Dear Diary – Merkato Mayhem

Phil emailed me today. Bad news. He made in from Uganda to Kenya but missed the only bus to Ethiopia. He is now planning on hitching a ride with some Somali truckers he met at a camp in Nairobi…sounds seriously dodgy! So I guess I will have to wait here in Addis Ababa until he at least makes it over the border, then I can make my way South.

I got all my money changed in one of the big banks and was a little nervous by the 4 AK7 clad guards who demanded I give them my big backpack to “mind” as I went into the bank. Guess guys with guns is a sight you get used to in Africa, but it still makes me feel quite nervous at times.I got a taxi to Hotel Wutma which seems like a nice little place run by 2 cool rastas, dropped off my bags and decided to check out the Addis Ababa Merkato- The biggest market in AFRICA!!

Attempting to get to the Merkato  is nearly as impossible as maneuvering your way around it. I sat inside the cramped mini bus taxi, with an old grandmother sitting next to me and a child sitting on top of me praying they would soon stop letting more people into the cramped taxi, and that we would soon be on your way. Beggars would come to the door of the taxi in a constant stream banging on the window, staring, pleading. It was a pretty devastating feeling not been able to help them all, but if you start handing out money or food hundreds more people will arrive on the scene.

In Ethiopia beggars can be everyone and anyone; the women, tribal men, the homeless, the shoeless, infants selling packets of tissues or sticks of chewing gum. There is no escaping their pleas –just being there is emotionally shattering as you feel their pain, and wish you could do more to smiles on their faces.

I eventually made it to what I could only guess was the infamous Merkato, with its boundaries as shady as some of its people. The place was hectic. Lorries unloading hundreds of oversized bags of maize as young boys carried it away on their backs resembling struggling ants. A man walks past me with his head bowed due to the weight of the 50 perfectly balanced pillows on his back.

You can walk around for hours weaving your way in and out of all the temporary stalls made of polythene sheets and with aluminium roofs. You need to be careful to avoid the big potholes full of goat shit and dirty water that runs from the mini streams that divide the stalls.

I moved on to the various spice stalls, tasting vanilla and cinnamon before I was pestered by all the flies hanging around. The place was repugnant; piles of flour, peppers, maize, apples, coffee pots and fake flowers lay side by side. Moving on I came across stall after stall of bad quality imported clothes from Indian scarves to Man United jerseys. You can come across stalls with lines of knives, machetes and guns as goats and mules wander by eating whatever waste food they can find amongst the rubbish.

When the sellers spot you they smile, they shout “You, you, you!” as others begin to turn and stare, pointing and laughing. You can block it out and feel rude or you can greet them back and be drawn into a conversation which inevitably ends in them trying to persuade you to by a Sofa or 20 metres of woven carpet! There is no escaping!

Mini Buses fly. Men sit around chewing chat that gets them high as their wives sit around cooking Injera (a flat tangy pancake part of their staple diet). It starts raining and you realise you hungry and lost. Your jeans are wet and brown from the mud and you’re sweating from the humidity. You are now broke from buying useless memorabilia or a quick handed kid has slipped his hand in and out of your pocket faster than you can say “Theif!”

It’s a once in a life time experience, let that be said. But once in a lifetime is enough for me!

  • Malou Prestado
    January 13, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    Great picture!

    • intrepidtraveller
      January 14, 2012 at 2:44 am


  • Carl D'Agostino
    January 13, 2012 at 10:58 pm

    More people in US should know these things. If all you have is a one room apt. with fridge, stove,toilet, a TV and some old furniture, clean water and food, you live better than half the people on this planet. The constant stench and present of the smells of urine and human and animals feces – we can’t imagine living in such filth. Our alleged poor live like kings. AK47’s are far from decoratives as well.

    • intrepidtraveller
      January 14, 2012 at 2:45 am

      You’re dead right..the Ak47 are far from decorative but luckily I never saw them used! :)

  • mj monaghan
    January 15, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    Great that you’re sharing a part of the world that most of us will never see. The poverty and conditions are truly mind-blowing. Safe travels to you.

    • intrepidtraveller
      January 15, 2012 at 8:53 pm

      Thanks for the comment. It really is a difficult place to travel but it is also spectacularly beautiful and the people are so welcoming which make it all more worthwhile! :)

  • wellsforzoe
    January 15, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    I’m enjoying your adventures

    • intrepidtraveller
      January 15, 2012 at 10:49 pm

      I’m glad to hear that! :)

  • Russell Smith
    January 20, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    I loved the photograph you took. You are quite the photog. You should write a travel book. Use the blog entries as the backbone, your diary entries and flesh it out a little with memories as they come to you. You have such a good sense of humor, a sense of the ludicrous and a sense of adventure. I really so admire you.

    • intrepidtraveller
      January 30, 2012 at 5:29 pm

      I would love to write a travel book sometime..maybe in a few years when I have some more stories, more life experience and better writing skills! :)

  • rastaphoto
    January 22, 2012 at 10:59 pm

    On Churchill street there is a place (Hope – where you can buy food coupons to give to people begging. You get around 16 meals for a dollar. Just in case someone reads this and is heading there

    • intrepidtraveller
      January 30, 2012 at 5:32 pm

      Thanks for the info, sounds like a really great idea!