Thursday, December 19, 2013

Box Delivery

We managed to get more of the Learning Boxes delivered which was great. We still have a lot more work to do, but I think that will have to wait until after Genna (Ethiopian Christmas) which is on January 7, 2014. We are happy that at least some of the schools are now ready to do their Cascade Training and open up their English Language Improvement Centre's. The difficulty in delivering the boxes is more related to there not being a car available to take us out in the field. Cars are in short supply at the Education Bureau.

I also went to Addis Ababa for a training and got to see a bunch of other volunteer friends that live and work in Addis Ababa while I was there. However, before leaving Hawassa, Tesfahun and I thought a meat feast was in order - delicious!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


The internet has been down for the last few days so I haven't been able to post anything - connection just came back on. The last week was a lot of fun. A group of VSO volunteers came to Hawassa for the weekend and stayed at the Haile Resort which gave me a reason to go there. We had a great time catching up, playing mini-golf and eating fish by the lake. They are all really fantastic people and I am glad to know them.
Photo: The VSO crew at the Haile Resort

My friend Michael Silver was in town for the weekend from Adola as well and I coerced him into being a guest host on the radio program. The link for episode 6 is below this post and if you are interested, you can check out Michael's blog at: 

Photo: Michael, Tesfahun, Habtamu and I planning the show

As a result of the success of the radio show, we have been getting invites to schools that have English language clubs, usually to observe their English days. The students below (see the pictures and video) put on a great show for us. What I love about the direction English language learning is headed in Ethiopia is that the course content is being adapted to be relevant to the context in which the students live. I breath a sigh of relief knowing that the western perspective literature and learning materials that dominated the classrooms for years are being pushed aside to make room for Ethiopian stories and Ethiopian perspective English learning materials. 

Photo: A presentation in English about traditional clothes worn by
some tribes in Ethiopia. 

 Video: "Ethiopia" song sung in English.

Photo: To top it off, we had a traditional coffee ceremony - delicious. 
This was accompanied with a full English explanation
of the ceremony. 
The bread on the ground beside the seenee (coffee cups) is called Diffo Dabo (Traditional Bread) and it is absolutely delicious. It is the perfect accompaniment for buna (coffee) and before it is cut into pieces, it looks like the picture below.

Photo: Diffo Dabo before it is cut up for serving. 

Lastly, as I sat without internet perusing the photos that I took last week during the trips to and from the Yergalum training, I saw some decent - out the window of a speeding car- shots and a good photo of road conditions when you get off the highway. It looks like I will be heading out this week to begin the delivery of the Learning Boxes that each of the Yergalum trained teachers' schools get and that will prove to be a very interesting and fun experience I think. 

Photo: My colleague and friend Haileyesus checking out the roadway
that could use a bit of work.

ELIC Panorama episode 6

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Teacher Training

Photo: The Learning
Photo: The fun

The Regional Education Bureau team and I organized a brilliant training for a group of 50 teachers from the SNNPR this past week. The training was based on a British Council initiative called the Learn English Audio Program and it is designed to give people, especially those in rural areas, access to English language speakers and lesson materials that help improve oral English language use.

The Lifeplayer, the blue box in the picture below, is designed to charge by electrical outlet, solar power, or hand crank so that it can be charged and used in any situation. A huge problem for Ethiopia, especially those in rural towns, is access to English language speakers and this interactive language device allows that access to be possible.

The three day training consisted of games, hands-on training of the equipment, practice lessons, hard work and loads of fun. I have been humbled and inspired by all of the teachers in the last week. The conditions that many of them work under are unbelievably challenging, but they all find ways to help their students learn - often without any resources, without any support and without any payment. The vast majority of teachers are completely focused on the future success of their students no matter what their own personal circumstance is like, or the circumstance in which they teach.
Photo: The work

By the end of the training, it was easy to see that these British Council Learning Boxes are a game changer for many schools. You could read it in the faces of the workshop participants. I am fortunate enough to get to go and deliver the boxes to the schools where all of the newly trained teachers work and can't wait to see them again - fantastic people doing fantastic work.

The trainers from the British Council, my colleagues at the REB, and all of the teachers that attended did exceptional work at this training program.
Photo: Some of the group

Photo: The rest of the group
 Below this post is the link to Episode 5 of ELIC Panorama. Tesfahun put together a new intro song and we would love to hear what you think of it.

