March 29th, 2009
I was in Ethiopia a month ago. Visiting my old mother and to be in the middle of the green nature of my hometown Yirga Cheffe was the purpose of my journey. Just as I intended, I spent there the most part of my vacation.
It is almost three years since my last visit to Yirga Cheffe. After witnessing the surprisingly endless building constructions in Addis Abeba and Awassa, I thought there might be some progressive changes in my hometown as well. Unfortunately, Yirga Cheffe is still not awake from it’s sleep.
Yirga Cheffe on a market day (photo: admassu)
I was astonished to see that every corner of the town has remained the same. In Yirga Cheffe it felt as if the time has stopped moving freezing everything around it at the same time. “Yirga Cheffe” called the well known organic coffee which for example is part of the assortments of Starbucks and co. But the town looks like as if it hasn’t seen a cent from the merchandising process of its name and its natural treasure.
Yirga Cheffe, no visible progress (photo: admassu)
There is again a new mayor assigned on the highest position of the town hall. This must be the fifth or the sixth mayor in the last 7 or 8 years. Friends have told me the reason of this too frequently changing position is corruption. I am of course in no position of confirming or proofing this allegation because usually people in that area tend to attach every higher position or wealth with corruption. Any ways, it turned out to be a tiresome procedure for me to go to that office on each of my arrival and recite again and again my wish to establish a beneficiary project.
Instead, I concentrated my self on more promising social issues of the town that could be worthwhile to write about.
Three years ago, on my last journey to Yirga Cheffe, I met this 9 years old kid Mulugeta. I was sitting on the veranda of Mahlet Restaurant chatting with some old friends and having coffee and Ambo Water. Mulugeta was selling small articles like cigarettes and chewing gums carrying in a big carton that obviously looked quite heavy for his age. What grabbed my attention about his appearance was a small paper board with a striking message hanging upon his chest with a thread around his neck.
Mulugeta three years ago (photo: admassu)
The message on the board reads like “Give me a fishing rod instead of a fish”. And below on the Carton was another message that went “I don’t want to beg”. I was so impressed from his message and confident appearance. I asked him quickly if I could take a photo of him. He said ok and I gave him some Birr after taking a single picture. I wasn’t aware of the impact of that picture at that time. But after returning to Germany, I was surprised by the symbolic power of the picture. Since then it has been in the front page of Lissan Magazine.
I had this great wish to meet Mulugeta again on my next trip to see how he has been doing and to repay him for the challenging power of his message.
Addis bus terminal scene (photo: admassu)
The bus journey from Addis to Yirga Cheffe was interesting as usual. One of the things that never changes in Addis is the early morning atmosphere of its bus terminal. I was with my younger brother Yohannes who came a day before to Addis to pick me up. In the semi-darkness of the dawn, me and Yohannes had quite a difficult time finding our way to our bus through hundreds of passengers who were carrying and pulling their luggages. The air was thick through the suffocating smoke from buses that had their motors running all the time. We were glad to be in the bus after waiting for almost 2 uncomfortable hours.
After arriving in Yirga Cheffe after 8 hours journey I saw a kid selling stuff around the terminal with a small message attached to his t-shirt. The message written was “Development starts right from here.” I was sure that he was Mulugeta. I was happy about the coincidence and went directly to where the kid was standing.
“No…” replied the kid “… I am not Mulugeta. I am his older brother.”
“Where can I find Mulugeta? I really want to speak to him. It is very important.”
“He is somewhere in the town but I can call him for you.” Said the brother eagerly.
So we agreed to meet at my mothers house after an hour. That gave me enough time to go through with the greeting ceremony with my relatives who were waiting for me at home.
Mulugeta(right) and his older brother (photo: admassu)
Mulugeta and his brother arrived together. I was glad to see them because they were quite identical and both had interesting messages sticked to their t-shirts. I asked Mulugeta if he has recognised me. He said he hasn’t. I told him about that picutre I took of him three years ago and I showed him the Lissan flyer with his image on it.
Mulugeta “I chose the fishing rod.” (photo: admassu)
Mulugeta was glad to see his picture on the flyer. He and his brother have taken the news in a rather grown-up and businessmen manner. They told me about their family background and how they support their parents through their work. Mulugeta asked me to come and see his small kiosk in middle of the town. He said proudly that he spent 500 Birr to build his kiosk and he has now 2000 Birr capital.
Mulugeta proudly presents his kiosk (photo: admassu)
Mulugeta and his brother asked me; in case I want to write about them I should also mention the guy who helped them to start with their survival project. His name is Taye and the kids call him Misr, a student who loves to write nostalgic poems and to organize art and music events in Yirga Cheffe. Taye tries to help street kids to support themselves. I met him after two days in Yirga Cheffe. He told me that he was suspicious about me after seeing the flyer with Mulugeta’s image. He said that I might have gained some advantage using that picture. I was glad to see his suspicion vanishing after we discussed the matter for a while.
Taye (Misr), the student behind the project (photo: admassu)
“I haven’t done something extraordinary….” Taye said. “… It was quite a coincidence that things have just worked out. I gave Mulugeta 17 Birr and told him to spend it on something useful. Mulugeta took my words seriously and bought tissue papers for that money and started to sell it by going to bars, restaurants and other public places. Soon he had enough profit to add chew gums and local cigarettes to his articles. Seeing that our intension was changing something, I decided to do the same for other street kids. Now there are seven kids in the town whom we helped to support them selves by selling things or shoe shining. On one side, I am happy that these kids are securing their existence. On the other hand I am sad that these kids never have time and opportunity to be kids by playing games or by going to school like the other kids of their age do. Despite their being still kids, they are too serious in their approach to life and the community. One rarely see them smile or make jokes. They are too busy to feel like a child does”
There are more stories to come from Taye. He has promised to keep me informed about his project by sending articles for Lissan.