Friday, July 18, 2014

Holy blog resurrection Batman...

Hello all...

It's been a while.

I'm back in the UK, married, working and still riding my bike.

Just about to leave for a couple of weeks cycling in France.




Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Farewell to Ethiopia

Hi all,

 

I’m sitting in a very swish restaurant and waiting on what will probably be my last meal in Ethiopia.

 

All I have remaining to do is collect my police clearance from CSI Addis, and then I’m officially free to go.

 

The taxi picks me up at 11.30 tonight, and my flight home via Cairo leaves at 4.00 AM.

 

It’s been an amazing journey, but it’s time to go home.

 

When I get back I’ll send out more detailed report on my last few months- our trip to Kenya, the mats for the Circus and finishing up at the college.

 

Thanks to you all for all your support.

 

Paul

:o)

 

Paul Stanley.

IT Trainer/Specialist.

VSO Volunteer, Awassa College of Teacher Education.

 

Landline:  +251462206359

Mobile:  +251920135542

Skype:  tootallpaul67

 

PO Box 1375,

Awassa,

Ethiopia.

 

Pictures: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tootallpaul/

Blog: http://ride-lots.blogspot.com/

 

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Re: Awassa Children's Circus

Paul,
How much are you looking to raise?
David


From: Paul Stanley <tootallpaul67@googlemail.com>
To: Paul Stanley <tootallpaul67@googlemail.com>
Cc: too_tall_paul.sixtyseven@blogger.com <too_tall_paul.sixtyseven@blogger.com>
Sent: Tue Jun 07 10:04:56 2011
Subject: Awassa Children's Circus

Awassa Children's Circus

 

Whilst I've lived in Awassa, I've met some amazing people doing amazing work to help their communities, but one of the most inspiring is Mashresha. He runs a circus for poor street kids and orphans. They teach the kids circus skills- the tumbling and juggling they do is just amazing,  and they then put on performances to raise money for equipment and facilities. They also have a decent small recording studio and are producing some really good music. Food is also supplied to the kids that need it. They are some of the best behaved children I have come across in Ethiopia, and their enthusiasm is infectious.

 

We are trying to raise a little money to buy some new tumbling mats for them before we leave- the mats they are currently are actually just mattresses, and in a pretty sorry state. If you interested in donating something, drop me an email and we'll work something out.  We have already raised enough money to buy half the mats required- it would be so good if we could raise enough to get them all.

 

A big thank-you to everyone who has already donated. I hope that the mats will be made before I leave so I can get some photos of the kids in action!

 

Many thanks,

 

Paul

 

Paul Stanley.

IT Trainer/Specialist.

VSO Volunteer, Awassa College of Teacher Education.

 

Landline:  +251462206359

Mobile:  +251920135542

Skype:  tootallpaul67

 

PO Box 1375,

Awassa,

Ethiopia.

 

Pictures: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tootallpaul/

Blog: http://ride-lots.blogspot.com/

 



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Awassa Children's Circus

Awassa Children’s Circus

 

Whilst I’ve lived in Awassa, I’ve met some amazing people doing amazing work to help their communities, but one of the most inspiring is Mashresha. He runs a circus for poor street kids and orphans. They teach the kids circus skills- the tumbling and juggling they do is just amazing,  and they then put on performances to raise money for equipment and facilities. They also have a decent small recording studio and are producing some really good music. Food is also supplied to the kids that need it. They are some of the best behaved children I have come across in Ethiopia, and their enthusiasm is infectious.

 

We are trying to raise a little money to buy some new tumbling mats for them before we leave- the mats they are currently are actually just mattresses, and in a pretty sorry state. If you interested in donating something, drop me an email and we’ll work something out.  We have already raised enough money to buy half the mats required- it would be so good if we could raise enough to get them all.

 

A big thank-you to everyone who has already donated. I hope that the mats will be made before I leave so I can get some photos of the kids in action!

 

Many thanks,

 

Paul

 

Paul Stanley.

IT Trainer/Specialist.

VSO Volunteer, Awassa College of Teacher Education.

