It was only a short time later that the vehicles stopped and we clambered down and made our way to the final part- the cavernous turbine hall that had been carved from the rock, partly by machine and partly by hand. From here a machine was grinding its way up to where the lake would be formed once the dam was closed, hoping at some point to meet the tunnellers coming from the lake. One of the officials we had collected from the camp earlier in the afternoon, having detailed the works in progress kindly switched to English to explain everything to me. It occurred to me during all of this and perhaps in part due to the reaction of the staff, that this would make good trip for school science club- a chance to make things more real than just what’s written in the book.
This project along with several other similar projects is massively important for Ethiopian development. The irregularity and unreliability of the power supply must be a huge obstacle to progress in so many other areas. The challenge Ethiopia faces at the moment seems to relate to the fears of some of their neighbours that damming the water supplies of so much of East Africa will affect their access to water. Ethiopia seems to be the source of much of this and I speculate that this might be one reason why so much of this hydroelectric project is deep underground.
Tour completed, photos taken we returned to the cars, which by this point had turned around and took us back blinking into the late-afternoon. A second group went in for the tour and we were given a short talk about the site before slowly beginning the return journey to Negele. By this time I was detecting some dissatisfaction among the staff, partly I suspect because they hadn’t eaten since breakfast and it had already been a long day. I had also been told that it was to be on this occasion that my trainers would be doing their public presentations of projects they had been working on. I think I knew early on that this was never really going to happen and by this point, with everyone keen for food and to get back to Adola I wondered how much it really mattered. The staff had had a good day out and although there may be some different perspectives on how hard they actually work, they do have to work a lot (especially weekends) and a chance to get away from the daily repetitive cycle was definitely a chance for “refreshment”.
Back in Negele we went for food, I think all at the same place this time. It was quite an operation and understandably took some time. Tibs again it seemed – it seems that an Ethiopian can eat this 3 times a day, 5 days a week (fasting days Wednesday and Friday). I’m not sure my European pallet is quite ready for that, but it turns out I didn’t need to worry overly as a special dish called ‘Kort’ had been ordered for my culinary delight. I had previously refused this dish, but had said to just order it in future and I’d eat it.
One of my misconceptions of Ethiopia before I came out, albeit one of which I was not really conscious, was that they would eat, for a European, unusual food; you know, insects, lion’s eyeballs and so on. It turns out that they are quite particular about these sort of things, which become clear at the horror on their faces when I told them I had previously eaten horse. However, one of the things that they do sometimes forget to do is to even show the meat to any kind of heat source and this is the delicacy known as “Kort”.
I thought it would be more chewy and I think I was I more concerned about texture than taste. Turns out that it was a bit like eating Turkish delight- texture wise, I mean. It certainly didn’t taste like Turkish delight- that would have been very weird. Actually it didn’t really have much flavour at all. Dutifully, I tried several pieces and the only way to add flavour was to dip it in a mustardy sauce that came with out. I wasn’t disgusted by the experience, but feel no great inclination to repeat it simply because of the lack of flavour to price value. I often jokingly question my colleagues about the raw meat being most expensive because nothing’s been done to it. The reality is that it is the best meat from the animal.
Now almost 8pm, it was time to tackle the road back to Adola. Fortunately these days most of it is sealed, but I wasn’t relishing the trip back in the dark. I was certainly relieved to have the “guest” privilege of being able to travel in the college car. It’s much quicker than the bus- especially as I’m not sure Amsala, the driver likes to use anything lower than 4th gear. We were back in Adola sometime around 9.30pm (It took at least three hours to do this by car on my previous trip back in November). However back in Adola does not equate to back at the college. First we drove around the town to try and find accommodation for the camera crew that had joined us for the day from the Oromo TV channel.
At last that was sorted and we began to head to the college only to have to stop again. This time one of the buses had been stopped by the police about 5 minutes from the college. The police officer suspected that there was some contraband on the bus (this could be something as mundane as women’s clothes smuggled from Kenya). He was surrounded by angry and, by this time, rather tired college staff. The dean stepped it, I think phoning the local police chief. Two more police arrived on a motorcycle, but my hopes of a quick solution were not fulfilled. Eventually the staff managed to get onto the second bus and return to the college, the stopped bus remaining at the side of the road.
Definitely been a day of adventure and new experiences and a chance to get a small insight into Ethiopian life and culture. A reporter apparently once asked the late Meles Zenawi why the police officers were so well fed in Ethiopia- his tongue in cheek response was “Ask the drivers.”