Easter:Impulsive Purchase Burdens Livelihoods

Holidays are often surrounded with feasts. Their preparation takes a lot of household income. The desire to purchase all the traditional holiday items brings about a challenging mismatch between the skyrocketing price of goods and the consistent income of consumers. What remains surprising is the fact people still adore holidays, despite the burden of their cost.

Come Sunday, followers of the Orthodox Church shall be celebrating Easter. For most of them, the 55 days of lent, fasting from meat, poultry or dairy products, will come to an end, heralding the spell of feasting.

As the countdown starts to tick, the holiday prone community indulges into a frenzy of shopping. The race between security forces and street vendors soars high.

People from all walks of life commit their savings to spend on all the goods and commodities that they can lay their hands on, irrespective of the selling price. In an already unstructured market economy, transactions of any type can involve a price quoting of any amount by anybody standing behind the counter.

Experts in the field try to explain in vain what causes inflation and how the figures translate into real delivery of marketable materials. The laity only cares about what they can buy with the money they have in their pockets, regardless of what point  leaders try to get across the table.

What really matters is what is happening down on the ground. For instance, recently, I had been to one of the Tej Bets in the vicinity of Arada, better known as Dejach Wube Sefer. The weather was fine, allowing me to sit outdoors to be at a vantage point and see what goes on around.

The container of tej, which is a round bottomed glassy flask, was filled with the yellow brew of honey mead. Every customer knows that tej is a long drink. They have to pose for a while before they gulp it down. When observed holistically, they give the general picture of people sitting side by side and getting ready to blow yellow balloons!

After a while, a vendor carrying a cardboard box filled with brandished knives came by. He took his seat and ordered a flask of tej as a token to delude the bartender about his real intentions.

Of course, it was understandable that he was there for business. Some regulars started choosing knives of their liking. Some were feeling the sharpness of the knives with the tips of their thumbs.

What better test could there be than the law of the thumb?

Many of the customers were trying to crack jokes on the subject. They said that there is no point in vending knives when there is nothing affordable to use it for.

Livestock market prices have risen alarmingly. Some of the regulars had been saving for months to buy an ox and share the meat. In the past eight or 10 men were able to slay an ox worth 4,000Br.

These days, however, an ox costs four times as much. That kind of yearly arrangement has now thinned away and only those with better incomes continue to do so. Knife acquisition is rather an extra addition that goes to decorate the Easter celebration symbolically, rather than pragmatically.

Holidaymarketing in this country does not seem to confine itself with the natural economic laws of supply and demand, and price equilibrium. There is a general tendency of buying goods and commodities at any cost so long as it is for the holiday celebrations.

This sort of impulsive transaction is not only unwise but also a pacemaker for fixed price escalation after the Easter holiday. And it goes against the basic principles of thoughtful economic life. The need to save it also nullifies the efforts being exerted to curb the rate of inflation.

The knife-vendor introduced himself as Gabre Worku, a father of three and a man of all trades. I had an interesting chat with him.

Gabre was born in the Guragie Zone and came to Addis Abeba when he was only 12. He was a shoeshine boy before he was able to save enough money to start a small coffee plantation at a place called Durame.

Gabre goes to Darame during coffee picking season and returns to Addis to do all sorts of odd jobs, until the coffee berries require his attendance. He sells knives when Easter holiday approaches and slays oxen or herds. He also vends hides and skins.

Easter Holidays, religious as they are, are also occasions that put housewives into the challenging tests in their ability of cooking good chicken stew and their skills of making local brews like tella or tej. The whole preparation starts with their making decisions on what ingredient to buy, when and where, not to speak of the extra efforts exerted to roam around in search of better quality and affordable bargains.

Merkato, being the epicentre of the business in the country, gets more overcrowded than ever before by both buyers and sellers gathering fresh food from all over the country. Even pack animals laden with sacks of grain straw or fuel wood shove and rub with pickup trucks and delivery vans.

Their caretakers carrying leather flogs whip them hard to coax the beast to move on. Vendors barking and shouting calls of sales and announcing what they market run between spots, pushing and passing through the thick crowd of people without even pausing to beg due pardon from their victims.

Alganesh Wossen is a popular trader of butter at a small shop located in behind the Asfa Wossen Hotel, in the middle of Merkato. She is well known for the freshness and good quality of butter she buys from Sheno, 78km north of Addis Abeba. She sells a kilo of butter of the youngest age for 150 Br, while the second grade is sold for 130Br.What is more interesting is that she scales the butter rather generously quenching the desires of the customers who remain seated quietly until their turn of service.

The poultry trading spot in Merkato has of late been reduced to little more than a very narrow corridor where a handful of traders operate under very hard conditions, cursed by the lack of space. Buyers prefer to acquire poultry from vendors instead of walking the long distance and being exposed to fthe oul smell in that area.

I may have painted the Easter holiday with the wrong brush by focusing on spending. But, then, what is money for?

Of course, money spent on holiday festivities and shopping could be taken as something that could bring some enjoyment and satisfaction. But it should not be forgotten that too much indulgence in eating fatty foods could invite peril and untimely death because of subsequent ailments. Let us watch out. Happy Easter!




By Girma Feyisa

Published on May 05,2013 [ Vol 13 ,No 679]



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