The buses eventually caught up and disgorged the college masses, but only I after I had had some time to enjoy the relative tranquillity. With the arrival I suddenly became the focus of people’s photographs. I told them that each photo was 50birr, they found it most amusing.
I’m still waiting for the money.
Rather bizarrely most of the people wanting pictures with me were people with whom I had never really spoken or people I don’ think I’d met before – the novelty of the ferenji has probably worn off for most of the teaching staff. Paparazzi moment over, some people were impatient to leave and horns were being blown in the hope to facilitate our onward journey. Clearly I have still not yet adjusted to the Ethiopian ways as I was back down to the car while everyone else continued to mill around the hill top (probably trying to put off continuing the bone shaking transport).
Finally we managed to carry on arriving at the entry to the dam where were stopped at a checkpoint – it seems that it is felt that there is some risk of terrorism (or maybe they have got confused with tourism here too [see previous blog – lost in pronunciation]). Although we had a letter from the zonal office as well as a zonal official with us there seemed to be some reluctance to let us through. Possibly because we were supposed to have been there in the morning and by this point we had crept into the afternoon. Colleagues on the bus had to line up and be searched, but it seemed those of us in the college car were exempt, although I did seem to be an object of curiosity. Some time and several chats on the radio later we were waved on. Everyone was back on the buses and we continued on to the recently built camp for the workers. It was striking how well built the site was, especially in comparison to the college buildings. We had another wait here, once again because we were running so far behind schedule that the officials for the dam had gone for lunch.
When you can’t understand the language it’s tricky to know what’s going on exactly, but somehow it all came together and we followed an official up to the site of the dam. I have been to see dams before and Itaipu is far larger than the humble offering here, but this was under construction and that made it fascinating in its own right. There was a refreshing lack of health and safety and an opportunity to apply common sense- fortunately I still have some after years of being cotton wooled in Europe. It turns it’s shockingly easy to avoid being hit by the myriad of machinery by maintaining a healthy distance and keeping an eye on what is going on around you- amazing that nothing whatsoever happened to anyone in our group and none of them had any health and safety training.
Being on the dam was great and having a passing interest in the world of Physics I put forward some questions about where the turbines and generators were going to be as it was clear that they weren’t going to be at the dam itself. Speculating aloud that it would be good to see these I rather fear that arrangements were made to satisfy the ferenji and we returned to our transport and were taken to the site, several kilometres away despite it starting to get late in the day and really time to start thinking about heading back. It was hard to get too worried about this when there was a fresh buzz of excitement as we collected hard hats and clambered into the backs of several pickup trucks ready to head underground where the turbine hall was being dug out under a mountain.
It’s quite a feat of engineering and not something I expected to see in Ethiopia. Many development projects in Ethiopia are currently in progress, particularly with regards to infrastructure and energy development supported by several foreign nations. This particular project is being taken with the support of Chinese workers who appear to have brought the expertise that is still being developed in Ethiopia.
We descended into the darkness in a buzz of animated conversation, gripping tightly as the vehicle bumped its way along the tunnel …