Small world!

If you search for “Bedele” in this blog, you will find a few stories of our stay there in 1988-9. During that time, we got to know several people, some were working in the project I was managing while others, although they worked in other sections of the veterinary laboratory, were neighbours in the housing compound where we lived.

Among our neighbours, Lea and Getahun (not their real names) were the closest and we fondly remember the time spent together up to the present day. We had a few laughs when Lea made great but unsuccessful efforts to teach me how to spin cotton by hand! A few occasions we joined efforts in neighbour activities such as to chase away the hungry mongooses that were after her chickens or scaring the monkeys from our vegetable garden. She also guided us on the food availability options in Bedele as well as keeping us supplied with “injera” (1) and other special breads and local food.

Tibetan woman spinning wool in Pokhara/Nepal. Credit: Clemensmarabu. Legend: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

I still remember the smell of burning incense and roasting coffee of Lea´s coffee traditional ceremony to which we were invited several times during our stay. She would welcome us to her house dressed in her traditional clothes, having prepared for the event by spreading grass and flowers on the floor. Once seated, she would go through the various stages of coffee preparation while painstakingly explaining us what she was doing (2). A most enjoyable and educational time!

An Ethiopian woman preparing Ethiopian coffee at a traditional ceremony. She roasts, crushes and brews the coffee on the spot. Credit: sameffron; permission:

Ethiopian Airways has grown substantially from the airline that was in the late 80s. We took advantage of this to book our flight Harare-Buenos Aires-Rome-Harare as they now cover most world destinations.

During the long Buenos Aires-Addis Ababa leg of our travel, I talked to the stewardesses about Ethiopia and our time in Bedele. This did not fail as an ice breaker to start a conversation as there was plenty of time. While some of the attendants had not heard and or been in Bedele, most knew the area although none had been there and they were rather surprised to find someone coming from Uruguay that lived in Ethiopia! They were also curious to know what we were doing there!

Three days ago, during the flight between Addis Ababa and Rome, we were looked after by Sara, a very nice young stewardess. When she brought us our welcoming drinks, as always I mentioned that we had lived in Bedele for two years. “Oh, I was born there” she said and, before I could reply, she moved on to serve other passengers. So, Mabel and I waited for her return to get more details. We had to wait until we reached cruising altitude to get them.

Sara came back to take our food order and we immediately asked her “How come you were born in Bedele?” “My mother and father worked there” was her reply. She saw disbelief in our faces and, before we said anything, she added “my mother was a technician at a veterinary laboratory there”. There was only one veterinary laboratory in Bedele and I worked there!, I thought. So, immediately we asked for her mother´s name. “It was Lea” she said!

We were totally shaken by the news and it took us some time to recover and be able to ask for more details. We soon confirmed that we were talking about the person we knew by agreeing on details we both knew! Luckily, I had some pictures of Lea in Bedele in my computer that we showed to her. This time, she was the one gasping “Yes, she is my mother” adding “how young she was!”

She then told us that Lea and Getahun were well, near retirement. We did not know that they have had children and Sara told us that she also had an older brother, both approximately of the age of our own! So it was that we found Lea´s daughter, one Ethiopian among 123 million, quite a miraculous coincidence.

I kept thinking about the probability of finding one Ethiopian friend (including partners and children). For the sake of my calculation, I estimated that we struck a close friendship with 10 Ethiopians and that they all married and had two children (like Lea) and came up with 40 people in 123 million Ethiopians or a 1 in 3,075,000.

As this did not tell me much, I Googled on the probability of different events affecting me and selected a few to compare with the likelihood of our finding. There is a 1 in 220 chance that I would write a New York Times bestseller or 1 in 365 that I would die on my birthday. Less probable events include becoming a movie star (1 in 110,500). Being struck by lightning in a given year is given at 1 in 1,222,000 while getting hit by a bus at 1 in 2,200,000. So, our odds were lower than that but still higher than winning the lottery that is estimated at 1 in 45,057,474 (I imagine that there are lotteries with higher probability).

