Monday, December 29, 2008

Thursday, December 25, 2008


We were there this morning to see the smile on Ella's face when she saw her new trampoline and sandpit,
Her excitement at opening each present,

including the flash new Eurotrike (not a pink one either!).

Most engaging present today was the new bike helmet. That pesky under chin clip took some concentrated effort to put together and pull apart.

But she did it!
Grandpa practised his sand castle building skills - getting in early for all the quality time he will be able to spend with E-ness in 2009 now he has retired!

We had a lovely Christmas day, with many thoughts of all the kids in our family spread over NSW, Q'ld, Beijing and Italy this year. Merry Christmas to you all!

Sunday, December 21, 2008


I love the way Christmas forces us all to make contact with friends and family near and far. I started teaching in Canberra back in the seventies with Dorothy F. She was a bit older than me, with three kids, but like me, still learning the craft of teaching in those days. Dorothy and her Barry were, and still are, great foodies and very artistic. Their three kids have grown up to live interesting lives: Mercy and her young Raph in Bondi, Jim the musician and Joe and his Georgina living in Ethiopia this year with their three kids, including adopted Ethiopian daughter Poppy. They are running a guesthouse there and teaching English, in between Joe taking his beautiful photographs.

I have had a lot of fun working out which kids belong to Joe and Jim. Mercy's Raph was easy to pick - he looks just the same as when I saw him a few years back (exactly like his mother). Poppy was easy to pick too for obvious reasons.

Jim was five years old when I first met him. I was reminded of the time he carved his name into one of the leaves of my prized indoor plants - it stayed there forever! Mercy had a different name then but still the same strong persona. Jim was always the quiet one.

The whole family celebrated Barry's 70th birthday this year, in Ethiopia. I have included some excerpts from Dorothy's account. What a way to celebrate your birthday!

Our trip to Ethiopia was really wonderful, especially travelling together as a family. Barry and I met up with Jim and his 2 boys, Sol and Gabriel, and Mercy and Raph at Sydney airport and flew with Thai airlines to Bangkok where we had 24 hours and stayed at a good hotel so that we could all have an opportunity to regain our stamina for the month ahead. Of course we were all in high spirits, and the boys had a great time there.

Then on to Addis via Ethiopian, an overnight flight. Joe and his kids were at the airport to meet us, with a minibus taxi which most people use, and their driver who is like part of the family. We dropped them all at school, Joe included, as they had a few more days to finish the school year.

Then on to our new abode, the guesthouse Oziopia, which Joe and Georgina were running. It is a 3 story, yellow, Italianate house, rather ugly on the outside and badly planned and finished on the inside. It was not unlike Fawlty Towers, only fawltier. Parts of African families lived in small rooms on the ground floor, on which there was also a kitchen and living/dining room. There were 2 women who cooked and cleaned, and a few little children and some big children, the littlies went to school and the bigger ones did odd jobs around the place, although a 19 yr old boy was in grade 9 at school, and doing extremely well. He wasn't able to go when he was younger and is being sponsored by an Australian woman.

Our first week was spent in Addis, acclimatising and settling in, seeing the markets and museums, visiting the school where Joe taught kindergarten English to 4 different classes. There are 800 kids there from infants through to yr 12, and all were black excepting for Jasper and Ziggy. We went to the end of year concert where each class performed and the show went on for about 5 hours, in a huge hall, and people came and went. The principal is an incredibly fat American woman who is a Muslim, and she races around in flowing wrapping. She is married to a Somali.

On the first weekend we travelled to Wondo Genet for Barry's birthday. It is about 250 km away but took about 6 hours travelling on some fairly bad roads, as well as one good stretch, the bit heading from Addis to Djibouti. W.G. is famous for its hot springs and swimming pools. Haile Selassie had a holiday tukul [round house] there. Joe and George surprised us by booking his place for our 2 night stay, so Barry and I slept in his bed [lumpy] used his bathroom [very poor plumbing, but typical of Ethiopia], and we lounged in his living room and the kids did their drawings at and even on his table.

A sheep was killed for the evening feast, and it was butchered and the organs were fed to the hotel dogs. The entrails were chucked outside the kitchen door and on the lawn, where the vultures came to clean them up. We spent the afternoon visiting a large family who are well known to Joe and George, and they ceremoniously welcomed us, and did the coffee making performance which involves roasting the beans over a small charcoal fire, pounding them, heating water, fanning the smell around, making the brew, then handing it around in little cups.

