Archive for March 2010

Back in the UK

After a very uneventful journey home, I’m now back in the cold and wet of the UK – although it is quite good to be back really. Haven’t been up to much since I returned, just getting everything unpacked and starting to get in touch with everyone again.

I have posted up the edited highlights of my photos from the past few months (since I returned in August). These are all just the photos from trips away and evenings out, I’m working on putting another album together to show the work that we’ve done in setting up the new computer labs and training sessions.

Have already started to spend far too much money – ordered 2 new computers (laptop and desktop).
Hope to catch up with you all again soon 🙂

Final few days

Today is my last day in work at Mekelle. Feels very strange to be leaving after such a long time, but think I’m ready to go back – for a break at least. Still no running water at home, though I got a shower at a friends house last night. So there are a few things here I won’t miss!

I’ve been really pleased with the progress we’ve managed to make in developing elearning at Mekelle, especially over the last months, though I’m sure I could easily spend another 10 years here and still not get everything done that I’d like. Now I just have a few days in Mekelle getting packed up before flying to Addis for another few more days and back to UK next weekend. My next blog entry will probably be once I’m back in the UK, after I’ve had a bit of time to settle in again. Will be in touch with as many people as possible once I’m back and looking forward to seeing everyone again 🙂

Mountains in Maychew

Me and Getachew

After 18 months, I finally managed a visit down to Maychew – less than 3 hours by bus south of Mekelle. There have been VSO volunteers working at the Technical College there all this time, but usually I see them fairly regularly as they come up to Mekelle on way to airport or just for shopping in the ‘big city’.

Apart from the fact I’d never been before, the other reason to visit was to climb one of the hills around the town. So Mike, Getachew and I ll got up far too early for a Sunday morning (6am) for the walk up Bekura.

View of Maychew from Bekura

It took us about two and a half hours to get to the top (around 3100m), making our own path up. There is a path but its very long so we decided to take the short steep route instead.

Maychew is known for being where the Italians finally defeated the Ethiopians in 1936 and there was lots of fighting in the hills around here during the TPLF fight against the Derg in the 70’s and 80’s. Because of this you still need to be a little careful where you go walking around Maychew, there are still mines and other unexploded munitions – we saw plenty of (used) shell casings on our walk up, where the farmers had ploughed, but Bekura is considered free from mines unlike some of the other nearby hills.

Whilst in Maychew I was hoping that I’d be able to get shower – we haven’t had any running water at home for more than two weeks – our water meter was taken away by the water board for repair and still hasn’t been returned. Our enormous collection of buckets and water bottles have kept us going, but now we’re even starting to empty these out. Unfortunately, no luck getting a shower in Maychew, the water pressure was too low during the my stay – so looks like I may have to wait until I’m in Addis next week. I will make sure I definitely get a shower before I fly home 🙂

Second week of Tutor Training

Tutors from Health Sciences and Engineering Colleges

Last week we had our second full weeks training course with our elearning tutors. Jaime came over from Alcala University to deliver most of the training and I was there to help out with more of the technical aspects and generally lend a hand.

It was a completely different week to the previous training week we had back in November. Then it was the start of the training so it was much more hectic and we had more participants – who seemed to flit between attending or not – so it was difficult to manage with everyone working at different paces. In November we gave people plenty of time for practical work as well as giving presentations – but at the end of the week, some people thought there was too much time to work on their own. I suspect that many of these were the people who were more interested in getting the certificate to say they’ve done the training than actually implementing anything.

This week we had a core group of about 12 tutors who attended the whole week, which was almost entirely practical sessions – just a few presentations. Jaime had much of the previous week meeting with the tutors for individual tutorials and catch up, which worked out to be time well spent. The outcome was a very productive week and we now have many courses (around 15) almost fully uploaded on our Moodle server (see: – many of the courses allow guest access if you would like to take a look. Next challenge is to make sure the student accounts have been created and that they have received some form of induction to the lab.

Unfortunately we still have some unresolved technical issues in the labs which has been making things a little tricky to manage. None of the issues by themselves are show-stoppers, but all the little issues add up and we’ve already experienced the fact that we’re not always told when there are issues – instead people just don’t use the lab. So we need to make sure there are plenty of ways in which staff and students can communicate when they are having difficulties.

Enjoying a meal at Axum hotel

At the end of the week we had a nice meal out with all the tutors at the Axum hotel. Even though it was a Friday night, most places are very quiet – it’s still fasting time in the run up to Easter and many people won’t go out to restaurants/bars if they’re not able to eat meat!

Some of our first elearning students

Today I held the first student induction session for Seyoum’s ‘Marketing Management for Industrial Engineers’ course. All seemed to go very well, we had far fewer problems with the students logging in than I was expecting – I think this was mainly due to Seyoum being able to explain in Amharic what they needed to do.

Bale Mountains and Sof Omar Caves

At the cave entrance

The other weekend, I had a great trip down to the Bale mountains. Fortunately we were able to borrow car (4×4) for a few days from a friends work in Addis. Bale is known for it’s trekking and horseriding, but fortunately, given that it rained almost the entire time, we hadn’t planned to do either of these activities and spent most of the time driving – our shortest days drive being about 7 hours.

The roads to and around Bale were far worse that we had expected- mainly because most them are in the process of being asphalted, so the ‘road’ that you can use is actually a track next to where the road is going to be. At one point it took us over 3 hours to do less than 100km.

Basing ourselves in Robe, we had a day up to the Sanetti Plateau (over 4000m high) to watch Ethiopian Wolves and then on to the Harenna Forest. The landscape is completely the opposite to that around Tigray – with real forest and greenery- as a result of all the rain. The next day we headed another 120km east to the Sof Omar caves. These were fantastic (see photos below), fortunately we picked up a guy from the local village who happened to be a history teacher at the local high school, so he was able to translate what the guide was telling us. Due to the rain we couldn’t get as far in to the caves as we would have liked – since crossing the river inside the cave would have been too dangerous. The teacher also had a map of the cave system (below) – 17km long – if anyone is interested I have higher quality copies of the images than I’ve uploaded below. Fortunately I’d remembered to take along my little tripod so was able to get some reasonable photos once we were inside the caves.

The next night was spent at the Dinsho lodge which the guide book describes as being like an abandoned ski lodge. It was a little tricky to find, the road builders had removed the signpost so we ended up taking someone from town to show us where to go, on arrival all was dark and locked up (living up to the guides book’s description) , so we went back into town to track down the warden.

The next morning the warden too us out for a walk to watch see Nyala (photos below again!), then back in the car for a drive to Shashemene (home of Rastafarianism apparently) for lunch and up to Lake Langano for an overnight stay by the lake, and few drinks and a swim – my camera battery had long since died by this point.

The highlight for me was certainly getting to the caves, it would have been difficult to get there without our own transport and now that I’ve seen a small part of the Bale national park, I’d certainly like to go back during a drier period for a trekking holiday.

Wolf on Sanetti Plateau

View from top of Sanetti Plateau

Harenna Forest (and a short stretch of flat road)

Inside the cave

Inside the cave

Cave system map (page 1)

Cave system map (page 2)

Nyala in the morning

Nyala in daylight


Last week I finally finished my clearance for the University, meaning that I’m now free to leave. Was quite a long drawn out process – you can see in the photo how many signatures I needed in the end.

Now have only 2 weeks left in Mekelle, have a few days in Addis, then return to the UK. Will be good to catch up with everyone once I’m back 🙂