When we first arrived to Ethiopia one of the in-country volunteers said to us, “Take as many pictures as you can over the first two weeks, because after that, it will cease to become less ordinary.”
It was the good advice that I knew I just wasn’t going to take as I was drawing quite enough attention to myself by just existing here in those early stages never mind wandering about the place with a camera slung around my neck. As I become more comfortable here, I do hope to take more photos but until then you will have to do with my ramblings 😉
But obviously she was right, previously unfathomable things have, in some ways, become common place for me here. And at some point during the last month I thought; Janey Mac! I have been through more here in two weeks than I would have in six months at home. So I share these thoughts with you just because maybe what has become common place for me will be interesting to you. If I told you everything that was going on with me, you’d never get to the end of it so I have serialised a twelve day diary over the next few blogs for your reading pleasure.
Here: take a little look inside my brain.
Monday, 16th of September: Officially back to work full-time today after about four weeks of a break. Apprehensive about seeing everyone again that I was so familiar with before, after such a long interval. Will it be the same? Arrive to find there is no electricity so I busy myself making paper charts, timetables and schedules for the year ahead.
Have coffee with my counter-part with whom I have had a very strained relationship in the previous academic year. We agree to put it all behind us and start afresh. It is a great feeling (although I’m almost certain it won’t last). In spite of the electricity, it is actually a very productive and pleasant day. Everyone is happy to see me, impressed with my Amharic and is in great form. It’s nice to be back 🙂
Home at 6pm, put on some pasta for dinner when there is a knock at the door. I ignore it three times but its dark outside andso the neighbours have the natural advantage; the lights are on so they know I’m in and boy are these people tenacious! It turns out to be a woman from the neighbourhood who I am not overly friendly with. Someone has let her into the compound. Wonderful. She waltzes in to my house and makes herself at home, wandering into the kitchen to see what food I have in and then sits down on a chair and complains that I have never seen the new paint job she has had done on her sitting room. Therefore, I must go and see it now. Well actually I am busy now, another time perhaps? What can you be doing that you are busy? I am trying to cook my dinner. But I will feed you? But the food is already on the stove. A reluctant ok but I should come to see her house tomorrow. OK.
Tuesday, 17th of September: Unfortunately I get word that I have to head to Addis on Wednesday for a VSO meeting on Thursday which will break the start of the new term for me. I break the news to the neighbours that I will be away for a few days. They react as if they have had news of a death. The reason for the meeting is that I have been recently elected as the volunteer representative on the volunteer committee for Northern Ethiopia 🙂 I am really excited about this but just wish I didn’t live so far away and have to take time off work.
To buy a ticket for the bus you must do so in person at the bus station the morning before travel. There is no other way to do it. When you get to the station, the member of the public who was their first takes out a piece of paper and starts writing down everyone’s name in a list. When the workers get there, he/she hands in this list and tickets are doled out very slowly on a first-come, first-served basis. I get up, go to the station at 6am, get my name on the list and then the waiting begins. The crowd is much larger than usual and it transpires that people were there from the night before queuing and there are in fact 8 lists! I am number 90 on this morning’s list! The ticket men arrive on and barricade themselves into the office. Outside is chaos and some physical skirmishes are breaking out as people who have been waiting all night and those that have arrived this morning get tetchy, panic and try to leapfrog over each other. I stand well back. The head honcho comes out and warns us all in Amharic to cop onto ourselves. He could order seven more buses to Addis Ababa if he wanted to which would see us all safely there but he is only charged with despatching two each day. If he orders seven more it will be because he is a good, helpful man and is taking pity on us. So we should all behave ourselves or else he won’t do it. One of my best qualities is my ability to wait patiently in a queue for as long as it takes, safe in the knowledge that I will be served at some stage. So I’m ashamed to say on this occasion, his reverse psychology worked on me and I began to feel nervous. I really didn’t want to miss my first meeting on the volunteer committee! I really hope he is bluffing! One man outside is trying to keep order while calling out the names on the list. Strangely, he is only calling out the first names, which would be akin to calling out, “JOHN?” into the crowd on all-Ireland final day in Croke Park. His system, however, seems to work in a way which baffles me. At some stage, the men take pity on me, the foreigner, and call out my name, “Ferenj!”. It is not my turn but they bring me into the office so I can sit down on a chair and I am privy now to all that goes in there. Both the efficiency and the inefficiency of it astounds me. They order me a cup of hot, spiced, sweet tea from a local tea-house. Did I really look that shook? I am cautious but they appear to be lovely men and seem delighted to have me in the office and unfortunately keen to keep me there for as long as possible. In the end, I get the precious golden ticket, bid the lads adieu and get back to work just three hours late.
No electricity again today but another productive day in spite of it all. On the way home I call into a fellow volunteer to collect a parcel to take to Addis for him. He has made me a dinner which I take home to eat, how sweet! I get in that evening after 6 and need to pack and mentally prepare myself for the ten hour journey the next day. Hadiya comes in from next door to try and give me some more dinner and ask me if I will teach Habib some English. I explain that it’s not a great time as I am just home from work and trying to get ready for the ten hour trip to Addis the next day, perhaps next week? Ok with a sad face. Still trying to pack and there is another knock at the door. It’s the neighbourhood woman again who wants to know why I didn’t call in to view the house as planned? Groan. I explained to her that I had to go to Alain’s, she reluctantly accepts and drags me off that instant to see the house. Will I have something to eat? Jesus, no! I literally cannot fit anything more in. Then I will have something to drink? No, really I can’t. I MUST have something. Ok, I will have something to drink then. She makes a delicious home-made juice and I stay as long as is necessary to admire the gaudy avocado paint job in the sitting room. There is something about her I do not trust. I finally get home to pack my bag but I’m too tired so I elect to get up at 4 in the morning to do it then instead.
Alcohol Units: Zero
Calories: More than enough
Time spent sitting in the dark in my office: Two days