 

Landline:  +251462206359

Mobile:  +251920135542

Skype:  tootallpaul67

 

PO Box 1375,

Awassa,

Ethiopia.

 

Pictures: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tootallpaul/

Blog: http://ride-lots.blogspot.com/

 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Monster update!

I’m sitting writing this in the 5 star “Haile” resort, sipping an expensive macchiato and looking out on an amazing view of Lake Awassa. This volunteer lark is hard work sometimes.  I’ve sorted out emailing updates to my blog, so hopefully that will be seeing more activity there over the next few months.

Leaving

I guess the biggest bit of news is that I’ve decided to finish my placement in August. My flight is booked and I’ll be back in the UK on the 3rd August. Home in time for my birthday. It’s been a tough decision, but it is definitely the right one. My main task will be complete by then, and it feels like the right time to be coming home. Ethiopia is a hard place for a “Ferenji” to live and the amount of hassle that you encounter on a day to day basis becomes very tiring. In a way, I don’t like how I have started to react to the hassles- in the beginning, I would just ignore it, but now more often than not it gets to me, and I become angry. And I’m not an angry person. A good friend of mine, Tony, from the US Peace corps left the country very suddenly, and sent an email out to his friends saying his reason for going was “he didn’t like the person he was becoming in Ethiopia”- I really understand exactly what he was feeling. I think if I could have done things differently I would have broken up my stay in Ethiopia, and come home a little bit more, but unfortunately I didn’t really have the funds to do that.   

College network

The college network is well underway at last and will be completed by the time I leave. We are in the middle of attaching all the PC’s up and giving the staff access to the internet. It’s been a hard job, and one of the reasons for me deciding to leave early was to help expedite the work. I’ve had nearly a year of waiting for equipment and cooperation from the college, and the only way I could see to get them to cooperate was to give them an ultimatum and a deadline to work towards. And it worked. As soon as they I told them I was leaving, funds became available to purchase all the equipment I needed. There is still quite a lot to be done before I leave, but as Ethiopians like to say “it is possible”. I’ve managed to give them what I believe is quite a sustainable infrastructure- they have redundant firewalls, and a number of backup systems should they run into problems. All that remains now is to get some documentation done, and I will have completed the task that I was given when I arrived in Ethiopia. 

Egypt

Just after Christmas, Joanne and I jetted off to Cairo for two weeks in Egypt. It was amazing. We spent a few days in Cairo, visited the Pyramids at Giza and Saqqara, and then headed south to Luxor. We spent a few days cycling round the tombs and monuments that surround the Valley of the Kings on rusty old bikes. After that we went to Alexandria and the Egyptian coast. It was so nice to see the sea again, and also to see Alexandria. My grandfather was in North Africa during the war, and one of the only pictures I have of him from that tome was taken in Alex- we did try to find where the picture was taken, but I’m afraid we had no luck. All in all, it was a truly amazing holiday. It was interesting to visit another African country- Egypt is almost completely the opposite of Ethiopia, so the contrast was refreshing. I must try to get the pictures sorted out and uploaded.

Engaged

Whilst in Luxor, I got down on one knee, and proposed to Joanne, and even more amazingly, she said yes. We have set a date for the wedding- 28th July 2012. We are to be married in Joanne’s local church in Glasgow. I am the happiest man in the world. (And Joanne is the happiest girl in the world – insert by Joanne!)

In Country Training organiser

In February, I was involved in the training of 20 new VSO volunteers. It was a tough 3 weeks, and probably the hardest work I have had to do whilst in Ethiopia, but ultimately it was very rewarding. I had to push myself outside of my comfort zone and do a number of presentations- not something I usually relish, but in the end I found it a lot of fun. It was nice to be there for the new volunteers and offer advice from my experiences in Ethiopia. Not that they all wanted to listen though- they were a tough crowd sometimes. But I shan’t complain- what happens on ICT stays on ICT.