Living the trivia behind, it gave us great pleasure to have found Lea and we hope that, through her, we could get to our old friends in Ethiopia!

(1) A fermented spongy flatbread, made of teff (Eragrostis tef) flour.

(2) For details, see:

What on earth?! (16)

I must confess that I only give perfunctory attention to airline safety cards. I identify where the nearest exit to me is and do not check anything else, undoubtedly a bad practice!

My son´s previous job included hundreds of hours of flying and he did check the safety cards and found this one. At first, when he showed it to me I saw it as one more card.

Paying more attention I saw that, in case of an emergency landing, to get out through the emergency you were required to jump 1m 80 type of exit and 1m 35cm in the other!

I am sure that in a life-threatening emergency you would jump but you would probably meet some of your fellow retired passengers like us in the trauma section of the nearest hospital!

What on earth?! (15)

While working in Rome from 2006 to 2010 I walked from home to work and back. In that way, I managed to lose a good amount of weight. It was while walking through the Garbatella neighbourhood of Rome that I found this Land Rover, unfortunately abandoned.

It became a landmark during my walks and I could not help feeling pity for such a good machine to be left like that.

I drove a very similar one while working in Kenya in the 80´s and it never had a problem despite travelling about twenty 20 times a year for about five years to the Transmara area of Kenya.

The pictures show the bushsnob with Maasai moran visitors at Intona ranch in the Transmara of Kenya (left) and returning to Nairobi after a tricky drive through a muddy road up the Oloololo escarpment with Benson (left) and Joseph.

What on earth?! (14)

In southern South America, horses are found everywhere. In my birthplace, a city called Carmelo in the west of Uruguay, you not only find horses all over, but they are still used for transportation of goods such as firewood, rubble, garbage and other movable stuff.

This cart had just crossed the bridge over the arroyo de las Vacas (stream of the Cows) and it is moving into the city among the other vehicles!

I walk daily to keep fit and here I go to the beach and back, about 9km. Usually I find horses during my walk, sometimes tied, sometimes walking or galloping loose in the street.

A couple of days ago I was walking with Mabel and she noticed the interesting markings on this beast that I would, otherwise, have missed.

I can assure you that the arrow is not a photoshop trick. I do not know what genetic twist took place during the conception of this horse but there you are!

I would call it the “follow me horse”!

What on earth?! (13)

This tree in Corrientes prompted me to write this post. I knew it as a “Palo borracho” or drunken stick and I have seen them in Zimbabwe as well as in Latin America. I thought that all of them belonged to the same genus, Bombax. This is not so!

Bombax spp. are native of western Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and the subtropical regions of East Asia and northern Australia while the ones we get in South America belong to the Ceiba genus and they are native of the tropical and subtropical forsts of that continent..

Bombax ceiba, like other trees of the genus Bombax, is commonly known as cotton tree. More specifically, it is sometimes known as Malabar silk-cotton tree; red silk-cotton; red cotton tree; or ambiguously as silk-cotton or kapok. These trees have straight tall trunks and red  flowers with five petals that will produce a capsule which, when ripe, contains white fibres like cotton. Its trunk bears spikes to deter attacks by animals.

We have seen examples of what I now know are Ceiba spp. in Salta, Chaco, and Corrientes provinces of Argentina and they are rather special with their swollen trunks looking like bottles!

Above are pictures taken many years back of one of these trees that we found at the main square of Resistencia, the capital of Chaco Province.

Apart from “palo borracho”, the better known, Ceiba speciosa, is known as the floss silk tree in the USA is for “samu’ũ” (in Guarani), “paineira” (in Brazilian Portuguese), “toborochi” in Bolivia. It belongs to the same family as the baobab and the kapok.

Spot the beast

Now that you are familiar with the “palo borracho”, perhaps it may be easy for you to spot the beast in the picture?










