Wading into the market chaos just west of the center known as the Merkato can be a rewarding experience if you enter with the right frame of mind. You may find the most eloquent aroma wafting from precious incense. And you may also find that your wallet has been stolen and that your shoes are covered in a sticky mixture of human and animal shit.
Some say it is the largest market in Africa, but as its exact borders are as vague and shady as many of its occupants, this is hard to verify. What should be noted, however, is that this isn’t one of those nicely photogenic markets for tourists with goods laid out on the ground or on little stalls. Most vendors now have permanent tin shacks in which to house their wares, so in the eyes of some this changes the market from a scene of exotica to just a slum.
The mass of stalls, produce and people may seem impenetrable, but on closer examination one will notice the market has a careful organization with different sections for different products. If you search long enough you can find everything from Kalashnikovs to camels for sale. If you’re not interested in assault rifles or camels, you can spend your money on silver jewelry, spices, goats or anything else that takes your fancy. There’s even a “recycling market” where sandals (made out of old tires), coffee pots (old Italian olive tins) and other interesting gear can be found.
The Merkato is at its most active on weekends when people from all over the country flock in, but again, do be warned that if you’re going to be robbed anywhere in Ethiopia, it will be here. Even several Ethiopians we spoke with had had their pockets picked clean in the Merkato. And watch the kids especially – when the packs of them swirl around you, you can feel their hands running over your pockets.
Scenes of the Merkato:
Live chickens for sale… When they’re held upside down, they become more passive:
I wonder how comfortable this method of transportation was?