Aisling Healy’s Diary 5: Unreasonable (the final installment)


Saturday, 28th of September:  Next morning, I wake and have arranged to meet Alain a local volunteer for breakfast and so I can interview him for the VSO Ethiopia volunteer newsletter.  I hear them all outside in the compound and am beginning to feel slightly guilty about my “duvet day” yesterday.  Can I be teleported from inside the house I wonder?

I emerge to a frosty reception and a Spanish inquisition.  No, you can’t have been at work, yesterday was a national holiday!  Fatima beckons me over to another corner of the compound.  Why?  I am nervous.  I try to tell them I must go as I have an appointment with Alain but they don’t accept this reasoning.  I follow her to be introduced to a new neighbour who moved in yesterday and who like my landlady is also called Hadiya.  I greet her as best I can and then the grilling resumes.  More half-hearted lies on my behalf but thankfully it’s Hayatu to the rescue again when he calls out that there is someone at the door for me.  Alain, you beautiful man!  I give them my best cheesy grin and promise to be back in the afternoon for the coffee ceremony with Wainshet.  How could I forget?!

Bajaj into town with Alain and to a breakfast spot where we have “fool”, a spicy bean dip with bread and coffee.  My favourite 🙂  The “interview” takes a long time, Alain has previously volunteered in Mongolia and Tanzania and has had so many fascinating experiences.  After breakfast, we go to the post office to see if there is anything for us today.   From there we go to the photo shop where I have some photos of the party printed as a peace offering for Abebu.  We go to the “supermarket” where I buy a few essentials and the owner’s daughter walks in carrying the bloodied hide of a recently deceased sheep over her shoulder, “Hi Ais!”  She is followed shortly by two men who are carrying the disembowelled sheep in a huge basin.  All in a day’s work in Woldia!

From there to market to buy some fruit and vegetables for the week.  I buy eggs, carrots, guava, bananas, mango, cabbage, limes and tomatoes.  People are shouting at us along the way but it’s nice to not be alone in the market at least.  After this we have some lunch in town and then head home in a bajaj.  The driver turns out to be Abebu’s husband Habtamu!  He drops us almost to the door and won’t accept any payment even though him Abebu, and baby Ammanuel are living in one room. Uuugh.

Into the compound and they go through my bags to see what I’ve got and how much I paid for each item.  Then they tell me where I could have gotten it all for cheaper (this is a ritual we go through every weekend).  Thankfully Alain is still with me so they allow us into my house on our own, not being so overly familiar with Alain.  (However they are familiar enough with us all to say Alain’s Amharic is terrible and he must be very stupid as he has been here longer than me.  All you can do is laugh!!!)  I must eat some injera- no! I explain that I have to go to Alain’s house for a little while but will be back.  Suspicion everywhere.  I deposit the bags and go to the local shop with Alain to get some internet credit.

As I pass by, eggplant woman catches a glimpse of me from somewhere as I hear her calling out my Muslim name, “Ansha! Ansha! Ansha!”  I can’t see her, feign ignorance and quickly round the corner to Alain’s.  The other Woldia volunteer David is coming home from England tomorrow and I am the only one with the key for his house.  I need to make sure it is all ok in there and drop in a few goodies, tea and biscuits for his arrival.  I however don’t have the key for his compound and need to go in search of his guard for this.  I didn’t have to go far as when I get to the house I am horrified to find they have erected a giant marquee directly outside his house and seem to be holding a wedding there!  The door to the compound is barricaded with crates of beer and there are protestations of will I not have a beer or some injera for God’s sake?

Somehow and I don’t know how they grant me a reprieve from more eating and drinking and the guard Fentaw lets me into the compound.  The house is fine if a bit dusty which is a relief and we lock up behind us on the way out.  My reprieve expires and I must go into the tent with all the neighbours to eat and drink.  I stay for about an hour and they make me drink three cups of honey wine, “tej” which is guaranteed to cause diarrhea, 100% of the time.

