So almost half way through my time here and I have to say I feel like I’m just getting settled in. It’s going to be a bit of a wrench to leave: spending time with the students is really rewarding and I’m very much enjoying Addis. Still got just over another month to enjoy, I guess…
It’s not been as hectic, more recently, as the first week (the report cards and student one to one review sessions kept us pretty busy those initial days). But there still seems to be plenty to make the time pass very quickly.
There was a bit of excitement this week when a huge swarm of locusts passed across Addis one afternoon. Apparently, a swarm on this scale is a very rare occurrence around here (though common in other parts of East Africa), so the students were pretty animated. The sky turned brown for over half an hour, as millions of them passed through (I’m told they can travel over 300 miles a day, and cover hundreds of thousands of km2). Not a welcome sight for people in the countryside: apparently they can eat their own weight in plants each day so a swarm like this could devastate acres of crops in a few hours.
On a more mundane note, Wednesday night is the weekly TV night in the hostel: yep, only one night a week is allowed, especially in the run-up to the exams ! The students go wild for some weekly soap opera, and almost all 60 of them crowd round the single TV, and are glued for an hour. Wish I could follow some Amharic, because it’s definitely got them gripped…
Every fortnight there’s an allocation of toiletries to each student. I was a bit surprised to see how organised a process it is: there’s a roll-call and each student comes up, in turn, to collect their carefully measured out allocation (1 loo-roll for 2 weeks, 1 bar of laundry soap, 1 tube of toothpaste, 1 bar of body soap). I have to say that, first time, I actually found it quite moving: seeing the look of acceptance and gratitude from these kids as they pick up their loo-roll, and contrasting it against what we just take for granted.
On that subject, I happened to notice the little 3 or 4 yr old kid sitting beside me on the bus the other day, treasuring what was maybe her only toy: a car, made from a plastic water bottle, with bottle caps for wheels. She was gripping it as if it was the most precious thing in the world. (Bad photo, snapped furtively with my iPhone, but you get the idea.)
And of course there are far worse things you see when you walk around the city: no surprise to anyone who’s spent a lot of time in the developing world, but I’ve found it quite shocking at times. What’s quite depressing too is the way, over time, you find yourself starting to become a bit less shocked, almost a bit more hardened: things that, were you to see them in London, you’d be horrified by, you find yourself beginning to step around. What’s encouraging, though, is to see how the work of some great organisations is helping address some of these things, however gradually: I visited Cheshire Services Ethiopia yesterday, with one of our students who suffers from post polio paralysis, and we saw some fantastic work they are doing to improve people’s mobility, confidence and quality of life.
I’m constantly amazed at how obsessed the country seems to be with football: and in particular, the English Premier League. The two window stickers you’re almost certain to find on the bus are firstly Jesus (hugely religious country), but then either Man Utd or Arsenal. People were glued in the bars to the FA Cup the other day. And everyone wants to have a chat about who you support, how Man Utd / Man City are doing etc etc. (I’m a bit of a let-down in these conversations, not surprisingly.) Some of the students themselves also play at the weekends, on a bit of waste ground near the hostel.
Skipping the football, I’ve just joined a little local gym. Great place (very friendly and great Ethiopian pop music pumping out). But a few quirks, nonetheless. To start, there’s a fair chance the power will go off: when you’re on a sprint phase on the running machine at the time, it comes as a bit of a shock. Then the manager stopped me mid-workout yesterday to check if I go to the local church (these are the ‘last days before Jesus comes back’ so it’s very important I do. Not to be churlish, but given we’ve been waiting over 2,000 years, surely I’ve time to do the last 15mins of my run?) She then decided I was a perfect match for her niece and went off to dig out my phone number from my registration details, to put us in contact…
Anyway, off now to do my photography bit: been given a project to capture a portrait of each student before I leave. I’ll post some of their happy faces on here for you to see, as I go.