Sitting here on my porch, at the Ghion Hotel, Bahirdar, in Ethiopia. I'm trying to write a blog, but struggling. I'm sitting in one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to, from here I can see flower filled gardens, the thatched round house that's a bar, and, beyond, the waters of Lake Tana. The trees of the garden are filled with an amazing variety of birds, so tame that I had to practically step over one the other day. Overhead there are scores of large 'buzzard' type birds, with a wing span of over a yard, they look like buzzards, but I guess they're some kind of vulture. My particular favourites are like a kind of sparrow, with a couple of tail feathers that must be over a foot long.
It is amazing. I'm surrounded by, hardly anyone, there's a few back packers, some other 'professionals' like myself, here on some business or another, and later some locals will bring their families in to meet with friends, have a beer and a chat, and maybe a meal. Ethiopian's are a friendly, pleasant people, quiet, and steeped in a culture that's based on love and respect for others (despite what we 'Ferengis' may have seen on TV over the years), a culture they trace back to before King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
I know that if I took a bus, or a boat I could visit island monasteries, the castles of Gondor, or the churches of Lalibela, carved out of the rock over a millennium ago, or, I could just stroll along the shore and have a beer on the floating restaurant nearby. It's a Sunday, a rare Sunday when all my work is up to date, and I'm just 'chilling'. I expect the phone will ring sometime, with an invite to eat, or go for that beer, because my colleagues have become my friends, and Ethiopians like to be with their friends.
So, what am I doing here apart from sitting around? I'm working. We're running a harness course, mainly for Donkey Sanctuary Staff, but with a few locals added in for good measure. It's not a normal course. We'd usually introduce some harness, work with the community, and, when we've generated enough interest and demand we'd teach the most likely people from that area how to make their own. This strategy is having real results in Kenya, where we ran a course in December for 10 students, except it didn't stop there. The demand was so high that we kept making exceptions and allowing an extra body on until we ended up with 18. I've just heard this morning from Amos, our Harness Co-ordinator there, that many have continued harness making, and are spreading the new techniques around their towns and villages.
This course is different because to take harness out in the first place we need people who can make it, and understand how it works. We don't have that luxury here; therefore we're teaching a few people what to do, so that we can start the process off.
I've lost count now, but this is something like my 50th overseas course, and a week ago I would have told you that, yes, people would leave after a day or two, and yes, there's a fair chance that something would get stolen, (not by our guys, I wouldn't expect that,) but by the locals. After all, in a land where the daily wage can be as low as £1, the value of the stuff we work with, materials, tools, etc provide an opportunity that only the best of people can resist, not to mention the cash that I have to carry to pay for these, and the lunch that we provide them with.
Here? Nothing, no one has left, nothing has 'disappeared', materials are sold to me at true prices. (By the way, a full lunch, followed by the best coffee in the world, plus a morning and afternoon tea break, comes to about £1.40 a head).
The local students have been great, they've taken on board a whole new system of harness over the last few days, questioned the changes they didn't understand, thought about it and said, "OK, it sounds right, we'll give it a go".
I'm falling in love with Ethiopia, and her people, if you want a place to go on holiday, if you want to meet a real people, if you hate being packaged and managed like a commercial product and if you're fairly easy going about the little things, like electrics, TVs and plumbing (which can be a little unreliable) then maybe I'll see you here sometime in the future, and I'll buy you a beer on that floating restaurant.