Addis Merkato (Amharic for "New Market", popularly just Merkato or Mercato, from the Italian for "market") is the name for the large open-air marketplace in the Addis Ketema district of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and for the neighbourhood in which it is located.
Merkato is the largest open air market in Africa, covering several square miles and employing an estimated 13,000 people in 7,100 business entities. The primary merchandise passing through the Merkato is locally-grown agricultural products — most notably
The Addis Merkato was instituted by segregationist policies of the Italian occupational government. They restricted the historic St. George Merkato to Europeans, causing the mostly Arab tradesmen to relocate a half mile to the west. Over time, local shopkeepers displaced the Arab merchants and, since the 1960s, the Addis Merkato has had a mostly local flavour. ( From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
How big is Merkato?
I took the following interview from what’s out Magazine because it impressed me how big Merkato is and how the people replied to this question. By the way, if the question “How big is the biggest open air market in Africa?” was raised for those volunteers who had visited Merkato before – what would your reply be?
“How big is the biggest open air market in Africa?” I asked Mrs. Kibitu Tolosa, who was sitting cross legged in front of a pile of the best butter, “first grade and all from the Sheno area.” The pile of butter was huge light yellow and had a sweet rancid smell. “It’s the biggest in Africa” Mrs Kibtu Tolosa reassured me with a wave of her fly whisk, “the biggest.” But how do you know, I asked. “It just is,” she reiterated, “it just is. Everybody knows that.
“How big is the biggest open air market in Africa?” I next questioned Mr. Abdulrazak Somali, a man who was selling shoes near the Anuar Mosque. ”Oh yes, it’s the biggest” he confirmed, with a nonchalant nod, plucking a leaf from the packet snuggled in his overall pocket. “It’s the biggest open air…” “Yes, but how do you know?” I asked him. “It just is, it just is… what’s your foot size, sir? The very best Nike here, look, straight from Shanghai.”
“How do I know?” Mr. Afewerk Wondafrash looked at me in disbelief. “I know people who have sold things here for forty years and they wouldn’t presume to say they have visited every nook and cranny of the Merkato.“ He sat on his short stool in Korecha Terra, adroitly sewing a crimson plastic thread onto a saddle seat. “See here,” he told me, “how big is my shop?” I looked around. It was tiny, with rows of leather belts on the ceiling and the walls, and every inch of the ground apart for his work surface occupied with a wealth of objects. “Well,” Mr. Afewerk Wondafrash said, “go on, tell me it‘s small. “It is small,” I murmured, “No,” the saddle maker whispered to me conspiratorially, “It’s as big as the whole universe!” “And I’ll tell you a secret,” he went on, a twinkle in his eye, “the Merkato is so very big that we even have a monopoly in tall tales!”
Where? The Merkato, the biggest open air market in Africa, is open every day, except Sundays. Beware of the going price of tall tales.
(Taken from “What is out” magazine April 2010 edition )
Ethiopia Report – By Rayyan Pirani
The experiences gained in Ethiopia can never be reproduced, after being to over 37 countries in my 17 years; this has by far been the most memorable. The opportunities given to us such as interacting with the local population, improving the surrounding environment in the children’s home and finally being given the opportunity to beautifying the campus at Lem-Lem school will never be able to be duplicated.
When choosing which project to attend, I immediately took favour to the only African country on the list, Ethiopia. After being chosen to come, I was rather sceptical in the sense that I was unsure what I would experience, what the living conditions would be like and how safe I’d be. The depiction of Ethiopia in the western world is completely opposite to what it is and after experiencing what this beautiful country has to offer I feel that it is my responsibility to change the preconceived notions about the country. The country has been nothing but safe, the people have been hospitable and the environment has been nothing but beautiful.
After entering the gates of the Children’s home, I was anxious to meet the children. We walked in to the main room after touring the city. The glow in the children’s eyes brought a smile to my face. I froze for a second waiting to see who would approach me first. To my surprise, the children were not shy at all. Their command of the English language was exceptional as well. We interacted and I soon not only realized their love for education but the governments influence on education as well. Against the stereotype, the Ethiopian government puts a strong emphasis on education because they believe that it is the foundation for everything. The children in the orphanage were driven to succeed. The work load and level at which they learn at is outstanding considering the science work done at a grade 9 level in Ethiopia is being completed at the grade 11 level in Canada. The children realize even at such a young age that they are given the opportunity to do well and the fact that they have been taken in and been given the resources needed to do well make them want to achieve their aspirations even more Education aside, the country has a little too much to offer! From the beauty of the landscape and churches in Lalibella to the hustle and bustle in Marcato to the serene setting in the Hilton and Sheraton hotels, the country has everything anybody would want. Local culture and nationalism is prolific throughout the country and the dancing and food is to die for. The local population is more than friendly and with the great help of the Projects Abroad team there is no shortage of things to see and places to go.