James and Dom

James and Dom arrived in Ethiopia just as I finished the training for the new volunteers. It was great to see faces from home, and we had a cracking week, though the time just seemed to fly by. We visited Aregash lodge in Yirgellem, and Dom and James cameras were glowing white hot from all the pictures they took.  We got to see hyena’s at dusk being fed- or what looked like hyena’s in the dim evening light. They might have just been men in hyena costumes for what we could see. Dom and James stayed around Awassa for the rest of the week, and it was so nice to share my life in Ethiopia with old friends. The highlight of the week for me was definitely the trip on the lake to see the hippos – fantastic, definitely the best time I’ve been out on the lake. I think James and Dom had a great time, and I hope that I was good guide for them.

Joanne moves to Awassa

At the same time that James and Dom came to visit, Joanne finished her placement in Addis and moved to Awassa. The VSO were very accommodating, and sorted everything out so we could share my house. It has been so good having this chance to spend a lot of time together in Awassa. And it is so nice not to be doing the trip all the way to Addis on the bus any more. I think I probably have to make that journey only a couple more times before I leave- I won’t miss that at all. 

I’m running away to join the circus

Whilst I’ve lived in Awassa, I’ve met some amazing people doing amazing stuff to help their communities, but one of the most inspiring is Mashresha. He runs a circus for poor street kids and orphans. They teach the kid’s circus skills- tumbling and juggling seem to be the major ones, and they then put on performances to raise money for equipment and facilities. They also have a decent small recording studio and are producing some really good music. Food is supplied to the kids that need it. They are some of the best behaved children I have come across in Ethiopia, and their enthusiasm is infectious. We are trying to raise a little money to buy some new mats for them to do the tumbling on before we leave- if you interested in donating something, drop me an email and we’ll work something out. 

Getting locked out

The other day I went to leave my office to sort out some network equipment in another building with the electrician, and as I locked up my office the lock broke. Now, there is only one door to my office, and inside the office were my bike, and my bag. And inside my bag were my phone wallet and house keys. I was pretty stuck. So Tadiwos looks at me, with a reassuring look and says “chigger yellum” (no problem) and runs off to get a man with a ladder. Man with a ladder returns, and I’m thinking, what good will that do- there’s no upstairs to my office. Man with the ladder climbs up on the roof, tears off a sheet of corrugated iron, and reappears through the loft hatch. Once inside, he grabs the spare keys off the desk, and opens the door from the inside. Sorted. There is always a way!

Joannes placement comes to an end

Joanne’s placement finishes on the 10th June, and by the middle of August she will be back teaching in Glasgow (providing Glasgow council get their act together, but that’s another story!) It’s strange to think that I’ll be back on my own in Awassa again, but it’s only for just over a month, so I’m sure I’ll cope.

Kenya

As a treat to celebrate the end of Joanne’s placement we have booked a Safari in Kenya for 10 days in June. We will be visiting Amboselli at the base of Kilimanjaro, Lake Nakaru and Masai Mara. Then we move onto Nairobi to catch up with our ex-VSO Kenyan friend, Mary.  It’s really exciting to think we’ll get to see so many animals. In a way, it’s been strange living in Africa so long and not to have seen a lot of animals- sure there are monkeys and amazing birds in Awassa, but its quite hard to see wildlife in Ethiopia without doing a lot of hunting.  In Kenya, we should see most of the “big 5” – lions, leapord, rhino, buffalo and elephants, with the added bonus of zebras and giraffes! To be honest, the thing I’m most looking forward to seeing is giraffes- I just think they are amazing!

The Future

On my return I’ll be heading back to Woking and staying with Lisa and Ed (Thank-you Lisa and Ed!) for a little while. As my flat is still under rental contract till next February, I’ll be moving up to Glasgow to be with Joanne. I’m looking for some contract work in Glasgow to keep me going, so if anyone knows any contacts on that front, I’d really appreciate it! I still have a plan for a big bike ride next year, but I’ll have to work out how to fund that first. As well as how to pay for a wedding. But, I’m sure together we shall work it all out...

Sorry this has been so long coming- keep an eye on the blog at ride-lots.blogspot.com as I will be trying to update that more regularly.

If anyone wishes to donate some money for the kids at the circus- drop me an email.

