Debbie goes to Ethiopia! A VSO volunteer in Assosa. Here is my blog.

Around Assosa December 15, 2014

Filed under: Out and about — debzif @ 20:28

For my last few days in Assosa, I just wandered around and tried to capture what Assosa actually looks like.  Which is quite difficult –  for a start because the streets are wide with few outstanding landmarks, and secondly because although Assosa isn’t exactly an overly large place, it varies rather a lot, depending on where you are.

Some of the photos might be of interest particularly to previous Assosa volunteers – the new builds, balloon arches, shiny fences and night lights are impressive.  The rest of the photos are just really to give a feel to the place that I called home.




Hyperbole Magazine – Winter 2014 December 10, 2014

Filed under: culture,development,Out and about,work — debzif @ 10:50
Tags: ,

**Hyperbole Winter 2014**

Above is the link for the latest VSO Ethiopia Magazine.  Some of the articles include:

  • International Volunteer Day
  • A visit from the Irish President
  • A day in the life of a Volunteer Obs Gynae Doctor
  • Setting up a dairy farm business
  • Addis Ababa from the perspective of a newbie
  • Bolivia and Ethiopia – similarities and differences
  • Plus much much more……..!!!!!!

This was my last edition as one of the editors, sad times!  I’ve really enjoyed working on it, good luck for the future, team!


The North November 27, 2014

Filed under: Out and about — debzif @ 08:23
Tags: ,

Amazingly, I got the chance to travel to even more places that I hadn’t yet been, by being a journalist for VSO business.  It was lots of fun, and I’ll blog about the work later.  This post is about the places I visited, all in the Tigray area in the north of Ethiopia.


In a historical sense, Axum is absolutely incredible.  From 400 BC to about the 10th Century it was a major town, capital of a ruling kingdom.  Religiously, it is still an epic centre, as it is believed by many that the St Mary Church there holds the Arc of the Covenant.  The most famous attraction are the obelisks – there are loads of them, all different sizes, the tallest at a towering 24m.  There is a larger one, 33m and beautifully carved, but it fell into three pieces apparently during construction.

The obelisks are all said to mark tombs, and there are few that you can go underneath into.  I love the fact that the area where they all are, so important historically, is in the middle of the town, relatively open, easily accessible, with people just going about their day to day life all around it.


The scenery

This area is most definitely the highlands of Ethiopia.  It has a very ‘high up’ feel, with mountains around you and very crisp air.  The roads we drove on were crazy, very very windy, with massive drops (don’t look down – you’ll see crashed buses :-s!).  Even though it’s more rocky and fewer trees, the farmland is everywhere, and they’ve impressively used very steep nooks and crannies all over the place.

The most interesting thing for me I think was the housing – rather than mud which is what we have here, they used a lot of rock and stone.  It just gave a different feel to the place.


This place is unlike anything else I’ve seen in Ethiopia.  Walking around the streets reminded many of us of being in Europe – cobbled streets, lined with outdoor cafes and bars, trendy people enjoying the outdoors and each other’s’ company.  The main thing that got me was the amount of choice of everything – shopping centres, the range of goods, the range of places to go, the facilities, the varieties of food and drink… was all a little overwhelming actually.

It is an amazing place.  But it’s so removed from the standards of the rest of Ethiopia.  When you dig a little deeper, you realise that there are huge political issues behind it – it’s the capital of one of the regions, that’s often perceived as being favoured by the government.  The people I’ve spoken to in Assosa about Mekelle’s status attribute it all to the favours it has unfairly received, and are angry the same treatment hasn’t been given to the rest of the country.  As an outsider it’s hard to see and understand this side of it.


Frisbee Golf November 16, 2014

Filed under: Out and about — debzif @ 19:21
Tags: ,

Frisbee golf is a game that’s a mix between, well, frisbee, and golf! There’s a basket as a target, which you can place where you like but fairly far from where you start, and the person who gets their Frisbee into basket in the fewest number of throws is the winner.