Drunk at 3 o clock on a Saturday afternoon, I arrive back into the compound.  I explained to them what happened and they seemed to take sympathy on me.  Head-spinning I go into the house to unpack the shopping bags when there is a knock at the door.  It is Zenit and the new Hadiya coming in to have a look at my house.  Grand!  They take the grand tour and then Zenit begins to clean the house from under my feet, whirling through each room like a tornado.  She sweeps and mops the floor as I am standing in the middle of it all at a loss for words.  Somewhere in the middle of it all another randomer appears at the open door.  It turns out to be the new Hadiya’s brother who also gets the tour and then sits down for a rest in my sitting room.  The others leave but he has a good long rest for himself on the chair presumably wanting to practice his English.  He is actually a grand fella but I would really like the house to myself and am relieved when he leaves.

I manage to get a message to David to say that perhaps it’s not the best time to arrive back to his house, can he delay the trip by a day as there is wedding going on outside the house?!  I unpack the groceries and get on the internet before the credit runs out again.  Knock at the door for another coffee ceremony so we can all look at the photos of Ammanuel’s birthday.  My God.  It is ceaseless.

The coffee ceremony is prepared outside but while I am waiting Abebu has taken her eye off me for just a split second and I am poached by another one of the neighbours and taken into her house.  She inexplicably gives me a loaf of bread to eat (I think I have gained three stone in the last forty eight hours).  I hear wannabe English student Habib come in and it sends spine-tingling fear all down my back.  All I want to do is go to sleep!  Divine providence!  He has something in his hand that tops his need to learn English.  His family in Saudi Arabia have sent him an iPhone!  Yesss!  Neighbour-child comes in to tell me that the coffee is ready.

I won’t accept payment for the photos which initially causes a stand off.  Thankfully Habtamu is there and I explain that just as he would not accept payment for the bajaj ride I will not accept payment for the photos.  This is the kind of logic Ethiopian people understand as they are generous to a fault and everything is done on a send-it-out-to-the -Universe basis.

It starts to rain and we dart around the compound collecting all the washing and putting buckets out.  Habib comes to sit beside me and twenty minutes later we discover how to turn the iPhone on silent.  Danger!  The battery is critically low and he doesn’t have an adaptor.  I ransack my house looking for an adaptor that will fit knowing that if he is preoccupied with the iPhone we won’t have to talk about interrogative pronouns in the English language, the thought of which fills me with dread.

Hayatu comes in from town with some fresh corn on the cob which we roast together on the fire.  I produce some marshmallows I have bought for him in Addis Ababa to toast also, which sadly he thinks are vile.

It is dark and I am tired.  Hayatu suggests I bring the new Hadiya into my house to show her pictures of Ireland.  I almost groan but then wonder if that would be better than the coffee ceremony?  It’s six of one half a dozen of the other.  We go to my house, Hadiya does not follow and Hayatu suggests that maybe I want to go to sleep?  Thank you, thank you.  Yes, I do.  The water comes back on and I fill everything I have with water ahead of a hopeful clothes washing marathon on the morrow.

Alcohol Units: Daytime drinking does not count

Calories: Off the scale

Number of years Alain has been a VSO Volunteer: 6


4 responses »

    • That is the perfect description, Debbie! Exhausting! PS hope you have an amazing time in the Simiens, looking forward to a blog post and some pics 🙂 ❤ xx

  1. When you do come home, you’ll be in shock that no-one will be knocking on your door demanding your time & attention!!!! You’ll probably keep checking the door to see if there is something wrong with the doorbell or something!!!

    • It happened already! I had to go to another town for a work conference there a while ago and I was walking down the street (big city, well used to foreigners) and…nobody was harassing me! I felt like screaming out, “Do you people not know who I am?! I happen to be VERY important in Woldia!” I didn’t say it of course but…I did feel it! Ha! 😀 x

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