Going up North

“In HDP next week…” I begin, continuing into description of the several activities that are going to take place and detailing what the course participants need to do to prepare.  I then set the next task and they start to get on with the activity.  At this point my counterpart, the local leader for the course, quietly informs me, “We can’t have class next week because there are end of semester exams.”

A quizzical eyebrow is raised in response to this.  These being the exams that we had discussed previously and which, due to the course being way off schedule, had decided that the HDP classes would still run around.

on the road

At the end of the session I break the news to the class.  The counterpart is gone by this point.  All credit to him, he actually came to this session though.  Presumably to ruin my course planning further!  There is some unhappiness as they realise that this could mean the course will end later.

In spite of the initial disappointment I quickly sought to turn the whole thing to my advantage.  I had intended a trip to a different part of Ethiopia anyway during the fast approaching semester break and I recalled that the Dean had told me he was going up to Addis with college car that coming Monday.  Re-working my planning and tackling the Dean on Sunday at the wedding of the daughter of one of the Admin staff (ceremonies like this here are wide-reaching affairs) I made my request.  Even though this was the day before it wasn’t a problem.  This is just one of the many fantastic things about this country- because everything is so last minute these things are often possibilities and a car ride to Addis was not to be sniffed at.  Not only would it save on the price of a bus it would also be a lot more comfortable.  We were to leave early-ish, about 8am, the next morning.

lake tana

Monday I was packed and ready to go and a little worried that I was 2 minutes late heading out of my little home here.  Silly me.  This is Ethiopia.  To cut a long story short and after several random trips around the town (I had got into the car thinking we were about to leave), including collecting three additional passengers, we started on our journey around 11 o’clock.  With the extra cargo it was pretty cramped and perhaps not a lot more comfortable than the public transport option.

A strange discovery

A strange discovery

Feeling guilty that the cramped conditions were down to my late request, my fears were silenced when it turned out that the town administrator had requested the dean to take these three extra passengers Monday morning.  My request was positively in advance by comparison.  Since the car was overcrowded two of the other passengers actually got off at Bore (avid readers will know this town well – it’s the breakfast town for the busses that travel between Hawassa and Adola).  Comfort levels back up to an acceptable standard we continued our journey, stopping for lunch in the Rasta town of Shashemene (although they didn’t particularly make their presence felt) which involved my hunting for a bank to get some money.  It had all been so last minute I hadn’t had a chance to get any and had only about 30 birr on me (about £1) I mentioned to the dean that lunch might be on him and he facilitated my finding some money!  (I don’t remember who paid for lunch in the end.  It wasn’t me though)

Our fellow passenger was an American Pasteur who was pursuing a business enterprise involving a new vehicle to replace the Bajaj.  There seems to be some dealing going on with the family of the town administrator.  Needless to say we heard all about this wonderful vehicle and the wonderful man who had the wonderful idea – my last mention of the matter will be to suggest that perhaps modesty was not one of his stronger attributes.

Bahir Monument

One of my favourite place names in Ethiopia is Mojo.  It is town, about an hour outside of Addis and I am now familiar with this place because that’s as far as we got Monday.  Even though the dean was going to Addis on the Monday he wasn’t arriving until the Tuesday.  This was always the plan ( I just didn’t know it) and the reason for this is quite simple.  The dean was going to Addis on business with the Ministry of Education.  For this the Ministry pays a per diem, which is lovely.  It is meant to cover the cost of accommodation and food for the period in the capital.  Unfortunately it is not even enough to cover the hotel costs and so many people choose to overnight outside the capital (at about 1/5 of the cost) and continue the journey in the morning.  So, I had the pleasure of adding an additional stop on my trip up North.

I didn’t have any pictures from this part of the trip so the ones included here are “teasers” for the next entries!

Next time:  Escape from Addis


On the twelth day of Gena…

Twelve days after Gena (Christmas), the Ethiopians celebrate Timkat; seemingly a much more substantial party than Gena.  It is translated into English as “Epiphany” and I was fortunate enough to be invited by an Ethiopian colleague to join him following the procession through the streets of Adola on the eve of Timkat.

The procession from the church near the college

The procession from the church near the college

Naturally our conversation fell to proceedings and he was good enough to enlighten me as to some of what was going on.  Eager to demonstrate my understanding of religious matters I started prattling on about the visit of the Magi. In true Ethiopian style my companion simply agreed with what I was saying and then proceeded to talk about everyone getting baptised.  ‘Strange’, I thought, doesn’t really fit with Epiphany, but hey, this is Ethiopia, they do a lot of strange things here!’

Everything came considerably clearer at church on Sunday.  Having carefully pre-read the Epiphany readings I was prepared to feign understanding as they were read in Afan Oromo. I am not yet fluent, but I can recognise some words, names mostly, and the names did not seem to match with what I had read.  Leafing through the missal I had (apologies) an Epiphany.  The readings were for the following Sunday- the baptism of Jesus.  Suddenly everything made a lot more sense.  This is what all the Orthodox Christians were celebrating. Quietly starting to curse the guidebooks and any other books that have misnamed this event, I remembered where I was and thought I’d better stop.

