Ethiopia

A Visit to the Biggest Market in Addis

The last time I went to Merkato was about a couple of months ago with my sister to buy carpet for her house. Besides that, I dread going there all together. It is filled with all sorts of markets and also Godana Tedadari and thieves. You are always warned not to take any valuable thing with you, especially your cell phone. I got really scared when they told me not to take my phone with me, I mean, if the thief was that blunt enough to take my phone, whatever will happen to my bag or anything else I’d buy?

My mother grew up in Merkato, lived there almost all her life. Her father, owned almost a whole block in the heart of Merkato. So I remember going there as a child all the time. I spent my weekends and also after schools there with my grandmother, aunts and cousins.

I remember the man who lived on the streets right outside my grandmother’s. He was really tall and slept with about 3 of his huge dogs. I remember they followed him around everywhere he went.

I remember a lady who also lived in the corner of the street. She sold candy and gum that were neatly stacked in a small carton/box. She also had a daughter who was probably my age at that time. The girl sometimes carried around the small box with the candy and gum and sold it all around Merkato. Now, my mom tells me that the lady still sells candy there; her daughter still goes to school and is always by her side.

I also remember running around on the streets like there was no harm. Of course, Merkato wasn’t as huge and filled with all these markets as it is now.

So on Saturday, I decided to go with my mom to do some cheap shopping. Along the way, [since I have a blog now] to take some pictures of the infamous Merkato.

But as soon as I left the house and got into a taxi, I remembered that I had forgotten my precious camera when I changed my purse. “Damn it! Damn it! Damn it!” I repeated in the car while my mom laughed at me…

Then I thought, wait a minute, I am a writer! A very good one too. So I decided that I would put as many details as possible to make you visualize everything that I saw there.

Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader—not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.” E.L. Doctorow

We got off the taxi by Amede- a street leading directly into the middle of Merkato. We walked in the inside-streets where there were no cars. The streets were as small as a tiny hallway which wouldn’t even fit 3 people to pass at once, it was filled with just STUFF. Bags, shoes, clothes, cosmetics, herbs and anything you can possibly think of is all there.

You see a shoes store filled with so many sneakers that you can’t keep your eye off them. From wall to wall and all the way up to the door are just shoes. And these shoes go from store to store, the whole block. Then followed the women’s shoes. (This part gave me a headache, since I’m a shoes fanatic.) I wanted to stop and look, but the colors of these cheap-China-made-fakes were just too overwhelming to look at. I kept picking up one after another asking for the price and my mom kept taking them from me and putting them back down. ‘The shoes you have in your room are about to kick you out of there; you don’t need anymore.” She kept repeating to me.

So we moved on to the block of bags, all sorts of them. Lady’s purses, students’ backpacks and huge luggage were stacked high up on the walls and roof of stores. The cheapness really shows on these bags, as there are rips on them and the lady selling them would say, “I’ll exchange it with another.” I mean, why put a torn up bag on display?

As we moved on, a lady selling vegetables like onions, potatoes and tomatoes, stacked in perfect pyramids on the corner, stood up and kissed my mom. I wondered where she knew her, then, I realized that my mom is a Merkato socialista, because I had ignored a lot of the people that have been saying hi to her the whole time here. Like the woman selling the vegetables, a lot of other women sat in a straight line next to her, also with their pyramids, as they kept touching them to make sure they were still in their perfect stacks.

In the next block, the smell of all kinds of Ethiopian herbs just hits you all at once, as these are also set up on the streets in a huge sac, probably up to my waist. You see so many different kinds of herbs that you question, how many kinds are there?!

Of course, there are still all the godana tedadari and all the beggars. I see them way to much now and I’m thinking this is normal. Of course it’s not, but what are we going to do about it…? Some walked around with their kids, some completely naked, and others with 2-3 different clothes on them because they probably don’t have a closet or a place to put them. I’m going to have to write another blog about these street people, because I don’t really believe most of them and their stories.

So this was a glimpse of Merkato that I saw today. I was only there for about 45 minutes. I hope this blog makes up for the missing pictures. But I’m planning on going next week too so, I’ll definitely have pictures then.

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2 thoughts on “A Visit to the Biggest Market in Addis

  1. You just reminded me my childhood. Growing in outskirts of Merkato with no neighbors and not allowed to socialize with the nearby people who live some distance merkato was my getaway cause whenever one of the maids or the guard is sent to buy something i would just snick out to go to merkato and return home with a lot of adventures and not a single seen being repeated.

  2. ahhh, Merkato! my second home. Yes Sara, the detailed description did make me visualize and didn’t miss the pictures. Thanks for bringing back memories. You have no idea how much closer you’re bringing me to feeling like I’m there. May I suggest an idea? I don’t know if you feel the same way I feel about abadir institute but I would love a little blog with some pictures of our old school. 🙂 And you write so beautifully. Keep it up sis.

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