Last week in Ethiopia we had the opportunity to visit the Addis Merkato, considered to be the largest open market in Africa.
Initially overwhelm by the hectic scene, chaos, noise, myriads of business trading all sort of goods, we have adventured into the side streets which lead to various sections of the market.
Despite the large size, it is always possible to exit the market from different sides and join one of the main roads surrounding the area. From there it is easy to walk back to the starting point or look for transport.
Our guide, Joseph, a tourism student, is very knowledgeable about Addis and the Merkato, and helps us communicating with local. Gradually, the market starts to make sense.
We walked throughout stalls selling exotic spices and strong coffee beans. Primarily female and kids are working there and call us “faranji” as we pass by. To them, every foreigner is from China.
We learn about the Enset, “false banana” paste, a multipurpose crop feeding more people per square miles than any other cereal.
Perhaps the most interesting section is the “recycling” area where things get fixed and eventually traded back in the market. The sound from hundreds of workers chiselling hard material, joining metals part, fixing pots, is like a restless jazz orchestra. In the Merkato, everything gets recycled.
People welcome us with curiosity. Some smile and do not mind our presence; others let us understand, in a polite way, that photographs are unwanted. Kids are excited at meeting foreigners and like the engagement. Some wants to take photos with us.
At the end of our visit, just before sunset, leaving the market means wanting to go back soon to understand more.