Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives
Up on top of Entoto Mountain, in the outskirts of the capital, Geresu Gebela, a 68 year old security guard is a humbling man with many stories to tell. If his life is hard, he is not showing it.
He is cheerful, talkative and welcoming and he was on a second round of tej, inside the ‘Feres Megalebya Tej Bet” along with friends at the early hours of a Sunday when he invited The Reporter to spend part of his Sunday and a round of tej inside a public pub with dwindling customers in the midst of the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).
For him, this place has been his ritual, ever since he moved here more than a decade ago, as living in Addis Ababa became expensive for a man of little means. He earns what he calls a “hand to mouth” wage, which to him means well below the living minimum wage that should have been the norm for him.
“I work in Mercato as a security guard and earn 850 birr via an employment agency,” he told The Reporter. “But just to support my family, a wife I have loved for more than 40 years who has given me much more than I have given her, a home, I do double shift so my income becomes 1,700 Birr. In all my hardship and difficulties, I recognize I am a person of little means, but I am content with who I am and go to a wife, a partner for life who has grown with me and been there at each parts of my life,” the Arba Minch native adds.
Not far from the tej bet, his wife, Belaynesh Becha is fetching dry wood to sell to the market with a friend and a neighbor. A physical demanding job, she collects the wood for hours, she sells them for 25 birr when she is lucky, going down the mountain to an open market area on the side of a new park that is being built by the government like most women in the area.
When she is not lucky, she is forced to drop what she collected on the side of the road, for it to be picked up by others calls it a day and she comes home empty handed. That is as the mountain is too hard to climb back for her with such a hefty load of wood for many. This has been her life since she moved from the capital, as the government accused hers and others of illegal construction, demolished their homes and made her and her family homeless instantly.
She moved to Entoto, looking for an affordable life where she rents a place where she pays 600 birr per month and raised five of her kids and it has been a life of hardship, but many milestones – sad and happy.
“We are blessed with five children, but along the way, we lost seven of our other children and despite having little, we have given the surviving children a chance to be educated, a place to call home. We raised them to be humbled with their background but to have ambition far from our reality and to have a life that is better than we had given them,” Geresu told The Reporter as Belaynesh nods in agreement.
“What hardship affords you is the ability to be strong, gain strength and wisdom and always stand on your own. Being self-sufficient fulfils us, but life is hard,” she adds, complementing the words of her husband.
Belaynesh looked at other options, including working for a person who wanted to start a day-care. She wanted something less physical that gave her regular pay but that was not to be.
A mother figure, that was a natural job, she knew would be the most ideal, she thought, but that did not turn out as she liked and expected.
“The person had me work for six month, for 650 Birr a month, with lots of promises to pay me regularly, but after working for the person for that long, he just disappeared and refused to pick up his phone and left me stranded. I was forced to go back to what I used to because it was too much to support a family on the pay of Geresu,” she said.
“That has reduced my ambition of doing anything else, but what I have always done for a long time and despite all its shortcomings, it has sustained us, given us the resources to feed ourselves and put a roof above our heads,” she added
In most part of Entoto, there are many women like her, whose livelihood and whose ambition is to barely survive in the midst of an increasing of prices, little infrastructures and resources. Former owners of homes in the capital now forced to rent and barely survive on almost nothing.
Belaynesh’s friend, her partner who tags along with her to collect dry wood also moved to Entoto from Addis Ababa in order to raise her children but even at 700 birr rental, she has found it too expensive, to hard and is contemplating to move further to the rural parts looking for a cheaper arrangement of living. But she also knows how hard it would be in a much rural parts where things that are available to her, would be a far-fetched dream with young children at home – even a rationed supply of water.
She is running out of options, she told The Reporter.
“Here, we walk a long way to bring water that is rationed to us. We take risks with wild animals, dangerous treks and electricity remains scarce to us. But even this life is becoming out of reach. I have come to conclude that I am unlucky, I have run into a wall and my options are running out and I live a life that is becoming unbearable and with the burden of raising a very young family with growing needs,” she said.