What Time is It? (Good question)

Mindenow?

Why, it’s another blog post, silly!

Due to a somewhat interesting week time-wise, it’s Double Upload Sunday. Samrat internet is freaking out due to too much WordPress 😛

This post is going to cover a lot (i.e. probably too much), but c’est la vie.

First: things that have got me thinking this week.

–          I put on my Comic Relief t-shirt that I use as a pyjama top, and finally made a connection. The organisation that I’ve been placed with, JeCCDO, receives a lot of funding from Comic Relief (it’s one of the major donors). I wonder if any of my money has come to Dire Dawa in the past…

–          I met my host mum’s uncle last week, who has been working in development for his entire career. We had a really interesting (and long…I was there for 2.5 hours) conversation about development and dependency in Ethiopia and in the UK, and I learned a lot from him. One thing he said in particular has been turning over in my head: ‘We do not come out of the womb grasping money. We come into the world alone. We move through it alone. And we leave it alone. Any money we carry along that journey we must find by ourselves. It is not a right. The best thing that we can do with the time that we have is find ways to help the people around us who are truly and completely alone. Because we are none of us entitled to anything, and we should be mindful of that.’ Ethiopian eloquence at its best.

–          My host dad and I were talking about Ethiopian history (as you do), and he asked if I knew what the old name for Ethiopia was. I replied ‘Abyssinia’ (gobbez Laura!).  He then pointed out that the Bible makes many references to Abyssinia, but none to the UK, and none to the USA. What we consider the centre of the world now (Europe and America) has not always been the centre of the world. And maybe in another 2000 years, Asia will be the focus. The world has not always been as it is, nor will it remain so.

Another point that my host dad made was that in Ethiopia, there is time for religion, and time for family. Even though the work opportunities may be (perceived as) better in the West, we’ve had to squeeze out spirituality and family in order to make money, and that’s the main reason why he’s not tempted to emigrate from Ethiopia to (for example) Australia.  This brings me nicely onto topic number 2: Ethiopia Time.

Time in Ethiopia has become a subject of fascination for me. It’s a very fluid concept that sometimes applies and sometimes doesn’t.  Here’s the rundown.

–          Ethiopians love to tell you that they have 13 months of sunshine (a different calendar with 12 months of equal days, and one extra month with all the extra days), and it’s also 2005 here, not 2013. Makes filing somewhat interesting, when some people use the Ethiopian calendar and others use Gregorian.

–          We’re also working in multiple times. There’s western time – how we tell the time in the UK – and Ethiopian time. The sun rises at 6am western time. That’s 12 Ethiopian time. 7am is one hour after sunrise, so that’s 1 o’clock Ethiopian time. 8am is 2 hours after sunrise, so that’s 2 o’clock. Etc etc. The easy way to work it out is to simply look at the opposite side of an analogue clock face to work out what the time is in Ethiopia. So if your western clock says ‘9’, look at the number opposite (3) and you know what an Ethiopian would call the time. You get used to it. But you always have to check which time you are agreeing on.

–          A good demonstration of the different emphasis that the two cultures (UK and Ethiopia) place on time is who wears watches. The majority of the UK volunteers wear a watch; the majority of the Ethiopian volunteers do not. I didn’t realise how much my life was ruled by the tiny clock strapped to my wrist, or how obsessed with being on time I am.

–          Incidentally, Ethiopians are not obsessed with being on time. Punctuality is something that people seem to find amazing, rather than necessary. If we are late to work in the UK, the you-know-what hits the fan, and we could lose our job. Here, if you get to work within an hour of your start time, you’re doing well. I intend to continue arriving at the office before the boss.

–          The government here has set a legal minimum for working hours in Ethiopia – 8. How different employers interpret this is up to them. I’m still trying to estimate how many people actually work 8 hours a day, and how many are simply contracted for 8 hours.

–          This is all tied up in the working attitude. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been told ‘Why are you worried?’ ‘Relax!’ ‘You don’t need to feel anything’ ‘Be free!’  I can’t function in the hyper-relaxed atmosphere. There’s no pressure, and there seem to be few consequences.