What on earth?! (12)

Observation of “mechanical miracles” are not very frequent. I have already presented you with the 3-wheeled tractor seen at the Chaco Province in Argentina (

A few years back I travelled to Tajikistan a few times to supervise a project dealing with the veterinary services of that country. The work included travel to the countryside to see the veterinary outposts but also many meetings, most of which took place in the capital Dushanbe, a nice and safe city.

I used to walk a lot along the beautifully treed avenues of Dushanbe, trying to observe and understand the culture of the place as it was my first time in a country of Central Asia. While in one of my walks in the evening, I heard a loud noise coming from an engine being revved, showing some firing issues.

Through blue smoke I saw the culprit, a lorry clearly used for carrying garbage that was being started and moving down the street. Soon the smoke cleared and I could better observe the situation.

The vehicle had its bonnet open! I stopped to watch and saw someone (a mechanic I imagine) working on its engine while the lorry moved down the road somehow as I do not think its driver could see where he was going!

Luckily for the other motorists, the moving repair did not go on for a very long while and soon the lorry stopped and more conventional mechanical work took place!

What on earth?! (11)

A few years ago, I travelled to Zambia to backstop an emergency project that responded to one of the floods that hit part of that country. One of the consequences of this event was an expected increase in the prevalence of animal and plant diseases.

Evans Blue (EB) is one of the stains used to check the integrity of the cell membrane under the microscope. Normal cells keep the dye out, but it stains dead ones blue, indicating some pathology present and therefore a disease.

Fifty grammes of EB was about USD 250.00 (depending on the supplier). It is considered an expensive dye as blue is not an easy colour to find in nature.

So, when inspecting some of the purchases the project had done, I was rather surprised to find a bottle of 500g of the dye, produced in Zambia as, usually, EB is purchased from international chemical suppliers!

I believe that it was a rip-off from the local supplier that took advantage from the lack of knowledge of the client!

The rather large (and fake) Evans Blue bottle (left) and a true bottle on the right. The pen is for scale purposes.

What on earth?! (10)

This section of my blog deals with unusual finds, the majority concern with observations from the roads and streets we frequent that are mostly located in Zimbabwe, Argentina, and Italy.

I am well aware when, a long while ago, we were all politically incorrect for today standards. Driving was a man affair and, when there was a careless manoeuvre by a car, expressions like “woman driving!” or “what do you expect from a lady driver” to name two of the polite ones that were proffered!

Time passed and women had demonstrated that they are at least equal to men, and this includes driving a car (probably there are no F1 women champions because they cannot be bothered doing it!).

So, it was quite refreshing to see that nowadays women recognize themselves as drivers and even take advantage of their old “bad reputation” to advertise their presence and, probably, take advantage of it!

I spotted this car with the sign “ATTENTION! Lady driver” in Rome.

I keep thinking if the dent happened before or after the sign was placed!

What on earth?! (9)

Driving on Zimbabwean roads is full of surprises and there will be a few more entries under What on earth?! that are related to roads and streets in Zimbabwe!

Re-treading used tires is no longer common, probably because of safety regulations so people have found other uses for them. As far as Zimbabwe goes, door mats and sandals are the most common. Strips of tire rubber are also useful to hold car suspension parts in an emergency (and often permanently!) and there are many other uses, I am sure.

We overtook this pick-up (I should say bakkie) loaded with a very ingenious way of re-using old tires. I would like to sit on one to see how comfy they are!


I belong to a generation that did not lose telephones. The first ones I remember were known as crank phones (you needed to turn a handle to call the telephonist and tell her (I do not remember men doing this job!) the number you wished to talk to or, more recently, the dialling type. The arrival of the cell phone not only gradually made landlines obsolete but also placed phones, together with car and house keys and reading and sunglasses, among the losable items in our daily lives.

I do not like phones of any kind, and I admit not being very careful with cell phones misplacing mine quite often! Most of the time these are often only mild panics that disappear once the phone rings when called by Mabel and we reunite again.

