A good friend told me once that in the course of a language lesson he had asked his tutor how to say “traffic lane” in Amharic. His tutor just looked confused - the concept was lost on her. On some main roads you may find white lines, but as you observe traffic using the line as a guide to drive on (as opposed to between) or more usually ignoring the lines altogether, you realise the concept is lost on most drivers as well.
Recently we went shopping. Not surprising you might say, even though it took four supermarkets to gather the few items on our list. The longer we are in Addis the less unusual life seems. We crossed an unmade road to reach one shop where a ditch had been excavated to lay sewage pipes. As I picked my way across the broken paving slabs I looked in the direction of some rather loud crying noises. I wasn’t really that surprised to see a goat, all four legs trussed together, being thrust into an overfull, dilapidated blue and white minibus taxi.
Astronomy fascinated me from a young age, so in my early teens as soon as I had saved enough of my paper round money I bought myself a telescope (a 60mm refractor if you must know). My incredibly tolerant parents managed to fit it in the car when we went on holiday and I could be found outside in the dark on the cliffs of Cornwall stargazing to my heart’s content. (I overstretched myself a bit when I decided to create my own star cataloguing system). That self-same telescope showed my family the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter and is still wrapped up and stored away in my St Albans lock-up – it was one of the few things I couldn’t bring myself to throw away when we moved to Addis.
Rediet joined Y’tesfa Birhan in August. She accompanied her friend on our first meeting and has continued to attend ever since. At the Gibsha before Christmas she and mum asked if we could pay for her dad’s eye operation. They brought along the invoices which seemed genuine so they received the money. Sadly the operation, originally for possible glaucoma, was not a success and the raised pressure inside his eye worsened. Both parents are HIV positive and prone to health problems.
Settling back into a routine after the Christmas/New Year break is quite difficult. Firstly, what for us is the Christmas/New Year holiday week is an irrelevance in Ethiopia – they ignore it. New Year’s Day was September 12th, and Christmas Day (or “Gena”) was January 7th. Although “Gena” is a national holiday not a lot happens generally as it is a purely religious festival entirely for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. But secondly on January 20th there’s “Timket”. And on “Timket” an awful lot happens. And the day before. And the day after. This is our third “Timket” - In 2014 we went to the heart of the celebrations (recorded here); in 2015 we stayed local (recorded here along with an explanation of what it’s all about if you’re interested). This year it was on Wednesday so pretty much the entire week went to pot.
With holidays a pleasant memory it’s now back to work. We’re eagerly awaiting ‘field days’ at the end of this week. Imagine a Friday and Saturday with the whole school involved in competitive sport. We anticipate using the now levelled field for this, with each grass plant that was lovingly set in its position by hand now growing with vigour.
Although not so at Bingham, teachers in Ethiopian schools usually wear white coats. This is ostensibly due to the amount of chalk dust they need to fend off, as blackboards and chalk are often their only teaching aid. As I wrote last year, medical students at the Myungsung Christian College where I mentor a small group all go through a “white coat ceremony” as a sort of rite of passage into clinical medicine.
Going to the bathroom first thing in the morning I looked for the soap. It had been there, right in that glass dish, when I went to bed last night but now it’s missing. How odd. A quick hunt reveals the small round tablet of hotel soap behind the sink, except it isn't round anymore as one side has clearly been nibbled away.
The Christmas holiday this year is “in-law year” for all our children so we won’t be seeing them next week. Instead, we will spend a restful week recuperating in a resort on the island of Zanzibar just off the Tanzanian coast.