Pandemic Vs. Tradition
Easter is one of the major religious holidays in Ethiopia; and with it, comes a unique tradition of preparing holiday feast for the Easter vigil. Ethiopians are among the few people around the world who prefer to slaughter their own animals, at home, in preparation of a holiday meal. Apparently, the live animal markets around the holidays is part of this celebration; usually, it is the head of the family that goes out shopping for live animals and it involves a lot of contact with the animals and the sellers, completely contrary to the recent COVID-19 realities and social distancing rules. Pictured above are holiday shoppers making deals to buy live chicken from a seller at the nearly deserted Shola Market, on Thursday. The obvious slowdown of holiday markets notwithstanding, and left unchecked, live animals markets in Ethiopia could may well be potential hotspots for the spread of the virus in Ethiopia.
A few days before Easter, Shola Open market is usually full of shoppers looking for last minutes bargains. This week, it was different. The area looked empty, abandoned at best. There were few customers; most of the sellers were looking at breaking even and a profit looked a farfetched dream. Many looked defeated by their new reality.
“I have not sold any chicken yet today and I brought just a few to begin with this year expecting lukewarm sales,” Tadesse Alemu said, as he organized what he brought from Bishoftu trying to get the attention of a few dozen shoppers who barely came his way.
“This is perhaps the first year I will go back home with the products I brought, which I have never done in the two decades I have been doing this business and I will have the saddest holiday season ever,” he told The Reporter, giving a glimpse of the reality felt by many businesses in Ethiopia and the world.
This is as shoppers opted to stay home as they face a virus that seemed so distant few months ago but now beginning to affect too many people in Ethiopia.
To Tadesse and others whose livelihoods depend on a sale, in the midst of a livelihood that is “from hands to mouth” as he said, the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has pushed them to have a sobering holiday, as opposed to the festivities they have come to expect year-after-year with little saving to help them deal with the financial challenges of the moment.
“While I understand why people are staying at home, instead of shopping, my concern is not just my health, but what I will eat in few months if I do not make money here. I prepared all year for this moment and it is heart-breaking that I cannot make the profit I need to sustain me for the weeks and months ahead,” Tadesse added.
In the other part of Shola, a man stood in facial cover, with no gloves playing with a live chicken as a way to negotiate its price. From 450 Birr, he negotiated it to 350 Birr, a reduction of 100 Birr. He seemed to be the only shopper around and his own personal sense of safety seemed wronged as he went around taking advantage of the bargain many offered, touching countless chicken, touching many hands and bank notes, overriding his need to wear a mask.
He had little option.
In all of Shola, there were many water dispensers, available to anyone, as a courtesy with no soap to follow the guidelines of government health officials to slow the spread of the virus that has so far affected more than 90 people in Ethiopia and killed three. The few people who were there, just splashed water as there were no soap, to give them little option to protect them.
The idea here is to make money, safety seemed a luxury.
“Around this time, I would have sold all of my eggs and would have packed my belongings by early afternoon to prepare for the next day business. Restaurant owners would have come; customers would have lined up to buy my organic products but not this year. I have barely sold enough to pay the transportation fee I paid in the morning. There might not be a reason to come back tomorrow for me. This year is a lost year,” Almaz told The Reporter, as she refused to avail her last name.
All around her, in a section where eggs are known to be sold, it looked empty and there were few onlookers but young men who sat, awaiting customers who need their products be physically transported to their vehicles.
Many of these young men came from the suburbs of Addis Ababa, hoping to make some money, from customers who are known to be generous around the holiday season and spend some on themselves and their families. It is not to be for many.
In the new Adey Ababa Stadium area, where live sheep are sold, it looked a bit lively with customers who are choosing to purchase sheep, not cows and share with others, in a tradition known as “Kertcha”. It looked business as usual, as many negotiated with facial covers and shoppers nervous if they would also have luck-warm business as their contemporaries.
“My most desired sheep sells for 6,000 Birr and the smallest sells for about 2,500 Birr” a sheep herder said, saying to all the came by how his are superior since they are from Debre Berhan.
A stone throw away, near Edna Mall, a Syrian Shawarma restaurant named – Number 1 Shawarma – that is known to sell affordable rapped chicken sat empty with no customers, as a Syrian outside cooked chicken barbecue.
Adna Mohammed, its owner, told The Reporter, the business had a brisk business, but has slowed down since the start of the pandemic and he is debating if it’s wo9rth staying open.
In front of him, another Shawarma restaurant closed down fearing the spread of the virus and gave the once lively area a sobering look, overshadowed by hotels such as Best Western Plus not far from it that also closed down last week.
In all around the city, in fact the nation and around the world, the corona virus has affected many and livelihoods have been forever changed. Many who had come to Addis Ababa to make money, involved in what is otherwise a dead-end position to be used as a transition.
At Beer Garden, the restaurant had only few tables used as many who used to frequent the place for home –made of its craft beer seemed to have stayed home. In fact, the restaurant decided to close half of the restaurant, take advantage of the moment to renovate its cultural bar on the side, which usually hosted foreigners, while giving much of its staff a paid break and the night The Reporter visited it, there were only two servers for a table of about 4 that were being occupied.
“We usually reply on tips and we enjoy what we do, but we have suffered and compared to others, we remain open and have some business,” a waiter who refused to give his name said, in a consolatory tone that has become the norm of many businesses.