Projects Abroad has set up an exceptional program, providing us with a wide variety of locations to work at with a diverse range of tasks. Working at the orphanage, we painted the compound, assisted with gardening and interacted with the children. At the Lem-Lem school we also painted murals on the kindergarten and main school walls as well as built a Kojo or a traditional hut and lastly the projects abroad team took us to Hillside School to interact with children our age as well.
“Goodnight guys, have a good dream.” Was the resounding sound in my head as I slept in the comfortable bed at the Children’s Home Kidane Mehret. The sights and sounds of this experience will never be forgotten and the memories will last a lifetime. I’d love to return someday to see how our efforts in the community have been received and to see how successful and prosperous all the students of Kidane Mehret Orphanage have become.
Nature and Wildlife
Ethiopia is a land of natural contrasts, from the tops of the rugged Simien Mountain to the depths of the Danakil Depression which, at 120 meters below sea level, is one of the lowest dry land points on earth.
The cornucopia of natural beauty that blesses Ethiopia offers an astonishing variety of landscapes: Afro – Alpine highlands soaring to around 4,300 meters, deserts sprinkled with salt flats and yellow sulphur, lake lands with rare and beautiful birds, moors and mountains, the splendour of the Great Rift Valley, white-water rivers, savannah teeming with game, giant waterfalls, dense and lush jungle….the list is endless.
The Bale Mountains National Park, which covers an area of 2,470 square kilometres, contains Ethiopia’s second highest peak, Mount Batu (4,307 meters). It is an area where one can either walk or drive, one of the best places to see the endemic Semien red fox, the mountain nyala and Menelik’s bushbuck. Amongst a profusion of birds, other animals to be seen include Anubis baboons, colobus monkeys, giant forest hog, lions and leopards. The creeks of the park, which become important rivers further down, offer some of Africa’s finest fishing for both rainbow and brown trout.
The two southern most of the chain of Ethiopia’s Rift Valley lakes, Abaya and Chamo, are the lushest in vegetation and the richest in wildlife. The Nechisar National Park embraces the eastern shores of the lakes and was established as a sanctuary for the endemic Swayne’s hartebeest. The lakes support many species of fish, Including the Niel perch and the tiger fish, as well as hordes of hippos and crocodiles. The bluff between the lakes has numerous springs, after which the nearest town, Areba Minch, 40 springs, is named.
Not far from the Bale Mountains is one of the worlds most spectacular and extensive underground caverns: the Sof Omar cave system. Formed by the Web River as it changed its course in the distant past and carved a new channel through limestone foothills, Sof Omar is an extraordinary natural phenomenon of breathtaking beauty.
[FROM SELAMTA THE IN FLIGHT MAGAZINE OF ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES, VOL. 26 – NUMBER 3]
By Mirjam Zhender – Journalism Volunteer
It’s been nearly three months since I came to Ethiopia. Being a foreigner who has never set foot in Ethiopian, my experience in this country has generally been a pleasant one. Now, as I prepare to go back in time here.
I arrived at Bole International Airport 12 weeks ago. I arrived in the middle of the night; I was jet-lagged and there wasn’t much to take in at that time. The next day I was able to look around and the city seemed huge for me. I grew up and live in a small village with 1,500 inhabitants and the biggest city in Switzerland, Zurich, has 400,000.
The first two weeks were tough. Constant power cuts, being pointed at and called ferenji on the streets and the sight of poor people all over the city were some of the things I was not used to. Soon enough I got used to the way of life here and learned a few things from my mistakes on the way. For instance, it was constantly raining for the first month of my stay. I learned never to go outside without an umbrella after I got soaked through to the skin the first time. The food here proved a little problematic for my stomach for the first three weeks. I was new to injera and was not used to being careful about the type and amount of food I ate. Since I was living with a host family here, I had most of my meals with them and got used to different kinds of Ethiopian food and developed my taste. I especially developed a taste for Shiro.
My knowledge about the country and its culture developed through conversations with different people. All my conversations had one thing in common: everyone said to me “How is Ethiopia?” and “how is Addis?” I never really knew how to answer those questions. Good, beautiful, busy…..? For me, a one-word answer is insufficient to express the range of feelings I had.
I found Ethiopia to be full of diverse aspects. I loved the landscape, the culture and its people. I visited many places: Awassa, Bahir Dar, Dire Dawa and Harar: each spectacular on its own. Having had no idea and expectation about the country, I was positively surprised by what I saw.
Of course, there were a few downsides .The large population’s lack of adequate infrastructure, the traffic and the pollution from the car exhausts and dust all proved difficult to handle at times.