–          And this, I am coming to believe, is all going to feed into how Ethiopia is going to do development. We’re at the tipping point just now, and everyone can feel it. Ultimately, I think there are two possible outcomes.

  • The first is that the Ethiopian people do development. They iron out the time issue, pull themselves together into an organised and strong force that is supported legislatively, and they tackle their own problems through their own work. This is what I’d like to see, particularly given their colonialism-free past.
  • The second is that development is handed over to foreigners, and the current trickle of investment from America, the UK and China (Chinese investment is EVERYWHERE) becomes a flood. After that, there’s no way back, and I think attitudes to foreigners would change too. The friendly cries of ‘ferenjii!’ would turn into something more sinister, and the issue of dependency and tied aid, or whatever you want to call it, would start to rear its ugly head.

But now it’s time for something nice, ishee?

Let’s play the Ethiopian food identification game: WHAT WAT IS WHAT?: Your wat-spotting guide.

The traditional diet in Ethiopia is mainly comprised of wat; food of a sort of soupy texture that you eat with injera. There are spicy wats, plain wats, vegetarian wats, and meaty wats. You can eat them hot and cold, and most of them blow my head off.

  1. Doro wat: This is the most famous of all the wats, and the national dish of Ethiopia. It’s made up of three parts: the sauce, which is spicy and full of onions, roasted and marinated chicken (doro), and hard boiled eggs.
  2. Shuro wat: Something of a staple in our house (but not for me), shuro wat is made with beans, and is orange. That’s basically all I can say about it.
  3. Sugo wat: made with meat and vegetables, similar to stew, in a very spicy sauce.
  4. Messer wat: finely ground ox in a tomato and onion sauce, which has a gentle (by Ethiopian standards) heat, rather than being crammed full of berbere.
  5. Kuk wat: this is my favourite. It tastes like mushy peas. It’s made with yellow split peas that are cooked until they get to the consistency of baby food, with just a touch of seasoning. Nice and comforting. And did I mention it tastes like mushy peas?

A somewhat disorganised post, but a good overview of the mundane and the interesting. The next time I speak to you, I’ll be over half way through, and beginning the countdown to home. I’m planning a ‘friends, I missed you all’ get together when I come home – stay posted for details J

 

Laura x

 

FAQs: Volunteer Experience

Ishee?

This week I’m double uploading because I’ve been a little busy, and in Post 1 I’ll be answering questions that you’ve been asking me on Facebook, on the blog, by email, or have otherwise probably been thinking about. I hope this answers the majority of your ponderings.

How hot is it?
Blinking hot. We hit 41 degrees a few weeks ago – now it’s a chilly 33. I now consider anything below 35 to be comfortable. The mornings and evenings are often windy – the wind is cool, by the way – which is such a welcome break from the frankly oppressive heat of the day. More often than not, the skies are completely cloudless, which adds to the ‘sun beating down on the weary travellers’ effect.

So how’s the sunburn then?
Very funny. I’m actually not too bad – I’m still the whitest person in Dire Dawa thanks to the trusty factor 50. Some people may consider that a bit extreme, but I’ve still managed to get a reddish tinge at the base of my neck and the front of my hairline, despite being permanently greasy from the Nivea Sun Safe for Kids (extra high protection that’s blue and waterproof). They’ve never had a vampire in Ethiopia before – that’s why people are so interested in my skin colour.

Should I visit Dire Dawa on holiday?
Difficult question to answer. It’s a really nice place, and by all accounts, foreigners are much better treated here than they are in other parts of the country (most people are really friendly). But there’s not a lot to do. If you’re living and working here, it’s fine, because at the weekends you just want to relax, and there are lots of ways to do that. But if you are visiting as a tourist, expecting packed days of activity, you may be disappointed. There’s a railway to nowhere, a roundabout with a train in the middle of it, Papa park with the swimming pool, some markets and the posh hotels with free WiFi. There are some cave paintings about a 30 minute drive away, but you need to hire a guard to take you. The big attraction in the area is Harar, a mediaeval walled city (registered with UNESCO) where you can feed hyenas. And you know I’m all about the hyenas.

