Archive for January, 2012

Camera troubles while in Ethiopia

The following post is an excerpt from my journal written while on holiday in Ethiopia last December. We were visiting our daughter who was teaching at Bingham Academy, an international school in Addis Ababa. After leaving Ethiopia we travelled to Morocco and Spain. I’ll write about those countries soon.

Wednesday 7th December 2011: Addis Ababa

This morning we went for a walk again at 6am, had breakfast and joined everyone for morning devotions in the teachers’ lounge. Later in the morning I did some reading, sent some emails and went back to the lounge for morning tea. We had a long conversation with a couple of staff members (both about 5 years older than me) who have been at Bingham Academy for 3 years. Some 40 years ago they came from Meadows which is a small town about an hour’s drive from our home.

Most of the teachers left for class so we sat down so Corinne could finish her cuppa. One of the teachers who started the Horizon Boys programme, came in to chat with us, mainly about its history over the last 6 years, but also about her own call to teaching, her interesting social and family background in Scotland and how she is committed to Bingham. Her family – she has 7 siblings – all want her back in Scotland, none of them are Christians.

Earlier in the morning I started to head out to photograph some birds. I took several shots near Rose’s apartment and then the camera played up. There was a ‘lens error’ message on the screen. It wouldn’t close the lens at first but after a few tries it did. Then it wouldn’t switch on.

In desperation I searched online for a solution without much luck. This appears to be a common glitch with this model and most who had commented on this online suggested returning the camera to Canon. That wasn’t an option for me while travelling in Africa and Europe over the next 5 weeks. Another concern was that the one year warranty runs out before we return home. My son emailed me some fairly drastic solutions but I took the simplest and softest option; change the batteries. That seemed to work and since then have taken over 50 photos without any further problems. [Postscript: I didn’t use that set of batteries again during the trip and had no further problems, taking nearly 3000 photos during our trip.]

My daughter's apartment on the campus of Bingham Acade

Life at Bingham Academy, Addis Ababa

The following is an excerpt from my journal written while visiting our daughter in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last December.


Tuesday 6th December: Addis Ababa

At 6am we were all up so that we could go for a half hour walk around the school oval. During our walk I was able to get some close up views of a Hooded Vulture on the ground. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me (I did get good shots a few days later). We went back to Rose’s apartment just as the sun was rising. We had breakfast and then attended staff devotions at 7:45am.

Hooded Vulture, Ethiopia

The students started arriving at the end of devotions and the small car park became a conglomeration of cars, taxis and mini buses as well as students, not quite as crazy as outside on the streets but busy for a few minutes all the same. We accompanied Rose to her home classroom for notices, roll call and prayer time. They are a lively group of typical year 7s.

During the morning I did some reading, wrote in this journal, sent a few emails and wrote three poems. Later we joined the staff for morning tea, chatting with several during the break. In the late afternoon I went for a walk along the perimeter fence and managed several bird photos. I also saw and photographed one of the school tortoises, of which they have six. Later we both helped Rose with the Horizon Boys programme again.

Rose and Sylvia’s housekeeper cooked a lovely lasagne for our dinner. At 6pm we were driven by one of the teachers to St Matthew’s Anglican Church for a musical programme of songs, Christmas carols and excerpts from The Messiah. The programme was interesting and varied and very enjoyable. I estimated that the church could comfortably seat about 150, but over 300 crowded in, packed tightly, with standing room only for at least 50 latecomers. The programme went for about one and half hours.

St. Matt’s is Rose’s church of choice in Addis. She normally attends the Sunday evening service with usually 20 – 30 attending. The morning service sees about 50 attending. They provide breakfasts for up to 200 local school children daily. They also have a study library in their complex with up to 200 children using it daily and over 1000 contacts with students in the neighbourhood. Quite an outreach potential.

The trip back to Bingham Academy was far quicker than earlier in the evening as the traffic was moving more smoothly. Despite that, traffic is quite horrendous at all times with cars seemingly going in all directions and none keeping any semblance of staying in lanes. Most traffic is only travelling at 20kph so most incidents are minor. Of more concern is the vast number of pedestrians who largely ignore the traffic and use all parts of the road as a footpath. Like many developing countries, the car horn is an essential driving tool.

Most distressing on our return trip was the vast number of homeless people sleeping on the footpath. Most only had a single blanket and they were all sleeping on the ground. One person I spoke to claimed that the population of great Addis Ababa is about 7 million; one million of them are homeless. The problem is enormous; what can one person do? I know very little of local politics but the enormous waste of money and resources in places like Australia, America and elsewhere, is a moral and social catastrophe. What a difference some of that money would make in places like Ethiopia.

From Dubai to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

The following is an excerpt from my journal written while visiting Ethiopia in December 2011.


Monday 5th December 2011: Dubai to Addis Ababa

The four hour flight from Dubai left over 30 minutes late, most of that time spent taxiing or the plane sitting on the tarmac not going anywhere. The airport is enormous with a ten minute bus ride from the terminal to the plane. I kept a good lookout for birds but the huge expanses of concrete are not bird friendly habitats. My Dubai bird list stands at 1 – a solitary Rock Dove. Corinne thought she saw a gull like bird but wasn’t sure.

The flight to Addis Ababa was very interesting with great views of the coast, the islands, the wide expanses of desert sands, several mountain ranges and the beautiful Gulf of Aden. The sunny conditions meant great views from Corinne’s window seat.