One thing that caught my attention and stayed with me from the beginning was the people and their good nature. Everywhere I went people always had a nice smile on their face and some nice words on their lips. My worries of venturing into a country I didn’t know dissipated really fast.
Whenever I got lost or was in need of help in communication, I found that I could rely on the kind assistance of people here, be it on the streets or in a shared taxi. This was a nice change from the individualistic and self-centred attitude I was used to in the west.
I will miss many things from Ethiopia when I go back. Ethiopian coffee tops the list. I never drank coffee and disliked the smell of it back home. Soon after my arrival, I tasted Ethiopian coffee and acquired a liking for it immediately. I will especially miss the Ethiopian coffee and ceremony which I got used to at my host family. As I prepare for my departure, I buy some coffee beans to take back for my family. I know I will be back to Ethiopia in the future for whatever reason. But for now I will take some part of Ethiopia and its culture and tell my family the wonderful story of the country that is the birth place of coffee.
My time in Ethiopia
At the end of January I decided to stop my studies. I started to search for some volunteering organisation. I found the website of Projects Abroad and everything looked beautiful. I made an appointment with Projects Abroad in Dordrecht (Holland) and after 2 minutes we agreed that Ethiopia was the best option for me.
After I made my decision and filled in all the forms the Projects Abroad staff in Ethiopia started to get in contact with me. The contact was very good and I could ask all the questions I had. They even called me a few times!
My host family
For those 9 weeks it really felt like my own family. I got my little sisters to play with; I had my older sisters to talk to, share clothes, go out with and meet new people. Especially in my first weeks! Then there was the lovely mother, who really takes good care of all the volunteers. You never ate too little, actually always too much. It is a big, busy family and almost everyday I saw new people coming to the house. During my first few weeks I spent a lot of time with the daughters of the family. My first Sunday I went to church with the oldest daughter of the family. It was a protestant church and I loved the worship there!
The work I was doing in Ethiopia was amazing. In the morning I started at Safe House, a day care centre where the children are given breakfast and sent to private school with lunch. They will return to eat dinner at Safe House. Every morning when I passed the gate of Safe House all the kids ran to me and gave me a kiss or a hug. I took my time over it because I really loved them. It is maybe the smallest thing you can do to make them happy.
I had really good relationships with the staff in Safe House. Every morning I helped the teachers preparing lessons or with activities for the small kids. Sometimes I gave the lessons myself. I taught or played games with the little ones, who are too young to go to school. In holiday time all the kids were at Safe House, a big difference but great! I also talked and had fun with the teenagers. We did some sports like volleyball, basketball, football, gymnastic or ‘acrobatics’. Sometimes some teenagers came with amazing life stories. Also there was a boy Mickey, who was too old to get a sponsor in Safe House. I will write another article about how I met him and why I am going to sponsor him in the future.
After lunch in Safe House I finished my working day at Kidane Mihet, an orphanage.
I only worked there with the babies. Amazing! I love them all, every single baby. The sisters are doing all they can in the orphanage but they really don’t have time to hold the babies and just give them some love. Without volunteers the babies might lie 24 hours a day in bed. They only get out of bed for a change or a bath a few times a week.
Sometimes they lie on big mattresses in the baby room, where they can play. It is hard to see how many babies have wounds on their back and neck from lying down all the time. They also have wounds on their buttocks because they often end up wearing wet nappies for a long time. They really need and appreciate the help from volunteers. Despite the sadness I sometimes felt, it was so beautiful to hold the babies, give them their bottle and sing some songs till they fell asleep in my arms. I had a great time and not only with the babies. The staff and the nuns were amazing and so sweet. They made my day, every single day!
My free time
I love meeting new people so that’s what I started to do from my first Saturday. We had a very nice social meeting with all the volunteers. We went out for dinner and learned some traditional dances.
In Addis there are a lot of nice things to do. I didn’t have time enough to visit all of the sites. But one day I want to the exhibition hall, and there was a big British Council event. It was like a talent show. A lot of young Ethiopian dancers, rappers, artists and designers had come together and put on a big show. I went to some studios, and it was very interesting to see how musicians work here in Addis. I also went to some very interesting museums, and the famous Lion Zoo. I think there are a lot more things to do and see… So, maybe next time!
And then it is time to say goodbye. I thought I could say goodbye to all the kids after a big ‘bye-bye party’. The party happened but ‘bye-bye’ not. Just before my flight I went back to my placement to say goodbye again. It is hard to say goodbye. But I know that I will come back one day.
I made some real friends in Ethiopia; they all took me to the airport.
At Christmas I want to go back to see how everything is going, especially with Mickey and Yohannes. From now I want to raise money to come back every year and - if it is possible - more than once a year.
Ethiopia with its people and culture stole my heart and it will never be ‘goodbye’ forever.
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