Where’s my postcard?
Ethiopians don’t believe in postcards.

What about a present then?
Please don’t be disappointed if nothing materialises. There’s not a big market for tourist stuff here, because the foreigners who do come are mainly here for business purposes and don’t go souvenir shopping. If you’re really lucky, I’ll bring you back some dry injera, or some delicious tea.

Speaking of injera…what do you eat?
Carbs, carbs and more carbs. Because my stomach was so bad in the first few weeks, my host family refuse to give me anything too Ethiopian, so I’m living off a diet that’s mainly beige in colour (excluding injera, thank goodness). Pasta. Rice. Bread (like a soft baguette). Oats with water and sugar, which I LOVE. My favourite thing that I get is called arosto, and it’s like a stew without any gravy, made with onion, garlic, potatoes, carrots and beef. It’s so delicious and I get really excited whenever I get it. Sara also makes cracking chips – thick or thin cut, as you specify – and I might have those for lunch once a week. I’ve also started dabbling in the world of wat (the next post will explain in more detail), and my favourite is the one made with yellow peas – it tastes just like the mushy peas from the fish and chip shops at home. If I go out, I enjoy dining on the extremely delicious pizzas and burgers of the Dire Dawa hotel scene (it’s the only way I get any cheese).
I drink about 2.5 litres of water a day, plus tea (it’s unbelievable how delicious the tea is), coffee, Temar’s Jolly Juice and maybe the odd Coke if I’m stealing WiFi at a hotel.

They have Coke in Ethiopia?
They’ve got Coke in the Arcitc Circle, for goodness sake. Pepsi isn’t a big thing, but Coke, or Coka, definitely is. Fanta, Sprite and Mirinda (like Tango), are also readily available, and I swear I’ve seen Dr Pepper too. They come in old school glass bottles that you take back to the shop for recycling (some shops hold your change until you bring the bottles back). The prices range from about 7 birr (25p) up to the extortionate 14 birr (50p) at Samrat Hotel (it’s the posh one that I use for WiFi). The UK volunteers can regularly be heard moaning about being ripped off at Samrat just so they can read emails. Although 300mls of Sprite for 50p really isn’t that bad when you think about it.

Everything is so cheap!! How much money do you spend on average?
Everything is cheap…if you keep converting it back to sterling. But if you are living on your allowance from VSO, and trying not to break into your spending money from home, it all adds up. We get 840 birr (30 quid) per fortnight. But break that down over a two week period, and it disappears:
– Bajaj to and from work (Mon-Fri 4 bajaj, Sat morning 2 bajaj): 88 birr
– Additional bajaj for meetings, socialising, etc: 40 birr
– Soft drinks while stealing internet: 50 birr
– Meals outside the home: 150-200 birr
– Swimming at Papa (3 times): 120 birr
– Additional expenses that you don’t expect: 100 birr (birthdays, emergency cake, etc)
– Phone top up: 25-50 birr
– Toiletries: 15 birr
– 663 birr before you even blink
And that’s not taking into account buying alcohol if you drink, or cigarettes if you smoke, and I’m not out in the evenings as much as the other volunteers (I can’t get back to Gerba after about 8.15pm without a big effort, including mime in place of Amharic and trying to find a friendly bajaj driver).