It’s a brilliant game, and apparently very popular in the US/UK/Scandinavian countries right now.  I didn’t expect to play it first in Assosa, but I did!  And actually, Assosa is a brilliant place for it – lots of open land, good weather, and free time!  There are enough obstacles around to make it interesting (trees, bushes, herds of cows…) and enough large open spaces to throw as hard as possible, multiple times in my case, without worrying about breaking windows or anything (except, maybe, my arm).

An Ethiopian friend here, Yohannes, was given the kit from a Finnish guy who used to live in Assosa.  Yohannes is brilliant – a very very enthusiastic player, who is super keen to spread the fun of the game with as many people as possible.  Lots of locals play a lot of football and pool and things like that, but other than that there’s not an overly huge variety of hobbies.  Many people I know complain of the lack of opportunities, and use it as an excuse to spend the day drinking/chewing chat and watching DVDs.  Yohannes has taken it to all schools in the town to show them how to play and get them interested, and is working on introducing it in the university where he’s a student.  The PDGA (Professional Disc Golf Association) have amazingly given him a free membership for the year, and he’s working on setting up a regular course.

I’m pretty sure I’m a long way off from being any good at it, but it’s a great way to spend half a day!


Parent Post – Reflections November 14, 2014

Filed under: culture,Out and about — debzif @ 08:38
Well, it has been over a week since we returned from our adventure in Ethiopia and we are back in the ‘real world’. Although life and work go on as before, we still have flashes of memory to some of the kaleidoscope of images and feelings we experienced – most notably as we scroll through and sort out the many hundreds of photographs we took.
It was a totally different type of holiday for us – well out of our comfort zone. We had many concerns before we headed out. However, the majority of these proved to be less of an issue than we imagined (we always fear the worst!). We are very pleased to have made the effort on this once-in-a-lifetime trip and to have enjoyed a range of experiences that will stay with us. 
Some wonderful memories and experiences.
The joy of spending time with Debbie.
The pleasure of meeting her friends and discovering her home for the last two years.
The friendliness of virtually all Ethiopian people.
Being amazed how green the country is.
The spectacular Blue Nile falls.
The breath-taking scenery of the Simien Mountains.
The delicious food.
The abundance of great fruit and vegetables.
Some more mixed feelings.
The roads – some superb, others with moonlike cratered surfaces.
The ever-present Bajaj.
People walking by the side of all roads, even miles from anywhere.
Being pestered by children trying to sell us goods at most of the touristy places.
One thing is absolutely certain – it has radically changed our appreciation and understanding of Ethiopia and its peoples for the better. Did we enjoy it? Yes, the vast majority of the holiday was good. Would we go there again (assuming Debs is not there) – probably not as there are so many other places in the world to visit.
Thank you Debs. Thank you Ethiopia.

Awra Amba November 7, 2014

Filed under: development,Out and about — debzif @ 19:41

On the road between Bahir Dar and Gondar is a small community town called Awra Amba.  If you ask many Ethiopians about this community, they perhaps know the name or have heard about it, but maybe are questionable and unclear as to what it actually means or stands for.  Perhaps suspicious of it, also.

The reason is, this village is so different from the reality of life in the towns and villages in the rest of Ethiopia.  As soon as you enter the village, especially as a foreigner, you can feel the difference immediately in the atmosphere and way of life.

The village is basically a cooperative of people living together alongside the following five principles:

  1. Respecting the right to equality for women.
  2. Respecting children’s rights
  3. Helping people who are unable to work due to old age and health problesm.
  4. Avoiding bad speech and bad deeds, such as lying, theft, insulting, cursing, quarrelling, killing, conflict etc. Instead improving practices of cooperation, peace, love and good deeds in general.
  5. Accepting all human beings as brothers and sisters, regardless of their differences.

These principles are lovely.  And I guess not too far removed, if at all in fact, from the ideologies of the principles in villages all over Ethiopia.  But it’s the practice that is different.  The village is still Ethiopian, in the scenery, the look of the people and the town, the style of houses and things like that – for some reason I expected something radically different.  It is recognisably ethiopian, but somehow also has a radically different feel.  The two main noticeable things for me were the status of women, and the role of religion.