After dark, back at our hotel the tables were set outdoors for the feast, then the fire was lit, and the meat cooked. The entire sheep had been chopped into cubes of about 2 cm, tough and less tough cuts together, then this was cooked on very hot plates over a fire until done. There was bread and salad to accompany it and wine and soft drinks, and a big cake, so we all tucked in, and when we had finished, the local people who had been invited to share the feast arrived, so they ate, then sang and danced by the fire. Some had drums and stringed instruments, and they all took turns at leading the singing and drumming and joining in choruses. It was quite amazing. They have fantastic ways of moving and vibrating their shoulders. We all joined in, sort of. Jasper can do the moves extremely well. The Ethiopians are impressed with him, he seems to go into a trance.

There were two different sorts of monkeys in the area, and the vervets would come in through the doorway or window if they could, and steal fruit. The boys were thrilled to see their bright blue balls and red penises, and really loved seeing some of them mating. The others, beautiful black and white colubus amused us with their antics.

We next flew to Bar Hidar on Lake Tana, a huge lake which has nearly 50 rivers flowing into it, and the Blue Nile starts from it, close by. On the shores of the lake there are monasteries, and these are also on many of the islands. We went on a boat trip to one, had a picnic lunch on the boat, and saw the source of the Blue Nile where it drops over a waterfall.

Picnics usually consisted of day old bread rolls, often with peanut butter or vegemite, sometimes a bit of cheese, maybe a boiled egg. There were bananas and small oranges, and we bought lots of bottled water. The kids were allowed one soft drink each day, and they usually ate chips and often chicken or fish for the main meal in the hotel of the day. On three memorable occasions when there wasn't anything appropriate for them, Georgina brought out the packets of noodle soup, and asked for bowls and boiling water. Some ate the noodles raw, and others dunked them. There were noodles[x6] all over the place, and everyone was happy and has their fill; there was even soup left over for us.

We always managed to buy wine, either the local stuff or something from South Africa, so we didn't go without. We all took it in turns to have a tummy upset, excepting for Gabriel who sailed through, no worries, despite playing in the dirt and playing with the odd puppy dog. Barry took the prize for being the crookest, he had to get medical help after 5 days. It's all to do with the country in which the appropriate medicine is manufactured. Needless to say we had had all the necessary shots and had with us pills and potions for most foreseeable conditions.

The next major town that we visited was Gonder by now on one big bus which we should have had all along. In the 15th century a succession of kings built themselves wonderful European style castles, six of which are in one vast enclosure behind stone walls, all on lush green lawns, a novelty in Ethiopia. Lawnmowers don't exist; the grass is cut by hand by a line of men each with a small sickle. There is a delightful mixture of architectural styles, influenced by the Portuguese, Arab, Italian, British etc.

After this cultural tour of a small part of Ethiopia we headed by bus high into the scenic Simien mountains, layer upon layer of ranges disappearing towards the horizon. Some of the mountains may have even belonged to other countries. The air became considerably cooler as we drove up into the clouds. Our destination was the Simien lodge, a tourist hotel set up by an Englishman and his African partner. It had two large adjoining round buildings, each with a central huge round fireplace, which formed the living and dining areas, with a clean commercial style kitchen. We slept in tukuls, which were very well appointed, with the best beds ever. We were given hot water bottles at night as the weather was damp and chilly.

We went on our bus to a place renowned for its fantastic view, to be the highlight of the entire trip. We had our picnic food and got off the bus which went ahead to meet us one hour later. As we organised our eats, down came the rain, it really pissed down, so we grabbed a few mouthfuls, packed our bags and did the walk. All we saw was the muddy path ahead, and at times vast valleys filled with cloud where the breathtaking view must have been. It certainly stands out as one of the most memorable parts of the trip. And trip I did, my 6th memorable slip in the month. I sat in the mud, and they hoisted me up and on we went. Back at the lodge we had to wring out our clothes, bags etc and dry them by an especially lit fire. Joe's kids had to wear pyjamas. We had very few warm clothes, as everywhere else the weather had been temperate. Later the weather cleared and we spent the afternoon cracking whips.

Back to Gondar, where we did see one church a few days before, one with angels faces painted in rows all over the ceiling, and all sorts of paintings of biblical stories and myths all over every wall.

Then back to Addis for a day or two. Barry, Mercy and I were able to visit the Hamlin Fistula Hospital, along with Joe who has been many times before and has photographed Catherine, and some of the patients there. It was an extremely moving experience, I thought I would cry, and my eyes felt quite moist as we stepped off our mini bus.