Do people speak any English, or is it all Amharic?
Ethiopian people are amazing linguists. There are 85 different Ethnic groups in the country, all of whom have their own language, dance styles, traditional dress, and customs. I would say 85% of Dire Dawa speaks Amharic fluently, 50% speak Oromifa and Amharic, and maybe 30% have a basic or good understanding of Amharic, but speak Oromifa or another language. Most people at work speak English to a very good standard, as do my host family, and all the Ethiopian volunteers. I’ve had many pleasant conversations with bajaj drivers in English too, which makes me smile. Everyone tries their best, and I guarantee that every single person in Dire Dawa knows one of the following:
– You
– Miss
– Hey
– Hello
– You are fine?
– China
– What your name?
As for the dancing – got any new moves?
There are so many different styles of dance here, most of which resemble the funky chicken until you study them enough to tell them apart. The ones I’ve seen most here are Amhar, Oromo, Tigrenya, Gurage and Somali. There are partner dances (Oromo) which look like domestic abuse from a distance. There are moves that mime putting on makeup with a hand mirror (Gurage). Lots of shoulder jerks and chesty things. Swirly skirt dances (Amhar). Dances that mirror the work of the people on the land (Tigrenya). I love them all.

When you aren’t dancing, are you working? And what are you actually doing?
I’m working with a few of the different departments at JeCCDO, mainly Access to Basic Services (orphans and vulnerable children, HIV/AIDS, education and health care), or Capacity Building (basically visiting different community organisations and drinking coffee with the bosses). I was meant to be based with the Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction department, but I’ve been hijacked for other things. We visit the community, write reports and sit through one hell of a lot of meetings in Amharic. We also go into schools quite a lot, which is usually hilarious. JeCCDO work in so many areas; they renovate the homes of the poor, install water points and communal toilets, educate children and women, sponsor promising students from the poorest backgrounds through university, assist with medical costs for HIV sufferers and use local volunteers as facilitators for community training. I’m learning a lot about how an NGO in the developing world works.

How else do you get involved with the community?
VSO has us organise Global Citizenship Days (peer learning days on global issues) and Community Action Days (when we go into the community and plant trees, dance, and generally raise awareness of an issue). We’ve organised ourselves into committees of 4 people each, and each committee takes charge of a different aspect of the programme: GCD, CAD, Mid Phase Review, Debrief, Media and Monitoring and Evaluation.
I’m on the Monitoring and Evaluation team, which involves sitting with a lot of paper, writing a lot of reports, and basically keeping a track of how successful our different activities are. It’s a big job, and it sounds really boring, but it’s really important (and good for the old CV).

So when are you coming home?
The 12th August is my touchdown-at-Heathrow date. VSO haven’t told us how or when we get from Heathrow back to our respective parts of the country. Hopefully I can make the last flight back to Glasgow, because I’m going to need a fish supper after all that flying.

Your answers have been so informative, and really got me thinking about what I can do with 3 months that I have free. How can I apply?
Well, keen bean, it’s very simple. Just head over to http://www.dfid.gov.uk/ics and follow the instructions. Good luck!

Bonus Round: The Dire Dawa Alphabet

This is entirely inspired by listening to my little sister learn the English alphabet: ‘A for ant, B for ball, C for cat…’. Funny how creativity strikes unexpectedly.

A – Amharic. Ayan Sook. Amasegenalow. Ashawa.
B –Bajaj. Bananas. Boss Chair. Boona. Bridge Café. Berbere.
C – Camel. Carbs. Cultural Dancing. Chigerelow. Counterpart.
D – Dogs (possibly rabid). Donkeys. Dust. Dabbo. Doro Wat.
E – Ethiopia. Eli. Erta Ale. Elba Café.
F – Ferenjii. Fir fir. Frustration.
G – Gerba. Goro. Gran Total. Goats.
H – Hot. Highland. HIV. Health. Habesha. Host home.
I – Injera. Ishee.
J – JeCCDO. Jabna.
K – Kebele. Khat.
L – Love. Lauriti.
M – Mosquitos. MM Hotel. Mirinda. My Life. Mangoes. Mitto Centre.
N – Nap. Net (keeps out binbi as well as kittens).
O – Oromifa. Orthodox. Oats.
P – Papa. Pasta. Pizza.
Q – Queen of the Desert.
R – Road Safety. Rice. Rift Valley. Railway.
S – Salam no. Siedo. Sand. Samrat. Shoulder Bump. Sheetee. Shi.
T – Tedi Afro. Taiwan. Tenastelign.
U –Unity. University. Umbrella.
V – VSO. Volunteer.
W – Waraj. Waiting. Woha. WHERE IS ABEL?
X – X Factor Ethiopia.
Y – Yes Highland.
Z – Zeritu.

