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.