Cheers everyone- speak to you all soon, and see you quite soon too.
Your man in Awassa,

Paul
:o)

Today's interesting Ethiopian Menu entry

Beef Tenderloin

Marinated beef tenderloin in Armagnac and grilled to your like of
doneness with vegetable chutney and chocolate infusion. 65 birr.

I always want my doneness done right.

:o)

Sunday Morning...

It's Sunday morning, and I'm sitting in the very swish 5 star "Haile"
resort in Awassa, enjoying a macchiato and the free wi-fi. Joanne is
off playing Tennis, and I'm thinking this volunteer lark isn't that
bad really...

The Haile is probably the second best hotel in all of Ethiopia- it is
owned by local hero and marathon runner Haile Gebreselassie, and in
the lobby upstairs from where I am sitting are his two world records-
I believe the quickest is 2 hours and 4 minutes. Ulp. Joanne had the
pleasure of meeting the man himself last week when she was playing
tennis, and he seems to be a thoroughly nice chap.

The view from the lobby here is just stunning- Lake Awassa is laid out
before you in an almost 360 degree vista. You can see the regal Fish
Eagles sitting in the trees waiting to swoop down on the lake, and the
little Pied Kingfishers darting in and out of the water. Blue lizards
scuttle among the rocks occasionally stopping to bask in the sunlight.

Only real downside to the Haile is the cost- definitely an occasional
treat for a volunteer. A macchiato costs 15 birr- at the college I
only pay 2!

Saying that, as a treat it is well worth the cost. Joanne's placement
is coming to an end in three weeks, and we have booked a weekend here
for a last luxurious look at the way the other half lives...

Have a look here for an idea... http://www.haileresort.com/

Your man in Awassa,

Paul

I'm still here!

Morning all-

Just to let you know I'm still alive, and all is progressing well.

Loads of news and stories to catch up on, and I will endeavour to post
a little more regularly now.

Cheers
Paul
:o)

Friday, April 16, 2010

PAUL- The Computer Guy

A little mini update- last night I went to the launch of the English Language Improvement Centre at the college, and was presented with the following by one the teachers, Optamu, who had written the following it as an example in writing a descriptive piece for his students. I thought it was so good I should share it with you all:


PAUL- The Computer Guy

"Paul is a long white English man in his early 40’s. He is from the center of London. Like all white guys he enjoys talking to people. He has a light brown receding hair, always combed. He has a long straight nose with attentive brown yes. Paul has very thin lips with a well arranged teeth and round innocent mouth. All the same, he has a small ear but never failed to listen to what people say all the time. He is always clean shaven. He sometimes has a frowning face. He usually wears a jeans trousers with casual t-shirts. He often wears lovely patterned shirts, mostly quite expensive. He sometimes wears an ad shirt with a slapstick picture of a bicycle. That is because of his love for cycling. He even planned to travel back to England cycling all the way. He is crazy about “tegabino” a traditional food in Ethiopia, and sometimes enjoy eatinf “beyaynetu” too. Paul is very generous and compassionate guy. He is sociable and very extrovert. He always wants to help the needy. He is also cooperative and vigilant. Paul is also very hard working. He is very thoughtful of others. In short, he is very dependable. He is quite shy and very slow at times. Surprisingly, he is learning Amharic language now. He can now say “endemineh?” Endeminseh?” “Shay, buna, selam neh...” and the likes. He is currently working as a volunteer in the ICT department of the college to help establish a networking system in the college. He is very good at computer stuffs; some guys even call him a computer guy. Paul in General is a very good friend and an excellent professional. People enjoy talking to him."

I was taken aback by how accurate and good it was- excuse the odd mistake, but for a guy who I have only met a few times, I think he has got a great insight...

Apart from the receding hair bit ...

Paul

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lessons Learnt

Lessons Learnt...


It’s taken a while to get round to this update- it’s very hard to find the time sometimes, and then sometimes hard to find the motivation. Life as a volunteer is very tiring- a lot of the tiredness must due to the constant adjustment to living within a very different culture. And, as was pointed out to me the other day, Awassa is at an altitude of 1800m, so this also will be contributing to my need to doze!

