Aisling Healy’s Diary 3: Beyond the Edge of Reason


Monday, 23rd of September: Woke up, more “stomach trouble”, no small wonder with the sheer quantity and variety of what I had ingested the day before.  Today I find out that the protest scheduled to be banned/take place on Saturday actually took place yesterday in the area where I was wandering on foot by myself trying to find Martina’s house!!! Other volunteers are coming to stay at Cat and Marlies’s house so it’s time to leave, the situation seems desperate, how will I get back to Woldia?!!! Then my friend calls to say that his brother is leaving Addis in the morning (I will believe this when I see it) and I can go with him. However there is almost no phone network in Addis and in any case, Sami’s phone is dead (of course it is) and he can’t charge it.  I must wait for “the call”.

In the meantime, head in to the city with fellow volunteer Suzie on business for her work.  When you buy anything for your work in Ethiopia you must get a “pro forma” for it. You must get three pro-formas or quotes from different businesses to show that you are looking for the best price and not favouring particular businesses.  Ethiopian outfits insist on a pro forma if you are buying over 1,500 birr’s worth of goods.  Unfortunately, VSO require a pro-forma for every birr spent! So, technically, if you buy one pen with VSO money you must go and procure three quotes to see which pen is the cheapest and then go back to the cheapest place after inspecting the pro formas later.  We had quite the adventure trying to get these pro formas as we were spending under the 1500 mark so most places wouldn’t give us one.  Also some of the materials could only be found in certain shops and we were also told in the second shop we visited that we wouldn’t find what we were looking for in the whole of Addis. Great!  Suzie was losing heart so I tried to be as maniacally cheerful as possible! (while inwardly thinking, this is a fool’s errand if ever there was one) 😀 We eventually did the job and then I bought ingredients to make dinner for the girls to say thank you for letting me stay over.

We had a lovely evening talking about men , putting the world to rights and such like, it made me miss my sisters and all my girlfriends :’)  Meanwhile I packed my bags that night and waited for “the call”.  At half nine Sami calls to say they are leaving in the morning and will I be ready?  I was born ready!  Brilliant stuff!  What time should I be ready for?  Any time between 6am and 8 am comes the reply.  Naturally!

Alcohol Units: Negligible (unless post dinner gin& tonics count?)

Calories: Too many to mention

Number of days late for work: One


Tuesday, 24th of September:  Wake in the morning at 5:45 to wait for “the call”.  It comes at 8am. Can I be down town in 30 minutes?  Grand, no bother!  Suzie gets up to help me with my bags and walk me there.  Cat & Marlies head off to work and I am sad to leave but relieved to be almost on the road, anxious about the unscheduled time off work.  Meet the lads.  Sami and another guy in the passenger seat.  We then travel to pick up two more guys so there are five of us and we are wedged in with all our accoutrements like sardines.  Beginning to wish I hadn’t bought so much stuff!  Seven hour journey to Dessie turns into a ten hour marathon as we stop for lunch, for petrol, for a flat tyre, for the timing belt and most amusingly to buy five 10 kilo bags of onions.  We eventually arrive in Dessie and by the time everyone is dropped off at their homes it is 9pm and it was dark three hours ago.  My friends kindly put me up for the night. Woldia and work will have to wait til the morning.

Wednesday, 25th of September:  Wake up in the morning, tired but glad to be almost home.  Get on a minibus bound for Woldia which stops every five minutes so the passengers can buy oranges, “chat” (heroin leaf), water and curiously pick up a vertically challenged man whom everybody points out to me and says, “He seems like baby, no?!” They all find this highly amusing and only I can feel this man’s pain being continually singled out for being different.  He seems to take it in his stride however…just like me?  It is a pleasant enough journey in spite of the obligatory exchanging of numbers with a man sitting beside me who wants to invite me for lunch.  That and it is stifling warm and Ethiopians will NEVER open windows on a bus as it is unhealthy to have the windows open…? (unless they are throwing out a plastic bag they have vomited into)

Sweating, I arrive in Woldia bus station and play a cat and mouse game with the bus boy in an effort to get change for my hundred birr note.  One of the women on the bus demands that I take her to my house for lunch (never met her before in my life) but I manage to successfully bat her and the amorous man off and escape by bajaj to my neighbourhood.

Arrive into the compound and set upon by them all.  They then leave me to rest, shower, unpack etc for about ten minutes before knocking the door down again with a plateful of injera.  Dressed for work, I explain that I must go in as I have been absent for two and a half days.  Sadly, they tell me that this is “not possible”.  I am literally housebound for the day, being force fed injera and 6 cups of coffee at two different ceremonies held to welcome me back to the compound.  Tomorrow is the 1st birthday of one of the compound kids and I am informed that just as it was not possible for me to go to work today it is also not possible for me to go to work tomorrow either.  I really put my foot down this time, I must go to work tomorrow, I have been absent now for three days!  I will be back from work in the evening and will celebrate then.

The baby’s mother starts to cry.  We compromise and I say I will come home at lunch time from work.  She agrees but I must come back at 11am. I tell her I cannot as the bus will drop me back at 12:30 and then I will have to walk here.  She is not entirely happy but it is agreed.

There is no running water and I am parched from the lunch.  I go to buy some drinking water in the local shop and meet a woman I vaguely recognise en route.  She greets me as an old friend.  I have no idea who she is.  Agh! I hate this!  Who is she?!  She speaks to me in fluent Amharic and I think she suggests that she will come to see my house that afternoon.  I am not exactly “on the ball” after the week I’ve had and whatever it is she has said, I agree to it.  A few minutes later, there is a knock at the door and the entire family are standing on the doorstep.  They are however, really nice, friendly and only stay for a short while.  The intention of the visit apparently was to introduce the husband who is a highschool teacher and the children.  The woman points out some handicraft I am working on and says that I will teach her how to do this in her spare time.  Right!  Another day they will come back for coffee. OK then!  I sleep the sleep of the righteous that night.

Alcohol Units: Zero

Desired alcohol intake:  More than zero

Number of days late for work: Two

Number of coffee ceremonies attended: Two


6 responses »

  1. ” I go to buy some drinking water in the local shop and meet a woman I vaguely recognise en route. She greets me as an old friend. I have no idea who she is. Agh! I hate this! Who is she?!”

    Sounds familiar. followed by “why don’t you remember my name, I remember yours?” next time you meet eh?

    • I’m a local celebrity! And I usually have a really good memory for names and faces but I just for the life of me had no idea who she was- it feels terrible!!!!

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