Firstly, the role of women and men.  There’s no doubt that across Ethiopia, men and women have different roles within the community.  But in this village, there are no clear roles, and, as they say themselves “we should avoid work division based on gender and rather divide work depending on our ability”.  Not only is this well said, but in our brief visit, it seemed that this was in practice, also.

The second most noticeable thing for me was the impact of religion.  Religion and religious beliefs, and strict and outward showings of faith I think are an inherent part of daily life of many/most of the people where I live.  Although I thought, (and Bradt states) that Awra Amba is an atheist community, I don’t think it actually is.  It states it believes in one creator, (current world religions just assigning a range of names), and questions the need for a place of worship if that creator is omniscient and omnipresent.  Belief and praise to the creator is “conveyed by doing good deeds”, and living to the golden rule (which is present in most major religions across the world) of treating others how you would want to be treated yourself.

Other noteworthy things include the weekly community “charity-day”, where everybody able in the community works, but the money earned goes to support people who are unable to work.  There is an elderly support centre where the elderly can live and rest and be looked after.  Another interesting thing was a specially designed stove for each house, made of local materials, but designed to be fuel efficient, reduce smoke in the living space, and be safer for wandering young children.   There was also a fabulous library.

The man behind the idea of this village is Zumra Nuru, who apparently questioned the things mentioned in the 5 principles at the young age of two.  He is still alive and living in the village and it’s very impressive what he has established; it would be interesting though to see what happens to the village when he dies, but I hope, and think, that the community is now well established for it to continue.

I’d love to spend more time in the village, perhaps as an Ethiopian speaking fly on the wall, finding out somehow what the current residents truly truly think of it.  There’s a great information book about the village you can buy for 25 birr, where it details things such as no big marriage ceremonies, and the expectations of limited grieving periods after bereavement – I’d like to know how these pan out in reality.  I’d also like to know what other Ethiopians think of it, being so different in practice to their usual daily life – I think the lack of overt religion would be something difficult for many to deal with.  But for me, as a visitor, it was warm, welcoming, calm, friendly, hospitable, and very very interesting.


Parent Post – Addis, Assosa, Addis November 1, 2014

Filed under: Out and about — debzif @ 18:17

The last portion of the trip from my wonderful visiting parents!

Well, Ethiopian Airways turned out to be stars! They not only found us a good hotel, but also included was all food and transfers, and all at their expense. Brilliant!
On our ‘bonus’ day in Addis we, at Debs suggestion, visited a silk spinning, dyeing and weaving concern, where they also have the silkworms themselves hard at work. An interesting tour by a lovely lady was followed by many happy hours (?) in the gift shop. We also visited the leather-shops area of the city and a shopping mall before an evening at the hotel. This was enlivened by a hilarious attempt to record “Happy Birthday”  for our grandson back in England.
Next day we were off to Assosa to discover Debbie’s home for the last couple of years and meet her friends. Our overwhelming impression was of friendliness, not only from those close to Debbie, but also virtually everyone who we came into P1090958contact with. The highlight of the visit was a truly amazing meal organised by many of Debs friends. They treated us like royalty, treating us to beer, soft drinks, injeera, vegetables and goat meat. And yes, the goat did walk in under its own volition! Fortunately, expert help was at hand to DSC_0680transform a live animal onto a delicious meal. There was relief that, although we helped with the cooking and serving, we were spared the more delicate aspects of the event. It was truly brilliant to see Debs so at ease with a dozen or so of her pals, chatting equally confidently in either English or Amharic.
Our last morning in Assosa we simply spent time enjoying her company as we wandered round the town before saying an emotional goodbye to her.
Our flight back to Addis was delayed (so unusual for Ethiopian Airways) so we did not have time for our planned visits to a church and a museum. However, we were taken to an evening of traditional song, dance and food. A very busy, somewhat touristy place, but very enjoyable before heading off to the airport for our 01.45 flight home.
Bye Debs; bye Ethiopia