It probably doesn’t all make sense to an outsider. But I quite like that. It’s my alphabet, with my own references, and a snapshot of what’s been happening up til now.

Something that’s really moved me since my last post is Sara, our housemaid, learning English so that she can speak to me. I came home last night, and she took a deep breath and said ‘Good evening Laura. How are you?’ Sara can’t read or write, but she’s fluent in Amharic and Oromifa, and now she’s trying to learn English too. You really can’t measure intelligence by your skill with a pen.
She’s inspired me to up my Amharic skills so that we can communicate much better, and I can give her a boost to her English. Although I do enjoy our mime sessions.

Keep well, and thank you for all your comments so far. You make me smile when I feel a little blue, and you keep me happy when I’m feeling good 🙂

Development, Dependence and Difference

Akam bulte! (Just casually mixing in some Oromifa, ‘cause I can),
This is a post that I’ve wanted to write for a long time, but have been unsure about how to broach it sensitively, or whether I should talk about it at all. But it’s the reason I’m here, so I feel that I need to.
Ethiopia is a developing country, albeit one that is definitely on the make. Everything is getting better here all the time, and the rate of change is unbelievable. I walk past building sites that seem to change at lightning speed, and there is always activity going on everywhere. So in that sense, development is very much happening.
However, there are also fundamental issues, and the main worry that people I’ve spoken to have is about resources. Ethiopia is a country twice the size of France, with a population that is accelerating constantly. The problem is that food production is not increasing. Water availability is not increasing. Access to education, employment and services is not evenly distributed throughout the country, and the drive from Addis to Dire Dawa all that time ago made this abundantly clear. Tiny communities dotted along the roadside were dominated by US Aid tins and foreign food-handout stores. Even in Dire Dawa, those Aid tins are ever present, unrolled into flat sheets and used as makeshift bricks for temporary homes. The contradiction never fails to shock me.
The other big thing that has been occupying my thoughts has been the begging and street children. At first, my attitude was ‘this would never be allowed to happen in the UK’, as I pushed through swarms of children grabbing my clothes and bag and screaming for 1 birr. It was frightening and upsetting, and I wanted to make them go away. And then I stopped to think. The UK can pay to hide ‘undesirable’ situations from the public; Ethiopia cannot. And keeping the problem hidden is far worse.
We have homeless people in the UK. Of course we do. But they are part of this secret world that we choose to avoid. They do not approach us to ask for help, but wait for help to come to them, as a pound dropped into a hat. We have children without parents, who are HIV positive, who have no home to go to, who are disabled, who are starving. But our culture hides them. We put children into care homes, segregate the poor into council estates and forget that our child poverty rates are among the worst in Europe. We congratulate ourselves on our welfare system, our health service and free education. But the UK now has as much of a dependence culture as Ethiopia does. Just as some children in the UK will grow up believing that the state will provide everything, and that education has no value, some children in Ethiopia are taken out of education to beg for money (parents believe it is a better use of their time),. If the plug is pulled, what do these children do? If begging does not make money, they have no education to fall back on, and there is no safety net to catch them. The best scenario is that an NGO finds them and is able to intervene.
I now remind myself that the children who wait at bajaj stops for ferenjiis may well be the same kids that the volunteers are working with on their placement. We find them so appealing within the safe confines of a school or orphanage, when we can control the situation. But flip that round, and when you find yourself being trailed by 6 or 7 5-year olds asking for money, it’s more difficult to be sympathetic.
Last week, the volunteers had their first Global Citizenship Day on the environment. We met with some of the 3rd year Geography students at Dire Dawa University, listened to some talks and then had a discussion.
One of the points that was continually raised by the students was the blame carried by the West for environmental destruction. “The developed countries have contributed 90% of the carbon emissions, but they haven’t done anything to apologise to the developing countries, and we are the ones suffering.” Someone else suggested that we should go back to the UK and tell our government what was happening to the environment in Ethiopia, explain that it was their fault, and get them to fix the problem (of course, the assumption was that we have this kind of power, and that the UK government cares). And then the issue of compensation came up. “The developed countries should compensate the developing countries. They have all the blame, and we should get something to make up for the destruction they’ve caused.”
And I got angry.
