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
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
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.