Trivia or Treat?
Each “fidel” (letter) is subtly different from its neighbour arranged in thirty-three sets of seven characters with the addition, I’m discovering, of a few pesky exceptions. So my twice-weekly conversational Amharic lessons have taken a new turn this year.
Offers of help being a rarity in the past, I have been somewhat surprised to have eight of my pupils’ mums offer their services in my classroom, and I’ve just been contacted about a further willing volunteer. Whilst I’m cheered by the enthusiasm, that’s more adult helpers than I have mornings in a week! Next term I have a teaching student to add to the mix so it will soon be standing room only in Rainbow Class.
Whilst my new little class are settling well the same cannot be said for the Y’tesfa Birhan girls. We began our sessions again this week with the usual extra sisters and friends trying to squeeze in beside the regulars. We even had a brother sporting a livid pink shirt make a valiant attempt to enter the compound. Regretfully we had to say “no” to the extras. An elder from the church that adjoins the school selects our girls on the basis of need and has promised us three new members for the group next week. The Y’tesfa girls should be back at school by now but the start of all Ethiopian schools in the city has been delayed for ‘15 days’ - a common term used to describe an unknown time span. Why? Well there are as many explanations as there are folk to ask, but basically there are no clear answers. Meanwhile the girls linger around their homes as teaching and learning is put on hold.
Another random development this week took the form of two members of the Bingham staff not being offered work permits on the basis of age. Apparently the age limit is now 60 (it’s been 65 in the past I’m told). Amazingly the couple have been given a reprieve until the end of the academic year, but not before they had left the country to stay in Europe to await developments. Given our age Phil and I have been watching this scenario with fascination and slight alarm.
The new teachers are still awaiting the receipt of their driving licences. With all the paperwork in place it appears that the department that issues the licences is closed for refurbishment. Meanwhile the school have thoughtfully arranged a regular taxi to cover shopping requirements and old timers like myself are allowed to tag along if there’s room. It was on one such trip recently that we encountered an abandoned bus with its wheels at jaunty angles, the glass in the windows missing and the sides distorted. It was left on a roundabout (or square as they are referred to here). Not unusual you might think, however the bus was rotated through 180 degrees. It was how that could possibly have occurred in such a limited space and constant traffic that generated so much speculation amongst the passengers in our taxi as we negotiated the obstruction.
On the route we passed as usual the souk with a notice saying ‘we sale eucalyptus oil’. This is only marginally better than the guy wearing the ‘Abibas’ hoody or the woman in the ‘Enlgand’ leather jacket. I wonder if they are aware of the mis-spellings?
Finally, a highlight of the shopping trip was our taxi driver pointing out a new bakery. A couple of us got out to investigate. My family will appreciate how I felt when I spotted Viennese fancies on sale. Back in St Albans a half chocolate covered offering from Simmons Bakery is a treat fondly remembered. There was no chocolate to be seen on the Ethiopian variety but undaunted I purchased two. After dinner that evening Phil and I bit into them almost simultaneously. We tried desperately to prevent ourselves spraying crumbs as we convulsed with laughter. The crumbly pastry when mixed with saliva coated the inside of our mouths making it impossible to converse. Just detectable a sliver of something held the two halves of pastry together but whether it was cream or jam was impossible to tell. Maybe at 34p each they were not quite the treat I’d first anticipated.