The colourful vestments of the priests

The colourful vestments of the priests

Back to the Saturday procession and what a fantastic procession it was, with singing, dancing and colourful clothing.  The priests from each of the town’s churches come out with their congregations and head towards various spots where, somehow timed beautifully (and this is about the only thing in Ethiopia that is), two processions meet.  The procession I was following started from just up beyond the college and met with the procession from St. Michael’s at a junction where there is one of the main mosques of the town.  The meeting was of friends that haven’t seen each other for a long time and I noted that the clergy from St Michael’s had the honour of a carpet being laid for them to walk along.  This is done by having two lengths of carpet and a posse of runners.  Once the procession has moved off one carpet they quickly snatch it up and run to the front and place it down in time for the procession to carry on.  Okay, it could have been smoother, but was still impressive to watch.

Where two groups meeting.. I'm sure the mosque appreciated the meeting point!

Where two groups meeting.. I’m sure the mosque appreciated the meeting point!

At the centre of this procession and coming out from each church is the Tabot – this is a representative of the Ark of the Covenent (think Raiders of the Lost Ark, but much smaller) and one lucky priest wears it on his head.  I have heard two different stories as to what they contain.  It is either a copy of the Ten Commandments or the transubstantiated body and blood of Jesus.  I didn’t go and try to open it to look because I didn’t want to die a horrible melting death.

The priests with the rectangular "hats" are carrying the Tabots on their head.

The priests with the rectangular “hats” are carrying the Tabots on their head. One is in white on the left of the picture and another in yellow nearer the middle.

Finally when all the different churches” Tabots have met they process as one to an open space under the watchful eye of the church dedicated to Mary.  Several days of celebration follow- partly because the day after Timkat is the most important of saint’s days – St Michael’s day.  I suggested to the college I should have this is a holiday.  The dean thought I was joking and laughed.


The party from Adola CTE (plus various children trying to get into the picture)

The party from Adola CTE (plus various children trying to get into the picture)

I watched only some parts of the celebration and unfortunately missed the mass baptism – as I understand it everyone goes through the process to give themselves a clean slate.  However I did catch the return procession as it went past the college gates on the Tuesday.

The crowds return to the church three days later (I'm sure more when back than came!)

The crowds return to the church three days later (I’m sure more when back than came!)

If life gives you lemons… throw them at a woman!

I also learned about lemons.  This, apparently, is the traditional way to get yourself a wife.  You take with you some lemons (stashed somewhere about your person and the number depends rather on your throwing ability) and identifying a young lady to your taste you hurl one of these lemons at her attempting to strike her on the chest.  Personally this all seems a bit risky to me with several possibilities for disaster.

  1. You miss completely: try again next year
  2. You hit the wrong person: look nonchalantly around and when she catches your gaze with quizzical eye subtly indicate it was the person next you who threw it.
  3. You hit your target, but a little too hard: the marriage starts badly and never recovers.

One can only assuming that a willing recipient will hurl herself in the way of the lemon, which could of course lead to some interesting collisions if there are several ladies seeking attachment to the gentleman in question.

The custom seems to be dying out and I can’t help but make some link between the end of polygamy and this (imagine someone taking several attempts to hit the intended target).

I’m disappointed to say that I didn’t observe any lemon hurling, but will be looking out for it next Timkat – even if I have to chuck a few surreptitious ones myself while hiding behind local chaps just to see the result.

There are much bigger celebrations in other parts of the country with large pools where crowds of young men jump into the freshly blessed water, but I liked the intimacy of the celebration here in Adola and it felt good to be a little part of something in the community I belong to right now.

A Christmas Blog – Part 4: Christmas Finally Arrives!

It finally happened.  Christmas arrived in Ethiopia and it was certainly very different to my prior experiences.  This story begins a little way back in time… No, I am not going back 2000 years, but rather to September, when I first arrived here in Adola.  I had heard rumours of some small element of Catholicity in the town and to put things a little into perspective- about 1% of the population here are Catholic and for the most part they follow a different tradition more similar to the Orthodox rite.  So arriving in a town with a catholic church was quite amazing.  I kindly local took me from the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa) compound to the location of the church, somewhere on the back streets and over the months I have come to know a little the community and the three priests that work there.  Once I had got over the confusion of when Christmas was actually going to be celebrated, one of the priests invited me to join him on Christmas Eve at a church out in the countryside.  The five sisters from the Missionaries of Charity were also going and he had told them that it was a huge church, much bigger than the one in Adola.

Church decorated for Christmas in Adola

Church decorated for Christmas in Adola

A pleasant late afternoon drive out into the countryside, much of it on the dirt track that led out to the rural community we were visiting.  The sisters were probably wondering where this large church they were promised was as they pulled into a compound with only two small huts in evidence.

Rustic Church

The tiny ramshackle church had space for about 20 to 30 people, but for this occasions about 50 crammed into the confined space, wooden beams and thatch brushing the heads of those sat near the side walls.  Shortly after dusk the mass started and although it wasn’t midnight mass I had come to know in other places, it was really something very special.  There was such a strong sense of community amongst the locals who made the foreigners interlopers feel really part of it and one of the great charms about churches here in Oromia is the joy that they have when celebrating.  Everyone joins in with the singing, which is beautiful, and are accompanied only by a drum, usually played by one of the ladies.  Those in the know will appreciate how disappointing it is for me that there is no one playing an organ!  For those not in the know, I prefer organs to be played, just once, preferably with a sledgehammer or hatchet.

