Human beings live in close relationship with their environment. Addis Abeba’s traders of twigs and leaves are living witnesses to this synergy. The relationship, however, is not always a stable one. Rather, it is so fragile that the hopes and livelihoods of individuals are defined by its dynamics.
Every day of the week, except Sundays, women walk speedily along the Road to Entoto Mountain. They look to the sky and make informed guesses about the probable weather conditions during their trip.
Dark and rolling clouds hovering over the mountain range is a bad sign as to what the day could bring for the women. The twigs and dry eucalyptus leaves of the mountain are their only source of income.
A stout dry bundle fetches them a good 30 Br, if opportunity strikes. Bright and sunny days are their lucky days. They feel indifferent about the distance as they are used to it.
They even shoot a gaze towards the hub of Ethiopian evolution while passing by the Kennedy Library of Addis Abeba University (AAU). Not that they know what is stocked on the shelves inside that splendid edifice, or realise that there are thousands of research papers and unpublished dissertations resting there.
Most of them have no idea of the relevance of the different streams of studies hosted by the nation’s oldest educational institution to the betterment of the livelihoods of poor people, like them. For that matter, they do not even know what a university means, apart from the fact that it is a place where their sons and daughters stay until they graduate and bring home some hope and pride.
Yes, most of these women have been feeling proud ever since their children first joined university. They commit themselves to shouldering the burden of motherhood and educate their children by selling twigs and leaves, and by doing other odd jobs in the neighbourhood.
The old, but hopeful women carry their loads for a very long distance to support their ambitious children in their studies. They labour daily, so that they can witness everything they missed being afforded to their children.
They often take long sticks with them; to lean on, scare the cunning apes away and support their loads. They would not forget their valuable piece of robe, too, with which they tie the bundle together, and which, too, keeps it hanging from their shoulders with a bow-line knot.
The women equate Entoto to a loving mother who gives her own life to support her offspring. Indeed, Entoto, according to a saying, is like a lactating mother.
They seem to have rightly heard that Emperor Menelik had moved his capital city from Ankober to Addis Abeba because of its rich resources, necessary for settlement. Fuel wood and springs were among the natural attractions that drove this decision.
The women even preach regularly about the holy waters at Kidane Mihret and Entoto Mariam, as miraculous healers. They would have more stories to tell had they known that the first pipe water system had started on the Kebena River at the hill on top of Entoto, courtesy, once again, of Emperor Menelik.
Meanwhile, their children pursue their undergraduate studies in the natural science stream. Some of them may even pay a visit to the Entoto Indigenous Seedlings Nursery, as members of the popular Ethiopian Heritage Trust, a voluntary association engaged in clearing the alien trees and planting indigenous ones at Entoto.
Some of the children may even aspire to become biologists. And through this, may have a chance to learn methods that could enable them to help change the lives of poor women, like their mothers.
This might even give them the chance to correct the embarrassing disorientation of the AAU to overlook what goes on under its nose, as it simultaneously brags about the establishment of a space station at Entoto to study the heavenly bodies in space.
The challenge for the struggling mothers lies in the fact that there are not enough twigs or dry leaves left to sustain life for too much longer. Too, the forest guards have become stricter.
Even worse, the increasingly expanding Addis Abeba seems to be shifting towards using electric ovens, rather than the old type, for a number of reasons. A large proportion of its population does not even bake injera at home, not only for the sake of convenience, but also for economic reasons.
The price of teff has grown beyond the purchasing power of many urbanites. Thus, injera has become a luxury food, available only on the tables of wedding parties or at other such occasions.
Of course, people have other reasons to quit baking injera. The bundle of twigs and dry leaves that used to sell for two or three Birr a piece, now costs no less than 30 Br. Most of the providers are aging and getting sicker by the day.
All of their hopes rest with their children’s education. Uncertain as to whether they will manage to graduate and get a job to pay back the debts they owe to their mothers.
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