The approach to Addis Ababa airport is very interesting with rugged ranges, a patchwork of farming properties and on the final approach excellent views of the city and nearby countryside. The landing is one of the more challenging airports of the world because of its altitude at 2300 metres and the surrounding mountains which rise to about 3200 metres at Entoto. I was not surprised then that a group of passengers applauded as the plane touched down successfully. The only other place I’ve experienced that was at the world’s most dangerous airport, Lukla in the Himalayan nation of Nepal.

Slowing down on the runway and taxiing to the terminal I was immediately aware of being in a totally different culture. A large group of workers near the runway were on their knees cutting the grass with hand scythes. The large collection of rusting plane wrecks near the terminal gave me flashbacks to landing in Kathmandu in 2005.

The entry process through the terminal was quite rapid. I’d been warned by my daughter that sometimes the whole event can be quite complicated and drawn out, but we experienced none of that. Immigration took about 10 minutes of waiting in line and two minutes at the passport and visa check. Neither of us was required to show our health cards but we had no worries on that account. By the time I’d exchanged some US dollars into Ethiopian birr, our bags came around on the carousel. We hadn’t seen them since leaving Adelaide.

Our daughter Rose and Jacqui, the wife of the school’s director, were waving to us as we approached customs. All our bags were x-rayed but we didn’t need to open anything. The car trip back to the school where my daughter was teaching was the normal third world traffic chaos with many close encounters with other vehicles. As chaotic as it seems at first, it all seems to sort itself out with no major dramas. Near the airport we saw hundreds of armed soldiers and police because former President Bush was in town for a conference, hence the security. We kept our cameras switched off at that point. On the half hour journey to the school we saw sheep, goats and donkeys along the way, pedestrians everywhere and no drivers aware of the need to drive in a lane; lanes are marked but no one observes them.

Once at the school we unpacked the van and Rose collected our school lunches from the school kitchen, one of the benefits of living on campus. After lunch she took us on a tour of the school meeting many of the staff who made us to feel so welcome it was wonderful. Later in the afternoon Rose asked us to help her teaching the Horizon Boys some basic conversational English. These boys, mostly teenagers, are local boys wanting to improve their educational opportunities. Most of them are Muslims and they were all very polite, cooperative and friendly and certainly eager to learn.

Later in the afternoon we watched the school football (soccer) team play a team from another school and we talked to several teachers and parents while we watched. I also did some birding because the area around the oval and the school gardens has many birds. Without really trying I’ve added 6 “lifers” (birds I have never seen before) to my list. It was only the Black Kites which I’ve seen before – or so I thought. It turns out the local birds are a sub species called Yellow-billed Kites (click here for photos). Another one for the list.

After dinner Rose and Corinne went to the women’s Bible Study meeting while I had a shower and went to bed. The lack of sleep since leaving home was taking its toll. Corinne nodded off during the study, I believe. We both slept well but woke at 4am as our daughter had predicted. Then at 5am we could hear the call to prayer from the mosque nearby, something we were to get used to over the coming weeks.

Further reading:

Bingham Academy, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


Our African trip, December 2011

My wife and I have just returned from a six and a half week trip to Ethiopia, Morocco and Spain. During that time I wrote an extensive journal every day. In the coming weeks I will publish excerpts from that journal here on my writing site. It will include accounts of what we did, what we saw and reflections on what we experienced.

Sunday 4th December: Dubai Airport

I am writing this in Dubai Airport at 6:15am local time after an exhausting but great trip so far.

In the days leading up to our departure we were extremely busy, first packing up and cleaning my mother in law’s unit and shade house. A friend helped me with the dismantling of the shade house and moving the plants out to our place.

Over the last few days we made last minute preparations for our big adventure overseas. This included checking the plant dripper systems, cleaning the yard, mulching the roses and other plants and gathering all we needed for the trip, including last minute purchases like extra camera memory cards, medicines and so forth.  We packed our bags and everything was ready to depart. A major last minute problem mid morning was Corinne misplacing her reading glasses which quite distressed her. She took her computer glasses instead.

Our friends arrived at 2pm to drive us to Adelaide Airport. We had a pleasant trip with lots of chatter, mainly from me as Corinne was quite subdued. We were both very tired and she was perhaps nervous about her journey. I know I was and this is quite normal.

Our flight was at 5:35pm so we had time to check in and then have a drink, a muffin and a slice of carrot cake. Our flight was delayed by 25 minutes but we made good time to Melbourne. It was odd going in the wrong direction, but Emirates do not fly out of Adelaide.

Our friends from Gisborne near Melbourne were waiting for us when we arrived and after getting our boarding passes we had a cuppa with them. It was great seeing them and chatting for an hour. We then went through security and customs before lining up to board. Our flight to Dubai was uneventful, generally smooth but very long. Favourable winds meant just over 13 hours of flight (instead of 14 hours) and we arrived at about 5am local time. Corinne managed a few hours’ sleep but I think I only had a few short naps. We bought a drink at Starbucks and sat there writing in our journals, waiting for our flight to Addis Ababa.

Further reading:

Adelaide Airport - waiting to leave on our overseas trip

Poem #44 Dubai Airport 6:15am

Dubai Airport at 6:15am

Constant movement
of departure bound travellers
contrasted with
flocks of waiting passengers:
coffee drinking,
while waiting their connecting flights.

People of many
pass each other
as the Muslim call to prayer
echoes through the airport halls,
shoes obediently stand in line
outside the prayer room.

We, too, wait our flight,
trying not to snooze.

© 2011 Trevor Hampel
Dec 5th 2011

All rights reserved.

Notes: we were on our way to visit our daughter who was teaching in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We had a  hour wait for our connecting flight. To fill the time I wrote in my journal and then wrote this poem.