Some of the poor in Addis Ababa survive on restaurant leftovers
(ADDIS FORTUNE) — Fekadu Petros, 24, moved to Addis Abeba from his native Wolayta, 390km south of the capital following the death of his father, who was survived by seven children and his wife. The short and skinny young man has worked in the city for the past four years, sending whatever money he can save to his mother and siblings.
He is attached to a scrap metal store in Menallesh Terra, Merkato, which pays him 250 Br a month. But, he also carries stuff for a lot of people visiting Merkato to do their shopping. On good days he can make as much as 60 Br from these people, he says.
The money may seem significant, but living on a day-to-day basis, people like Fekadu hardly think of their incomes on a monthly basis. They pay 10 Br just for a sleeping space on a mat. For 300 Br a month, they could get a better place, but they do not have enough money at any given time to pay for it upfront. They live on a daily basis.
A proper meal costs about 15 Br in that part of Merkato. Many of these people, including day labourers, shoeshine boys, snack vendors, and beggars, eat gursha, handfuls of restaurant leftovers served from plastic bags.
Gursha, under normal circumstances, is a small roll of enjera and stew that one person puts into the mouth of another as an act of intimacy or hospitality, a tradition in Ethiopia.
However, in Merkato, daily labourers buy their meals in gurshas, and these gurshas are so big that one cannot help but be amazed at seeing that much food finding enough space in one person’s mouth.
Gursha has become a business for people with access to restaurant leftovers, serving people who cannot afford a proper meal. A veteran gursha vendor, a middle-aged woman who declined to give her name, as well as her friends first came up with the idea of selling gursha in 1989 in Teklehaimnot area, she said. They later moved into Menallesh Terra in 1992. Another group of young people started such a business near Ras Theatre in Merkato, and they called the place where they settled Fews Terra, translated remedy area.
The unemployment rate in Addis Abeba is 19pc, but that has not deterred the 55,000 additional people who migrate from other regions each year in search of job and better life, the Central Statistical Agency (CSA) reports. Fekadu had to drop out of high school to join this flood of poorly educated people who mostly end up as day labourers.
Now, twice a day, he lines up at Fews Terra for a trio of giant gurshas, which costs three Birr in all and fills his stomach, leaving him happy and satisfied. Although they used to pay only 50 cents for the same amount just a few years back, they do not complain. He often tries to get to Fews Terra early, when the line is short, in order to get the better food. Besides, as the hands of the sellers get tired, the size of their gurshas get smaller.
One of these culinary businessmen is Mehreteab Tewelde, a young man from the Abenet area in his early 20s, who quit school after eighth grade. He has been selling gursha for about a year now. He buys four large plastic bags full of leftover food, known as bulle, left over in the local vernacular, from restaurant employees for 30 Br each. When all of his customers have had their gurshas, his profit might be 70 Br to 90 Br per day. His mother only knows that he is a plumber. If she discovered his real job, she would be embarrassed, he says, even though he gives her all the money he makes from it.
Another such person works as a cleaner at a restaurant, which gives him bags of food to give away for free. But he sells it at Fews Terra, instead.
These gurshas do not only save money but also time for people who need to rush back to look for more work.
‘‘The only thing that matters is to save some money from what I earn, no matter what I eat or where I sleep,’’ Fekadu said, echoing the opinions of many of the people in the line.
In the competitive business of supplying gursha, having water for hand washing and drinking is an advantage. The Fews Terra sellers benefit from the local Total gas station, whose owner, Bereka Delil, has given free access to water for the beggars, shoe shiners, day labourers, and anyone else who needs a drink or wash.
This business has recently spread to many areas of Addis Abeba. Merkato has at least three places. There are others in Piazza and Sidist Kilo areas. The Sidist Kilo sellers get their leftovers from Addis Abeba University’s campus for free. ‘‘I am so happy that I get to eat and sleep everyday,’’ Tariku Kebede, 30, one of the sellers there says.
This is the sentiment shared by almost all of the vendors and customers of the gursha markets. These youngsters only think about how to get through their daily hustle and bustle.
Officials of Addis Ketema District, of which Merkato is a part, has followed neither the market nor the health risks involved in eating leftover food, according to Hussien Kelifa, expert at the Wereda 18 Health Office, which monitors Menallesh Terra.
The way the food is carried, served, and eaten looks very unhygienic, says Abenet Tekle, a researcher in food science and nutrition at the Pasteur Institute.
“I have never fallen ill because of a meal I have eaten from bulle,” Fekadu says.
His family, he says, are happy with the money he regularly sends to them, thinking that he is working in a good place and eating good food.