Text Melektu Tesema
Photo Karen Obling
The thing about Mercato that captivates me the most is the daily activities associated with people from top to bottom. Really, it is unlike any other place in Addis and Ethiopia. Mercato starts of just west of Piassa and goes south to Amanuel Hospital and reaches Abinet intersection. It is said to be the biggest outdoor market in Africa, and it might very well be. With all its rumble and bust, smoke and dust, noise and shouts, dogs and donkeys, shops and kiosks it is an experience like no other.
This great market houses everything from a spice section to furniture and household, from Ethiopian made shoes to plastic products section, from the boutiques to second hand stores, from the traditional clothe and garment section to imported textile sections, from the electronic section to souvenirs shops, and I could go on… And of course you can’t forget the place “men alesh? Tera” basically meaning “what do you have?” This is where you can have anything old revived by the unparalleled manual cleaning the old ladies there do with sand and dust.
Everyone will get their share as long as they are in Mercato. For the smarter ones it is a place to grow and achieve. For the beginners it’s a place that gives hope. A person that starts as an aron boy usually puts money together to open his own store in a short time.
Aside from all the shops though, historically Mercato is a significant place because it was a market created around 1935 for only the locals by the occupying Italian force while Piassa was only for foreigners. Hence the very Italian sounding name of both Mercato and Piassa. From then until now it has built itself as the market center for the whole of Ethiopia. All inventories for shops in the countryside or other regions are bought at Mercato. If you have seen an Isuzu truck loaded to the top and tied with blue plastic – those are goods sold from Mercato being transported to the countryside.
The driving force that keeps taking me back to Mercato is the human spirit. I would say Mercato is one pinnacle place where time matters in Ethiopia, and to see people in character motivates my creativity. There is no prejudice or stereotype. As long as there is work you just need to negotiate. You can say it is a test of character for the buyer because it is how well you negotiate that puts your personality across. You might end up spending a lot less or more than you planned depending on how well you negotiate.
I would highly recommend you to go to Mercato, as it is a place like no other, and I am sure people there will have an interesting story to tell.
See a selection of photos from Mercato below.
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