At the end, one of the sisters made a short speech comparing the setting to that of Bethlehem, and there was certainly a rustic charm to the place that made it easier to imagine.  However, for me the greatest part was the welcome from the community, which even extended to their offering us food at the end.  Somehow this made Christmas extra special this year.

Cooking Goat

Cooing Goat

Christmas day itself (Genna) you will be pleased to read that I ended up feeling overfull in true Christmas dinner tradition, although not in the conventional way.  It began with servings of goat cooked up in a huge pot and dished out after the morning mass in Adola.  Just as they were about to start serving this the dean called and requested my presence for a ‘ceremony’ up on the college campus.  So eating quickly I rushed back up to the college.  The ceremony was… a meal at the dean’s house.  The vice-dean had already invited me for lunch, but that was fine.  I could go there later!  It soon became apparent that I would be eating at several houses and given the farenji stomach is not geared up for copious amounts of injera (the local staple) I was feeling extremely full by the end of all these meal invitations.

Christmas Dinner number 1!

Christmas Dinner number 1!

It is this hospitality of inviting friends and sometimes strangers to share what you have with that is one of the greatest things about Ethiopia and religion is not an issue – Muslim colleagues are also welcome to join in the celebrations, for example, and I believe it is the case for Muslim festivals too.

One of my little buddies on the college campus - The vice-dean's youngest son.

One of my little buddies on the college campus – The vice-dean’s youngest son.

It all made Christmas worth waiting for.

A Christmas Blog Part 3 – All is quiet on New Year’s Day

New Year, like Christmas, is celebrated at a different time here in Ethiopia.  Unlike Christmas, the wait for the New Year revelries is longer than two weeks.  New Year won’t be celebrated until 11th September making me, by Ethiopian terms, almost a New Year’s Day baby!

So for me today was just another normal day at work, except, like Christmas busier than most and without the excitement of a student uproar.  In fact today I may have been even busier than at Christmas with three ICT classes thrust upon me in addition to the observations, feedbacks and preparation for the HDP course, which I found out today probably won’t happen tomorrow because some of the trainees are out observing lessons in schools and the teachers from my programme need to be with them at the same time.

Now personally I don’t mind when the HDP classes happen, but with Genna (Ethiopian Christmas) approaching it is likely that several staff will be off to see families for next week, and will probably have left by Friday afternoon- the most likely time to have the HDP course.  This then has a knock on effect down the line as to when we finish.  Again this doesn’t bother me – I am happy to roll through with the programme until the end of July, but I know that most of the staff would like to go and see their families from early to mid-June.  What I would appreciate is some help from the course participants in making sure that they get to do this.

However, as we sit down for an hour long chat or an evening coffee at the local buna-bet (coffee house) they frequently tell me how busy they are and how they don’t have time to do the HDP.  I sigh as I consider how nice it would have been to only have to teach 12-15, fifty minute lessons a week rather than the 25 or 26 I had back in the UK.  But of course I am forgetting all the other things they have to do here – (irony alert) thank goodness that isn’t the case in the UK.  In their defence, however, they do have to attend a lot of meetings here at the college- several a week and often on Saturdays and Sundays.  I would love to hear the reaction of some of my UK colleagues to that!  Sometimes I am expected to attend.  This is probably the greatest challenge I have faced here.  I always struggled to look interested at meetings when they were in English and lasted an hour, imagine what I am going through here where the meetings are in Afan Oromo (the local language) and can last the whole day.  If I deserve a medal for anything, it’s this!

An update on the “student situation” it turns out that the guns were connected to this event after all and they haven’t been seen since.  Boxing Day, was another normal, but not normal, day at work, with a meeting lasting most of the morning and featuring pretty much all of the students.  Some of the clever ones turned up about half-way through.  All manner of officials from the local and zonal (county) education offices were in attendance.  Even in a foreign language the politicians stood out a mile – oozing smarm.

Friday afternoon is club day at the college.  The week before last I attended the English club – about a third of the students seem to be members.  It’s quite a crowd.  Last Friday, however they all seemed to be out tending the grounds sharing a limited number of tools.  I mused on the fact that two days after the college had felt the need to have the gate guards armed with assault rifles they were handing out machetes to the students!  Watching them in action it was amazing that nobody got hurt (by accident) and they seemed to be enjoying themselves for the most part.  I don’t think it was planned this way, but it might just have been what the college needed to calm the tension of earlier in the week.

A Christmas Blog – Part 2: A ‘typical’ day

I know I like to make you wait for my blog entries.  Let’s pretend it has something to do with building the anticipation and leave it at that.  However, on this occasion I feel the need to share, but a short time after the previous entry.

So much happens here that it is impossible to put it all down in a blog and don’t worry I will have forgotten most of it by the time I come back and shall hopefully avoid boring you with endless tales of Ethiopia (although it has been a truly amazing experience so far – see I’m getting it out of my system now).  Note I am not making any promises!