Readers of my updates have remarked how its sounds as if I’m on an extended holiday- and occasionally it does feel a little like that. Every once in a while I do think, “I’ll be going home soon”, and then I remember, I’m here for the long term and every once in a while I get an amazing “Oh Wow, I live in Africa now!” feeling- I like those. I think what gets written in these updates is very much the glossier side of my life in Ethiopia- I don’t like to dwell on the more harsh sides of life here, but rest assured it’s not all good. The scale of poverty here is beyond anything I have ever observed- for example, there are children who appear to be living with the drainage system that only really come out at night to scavenge for food and beg. To see them is heartbreaking and they latch on to “Ferenji” like magnets. They act as a sobering reminder that I am living in one of the poorest countries in the world- 77% of the population of Ethiopia live on less than $2 a day...

On a lighter note, Easter weekend saw the Awassa volunteers taking our first trip back to Addis since In Country Training finished way back in February. Thursday morning saw me getting up bright and early (4.30AM) in order to meet up with Laura and Karen to walk to the bus station. After a shower, and a quick bite to eat, I looked outside to realise that near in Ethiopia, at 5.30AM it is pitch black still. Luckily my night guard Taricou offered to walk me down to meet up with the girls, and I was very happy he did. Dark Ethiopian streets are not the place for a Ferenji- we stick out somewhat. After the girls arrived, we headed to the bus station.

Awassa bus station is a daunting experience, and we had all been quite nervous about this trip to Addis, but as we arrived we followed the shouted directions and soon found a non-packed bus. A very friendly man showed us onto the bus, and helped us with our bags- and here lies the first of two lessons I have learnt in the last weeks. After helping us on the man then said “50 birr, ticket”, and like the good Ferenji we are, we paid the man. It was not until a much more official looking chap got onto the bus and started collecting money and issuing tickets did we realise that something was not quite right. We explained with the help of some English/Amharic speaking passengers, that we had already paid. The ticket guy had fetched what seemed to be the boss of the bus station who was now trying to find the guy who had taken our money. In order not to hold up the bus any longer, and get started on the journey we decided to bite the bullet and just pay the fare again. Our fellow passengers and the bus station staff were annoyed that we had to do this, and that an Ethiopian had ripped us off, which in its own way was consolation. So my first lesson learnt is “Never pay your bus fare without getting a ticket!”

Ethiopian bus journeys are an experience to say the least. The journey of just under 300k from Awassa to Addis takes about 6 hours, depending on how bad the traffic on the outskirts of Addis is. The seats are definitely not designed for anyone approaching my height, so I could not say I was particularly comfortable for this time. Halfway to Addis I realised my feet were nudging a pair of live chickens which were obviously on the way to becoming somebody’s Easter Sunday feast. The bus spends 90% of its time on the wrong side of the road- I decided that not being able to see where I was going was probably for the best. Anyhow, we arrived in Addis just after lunch, and after a quick trip on a line taxi we were back at the VSO programme office in Haya Hulet.
Unfortunately, I had a slightly upset stomach for most of the Easter weekend, so maybe I didn’t take as much advantage of my return to Addis as I could have. When volunteers travel we take general advantage of the hospitality of other volunteers, so on the first night I was staying with the delightful Joanne, and then moving over the road for a couple of nights to Colin and Annie’s house with Kevin and Frits, before moving back to Jo’s for the last night. I had only met Jo a couple of weeks before when she was visiting Awassa, but we got on famously, and we spent a lot of the weekend chatting, drinking wine and generally setting the world to rights. Jo has what must be the nicest volunteer house I have ever seen- it’s like an English country cottage has been transplanted into downtown Addis!

I did get out and explore Addis a little and caught up with a lot of volunteers I had not seen since ICT, or had only met very briefly. Returning to Addis was strange- it seemed a very daunting place when I was there during training, but 2 months in Awassa had changed that feeling entirely. It was nice to be in a town where little attention is paid to Ferenji’s and it did make me realise why so we get so much attention in Awassa- I think it’s because we are seen as tourists, and therefore we must be well off.

