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.