So Christmas day, by which I mean that celebrated in the Gregorian calendar and not the Julian one… Let’s keep it simple, the day that everyone else on the planet recognises as Christmas day started (as predicted yesterday) as a normal everyday day (hmm, can I fit “day” into this sentence a couple more times?) here in Adola.  It was bright and clear and I awoke at 6.45 having planned to be well awake and ready for the arrival of my new serategna at, as I anticipated, about 7.30.  In true Ethiopian style she didn’t arrive at that time; contrary to Ethiopian style she arrived at 6.50.  I coped.

For the first time since arriving in Ethiopia, I had injera for breakfast.  Injera is the local staple – sort of like their bread although it is a more a sort of thin spongy product, which I realise I am not selling as particularly appetizing.  However, at times it can be positively delicious and at others not so much there seem to be several factors involved in this which I won’t go into now (bet you can’t wait for the Blog all about the wonders of injera).

Now, the thing about injera is it’s incredibly filling- like nothing else I have known.  And there were two of these served up for my breakfast (along with a sauce called wot – no jokes please).  I managed to get through about 1 ½ and felt quite proud of myself.

I had a busy morning observing lessons from participants on the course I am running here.  They have four sessions in the morning and someone I managed to be observing in all of them.  Lunch time came around and I wasn’t really hungry – still full from breakfast.  However, my lunch had been prepared and so I tucked in, wisely only taking one piece of injera.  I managed to eat most of it, but subsequently felt extremely full.  Suddenly I realised that inadvertently I had managed to fulfil one Christmas activity – eating until you can’t move.  Perhaps I was getting into the Christmas spirit after all.

This evening I was expressing disbelief at how anyone could eat injera twice in one day, only to be cheerily informed by my colleagues that sometimes they eat it three times.  I told them they were crazy and refuse to believe it possible until I see it with my own eyes. I haven’t had dinner this evening – I probably won’t need to eat until sometime next week now.

Back at the office (usually a two minute walk, but took about ten) I gave some feedback for the morning’s observed classes and then headed at 4.30 to the ICT classes I had agreed to give.  Probably not a wise move, but somehow I have picked up the Ethiopian habit of never saying no things (don’t worry I will relearn by the time I am back in the UK).

Within a few moments of arriving I realised that something was missing, and something that was really rather essential to the successful delivery of the lesson – namely the students.  The local, who has been assigned to work with me on the ICT project, arrived shortly after and delivered the startling news: there was a protest by the students and they were refusing to attend classes.  Now there had been some issues about spaces available for the ICT classes and several students had missed out.  At first I thought this was the problem, but it transpired that the situation was much more serious – someone had written an inappropriate message in the toilets.  The police were summoned (seriously) and the students were demanding that the college find out “who dunnit?” There are over 600 students in the college and despite some attempts to match handwriting there has been no success.

By now my curiosity was piqued – what could possibly have caused such an uproar and involved so many students.  Initially I was only able to find out that it was some comment about the Guji Zone – the best way to describe this as the local ‘county’ where Adola is situated.  Applying my finely honed investigative skills I was able to discover an approximate translation of the phrase, which I won’t repeat here; my blog is not a toilet.

In Ethiopia I have been frequently been shocked at the way they refer to each other- they are quite happy to call each other “fat”, “gap-toothed” and other such personal comments that would be totally unacceptable today in the UK and some of which would be considered racist.  It has really taken some getting used to and I suppose that my surprise at the reaction to the graffiti was increased because of this.  Clearly the students from the Guji zone were the most offended, and because of the location of the college they make up a significant number of the students.  However, the response to the incident has probably actually given the rather stupid person who wrote the comment the fuss and attention he or she wanted.  In addition it seems a bit extreme to refuse to attend classes because of this as it only damages their own education (and I am not just talking about the ICT classes here – which incidentally they do really need since almost all of them have never even used a computer before – but also all the classes for the evening sessions and that’s just today).

I don’t envy the college management having to deal with this situation.  This evening, when heading out with some colleagues to a local coffee shop a large group of students were holding a meeting in a nearby field.  They were being watched over by several police officers and a contingent of soldiers.  As we passed the meeting broke up and they started making their way back to the college.  May companion suggested we cross to the other side of the road and as we did so I told him not to worry as he was with me and the students seem to like me!  Still VSO tell us to avoid such gatherings – not sure how I am going to do this since tomorrow they will be gathering on the campus and that’s where I live.

In unrelated news Father Christmas made a delivery to the guards at the gate.  As we went out I noticed that they had acquired semi-automatic rifles.  At first I thought this was in response to the “developing situation”, but was told that they had been waiting for them since the college opened 15 months ago and it was just by coincidence they had arrived today.  It made me think of the series ‘Dad’s Army’ and how they started out with a variety of home-made weapons until their rifles arrived.  Then I realised that was unfair; these guards are much older.  Funnily enough it’s actual made the campus seem less safe – still they seemed to be quite excited to have them; maybe that’s why!

A Christmas Blog – Part 1

‘Twas the night before Christmas when all through Adola

There wasn’t a sign that Christmas was here at all!


One of the pleasures of being in Ethiopia is that I have not been bombarded since sometime in October with Christmas music, and shops trying to sell me all kinds of rubbish for Christmas (they have plenty of rubbish to buy without needing a special occasion!).  One of the most impressive contrasts is the lack of advertising everywhere and the complete absence of supermarkets here in this rural town.

