Published On  Oct 16,  2011






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Although growing, Addis Abeba has many faces. As the rich enjoy the luxury of the best of things in the fair city, the poor live in the misery of self-contained worlds. A lot goes in the shanties of the city, yet it all seems so strange whenever told. No different are the unusual facets of life in Kuchira Sefer.

KUCHIRA-So Much Goes Underground

Alike the bliss of booming urban centers, Addis Ababa hosts shanties and slums. The picture depicts top view of the locality called Kuchira, on the eastern end of Mercato, the largest open market in the country. 

The windy breeze of October is felt stronger in the evenings while ignoring the hustle and bustle around the Kuchira Sefere on the eastern end of Mercato. The area ought to have been considered as the epicenter of the market because the site was where the invading Italian forces located the place to be the market for the indigenous people. Hence, the place was named “Mercato Deejino” by veterans.

Kuchira Sefer is a area on the edge of Mercato revealing quite a self-contained and different world. Last weekend, I had joined a group of mourners who had no choice but to walk through the back streets of that thickly crowded village, which seemed to be habited by the underworld.

To be honest, we were scared to pass by the staring crowds in the dim light of red bulbs. Our first encounter was on the food serving front, if I may call it that. Women and young girls were sitting in front of their piles of injera and barking out nasty words to discredit the quality of injera other than their own. Some boys were making tea or coffee on small charcoal ovens. A triangular pastry called Samosa, filled with vegetables and cooked lentils, were being sold as hot cakes. Boiled eggs, potatoes and cereals were available to those who could afford to buy them. Roasted maize and cereals (locally called Kolo) seemed to be favorites around Kuchira Sefer’s make-shift stalls. Further on, there were benches laid out for clients who liked to gulp drinks down their throats.

As beverages follow food intake, local brews like Tella and Araki are taken as not only supplements but also as coolers after chewing chat. Sex workers hang around exposing their half-naked bodies. Unlike tradition, they unashamedly solicit potential clients using terms and words that one never expects to hear from the mouth of a woman. Small children call “Alga, Alga” vending bedrooms for two or three Br on short-stay lease.

As we sat in the tent of the mourning family, we heard almost every sound generated from every cracking bed as men unleashed their accumulated feelings upon the women. One had to wonder how many of these couples were performing sex protected.

Some of the bedrooms, we were told, were suspended under the roofs and accessed by waning wooden ladders that often break down under the pressures of long usage. We were also told that some of the beds were ‘double-deckers’, offering services for shared business.

We could hear long shrills of pain alternating with laughter and giggles. Arguments about wearing or not wearing condoms were also audible, perhaps more so because the audience in the tent were deadly mute and listening to what was obviously going on in the adjacent room. We could hear the heaves of the acts of sex and the inflow of clients coming turn by turn.

The women were bedded after they had received their due payments in advance, we were told. Sometimes the two parties failed to strike a deal on payment. The women seemed to have the upper hand as they often threatened their companions. They shouted and ridiculed their partners with harsh slang terms: perhaps rolling up their sleeves and getting ready to put up a physical fight if necessary. The men readily paid whatever they are asked to pay.

Vendors roamed about making inquiries if there was any problem that called for their assistance at all. They communicated with the women verbally using obscure language best known to them only. They seemed to know which side their bread was buttered on.

It is not customary to play music when there is someone grieving in the neighborhood; but the customary practice of silence has no place in Kuchira Sefer. It just does not work. Music was blaring loud all over the place interrupted by the market’s barking sounds of the little children. The sound of music reverberated and echoed from every corner.

Bellete is a daily laborer engaged in cobble stone production and the paving business. He had come here to pay tribute and express his deep sorrow for the mournful family. Has been living in Kuchira Sefer for over two years and says he has a fair knowledge of the village.

“Kuchira is a large slum within a slum.” Belete said.  “Sanitation is nonexistent in this village. Plastic bags are used to transport solid and liquid excretions to a common sledge depot by the side of a little stream away from the village”

Although the locality is situated more or less in the middle of the capital, you can say that life is almost exclusive and secluded from the rest of the capital or the rest of the world, if you like.

The residents of the neighborhood make coffee and sip it together. They engage in gossip and discuss trivial matters such as the colors or makes of clothes and dresses. Whiffs of coffee being roasted are taken as an engaging or appetizing aroma around the houses. Stories of sexual encounters and blowing winds are opening topics at coffee ceremonies. Easy laughter and giggling is the rule rather than the exception, making these experiences almost soothing and comforting. The experiences are told in relay form. Sometimes the young women call their friends “Balooka”, a name derived from the word “Bal” meaning a husband in Amharic. They seem to always have a stand-by lover, who can be called on whenever he is needed. A woman feels jealous whenever another woman eyes her “Balooka” lustily. This feeling often goes as far and deep as translating itself into bad language or even exchanges of ferrous blows and nose bleeding shows.

A small sprinkle of blood can often trigger a lot of outcries and rock are then thrown at one another; causing a lot of damage to human bodies and property. Police officers who seem to be tired of constant complaints come in groups and take the perpetrators to the nearest local precinct.

However, the young men of Kuchira Sefere avoid such confrontation for fear of drawing the attention of police, always on the look out to arrest fugitives at large in the windy breeze of October.

BY Girma Feyissa




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