It may seem a little extreme to make this claim of somewhere like Adola and yet at times it can seem a little like that.
Every so often there is a news report or documentary about someone giving up technology and exploring how they cope. In these cases, of course the people have made that choice. Now it may of course be argued that I did make a choice by coming here.
I wouldn’t want to imply that I never have access to technology – clearly being able to put up this blog is a clear indicator that I do and for most of my time here that has been the case.
Adola remains the beautiful town it has always been – lush green hills spreading out as far as the eye can see and filled with friendly and welcoming locals. I still consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to come and work – most days!
Yet there are some days where life becomes a little challenging and which have shown that I clearly have an addiction to technology. When the power goes, which is a fairly regular occurrence, I can at least last for a short while on battery; the tricky part comes with cooking. Naturally at times like this the electric stove is just a useless kitchen decoration. The kindly supplied kerosene stove (from VSO) is useless as there is no kerosene available so out comes the charcoal stove and the chance to prove my manly fire-making skills. I clearly still need some practice! However, with perseverance I have discovered that I am able to get it going. It takes a long time, so if there is an alternative- such as the trip a couple of kilometres to a restaurant- I must confess to taking that option.
The Ethiopian power company is also a bit of a tease. Imagine the situation. You have prepared the food you plan to cook and the moment you are about to start the power goes out. Following a brief period cursing the power suppliers and hoping for the power to miraculously return you finally decide there is no alternative but to break out the charcoal. You collect all the bits together – crumpled up paper to start the fire, a few sticks to catch light first and then the charcoal. You light a match, the wind blows it out, you light another – repeat. After two boxes of matches the paper is finally alight and you switch between blowing on the budding fire and fanning it with a convenient bit of cardboard. If your luck holds the fire catches to the wood (otherwise it’s back to the start) and after several minutes of fanning and blowing you may begin to see the charcoal glow. More energetic fanning and blowing and the heat eventually gets to the point where you can start cooking- generally this take about an hour. Following a whoop for joy you collect all your prepared materials together and at that point – the power comes back. I kid you not that that has happened almost every time I have managed to get the charcoal fire started! It’s tempting to just cook with the charcoal anyway, but I have returned to the electric, while keeping the charcoal going, just in case!
The challenge of power aside, the thing that is particularly tough is when the network goes off. Sometimes this is in concert with the power at other times just all by itself, but it is at these moments that the isolation of Adola really comes clear. Suddenly the world seems much further away and I have no idea what is going on. Being the only volunteer here makes that seem all the more difficult- there is no one to communicate with in clear English – the staff at the college are great and try hard, but English doesn’t come easy for them and I have struggled to learn the local languages to a sufficient degree to communicate. These are the times when I realise how isolated I am especially when several days pass in this manner.
As I have said before, water was delivered to the college by donkey and cart. I was surprised how little I found this difficult. I enjoyed the novelty and as long as I remembered to put out the jerry cans they would be filled and waiting for me by lunchtime. In January of this year there was great excitement when the college was connected to the mains supply from the town. The staff had been asking for this the whole time. However, the charm soon passed and I suspect there were people other than myself who began to become nostalgic for former days of donkey and cart. Now the water is turned off for several days on end and the lack of reliability means that the college accommodation for students still can’t be used. Finally I have felt the pinch of water shortage at one point running out – fortunately I was able to track down someone to fetch a jerry can of water for me- at a premium price!
Rather bizarrely the only place I can get water from is the shower! So I am still filling buckets and jerry cans to do everything – and making sure I keep up a good supply when the water is flowing.
Somehow I have survived, but there have been times when the lack of one or all of these has certainly made me appreciate the challenge of living in rural Ethiopia. There will be many things I miss when I leave, but those mentioned here won’t be among them.