Ethiopians don’t like much to plan too far ahead (usually no more than 10 minutes or so) when I gave a class focussing on time-management, the listed most things they had to do as important and urgent!  This is probably true because everything gets left to the last minute so it becomes urgent.  However, I quite like the spontaneity of things here and once you get used to it and expect it, it is possible to cope with it – even if it does mean frequent last minute changes.  One of the benefits that came from this was a recent trip to Negele Borena, the main town of the Guji Zone (the area of Oromia Adola is in).  Friday mid-afternoon, the vice-dean walked into my office and asked if I wanted to join him on a weekend trip there where he was giving a workshop.  Naturally I accepted (after all it is considered very impolite to say “no” here!).  His main reason was for watching the Ethiopia match on the Saturday – he seems to like my company for this.   I think I have watched more football in the last 3 months than in the rest of my life- sometimes as many as 3 matches in one afternoon.  If I’m not an expert by the end of time here, it will have been time wasted!

While it was pleasant to visit a new place Negele was not the most exciting town in the world and had little more to offer than Adola and without the comforts at home.  Still the drive was beautiful and at times nerve-racking; the rains had made the unsealed sections of road a little challenging and seeing a bus sliding towards you, sideways down a muddy mountain road is quite an experience.  Fortunately it was dry for the return trip and seemed like a different road and I had been that little bit closer to the Somali border :).

Tomorrow is Christmas day, but I will be at work.  Don’t worry, this isn’t because the college is some Victorian institution run by an Ethiopian Ebenezer, nor is it because I am being more than usually “humbug” about the whole thing.  Rather it is because Ethiopia doesn’t celebrate Christmas on 25th December.  It is for them just a normal day in the week.  Here Christmas, called Genna, occurs on the 7th January and this is not to be confused with Epiphany, because they have a separate celebration for that on the 19th January, called Timkat.  And this is why this blog is just Part 1.  For several reasons I have decided I will celebrate along with the locals; mainly because as the lone foreigner it would be a little strange to be walking around singing jingle bells, but also because I am here to experience Ethiopia and so it seems more fitting to celebrate with them.

Actually for a brief period I did have a companion here in Adola, a volunteer from the Netherlands who had come to work at the hospital.  I guess this town was only big enough for the one of us and she made her way on to pastures new in less than a week.  I feel the need to defend the town here to say that it wasn’t a fault with the wonderful local people, or the beautiful setting, rather it was a problem with the accommodation with which she was provided.  Photos have made me appreciate all the more the place I have here on the college campus.

I have no idea what to expect from the Ethiopian celebration; certainly not turkey, mince pies and Christmas pudding.  However, it will be the differences that will make Christmas, or Genna, this year something rather special.

Lost in pronunciation

There is always a lot of fuss made about errors of translation, however pronunciation mistakes can also lead to some rather awkward moments.

Now I know it has been a while since the last post, but if you are good I’ll try and put another one up this weekend!

I have had a few problems with my serategna, mostly in terms of her not turning up when she is supposed to.  This came to a stressful point where I had to actually do my own laundry.  One evening after work I trotted across to the Vice-Dean’s house to borrow their bowl for washing laundry.  I was greeted by a “get in” and finally managed to extricate myself 3, well-fed, hours later.  By this point I felt that it was too late to start doing laundry.  The following morning I was up and ready to dig in to the delights of hand-washing laundry.

  • Bowl – ready
  • Soap – ready
  • Hot water – ready

…and in I went.  It didn’t seem too bad.  There was some splashing around and a certain degree of water spillage, but all in all I felt I was doing okay.  I’d got about half-way through when a knock on the door heralded the return of my serategna.  She immediately insisted that she would do it – after all this is what I am paying her for (as well as to not turn up half the time aparently).  I indicated the pile I had already done, rather proud of my efforts.   She took one look, shook her head and threw them back in to be done again with the others.

On a second occasion of absence I had started doing laundry again, determined this time I was getting it right and again she turned up half-way through.  I’ll leave it to your imagination what her feelings about my efforts were.

However, her irregularity led to my colleague, who had also hired her, to fire her and I was coming to the same conclusion, when she came to see me and quit.  So now I am once more without a serategna and deciding whether I should do it myself.  However, given the look of disdain I got for my efforts, maybe I’d better look for someone else!

And now my second tale for this blog entry.  The Dean at the college told me about an important meeting to discuss tourism in the Guji Zone (which is the area around Adola and Negele Borena) that was going to happen at the college on the coming Friday. I thought this was good thing, and starting to rack my brains for ways that tourism could be promoted around here.  Much as I like being the town foreigner, it would provide a useful source of income and there is certainly enough amazing countryside around here.

One of the great bonuses of this was the whole college got taken out to lunch and in the afternoon I was discussing with a couple of the staff here about the meeting.  We talked about areas where it was common- in the North (Tigray and Amhara I agreed- where a number of historic sites are), in Addis Ababa and I kindly added Hawassa.  I also went on effusively about how good it would be to have more in and around Adola – I have after all become quite attached to my home here.