ELIC Panorama episode 5

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Episode 4 - ELIC Radio

Wow, the last week went by extremely quickly - work has become very hectic and a bit frenzied all of a sudden. Here's Episode 4 of the ELIC Panorama radio program. I learned that the radio show has about 7 million listeners which is equivalent to about 20% of the population of Canada. Not so bad really. The creator of the program and my friend and co-host Tesfahun Weldemedhin has really done a good job with it. Again though, your input will be valuable as the program moves forward so please send feedback if you have some ideas or suggestions.

ELIC Radio email click here 


ELIC Panorama episode 4

Monday, November 11, 2013

ELIC Panorama Episode 3

Episode 3 of ELIC Panorama aired on Sunday (Link Below). There is some great music in this one and a couple of English language conversation dialogues as well. Unfortunately, Habtamu wasn't able to make it to the recording because of a work commitment, but Tesfahun and I managed to get through it okay. Please have a listen and don't forget that the program would love your feedback, ideas, and suggestions as it is still a very young project.

Link to ELIC Panorama radio Episode 3:   ELIC Panorama Episode 3



Sunday, November 10, 2013

Haile Resort

After 2 months in Hawassa, I felt that it was about time that I go down and look at the Haile Resort. I always tell people here that I am more happy in a tent in the bush than on a lawn chair by the pool, but as I sit here at the Haile writing this blog, I have to admit that it's pretty fantastic. The resort was opened by Haile Gebrselassie and is a really beautiful place as you can see from the photos below. The prices here are about double that of the local restaurants, but you pay more for the view.

Photo: Haile Resort, Hawassa, Ethiopia

Photo: Haile Front Entrance 

Photo: Haile Resort inside lounge

There are many nice hotels here in Hawassa, but I think the view from Haile is the best of all of them. They have done a great job with the gardens and landscaping as well and the birds have taken notice. A chorus of songbirds is always present when you are seated outside. Room rates are $73 for 2 people weekdays and $82 dollars on weekends or $82 and $91 for a lakeview (well worth the extra few dollars for the lakeview for sure). 

Photo: View of the lake from Haile

Photo: the pools overlooking the lake at the resort.

Photo: Me writing this blog at Haile

Sunday, November 3, 2013

All English Radio

The Hawassa College of Teacher Education's English Language Improvement Centre (ELIC) started an English Language Radio program titled ELIC Panorama that airs on Sunday Mornings on Fana FM 103.4 here in Ethiopia. My friends Tesfahun and Habtamu are the masterminds behind the programming for the show and this week, for Episode 2, they asked if I would be their special guest. We had a great time making the program up in Shashamane where the recording studio is located. Shashamane is known around the world as the birthplace of Rastafarianism. The radio episode is available on Youtube and it is about 26 minutes in length (Link Below).
If you have the time, we would love to get your feedback on the episode. The program is still young so your input and ideas would help the program improve. Send feedback to
You can also check out the facebook page for the Hawassa ELIC at
                                          Photo: Tesfahun, Habtamu and I preparing to record the episode in Shashamane.


The Fish Market

Hawassa is famous for its fish ("asa" in Amharic). There is a fantastic fish market here where you can go and select the fish you want and either eat it there, or take it home with you. The main fish is tilapia, but catfish are also caught and consumed. The fishermen leave shore in the late afternoon and return early the next morning with their catch. Pelicans and Marabou Storks wait patiently to gobble up any leftover fish parts that the fishermen throw back into the lake. Hawassa is a growing city and the increasing population means increased pressure on the fish stocks. I asked around, but it doesn't sound like there is a fish hatchery program in place so if any aquaculturists read this blog and are looking for a project, there is one here for you.

Photo: A pelican flexing his muscle hoping to get some scraps.                                                                                                                                                             

                                          Photo: Marabou storks and pelicans watching the fishermen very closely. 

Photo: The fish sales floor.

Thursday, October 31, 2013


I will be working on a major joint project between the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Regional Education Bureau (SNNP REB) and the British Council beginning as soon as the budget for the teacher training portion of the project can be secured. In the meantime, I am working on collecting baseline data for an Impact Assessment Project that will hopefully provide detailed and useful information for the SNNP REB, the British Council and CUSO-VSO (the organizations that are sponsoring me to be here) regarding the English Language Improvement Initiative that has been launched by the SNNP REB and the British Council.

