monkeys, flowers and trees.

Here you are!



Monkeys living in the trees

This monkey was throwing the stones off the church wall and drawing a lot of attention to itself
This tree climbed the wall and continued growing both sides

See! It's doing it again!

Cactus tree


Flowers from the hotel garden

And another one!

Another one