The conversation progressed and to my horror the words “sharia law” were mentioned.  With a growing sense of dread I realised that the meeting was not about tourism, but rather about terrorism.  I can only hope that my colleagues misunderstood what I was saying and don’t now think I am a big advocate for terror in Adola…


Happy Hippos in Happening Hawassa

I am sure that several of you are concerned, having been following this blog, about my lack of success in tucking into a Titem special burger (see last entry on Hawassa).  No doubt sleepless nights have ensued wondering if I ever made it back to Hawassa or if I was permanently trapped in Adola.  Well, peruse on, dear reader, and learn of my second adventures in Hawassa.

The take making drinks very seriously here.

The take making drinks very seriously here.

In spite of my intention of trying to string a few weeks together in Adola before heading back to Hawassa, I found myself plotting another excursion rather sooner than planned, encouraged by a looming bank holiday.  This was on a Tuesday and seemed the ideal opportunity for an extended trip to Hawassa, taking the Monday off.  In true Ethiopian style I arranged all of this on the day before departure.  There was no problem, in fact the dean and vice-dean were most supported and the vice-dean even took me down to the bus station to meet his friend who would help out sorting the ticket.  It turns out this friend actually runs the bus station and he certainly made sure that I would be looked after on the journey in and even arranged for the bus to collect me at the college gates.

It's quiet at the college gates at 6am.

It’s quiet at the college gates at 6am.

6am Saturday morning I was on my way to Hawassa.  We had the usual breakfast stop in Bore, but I had already eaten so I went for a little wander- although never too far from the bus, for fear of returning to find it gone.  It was quite a pause so I probably strolled up and down the street until they locals were sick of the sight me, although I did notice one try to take a sneaky picture with the phone in his camera.

By 11.30am I was back in the bustle of Hawassa.  Sadly not at the bus station where I was to meet fellow volunteer and Titem fan, Todd.  The short bajaj drive was going to cost anything from 10 to 20birr.  I resisted and with the help of a local managed to get it for the correct price of 2birr.

Lunch somewhere in Hawassa

Lunch somewhere in Hawassa

It was good to be back in Hawassa.  Not least the prospect of having a proper shower at Chez Todd and as the weekend unfolded there was no lack of adventure to be had.  Sunday was a particular highlight as a small group of we Ferenji (foreigners) jumped on a boat and headed out across Lake Hawassa to see the Hippos.

The boat - hoping the hippos are friendly - don't think this will last long if not!

The boat – hoping the hippos are friendly – don’t think this will last long if not!

How wonderful it was to be out on the water and being on the boat was enjoyment enough so the added bonus of seeing a few contented hippos breaking the surface was a delight.

on the lake bird on the waterIt may have seen some in a zoo somewhere but have never been out near them in the water.  It would have been nice to see them out of the water, but in the midday sun, they were clearly taking the sensible option to keep cool.

"I'm keeping cool"

“I’m keeping cool”


I am sure I’ll get the opportunity to go again and maybe this time attempt for an early morning outing.

Hippos in the water

Hippos in the water

On the Monday I was taken by Todd to tour the English Language Improvement Centre (ELIC) at the teacher training college in Hawassa.  One of the plethora of tasks the dean has expressed a desire to see me undertake is the creation of an ELIC in Adola.  This seemed to be too good an opportunity to miss, especially considering that this ELIC is a model for the whole of Ethiopia.  It was quite impressive to see some of the equipment that they had and because of their status as a model they had lots of money given to them by various organisations.  While this is no doubt wonderful for them, I can’t help but think it rather devalues their status as model- unless of course all the other ELICs will get the same level of funding!

Every ELIC comes with a free monkey...

Every ELIC comes with a free monkey…

Nevertheless, it certainly gave me some ideas and one of Todd’s colleagues at the regional board of education provided me with some great posters to help decorate my classroom back in Adola (as an aside, within two days of putting these up someone had taken them!  No doubt they are no decorating some student’s wall.  I shall be listening out for any students showing significant improvement in their English and collar them!)

Monday afternoon we popped into the Bus station so I could get my return ticket for the next day.  The plan had been to head back about mid-morning.  Ethiopia had other plans.  I was informed that I would need to be at the bus station at 5am to get on the bus to Adola.  Having expected at least another morning in Hawassa this came as a bit of a shock, not least because I had hoped to take advantage of Hawassa’s broader range of retail establishments to stock up on a few things.  There consequently followed a mad rush around the town to purchase the items desired.  By some amazing stroke of circumstance the mission was a success, although did require the purchase of an additional bag to contain all the new items.  My favourite purchase and at the last minute too- the shop having been shut when we went by in the afternoon, but open in the evening.

The day was rounded off with a delightful meal with my hippo watching companions, mainly in the dark thanks to lack of power!

Monday night dinner in the dark

Monday night dinner in the dark

Tuesday morning, in the pre-dawn dark I made my contented way towards the bus station, dodging barking and possibly rabid dogs.  I didn’t get there at 5, rather about quarter to 6 and the bus was almost full already.  For the first time I slipped onto the back seat.  We stopped as usual at Bore where I was beckoned into a restaurant for breakfast by a fellow traveller.  When I came to pay at the end I discovered he had paid for me.  This person had barely spoken to me and had certainly never met me before – I am constantly overwhelmed by the generosity of so many people here.


I know it’s mean- I’ve held off until the end about the Titem Special burger.  Did I get one?  See for yourself…

At last!