I was sitting in a lecture theatre with maybe 40 other people, 12 of whom were from the UK. And the discussion was turning into international finger-pointing. I later discovered that the compensation solution was suggested by the previous Ethiopian prime minister at an African Union conference, and the idea seems to have taken root across society, as well as in academia. I suggested that perhaps financial compensation for environmental problems would create further relationships of dependence, that it would make the situation worse, and that throwing money at problems has been proven unsuccessful many times over. There was recognition of my point, but no further discussion.
The idea that money from the West = A Good Thing is a firmly held belief. In a setting where I would expect exploration of alternative ideas, or debate on other suggestions, I was faced with a group of people parroting back one suggestion from one politician who has now passed away. This is not a criticism, but an observation. The students made valid and very interesting points, and I enjoyed the discussion a lot. But throughout the morning, I became aware that the UK volunteers presented an opportunity for some people to vent their frustration directly at Westerners, and that was very uncomfortable.
This is the dilemma I face as a foreigner. I am seen both as a resource and an interference. I can fix computers, write reports and give an alternative inupt to problems without even thinking about it. But I am also perceived as a walking bank, a potential coloniser, and a representative of the intellectual project that keeps Africa poor. Ethiopia has never been colonised (only briefly occupied by Italians, who left a legacy of excellent pizza), so there is not the same lived experience that is present in other parts of Africa. But the awareness of colonisation and the damage that it has done is present every day.
When I handed in my dissertation a year ago, I never imagined I’d be living my research 10 months later. The twist in the tail is that I’m the exotic other – people want to see what my hair feels like, ask why I have freckles and look at my hands. I often think of a quote from ‘Lost in Austen’ (Pride and Prejudice had to come up eventually), where the girl from the 21st century who ends up in the book asks: “Has there ever been anyone else like me? You know, talks a bit funny, doesn’t know how things operate?” I have many Amanda Price moments.
I’m finding the intellectual aspects of this journey as frustrating as I do rewarding. It’s everything I wanted and more. But it’s challenging and difficult too. Please, if you get the opportunity, come to Ethiopia. Learn from its people. They will inspire you, encourage you and make you believe in yourself if you do not already.
After 5 weeks here, I am beginning to get a sense of the world through the eyes of an Ethiopian, and I have begun to prepare myself for the reverse culture shock of returning to the UK in 7 weeks. The behaviour of ‘those white people’ on MTV shocks me more than ever. I watch so much ETV that I forget there are other countries in the world. I’m becoming as insulated from the outside world as the Ethiopian population are; television is full of cultural music and dancing, Ethiopian programmes and movies dubbed in Amharic. The news concerns Ethiopia and Ethiopia alone. My host dad has to remind me to watch CNN and the BBC to see what is happening elsewhere. I expect touchdown at Heathrow to be a disorienting and somewhat frightening reintroduction to the UK.
But I’m so looking forward to a chicken burger 😛
It’s not all been doom and gloom though. Here’s what made me smile this week:
– I’m now on first name terms with Tedi and Abel the bajaj drivers. They take me to my door, rather than to the shop that I usually direct bajaj drivers to.
– En route to church on Sunday, the bajaj driver played an African mix of Single Ladies. It was 6.15 in the morning and it was perfect.
– I keep hearing a reggae cover of The Beatles’ ‘Don’t Let Me Down’.
– Oromyia TV News has stolen the BBC News intro music, but nobody seems to care/notice.
– Ethiopia beat South Africa in the World Cup qualifiers while I was having pizza with some other volunteers at Samrat Hotel. The place went crazy – the staff literally ran all over the place hugging one another and there were parties in the streets.
– I’ve picked up the ‘carry on, I’m listening to you’ gasp that the Ethiopians use when they are listening to a good conversation. It sounds like they are shocked, but it actually means ‘please continue’.
– My Ethiopian granny single-handedly proved that the famine in Ethiopia is long gone. For lunch on Saturday, she made me steak and potatoes (starter), doro wat (main course, and I was given about 4 eggs as well as chicken and everything else), and then pulled out the biggest plate of spag bol I’ve ever seen in my life. I swear there’s more food here than at home. I ended up taking the pasta home and eating it for dinner. I am never ever hungry because I never stop eating. And my appetite is miniscule compared to the average Ethiopian. They can put away some amount of grub. It’s impressive.
We are almost half way through (I know, crazy). After next week, I can begin the countdown to home! I’m making a list of things I want to bring back to the UK, and am concerned that I don’t have enough space in my rucksack. Some lucky person in Dire Dawa may get all my clothes so that some lucky people in Scotland get coffee and Ethiopian shirts.
Stay tuned, and thank you for following me on my journey so far.

