Janey Mac, Gordon Bennett & Juan de la Cruz


Reading my posts you might be forgiven for thinking that I am the only foreigner in the town of Woldia. In fact, I am the only female foreigner but there one or two other male foreigners who keep me company.

When I came to Woldia first, it was me, Dave and Alain. Sitting around at coffee one day, Dave pointed out my frequent use of the expression, “Janey Mac!”. He suggested that the English equivalent would be “Gordon Bennett!”. Alain, a Filipino volunteer, struggled with the idea for a time and eventually decided, “Well, I suppose we could say, “Juan de la Cruz!”” Hence the title of this blog 🙂

Dave & Alain pose in their model learning centre with some of Alain's fantastic creations in the background

Dave & Alain pose in their model learning centre with some of Alain’s fantastic creations in the background

Dave & Alain worked together in the College of Teacher Education in the town. By the time I met him, Alain had been a VSO Volunteer for the past 6 years, volunteering in places as far flung as Mongolia and Zanzibar. Alain spent his time in Woldia diligently working away in his teaching centre to create a model learning environment for children. A more resourceful person I have never met, what this man could do with a toilet roll insert was nobody’s business. Marvel at his work below.

“Mr. David”, as he is known locally, (I am “Mr. Ais”) has had no less of an illustrious career as a volunteer. This is the end of his third year volunteering in education in Ethiopia and previous to that he volunteered with VSO Eritrea in education for four years. Seven years in a row volunteering in Africa.

A portrait of Dave

A portrait of Dave

Shortly after I met Dave, I began to suspect he was mad. A year and a half later I am in a position now to unequivocally confirm my earlier suspicion; Dave IS mad, as mad as a badger. However, he finds himself in excellent company here in Woldia as I live just around the corner 🙂

In a more conventional former life, Dave was a bank manager and indeed devotes much of his time to fairly pedestrian activities such as tea-drinking, crisp-eating and the occasional pint. However, Dave is also a man who once sailed across the Pacific Ocean on a yacht and has a degree in Paranormal Psychology amongst other things, and in Woldia found the time to write a book on the personage of Sir. John Buddle, early 19th century mining engineer and entrepreneur and also made plans to circumnavigate the globe in a one-man boat (a feat which will take two years). Woldia will do strange things to a person!

Just before Alain finished his placement, Francis joined us to come and work in the University on I.T. , so for a brief period the number of foreigners in Woldia swelled to four. Alain left soon after Francis arrived and now Dave; my father, grandfather or husband depending on who you get your information from in Woldia, has gone off to greener (?) pastures too in his beloved North of England.

I have written about fixers before but the debt of gratitude I owe to the kindness of other volunteers is immense and cannot be overstated. We definitely have our ups and downs and some of the loneliest times here have been when I doubt that I have much in common with my fellow volunteers but it helps then to remember that all volunteers are a little bit crazy, myself included. A self-selecting group (of lunatics).  Also, when I look over the work that they have done and continue to do in this country and elsewhere, both individually and with the help of others and VSO I feel really proud to be associated with them.  Well done everyone for all the good, hard work.

Me & Dave stand alongside some welcome government propaganda in Woldia ;)

Me & Dave stand alongside some welcome government propaganda in Woldia 😉

Dave, self-confessed train spotter and Kate Bush fan, is just one such volunteer whom I would like to pay tribute to here. He guided me through the Woldia volunteering experience via email before I ever left Ireland, has been my greatest supporter in my many battles on Ethiopian soil and has picked me up and put me back together again on a number of occasions.  And now he is gone, leaving me only his copy of the Bible for solace!

After seven years in Africa, you might think it’s time he hung up his boots? I’m not so sure. He may come back to Ethiopia again but most likely not to Woldia and I will miss him there and the Friday evening beer after work/counseling session.

Davey, I don’t know if you’re out there but…thanks for everything! Go n-éirí an bother leat 😀

Me as Dave's lovely assistant during his "You are the light of the world speech" to his trainee teachers

Me as Dave’s lovely assistant during his “You are the light of the world speech” to his trainee teachers


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