                                              Photo: Meeting with English  teachers and administration to discuss ELIC program
I am travelling to some remote areas because  many of the schools are in remote villages and for reasons I am still sorting out, a lot of the data needs to be collected in person. When we are at the remote schools, I feel a bit like a tourist attraction. At one school I was swarmed by literally hundreds of school kids all of whom wanted to practice their English with me.  It was like pushing through a dense jungle except the trees were people with outstretched limbs trying to make contact. We have had many adventures while on the road from the truck getting 2 flat tires when we only had one spare and being stuck in a remote village for hours waiting for help to having to use 4x4 to get through washed out areas of dirt roads. However, the result of going to remote areas is the chance to see some amazing countryside and meet some of the most generous people I have ever come across.

Photo: Flat tire number one, everyone jumps in to help.
                                          Photo: One of the more rural areas we passed through.


 Photo: More of the rural landscape
                                          Photo: Grass roofed house - completely waterproof

Sunday, October 27, 2013

An "Ethiopian Day"

The word for an Ethiopian person is habasha in Amharic and when a steady stream of issues arise in the day to create havoc for a ferenji (foreigner), we say he/she is "having a habasha day." Here's an example of mine that happened on Thursday.

The lock on the gate to my house compound is almost broken and it took me about 20 minutes of fiddling to get it to open. When I got inside my house, I discovered that the lights in my living room were not working. I checked the breaker and fuses, but I think it is probably electrical which can be a huge issue here. So, I decided to make dinner and the power went out halfway through the cooking process - ended up having a Cliff bar that I brought from Canada for dinner instead.

There were some dirty dishes in the sink and when I turned on the tap to fill the sink with water, the tap would not shut off again. I went outside to the tap that shuts off water to the whole house and the tap just kept on spinning and spinning without any change to the water pressure. The kitchen tap ended up running for the entire night. The house didn't flood though so that's good.  

When I was finally ready to go to bed, I went into my room to discover that I had left the window open all day and evening allowing dozens of potentially malaria infested mosquitoes to take up residence. Luckily for me though, the steady hum of hungry female mozzies reminded me of the trips I have done over the last few years with my friend Frank in Canada's north and the buzzing worked as a sort of white noise resulting in me sleeping like a baby.
And that is what they call "having a  habasha day."

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Marathon weekend

It was a very exciting weekend for sure. The very first Haile Gebrselassie marathon was held in Hawassa on Saturday and Sunday. Many of my colleagues ran in either the 5km or 21km (half Marathon) and my fellow Canadian friend Francis ran the full marathon distance. The event was a huge success and there is no doubt that it will be a recurring for many years to come. Another friend of mine, Debbie Flowers placed 3rd in the half marathon, but wasn't aware that she had placed 3rd until she was called to the podium.
                                          Photo: Debbie Flowers accepting her award from Haile Gebreselassie

My friend Tesfahun, English Language Improvement Centre Coordinator and journalist, was there to interview the world famous marathoner, Haile Gebrselassie, and the first ever Ethiopian 800 metre Olympic gold medalist, Mohammed Aman for the English language radio program that the TTC ELIC launched on Sunday as well. We are currently creating a website for the station so you will hopefully be able to download and listen to podcasts soon. I went along with Tesfahun as the photographer and was able to meet both Haile and Mohammed. Unfortunately,  Haile didn't have time for an interview, but Mohammed Aman was fantastic.

The day did not end there. Once the marathon wrapped up, I went for banana pancakes at the house of some volunteer friends. As we sat underneath a tree and ate breakfast, a monkey perched on a branch above us thought it would be fun to urinate on one of the plates of pancakes. The thing about monkeys' is that for the first while you think they are cute and curious, but after they have stolen your stuff, broken into your house and pooped all over the place while spreading fleas all over your blankets, you start to view them as disease riddled, flea infested, dirt bags. I'm still at the monkeys are still somewhat cute stage, but that is slowly fading.

                                                     Photo: The pancake pee'r looking satisfied.