Camels, Hyenas, Mosquitos: OH MY!

Dehina Dehinanesh?

First off, I am aware that it’s been almost two weeks since the last post. I apologise (if you were waiting, but I doubt you were), but getting internet access is less than straightforward. I am going to be stealing the WiFi at Samrat to upload this when we go to pick up our allowance. On the subject of the allowance – I seem to be amassing a huge amount of money (because I don’t spend any), so the allowance feels like actual pay. It’s good.

I hope all of you are well, even if the only person reading this is my Mum. (And Gran. But later. In printed format.)

It’s been a bit of a challenging time since my last entry – lots of ups and downs, but then again, I’ve only been in Ethiopia for a short time, so that’s to be expected. I will start with the things that make me smile on a daily basis.

–          The hilarious and often terrifying road system. I don’t mean in terms of infrastructure (the majority of roads are very good and subsidised by the Chinese), but rather the traffic itself. Bajaj, Forces (like a larger bajaj), donkeys, goats (many of whom appear to be on the local drug, chat), dogs, chickens, and camels all compete for space. Sometimes there is a Toyota pickup truck, but more often than not, it’s just a stream of blue tuk-tuks jostling around alongside the stoned goats.

–          The organisation I work for has a tortoise in the garden. We’ve called her Eli, because that’s the Ethiopian word for a tortoise.

–          I’ve never cared less about my appearance, or had it scrutinised more. Sometimes I forget that I’m the only white person in Gerba, my village, until the bajaj driver turns round to have a good stare before he gets going. It doesn’t bother me. It makes me laugh.  There is a huge difference between the perceived situation regarding foreigners and what is actually happening. As Mehret pointed out, the people are not shouting FERENJI or CHINA because they want to offend – they are simply showing that they are interested in the new person in the community. It’s a strange form of flattery. What does make me feel better is that some of the Ethiopian volunteers have things shouted after them too, like MACCHIATO, because that is similar to their skin colour. It’s appreciation, Ethiopian style.

–          Greetings. The people take their greetings extremely seriously. Until the round of ‘howareyouI’mfinehowaboutyouI’mfinetoopeacebewithyouthankstoGod’ has been recited, nothing happens, and I enjoy it. The warmth of the people is built into their daily habits, and everyone stops to speak to one another. For example, my host home is opposite a shop, and the ladies who work there sit outside in the evenings and chill out. Every night when I go home, we have our round of ‘Selam no? Selam!’ before they will let me knock the house gate. It makes me feel included and accepted, and the greetings have genuinely been helping me to settle in.

–          My Amharic is very very slowly expanding. My  favourite word so far is ‘beembee’, which means mosquito. I’m covered in bites (it’s pretty grim), but it has meant that people keep repeating beembee over and over again, so now I know it. A sweet word for the servants of the devil.

