Children of the night at a crossroad
There is something quite extraordinary about the area known as Checheneya – not far from the once quite resident area turned a business district named, Bole in midst of the most desired part of the capital. Chechenya, named after the infamous territory of the Russian Federation known for its conflicts more than its peace, this part of Addis Ababa is dusty most of the time and muddy and messy when it rains.
This is where young adolescent children come to sell their bodies for money in the wee hours of the night. Here, an average ‘night worker’ usually earns thousands of birr a night and the younger the better.
From the massage parlors to the street workers, who stand on the side in the wee hours of the night, the pimps who wear mostly emulated brand name cloths from China, this is where many realized their dreams easily, but now have come to realize that success is not certainly that easy.
With little and no social safety nets, all business here has taken a sudden and cruel sharp turn. Many have become victims of sudden success with little foundation to stand on now that most of the businesses have been forced to close down.
With most of the establishments shutdown, in the midst of COVID-10 pandemic and the recent unrest that has devastated the well-being of the city, the area is a skeleton of what is used to be for the workers whose youth brought many to their doorsteps not too long ago.
“I used to earn thousands in one of the massage paroles here, but since it closed down, with little savings and money spent on accessories and free rent, I have now been forced to sell all I bought with money earned for a fraction of what I paid and I am now standing on the street waiting for a customer that is now avoiding us because of the pandemic,” a 17-year-old, who goes by the name of ‘TG’ said, standing next to an area that was once crowded with people, now almost a ghost like street.
For too long, Chechenya has been regarded as an extension of Bole. It was supposed to be a place of skyscrapers, not the shantytown area it has become with ugly architectures made of out of mud huts.
However, with growing buildings that are partially finished and taking a generation to complete, and famous butcheries such as Yilma and dotted hotels with little standard, this area has remained a place of high ambition, little reality and false dreams.
Not far from this area, in a city of little live music that was a fixture of its past, the famous Getachew Kassa and others held an audience with fans – old and new – in a restaurant named Queen of Sheba DC that was opened by an Ethiopian-American returnee. The place had big ideas of making it a hub for live music, but the plan has however faded.
Getachew, who returned to Ethiopia after more than three decades, complained of losing his only income and being forced to cancel his appearances. The busy place is not empty, selling what others sell, becoming like all others and without the live music, embracing the status quo.
“When we had Getachew Kassa preform with us, we were extremely busy, we had a full house and we had a full staff. Right now, not as much as the impact is being felt, not just by the artist himself, but all of us who worked here in the late hours of the evening and we just hope we will live to tell this moment and learn from it and survive it,” a young waiter, who once made a majority his income from tips, told The Reporter.
Back at Chechenya, it is also as concerning as it is worrisome, as most establishments turn dark and most of the children that made is lively stand in the dark for business and many street workers wait for customers that seldom come.
It is cold at night, dangerous with street children who mistreat them with abusive words and middle aged men who touch them for no reason but to abuse them in the watchful eyes of soldiers who see them as deserving of abuses, yet another 16-year-old waited for a pick up.
She wore excessive makeup that made her hide her youth and vulnerabilities.
“I worked in a massage parlor since I came to Addis and we were protected, I felt safe, happy and I made more money that I could ever think of. I had regular customers and those who walked in the night and asked for me and I was content and I was happy. When COVID-19 started, we were told to be careful, to wash our hands, and wear a mask when we give services such as a massage for the police to see when they came,” she said.
“But our real work is sex and wearing a mask and preforming what everyone comes to get and expects us to give is impossible to do. One night, the owner of the business called us all for a meeting, told us the establishment was closing and we were thrown outside with little money saved,” she added.
Her friend also followed her friend and lived freely in one of the other parlors, but her dream of making money, while being pampered with gifts and money has faded. While she had lots of money to spend, she saved none, at only 17; she did not look ahead and, as she said, was foolish not to have saved much of her income for the future.
“When I lived in those parlor houses, I did not have to worry about paying rent. I was fed and I slept the whole day and got up in the late afternoon, to eat, smoke, drink alcohol and wait for my regular customers. I felt content and I was happy and protected. I brought business to the owners and they offered me plenty,” she told The Reporter.
“I never felt I would be in a position for not having enough resources and the responsibility to pay rent. I now feel used and disposed. My old life now seems a far-fetched dream,” she cried.