The day before yesterday we went to Salta town in the morning. Mabel had a dentist appointment and I needed to get my hearing checked. After we completed our respective tasks, we met in town so that, together, we got some good (sugar-free) breakfast cereal. After that we drove to the shopping mall to get a few more things, including our laundry. The last stop was in Vaqueros, about 10km from our farm to get some of the great sausages that our butcher produces.

While waiting for Mabel to return with the susages, I noticed that my phone was not at its usual place in the car. As it has a tendency of falling from its place and hide under the seat I decided to search for it there, convinced that I would find it. When Mabel returned, I was undergoing a mild panic as the phone was not where I expected. A thorough inspection of the car and shopping bags produced no results. The same happened when we call my phone several times. Things were turning for the worse. The obvious conclusion was that I had left it in one of the shops we visited earlier or someone had taken it from my pocket while walking in town!

Before I go on with the story I need to clarify some technicalities. We have no cell phone network at the farm (being rather remote and surrounded by hills that interfere with the signal) but we do have a basic internet service that enables us the use of WhatsApp and Skype for phone calls. It is there where my MacBook resides from where I could look for my lost phone through the web.

Before we headed home, we decided to retrace our earlier movements in town and the shopping mall but we did not make any progress so, we drove to the farm to attempt to locate it from my computer. In its computers, tablets and phones, Apple places an app called “Find My” that is used when things like this happen. So, at the end of the afternoon we arrived at the farm and immediately “operation recovery” started!

After initial toothing problems I managed to get the app to work and found my phone. It was stationary at a shop in Salta town. I could see the shop (by using the street level view), but I failed to contact them by Skype to tell them that they had my phone. So, we decided to go back to Salta to visit the shop first thing in the morning.

After about an hour I looked again at the app´s map and, to my surprise, my phone was wandering through town! Spellbound, I saw it moving slowly for a while but then it gained momentum indicating that whoever had my phone walked for a while and then got either in a car or bus! I followed my cell phone journey for about an hour until it eventually stopped after nightfall. My phone had arrived to its new home! The fact that I knew where my phone was, made me somehow optimistic about recovering it.

The map from the “Find My” app showing both the location of my computer at the farm (top right) and that of my cellphone (bottom left) at night.

An enlarged image of the precise location of my cellphone.

The app indicated that my phone was “locked” and it offered me two options, to place a message so that the person could call me back or to apply the more drastic “erase” command. The latter would vaporize all my information from the phone if someone tried to unlock it. I chose the first option and placed a message, aware that we were not reachable at the farm, but hoping to get an SMS in Mabel´s phone when we were in town the next morning.

The news of the loss spread and friends and relatives recommended that I erase the phone and forget it as it would be impossible to recover it as the Police was unlikely to assist much. I took that into account but decided not to place the order to erase until the following day.

The morning brought a welcome heavy downpour as Salta had been going through a severe drought. However, the rain created an unexpected and serious drawback: the stream that we need to cross to leave the farm swelled and we could not cross it! That meant that we would not check for messages from the phone, increasing the risk, of someone breaking it. In view of this, I decided to place the “erase” command and, as recommended by friends, forget the phone and start planning for a replacement.

The swollen stream at our farm.

The day I lost my phone, and after my hearing exam I was recommended to start using a hearing aid on my right ear and this needed further tests to choose the right gadget. I tried to do this that same day but the place was busy so I could only do this three days later. I booked the appointment in the understanding that they would call me if there was a cancellation and they could see me earlier. While waiting for the stream to allow us to cross it, I decided to place a Skype call to them to see if an earlier appointment was possible.

I talked to the same receptionist I had seen who mentioned that she had called my cellphone several times to offer me an earlier appointment and that, eventually, a very concerned lady replied and informed her that she had found the phone on the street but could not contact its owner! Wisely the lady, called Eva, had left her cellphone number that the receptionist gave me.

From then on, it was all very easy! I called Eva and agreed to meet at a place in town where she returned my phone. I was very lucky!

Clearly, the world would be a great place if we would all be like Eva!