Standing in the queue for immigration, an hour after landing, it was tempting to think nothing has changed in the six or so weeks we’d been away in the UK. The melee around the “visa on arrival” office was a vigorous as ever; the TV screen suspended high above the row of glass immigration booths was cycling the usual erroneous information that doesn’t fit on the screen – almost 5 years after we arrived for the first time it still says porters should be paid 5 Birr per bag. Then it crashed.
Sometimes, just sometimes, I’m tempted to open up a new blog page - and rant. Like when we get up in the morning and there’s no running water and we are back to using buckets. Like when we go out into Kolfe and try to extract cash from a local machine amidst calls of “you! you!”, and “ferenji!” (foreigner) only to find an impenetrable melee around the only functioning ATM. Like when we drive a long way round to avoid terrible traffic only to find closed roads and even worse traffic. Like when we try to park on a side road to buy bread from one of the few decent bakeries, only to find a lorry-load of gravel dumped in the middle of the road making it impassable. Like when I discover the spare wheel chained to the underneath of the back of my pick-up has been stolen. Times like these - all of which happened today, and all before lunch.
As I’m writing this Chris is searching around our flat for a frog. More accurately, a half-frog, half-tadpole. While we were out at church and then the gym this morning one of her five remaining tadpoles all of whom were on the way to full “frog-dom” must have crawled out of the plastic tub they have been swimming around in all weekend and made a bid for freedom. He’s nowhere to be seen – I don’t fancy his chances.
The three-year-old “Planet International Hotel” in Mekelle looked spectacular. Ten modern storeys of luxurious rooms, restaurants, bars, a gym and a swimming pool. After a couple of dusty days driving (more correctly, being driven) around the rock-hewn churches of Tigray a night in such a plush establishment beckoned comfortably. And it was lovely. Except…
It all began with a ring. Orthodox Palm Sunday is apparent by the number of people wearing headbands fashioned from palm fronds. Some were simple, but others had more elaborate designs at the front. A few of our Y’tesfa Birhan girls arrived at the Wednesday meeting with thin pieces of palm, and these they made into rings. One of the girls called me over and slipped on to my finger the ring she had just made.
“Kalkidan doesn’t deserve to be in the top group, she’s not clever enough!” exclaimed one of the teaching assistants. I have heard comments such as this over the past few years and it has helped me to understand that Ethiopian teaching professionals may often judge a child on how smart they appear. As there was so much amiss with this statement in my own culture I probed deeper. “How do you know?” I enquired. She found a book and showed me the evidence. “Their hand writing is untidy, look.”
The SIM “Urban Team” doctors’ get-together had been a lovely relaxing way to finish a long weekend. Having dropped a couple off at the HQ guest house on our way back to Bingham, I was looking forward to arriving home, having been driving for much of the day. At this time of night the road through the bus station is usually quiet and easy. Not so tonight.
It happened again – the transformer at the back of the huge Black Lion Hospital over the road from my clinic exploded. Blue flash; bang; power cut. This is a roughly quarterly event. The power came back quite quickly this time, suggesting we had been cut off not because of the transformer’s demise but because of circuit breakers doing their job.