Photo Essay - January 12, 2004 -  MediaETHIOPIA


'Aye Merkato', was what Poet Tsegaye Gebre Medhin once wrote about this place that holds a special place in every Addis Ababans collective memory. "Aye" is of course just a phrase; but in the pen of this giant poet, 'aye' says a lot about Merkato. Only a week or so ago, we decided to spend a few hours at Merkato to do a story for this column. We knew, of course, pictures - only pictures by themselves devoid of sound, smell and the fury of human movement - can never catch the essence of what is Merkato. Nonetheless, we had to do a story and our only equipment was a camera and our medium "html' files. 

In all honesty, we could not think of any other place in this ancient land of ours where the society that we call Ethiopia is alive in all its weaknesses and strengths.  The first thing that you notice in Merkato is that there is no item that you need for your daily life in Ethiopia that you can not find in this place. Last year this time, as EEPCO was rationing electricity, the hottest items in Merkato were Chinese generators. It is funny but you still can find these generators at half-price now. 

Just for the fun of it, we dropped by one of the souks/shops near Tana Gebeya. As the custom demands in Merkato, the owner - a very polite and attractive lady in her mid-30s or so - offered us a choice of tea or macchiato. An Ethiopian vacationer from the US had accompanied us on this assignment and it was theatrical watching him amused by this tradition. For this person who is used to order his food on-line (who knows what else), the concept of enjoying a shopping trip and being offered a cup of macchiato by the very shop owner herself was a tradition he had forgotten. "Aye Ethiopia ina lijochchwa" was our reaction. 
Going from top to bottom, the old Ihil berenda, Military Tera (Raguel) and some of Gash Abera Mola's attempt to clean up Addis.  We chatted a little bit with the owner who then politely and tactfully enquired what we wanted to purchase. A colleague of us apparently wanted to make the conversation interesting and hinted that what we wanted to purchase was something 'kebad..betam kebad ina aschegari neger'. The lady started to whisper and said 'mn chigir ale tadiya? Merkato new yefelegacihutin inafelaligalen". The conversation was taken to a more entertaining tone (at least for us) when the colleague said "indew ye-migegn aymesllenim. idilachin inmoker bilen new. Indew hulet Temenja biTe..ketechale klashin (AK-47 mehonu new) asben neber." We thought we might have looked ungrateful for the coffee and wasting her time. But in the Merkato tradition, nothing is un-available. The surprise answer from the lady was: "tadiya mn chigir ale. Zemede ke-tachignaw souk ga ilikachuhalehu! irsu ga yemeygegn neger yelem - genzeb iskale"

Let us say it required a lot of charm and sweet talk from our side to talk our way out of this prank of ours. The lesson, however, was that in Merkato 'if you need it, they will then bring it". When all was said and done, we ended up buying a pair of Chinese shoes for one colleague. The purchase itself - we thought - was ironic; only last year one of us had come to Merkato to buy a Chinese generator. This year it was a Chinese shoes! "Aye China" - you guessed it - was our collective reaction. For the memory, however, God Bless Merkato!

Going from top to bottom, Kuchera bank, Anbessa Atobus tera, minalesh tera and sebategna. 

Going from top to bottom, Lidet, 

talaqu Mesgid (Anwar) and Tana Gebeya. 

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