Events – Regional, National and International

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Have been out and about and taken part in three big celebratory events recently. Seems the ingredients for a good show here are a marching band, followed by anyone and everyone who’s involved following through the streets. Have taken part in Regional, National and International ones in the last month, here they are.

  • Tigray Regional Education Bureau Education Exhibition

It’s not just what you do, but how you do it. I’m learning to live with not knowing what might happen from what one day to the next, but confess I still struggle. I’m impressed that things happen with what appears to be the minimum of forward planning along with the (I find) distressingly short deadlines people give themselves. From what I could see planning and allocation of roles for this event took place on the Monday ready for the Big Band opening on the Friday. And it worked. I guess that if you are going to include a 3 day open-air exhibition of work – it helps if you can guarantee wall-to-wall sunshine.  To encourage and celebrate excellence in education, the REB gives awards for a whole range of categories: best performing schools, best PTAs, best School group supervisors, teachers, headteachers etc.  all the way through to pupils – e.g. those getting the equivalent of a fistful of A*s. What surprised me most out of this, was that the awards were cash prizes and in some cases large amounts! The best performing school in the region walks off with 20K birr – equivalent to about £740.00 – or just over $1,000.00. This is by far and away the biggest prize, but not surprisingly, highly contested.   My contribution – as well as walking behind the band – was cutting and sticking! For any VSOs reading, I now know why we had to come through that notebook making session in the interview! It was pretty stressful, I was in charge of cutting out the names of the winners AND putting glue on the back. Couldn’t do the sticking as well as had no idea what is the right way up of the script.  You may be wondering why names weren’t printed directly onto envelopes or labels, well there’s a whole other story….

I got to speak to many of the heads – talk about motivated, or were they just high with the prizes? Communities really rally round the schools and are involved in fund-raising as well as providing hands-on practical labour to improve the environment. Many of the schools came from rural areas  – and if you’ve ever flown over Ethiopia and seen what rural means, it really does mean remote – probably no tarmac road for miles. To get their work to the exhibition would be a two/three day rough track drive.  One school keeps cattle to provide milk especially for the HIV AIDS people in their community. It also has a fruit garden with harvest of bananas, guavas, avocados etc etc. sold to the community.   They are dead keen on science and also make sure girls are too – so we had science experiments explained in English by both boys and girls, good enough to get them a place on University challenge.  All a far cry from my own experience: human biology for girls, science for boys – am I that old? Oh, the joys of a co-ed education!

  • Nationalities Day 

One thing I’ve learnt since we’ve been here is just how diverse Ethiopia is. Geographically, climatically, culturally and ethnically with over 80 different languages spoken. It covers over a million square kilometres – 4 times the size of the UK.  I find myself wondering how you hold a country like this together. The Prime minister does his bit very visibly – he seems to talk live on TV for at least 2 hours a day.

One thing they do every year is hold a big get-together for all the different regions.  This year it was the turn of Mekelle to host “Nationalities Day”. The main event was last Friday, but the run-up meant exhibitions, music, parades and what looked to newcomers from the UK like Christmas Lights.  So what happened? An early start, ouch – 7.00 for Government employees, which I loosely am. Even in winter you get these things over before the heat of the day. So how did it go? First ingredient as ever, the band, but this time as it’s a big occasion: two bands. Then all the locals – I managed to find “Education” amongst the hundreds of thousands of people there – then we all entered the new but unfinished stadium. Unfortunately, even at that time it was standing room only, but I was offered a well placed up-ended  breeze block to sit on and got a good view.   Finally the dignitaries including the PM Meles Zenawi  took their places in the scaffolded stand – to witness the parade of floats, music and dances and from all the different regions. A holiday for most of Mekelle too.

  • International  – The Great Run

I can’t remember when I first heard of Haile Gebr’selassie and took in the fact that the Ethiopians had a worldwide reputation for being great runners, but it seems forever. I didn’t imagine that one day (and in retirement) I’d be talking part in an event which is born of that legacy: The Ethiopian Great Run or the Addis 10k. We’d been lucky enough to get places along with 36,000 others.   I’d heard from people who’d runit before that it would be chaotic, but maybe it’s an indication that we’re into the Ethiopian way that we didn’t find it too bad. VSO laid on a bus to the start, so we assembled together, but with stories of hordes of pickpockets and conmen, we didn’t take a camera or even a phone. Fancy meeting up amongst 36,000 others for your post-event drink without a phone?

The atmosphere was totally party  –  dancing, singing, dressing up  – no running rhinos, just hats fashioned from T shirt sleeves and the like.   Probably about a kilometre in front of us, such were the crowds, the band marched and then it was the off. John tested his Achilles for the first time since his op in March and ran gently with Jackie a doctor VSO. I tested my bunion and took it even more steadily with Criona a nurse and co-VSO from Mekelle (we chose our event companions carefully!).  Although, it is an international event, it’s still very much Ethiopia’s own. A very friendly good humoured affair. That is, until the end, which was when things changed this year.  Unfortunately, they messed up the giving out the medals which meant they ran out leaving several thousand of us empty-handed. I confess I was disappointed, and didn’t appreciate the batonning the police gave the crowd just for waiting for our medals. It marred a really good event. Perhaps I’ll do it again next year, when hopefully they’ll get that bit sorted better.

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  1. Mary Simmonds

     /  23/01/2012

    36,000 is a lot of medals to keep track of! Sounds like a fantastic event… Was Haile Gabre Selassie not actually there?

    • Yes, he was there, but there’s about 2.5 hours gap between the first finishers and the last and he had no doubt been whisked away by then.


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