At last!


Hi ho… Hi ho…. It’s off to work we go.

For those familiar with the TV series "Teachers", Donkeys are regular inhabitant of schools, along with cows, goats and a variety of other animals.

For those familiar with the TV series “Teachers”, Donkeys are regular inhabitant of schools, along with cows, goats and a variety of other animals.

If you don’t already know, the reason for me being out here is to help introduce a more student-centred and active learning approach to teaching here.  Yesterday, 2 weeks and 15 minutes after the initial planned starting date, the Higher Diploma Programme finally began here at Adola Centre for Teacher Education.

“But what”, I hear you cry, “have you been up to then, Mr Silver?  You have already been there for 8 weeks!”

Fret not.  I have not been idling away the hours twiddling my thumbs, relaxing in hot springs, or partying in Hawassa.

When I first came to Adola, I wanted to get an idea of what school life was really like and to this end I requested that I be taken to visit a few local schools.  The Vice-dean was most accommodating and within a few days of my arrival in Adola we were off to visit the closets school, which, incidentally, was also where the Vice-dean’s children go.

Students gather at the end of the day to sing and watch the flags being lowered.

Students gather at the end of the day to sing and watch the flags being lowered.

Some of you will be more familiar with the typical English classroom.  30 attendant pairs of eyes gaze eagerly to the front of the class ready to assimilate the great wisdom of their teacher… well maybe that’s not quite the image that immediately comes to mind, but certain features such a walls decorated with student work, large windows, whiteboards, tables and chairs may well come to mind.

Before I came out here I was expecting large classes and basic facilities – in particular in the more rural schools.  Fortunately my first visit was to a school in the town and Adola is a fairly large place, even if a little remote, so I knew that it would be some mud hut in the middle of nowhere.

Here is an example of one of the schools we visited.

Here is an example of one of the schools we visited.

The first thing that struck me was the setting.  The school seemed to fill quite a large area and there were a number of single story buildings that I presumed were the classrooms.  The outside space seemed very pleasant and dotted around the place were a number of physics equations.  How wonderful, I thought, good to see they are promoting the most important subjects. Our first stop was a fairly basic office where the Vice-dean introduced us to the vice-director of the school.  It would appear that our visit was not expected, but nevertheless we were able to have a tour, once the initial niceties were completed.  I entered my first Ethiopian classroom.

As my eyes slowly adjusted to the dark of the room, they widened as I attempted to count the number of students staring back at the stranger who had just walked in.  Needless to say foreigners are rare in these parts.  I must have come as quite a shock.  I lost count somewhere after 90, but was told there were over 100.  I was almost as shocked as the students.  The lesson naturally had come to a grinding halt- the teacher had had no warning of this English invasion of his class.  I dread to think how he managed to get them back on task.  The only comparison I can think of is as if a circus, complete with clowns, acrobats and a lion or two had just traipsed through an English classroom.

Child-filled room with low lighting levels.

Child-filled room with low lighting levels.

Naturally, it was not enough to distract one class in such a manner, we had to interrupt another teacher mid-flow, presumable to see if our results could be reproduced.  They could.  After we toured some of the other parts of the school – a locked library with a scattering of outdated text books and clearly unused; a resource centre that was more death trap than storage space for teaching aids and sparse staffroom.  As we made our way back to the college I gingerly suggested that it would be useful to actually see a couple of lessons.  “No problem”, said the vice-dean,” we’ll go back this afternoon.”

Well, we’d ruined the morning shift, why not ruin the afternoon one as well?

And this was only the beginning.  We visited three other schools over the next few days and then I got called into the Dean’s office.  I wondered what huge faux pas I had committed.  I fretted over who in the community I had offended. Prepared for a dressing down, I was surprised to discover that instead the Dean of the college wanted me to visit more schools, including the local High School and Preparatory School (this is roughly equivalent to a sixth form college).  I had been given a mission… from the local education board.  Sadly there was no super hero costume or badge to go with the role and as I didn’t really fancy the idea of wearing tights I was quite relieved.

A P.E. Lesson?  This one didn't seem to involve much movement beyond clapping and singing.

A P.E. Lesson? This one didn’t seem to involve much movement beyond clapping and singing.

And so, the month of October was put over to visiting a number of schools within the local area and handing out questionnaires for the directors and teachers of the schools visited.  It was quite an experience.  At one school, it was break time as I approached and jumping out of the 4WD I was mobbed by the entire school.  I made the mistake of shaking one hand and that was it, every child within a mile radius seemed to want to have a turn.  I needed more hands.  Finally I was hustled into the relative sanctuary of the director’s office.

There is a huge range between the schools and not just those in the countryside and those in the town.  Some schools have basic libraries with a few books, some have a library with no books and some have no library at all.  Many of the classrooms are dark, with light coming in through small windows, whereas others have airy classrooms with large, glass-filled windows.  Some are mud constructions, some are wood and others concrete and the class sizes seem to vary with some as small as 40 and one which had over 130 students crammed 5 to a desk.  The average was probably somewhere about 80.  My fervent wish for smaller class sizes back in the UK, felt somehow foolish now.

A library, with books.  This was the best one we saw and one that was actually being used.  Most of them were locked.