–          The coffee is flipping delicious. I’m on coffee strike for a few days, because it’s very dehydrating, but I hope to get back on the bean soon. It’s very very strong, served in a tiny cup, and taken with either condensed milk or about 3 teaspoons of sugar. When we drink coffee in my host home, we also burn incense in a special pot to purify the air, and wake us up if we’ve had a nap. I will always associate the smell of coffee with the smell of frankincense, and the little sugar granules that are left at the bottom of the cup, forming an unbelievably tasty syrup.

–          The exchange rate. Last weekend my host mum and I went to Ashawa market (like something out of 1001 Arabian Nights) to buy me 2 sheetee. A sheetee is a loose dress that all the women here wear as casual or relaxing clothing, and they come in thousands of different prints. The fabric is unbelievable. It costs 70 birr (£2.50) for 4 metres of sheetee fabric, and 8 birr (.28p) to have someone sew it into your chosen design. You specify how long you’d like it, the style of the neckline (slashed, round, gathered) and the kind of sleeves (tie straps, vest straps, short sleeves or elbow length kimono style sleeves). So for about a fiver, I got 2 beautiful and extremely comfortable dresses that have made my summer weight UK pyjamas look like a ski suit.

–          Two hour lunch times. This is something particular to Dire Dawa, as the weather is insufferable in the middle of the day, and it’s impossible to concentrate (it regularly hits 40 degrees Celsius). My routine at the moment is waking at 6am, leaving for work at 7.45, arriving for 8, home at 12, shower, eat, nap, back to work for 2 or 2.30 (this varies with the weather – lunches are longer if it’s hotter), and return home between 5 and 5.30. Most nights I’m in bed for around 9, because the heat just zaps my energy.

–          The hyenas. Gerba is at the outermost edge of Dire Dawa (Gerba literally means ‘back’, as it runs along the outside of the city), and this means that the local wildlife often comes in for an investigation. A few evenings ago, there were a whole band of hyenas strolling round the streets, making the most horrific noise. I had no idea what it was, and still lack the words to describe it properly. Imagine a fox mauling a dog while having its head bashed in by a laughing child, all connected to a loudspeaker, and you’re about a third of the way there.

See! Many lovely and interesting things have been happening. There have, however, also been some issues, but I don’t want to dwell on them too long.

–          The main thing at the moment is my emotional state. The combination of the culture shock, the heat and the confusion of the everyday situation here means that I am constantly exhausted and am often easily upset. I had a fairly intense experience where I got out of a bajaj and was surrounded (from where, I have no idea) by street children and beggars asking me for money. ‘Ferenjii! Ferenjii! Give me money! You! You! Give me money! Please! Please! I need money. You will be happy when you give me money.’ Nobody could understand why that upset me so much. The difference here is that poverty is in your face. You see daily reminders of what happens if you have no job, fall ill or lose a family member. And it reminds me that despite coming from an affluent nation, there is poverty there too. But it is hidden, and that’s much much worse.

–          My health has been interesting – blinding headaches which can be cured with an Ethiopian scarf round the head and a brain massage; stomach pains that disappear after a mango and the hilarious thirst that sees me drink about 3 litres of water a day. But it’s all fine.

–          Work is slow at the best of times. Non-existent at worst. There are entire days spent sitting around doing nothing. I normally go home frustrated and it’s difficult to explain why. The organisation itself is really inspiring and the people are amazing, but the pace is so slow. We need work to do, and sometimes there is none. I’ve written report after report, but I’m still finishing before the next task has been decided on. Hopefully it will pick up soon.

–          Bins. There are none. It’s driving me round the pole. What I don’t understand is where the rubbish goes. There must be a bin in our house somewhere, but can I find it? There are no bins in the streets either, so the rubbish piles up in the drains. As far as I can make out, there is no waste disposal system in operation, but I hope that the government implements one soon.

I’m sure there are lots more things to talk about, but I can’t think any more. My internet access is sporadic at best, so please bear with me. I read everything you send me, but can’t always reply.

4 weeks down, 8 to go.

 

I MISS YOU ALL, MY DARLINGS.

xxxxx