Easter Sunday was one of the best days I have spent in Ethiopia so far. During the day, Kevin, Frits and I just chilled out and chatted before heading into town for coffee, and then in the evening Jo, Maureen and Tara had rustled up a sumptuous Easter banquet. 11 volunteers sat down to eat that evening, and it was like a big family meal, and a perfect end to a very relaxed weekend.

Monday was an early start, and back on the bus to Sunny Awassa. We didn’t manage to find a straight through bus, so had to change at Sheshemene, and it was here that I learnt my second lesson. We were packed on the bus so tightly that I couldn’t move, and was willing the bus to get us home. A young girl was packed in next to us and all the way to Awassa was attempting to talk to me in Amharic- now my Amharic isn’t good (it’s getting better though!) so the conversation was a little one sided. When we got off the bus, the young girl shot off, and it was only when I got off the bus I realised why- she had scarpered with my phone that she must have lifted from my pocket. I remained calm- not realising straight away it had been stolen I jumped back on the bus to see if I had dropped it on the floor. It was only after Karen attempted to call it to find that it had been turned off did I fully realise it had been stolen. So here is lesson number 2- "Never trust chatty teenagers on buses... And don’t keep your phone in your jacket pocket..."

Luckily for me I had Abrahams help in sorting out a new phone- first thing Tuesday morning we headed to ETC (Ethiopia Telecom) and with his help I came away with a new sim card with my original number for the princely sum of 15 birr. Next I picked up a basic Nokia mobile for 600 birr (£30) and within less than a day, I was back in business. All I need to do now is rebuild my phone book, but at least having my original number means people can still contact me.

And there I think I shall leave it for now.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Week 7/8 or Blimey, 2 months in Ethiopia already!

Firstly, sorry for the delay in getting this written- It’s been a busy couple of weeks at work, and every time I have wanted to get this done something else has cropped up. So my normal weekly update has become a fortnightly one- I will try to get back to the normal updates after Easter. I’m off to Addis on Thursday for the holiday and a chance to catch up with some of the other VSO’s. It will be nice to get out of Awassa for a little while – it is strange to think I have been in the same town for 6 weeks now.

The small rainy season definitely appears to have begun- there is rain nearly every day now, and when it rains here, it really means it. We have had a number of amazing storms in the last few days, and what consistently surprises me is the lack of any aftermath following massive amounts of rain. In the UK if it rained like it did here, roads would be flooded, and anything like a dirt road would be a quagmire- here, within hours you wouldn’t know it had rained at all! I guess it’s an indication of how dry Ethiopia is. The rain rarely lasts very long- and in between the rains, when the sun comes out it is still very hot. I think one of the big side effects is the evenings have become a lot cooler which is nice.

On a brighter note, work continues to progress well. The bid for suppliers of network cabling services has now been published on notice boards all around the town - this is a major step forward. How long it will take from publication of the bid to the beginning of work is another question entirely. We have also had a door fitted to the server room- hopefully this will make the air conditioning function more efficiently, and make the room a little more secure. The power situation has also stabilised- we still get occasional power cuts, but these have become the exception rather than the rule now. I have been informed by many people that the new hydro electric power station will be coming on line in the next few weeks, and this will signal an end to all the power issues. We will wait and see.

One of the common questions I am asked is what I am missing from home, and after two months a couple of things have become apparent. I’m not really pining for any major foods, though some cheese would not go amiss right now! It seems that dairy produce of any sort is not high up on the Ethiopian diet. I am missing the changing of the seasons- it was strange to think that the clocks went forward this weekend. The days here are a regimented 12 hours all the year round, and I know that I will miss the long summer evenings. I will probably not miss the short winter days and the cold so much though!

I think the main thing I am missing is something I never really appreciated in the UK- anonymity. I can go nowhere here without being stared at continually or greeted with the normal cries of “Ferenji!” and “You, You, You!” I have experienced no malevolence or anger from anyone though- it is all very good natured. It is very strange when you cycle past a group of Ethiopian women and are met with a chorus of “I love you”. Even stranger is when you hear the same from a group of men! It’s hard some days, but I try not to let it get to me. My Ethiopian friends leap to my defence whenever we are out and deflect a lot of comments, which is always nice. What does make it all worthwhile is the sheer happiness that you are met with when you respond to anyone- I was cycling into work the other day, and as I rode by one chap he said “Hello, how are you?” I responded, “Hello, I’m good thank you”, to which he responded, beaming, “Hello, how are you?” The conversation was very short lived- like many Ethiopians the extent of their English comes from watching movies-many only know one phrase.