A group of us then went for fish by the lake. This was my first experience having fish by the lake, but it was so good that I will be back every second weekend or so.
                                            Photo: BBQ tilapia lunch by the lake.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Hippo hunting

Another week has passed in Hawassa and I continue to learn and adjust to my new life here. There are challenges for sure, but they pale in comparison to the amazing opportunities to learn and try new things. I went out on a hippo tour with some friends on Sunday. I have seen hippos before, but have never been that close to them and managed to get a full understanding of how massive those animals really are. Pictures simply can't do justice to the size of them. We finished off our day with some "tibbs" (fried meat) with "injera" (Ethiopian flatbread). The food really is delicious, but after a while you always find yourself craving the "ferengi" food you are used to.

Also, there are storks all over the place by the lake.

The Amharic word for foreigner is "ferengi" and when I walk down the street there are continuous shouts of "ferengi! Ferengi!" or "you! You!" All of the shouts are more out of kindness and curiosity than anything else. The kindness of the Ethiopian people cannot be understated. If you are lost, or need something, people will go out of their way to help you. They will walk with you if they can't find the language to explain the directions what they are trying to tell you.

I am settling into the work routine as well. There is a large teacher training project about begin that is a joint initiative of the British Council and the Ethiopian Education Ministry and I am very excited to be a part of it. The level of English language instruction in Ethiopia needs to improve in many ways, but the changes are happening and the future is promising. The crux will be getting adequate training and materials to the rural areas of the country as some areas of Ethiopia are still quite wild and road access doesn't exist in some cases. I am pretty sure that I am going to visit some of the more remote areas of the Southern Region as part of my work here and I can't wait for that.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Daily Life in Hawassa

So life here is pretty simple. Weekdays are long work days and weekends are spent socializing and doing chores. Sure do miss automated laundry machines. Scrubbed off a few layers on my knuckles doing my washing. Cooking as well is a little less fancy than back home as you can see from the picture below. Single burner hotplate = simple meals. I don't have a fridge and as a result it is actually cheaper to eat out at a restaurant. It's about $1.50 for a decent meal. A can of beans costs about 27 birr (Ethiopian money) and a full plate of the local fare costs about 24 birr. I think it's about 18 birr to the Canadian dollar right now. I have visited a few schools so far and all of the schools have an English Language Improvement Centre (ELIC) which is the focus of my work here. The streets are lined with family owned shops which is nice to see. It is a stark contrast to the large super-mega-"everything you could ever need is here" stores that we have in Canada. There has not been an infiltration of McDonald's, Starbucks, Costco etc. here yet and as a result there is a real community feel to the place. There is an enormous market where you can buy everything from garlic, coffee beans, cows, donkeys, pots, pillows, and bundles of sticks. The rainy season is just breathing its last gasps and as a result everything is green and animal life abounds. There are enormous storks that nest in the smallest of trees. It's always a bit worrying walking under a tree here because it would be a terrible mess if one of those behemoths unloaded its bowels on you. Well, that's life in Ethiopia in a nutshell.

Oh, and these little fellas are around.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Man on the Road

I had an interesting experience with a couple of friends the other day. We were walking along the sidewalk and saw a person laying on his side in the middle of the road shaking. Cars and Bijajs' were driving around the guy and no one seemed to be moving to help him. One motorcycle passenger said a phrase in Amharic and waved his hand over the man as he drove past. We approached and saw that the man was having a seizure. We did a quick assessment and decided to lift him up and carry him off the road. There was a small group of people that were gathering to see what was going on and as we carried the man to the sidewalk, someone motioned for us to set him down in the shade. His seizure continued as we set him down in the shady area. As he shook and foamy saliva kept issuing from his mouth and pooling on the ground, we noticed that he was continuously taping his pants pocket. One of the members of the crowd that was gathering reached into the man's pocket and withdrew a pack of matches. He then lit the match close to the man's face and blew the flame out so that the smoke went up the man's nostrils. Immediately the seizure stopped and the man sat up. Once we were sure that the he was okay, we continued on our way. None of us are exactly sure what happened. It was Meskel weekend (a very religious holiday for Orthodox Christians) and maybe it had something to do with that. One of the people I was with is a doctor and said that there is no way that someone could come out of a seizure that quickly. Who knows what it was all about, but it added an interesting twist to our day.

Below is a view of the Piazza at the centre of Hawassa. This is really a beautiful city.