The atmosphere was one of love and care, and we were met by a nurse who gave a talk about the hospital, its history and the procedures there. We were not allowed to take photos. Then we were led around the various wards, the first being a small one where about 5 women were undergoing physiotherapy to enable them to walk and move again after their years of immobility. They didn’t look happy at all, but in the other wards the women smiled at us, some were waiting for their procedures and others were on the mend. They are used to visitors, and for most of them it is the first time in their lives that anyone has shown interest in them, and looked after them. It is likely that it is the first time that they have slept on a mattress, in a bed, and been fed healthy food. It would be the first time for any of them to enjoy and walk in a big lovely garden when recuperating. If they were there long enough they learned some handcrafts such as basket making and embroidery, and they could learn to knit and make themselves a blanket. Every one went home with a new dress and a colourful blanket.

We also did a bit of last minute shopping for more beads and jewellery for gifts and souvenirs, then it was time to pack up to head home. We left behind most of our clothes for others as we had planned, mostly giving them to the staff at Oziopia, who we knew very well by then.

Ethiopians are beautiful people, not only to look at, but by nature. They make the best of what they have, and are very friendly and courteous. They love little kids. They relate to big kids too. Raphy and Sol generally wore Arsenal or Manchester United tee shirts, and a lot of the young African adults did likewise, so conversation began easily. They don’t support Italian teams at all, for historical reasons. Ethiopians like looking at white people too. If we were stopped in traffic on the bus, they would come and stare in at us through the windows, sometimes wanting to sell a hand made hat, but probably hoping for a bit of food. Occasionally there were beggars who really deserved a handout.

On the day we drove back from the mountains to Gondar our big bus was caught up in a line of traffic on a small country road because a big vehicle was stuck in the mud, and no traffic could move. Any able bodied people got out and helped move rocks to form a new firm surface to help the offending vehicle, including our big kids, and the driver’s 2 helpers, leaving me and Barry on the bus with the younger kids who played boisterous games and nearly drove us mad, over 4 hours. We also had with us a local guide, who spoke little English and knew nothing, and two local guards, old codgers, who sat upright on the bus with their old rifles. It was a requisite in the area to use local guides. Eventually the road was cleared and we set off on our six hour journey!

Joe and George are importing artefacts selling them at house parties and the profits all go to Ethiopian causes. Joe is hoping to go back next year to do some serious photography for their tourist commission, at a festival where many tribes meet up. He also wants to go to Harar, a Muslim walled city [Brett Whitely spent a year there]. I would love to go back, especially to see Harar.

We only visited the Coptic Christian areas because it was easy, the sites are all in the east and north, whereas the Muslims are generally in the south and west. I’ll send you Joe’s website, he has some good stuff to look at and is hoping to get more work. He has taken masses of amazing shots of tribes people in the south where the people still wear their traditional attire.

Bye for now

Love Dorothy

PS Next time I would take more chocolate.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

That time of the year

Although it's been nothing like school was in term 4, the past few weeks have been very busy for me. I've worked most days, completing 3 different little jobs for the department, including a big 4 day conference in Melbourne last week. There is Christmas to get underway too, with family celebrations early this year so we could share present giving and feasting with C & J and Ollie and Angus before they all leave for "Itawee" on 17 December.

We were able to help celebrate Gooyong David's 40th birthday at Pialligo on the way to picking up the flight to Melbourne last Sunday. He and Lotte celebrated their 20 years together in his 40th year with the birth of their third beautiful baby boy Lonnie, born in September while we were in France. I take some credit for David starting his stylish new blog, showing his great photography skills and capacity for wry, ironic writing. The boys seem to have inherited their parents musicianship and gentility.

I attended the World Indigenous Peoples Congress:Education (WIPC:E) Conference in Melbourne last week. It was amazing and unforgettable. Especially this electrifying school leader from Arnhem Land talking about new programs in her school...........

and this noble articulate woman - a poet who told stories of her time on the Mission as a "stolen child" on the infamous Palm Island.

There were thousands of delegates, swarming over the Rod Laver arena: Kylie, Coldplay and the upcoming Australian Open all sharing the bill with WIPC:E

Melbourne was pretty cold last week but beautiful as always. Walking to the RL Arena from Federation Square along the river each morning was exhilarating.

It was just like Christmas morning here yesterday. Ella still seemed exhausted from our efforts at babysitting her the night before. Ollie and Angie's Christmas scooters were the big attraction for Ella although fresh strawberries and Granny K's muffins came a close second.

The colour, the crowds, the wrapping paper, the squeals of excitement, the cameras were all very familiar.

Ollie stage managed a big dance performance complete with concept statement (Why are transformers goody and baddies????), invitations, choreography, entrance tickets and costumes, but in the end only Angie seemed to have the chutzpah to turn it all on for the audience - the sweaty, demon dancer in his Batman costume.
Ciao to C & J and boys; happy times in "Itawee" and good luck too to Brisbane Joel heading off to Beijing next week for his first contract with Al Jazeera.