I continue to adapt to the vagaries of Ethiopian culture- I have come to expect that a lot of my day is now spent shaking hands and greeting people. At college it is quite normal for me to have formally greeted 5 people by the time I get to my office after parking my bike- a walk of about 50 metres. I still find it strange to see men walking hand in hand or with their arms round one another. Unlike Europeans Ethiopian men are a lot more tactile and it is perfectly normal to see straight men walking along hand in hand.

Well, that’s my little cultural examination of life in Ethiopia for the first two months. No doubt there will be many more things to surprise me along the road...

Life continues for the volunteers – our regular Wednesday and Friday evening get together remain a highlight of the week.

The Saturday before last we met up with most of the Southern Ethiopian US Peace Corp volunteers, and it was nice to find some new friends here in Awassa. The Peace Corp guys are all quite a lot younger than the VSO volunteers- most have come to Ethiopia straight from University. It is interesting comparing experiences with other volunteers- they have a 3 month training programme, during which they live with an Ethiopian family for 10 weeks, and because of this all are fluent Amharic speakers. Tesafay, one of our Ethiopian friends was blown away by how good their language skills were. We were really dropped in the deep end! We had a number of beers with the guys as a late celebration of St. Patrick’s Day (with green beer. Erm.), followed by pizza, and then my first taste of an Ethiopian nightclub (not a whole lot different to what I remember of UK nightclubs). The night finished at 11.30PM- which felt crazy and wild compared to our normal nights ending at 9 PM! Sunday was marked with my first Ethiopian hangover... Oops.

The evening with the US guys also gave me a chance to meet John, an ex Peace-Corp volunteer who has settled in Ethiopia. John ran the “The Awassa Children’s Project” and has now married an Awassa girl, Maggie, and has an 11 month old daughter. Because of his work with the project John has access to a recording studio and we are hoping to get together to play some music – I will be getting to play the drums, which I am very excited about. I spent most of last Saturday hanging out with John and talking about music and movies. As soon as the drum kit reappears in the studio we will get to play- at the moment it is on loan to the local Pentecostal church.

On Thursday last week the Awassa volunteers were visited by Wubshet Woldemariam, the country director for VSO Ethiopia. In the morning he came to my office and spent an hour just talking through any concerns or issues that I had with my accommodation, placement and life in Ethiopia. I think he is very keen to be on top of any problems that the volunteers are having, and I found this personal approach very reassuring. In the evening we were taken out for a very nice meal at the Pinna Hotel were Wubshet filled us in what it’s like to work for an NGO in North Korea - not a great deal of fun!

On Friday I plucked up the courage to get my haircut. It was over 2 months ago that I last visited the hairdressers at home and my hair was getting bigger by the day. I had heard so many horror stories from other volunteers about haircuts by Ethiopian barbers that I was preparing for the worst. The main issue is the differences between African and European hair- and the general lack of fringes. I put myself in the hands of my colleague Abraham and let him make an appointment for me. At 4 o’clock we headed to the “Cozi Beauty Salon” (yes, its a barbers, not a ladies hair salon) and, following a quick beer to calm the nerves, I am placed in the hands of Abraham the Barber. I communicate if my best Amharic/English that I want a short back and sides, and not to short on top. Away Abraham goes with the clippers, and 30 minutes, 2 head massages, a liberal dose of liquid paraffin later, and I have a very neat haircut. And it looks almost identical to the one I had in the UK. But in Ethiopia, it costs 20 birr. Just about one pound. Wow! The only thing that was really strange was at the end of the haircut Abraham proceeded to clean out my ears. Very odd: I decided just to relax, and go with the flow...

Well, that’s me up to date for now. Next week, I will report back on the trip to Addis...