A library, with books. This was the best one we saw and one that was actually being used. Most of them were locked.

The range in teaching was huge too.  In some places the teachers ran out of material to teach and just stopped.  A couple of times I whispered to the vice-dean to ask what was happening.  He was as clueless as I was.  On the other hand some teachers really made an effort to engage their pupils, but use of active learning was rare – which is sort of how this ties into my being here.

This class had over 130 pupils.  I don't know where the 20 who were absent the day we visited would sit.

This class had over 130 pupils. I don’t know where the 20 who were absent the day we visited would sit.

However, I also had a parallel assignment.  My mission to identify any needs and make proposals to suggests solutions and who would be responsible.  The last visits took place on Thursday 31st October, only some of the questionnaires had been returned.  Could I finish my report by the end of the weekend so that it could be presented on the following Monday, enquired the Dean.  This of course meant finishing it by the end of the Friday so that one of my colleagues here could translate it into Afan Oromo, the local language.

It is quite common for the classrooms to have the outside walls decorated with educational materials, but no the inside.

It is quite common for the classrooms to have the outside walls decorated with educational materials, but no the inside.

Friday was a busy day.  13 pages of formal English later, I was ready Saturday morning to have a meeting with the Vice-dean and the head of the Education department at the college, who had drawn the short straw of having to translate.  The meeting took 4 hours and I am still not convinced that it was clear what I had written.  I inwardly cursed my training in report writing that encouraged the use of the passive voice and writing in the third person.  Still, I managed to raise a laugh with my proposal for a mobile library to bring something to the rural schools.  They left it in though – after all the officials at the education board should get to share in the joke.  I tried to not be offended, I felt that this was one of my less crazy suggestions.  Maybe they agreed and had just been polite on the others.

Monday came and went with no meeting.  Wednesday has come and gone with no meeting.  I have learned that such delays are common place.  I think the translation is finished now.  I expect to be told 5 minutes before –“We’re going to the meeting with the local education office now”.  A little part of me hopes that they will forget to take me – I am happy to miss the glory if it means avoiding a long meeting in an unfamiliar language… the ones back home in English were bad enough!

So, as you can see, my time has been filled with meaningful work.  Maybe they will take on board some of my suggestions.  Maybe when my time here comes to an end there will be a bus driving around to the rural schools with a load of books on board.  I don’t expect anything, but I do keep hoping.

Home Sweet Home

Before I came over to Ethiopia I had not really given a lot of thought to the setting I would find myself in.  Probably a good thing since it all changed at the last minute anyway.  When I first met the Dean of the college in Addis as part of the orientation he told me that it was green down in Adola, but that still hadn’t really prepared me for what I experienced on both the drive down and in the surroundings of Adola.  It is indeed very green and the scenery stretches as far as the eye can see.


The biggest surprise was probably how many trees there are, not least on the campus itself- it’s almost like living in the middle of a forest.  It didn’t take long living here to realise why it was so green- there is clearly some connection with the amount of rain.  Remove from your mind images of life in a drought-struck village, and imagine instead my working on the building of an ark.  The weather has certainly made an effort to make me feel at home, although I don’t really think it was necessary to receive the entire UK’s annual rainfall in two days.

As this entry continues I fear I shall destroy some other images of my life here in Adola.  Living on the campus of the college has certain advantages.  Had you considered that I was living in some rustic mud hut, with thatched roof, then I am afraid I shall have to disappoint.  The construction is concrete and even has several rooms, but panic not- any mental visions of my trying to survive without running water are well founded.

houseHowever, this may not be forever.  The facilities are already in place, all that is required is to connect the college to some water source.  This will take only two months.  Sadly it is not clear which two months this will be and the vice-dean confirmed, not too long ago, that it was unlikely to be this year.  Fortunately a donkey does a great job of bringing jerry cans to the college filled with water and I have made firm friends with the young lad whose job it is to guide the donkey.

Now I am unsure how drinkable this water is, suffice to say it is boiled at least once and filtered (although I have my doubts about the filter since discovering particles floating in the lower half of the filtering system).  Often I will boil it again, just to be sure… so far there have been no ill effects – and don’t worry I shan’t go into detail if that changes.

My home is lightly furnished, but comfortable.  I did some rearranging to get the furniture how I liked it, but this has been altered a few times because of my Serategna.

living roomIn Ethiopia it is not unusual to have a worker, this is usually a lady, who completes various household tasks, such as cleaning, laundry and cooking.  This is something that some volunteers are keener on than others, mainly from the perspective that it is a chance to put some money into the local economy and help give employment.  In a country where unemployment is extremely high I see this as a good thing.  It also has the added advantage that the serategna can purchase the necessary food items to provide the meals.  Of course this means missing out on the joy of wandering the markets and the shops as well as missing out on the opportunity to pay the special foreigner price…

Naturally it is for all the good reasons that I have made this hiring and nothing to do with my skills in the kitchen or lack of a washing machine…

kitchenSo far we seem to be getting on well.  She speaks very little English, but has managed to get the stuff done that is needed and I have taught her how to make porridge.  The only thing is she did keep moving my furniture around, clearly I am the boss and know how I want things and am sure I can make this clear with time, but for now I’ll, err, just leave it as it is…