Roadside Dwelling A Life Dictated By Needs



There are various hypotheses about why individuals go out on to the streets. But most of them seem to lack essential information obtained from the people actually living there. A closer look at the issue, however, shows that the reasons vary from individual to individual, and are often unconvincing.


There are different views amongst city dwellers on whether rainfall is a curse or a blessing. This is a perennial argument that is held up as a pastime task, if anything.

Those who maintain its positive side substantiate their views by pointing out that the dams have to be replenished, lest urbanites should suffer from thirst and all. “Water is life”, they say.

Road sweepers too have their own point. They contend that the roads and streets have a rare opportunity to be cleaned and washed by the surface water of the flooding rain.

Shoeshine boys claim that they consider the rain as a windfall for business. Their customers come to them more frequently during the rainy seasons than at other times.

There is a small point to be raised here. Piazza has always been taken as the epicenter of modernity. There were times when we used to be ashamed of wearing canvas shoes while walking on the pavements of Piazza. It is ironic that the hub of Piazza is now a spot where people come to dust off their muddy shoes – an additional labour for street sweepers.

Before Sileshi Demissie, aka Gash Aberra Molla, came into the picture, the hub was where the street boys, some of whom were only delinquents, used to “live” with their pet dogs. They keep their pets around to keep them warm at night and during rainy times.

Sanitation facility is almost non-existent in Addis Abeba. As if to defy my description of the centre of Piazza, there is only one big public toilet in front of the Triano Bar. The street boys and girls happen to be the major beneficiaries of this facility. They even wash their laundry here and take their wears uphill to the yard of St. George Cathedral where they can spread them to dry out.

Recently, I spent some time with some of these paupers to find out what keeps them wanting to lead this kind of wretched life on the streets of the capital. Their answers were brief and retorting back a question to me, “What else can we do?”

One young man by the named Mamush went further:

“Do not tell us to create jobs to earn our living,” he angrily exclaimed. “This is rubbish. Let your college graduates go try it and fill ETV’s airtime.”

I saw that blood was boiling inside the fellow. He blushed. I had to leave the place in good time and disappear for the sake of my own dear life.

It is difficult to categorise some of these youngsters as beggars. Nor is it fair to call them robbers. They are not seen begging nor stealing.

They just sit there and pass the time. They share cigarettes and khat. Nobody knows where they get the money.

Food is often made available freely at the gates of the Senbete at the backyard of the church. The Senbete Be’t is a big hall where members of an association meet to feast.

These men are usually big merchants working in Merkato and filthy rich. They slay an ox and bring edible organs accompanied by barrels of tej.

The guardsmen take command of the leftover food once the party is over. The paupers know what time they should show up.

The members of the association know this routine. In fact, many of them consider this charity as a pious taxation they should pay if they are to go to heaven. At times, they are blamed by some of the drunk beggars themselves.

“We know that you rich people try to bequeath heaven because of us. You try to bribe St. Peter, the gatekeeper of heaven,” a drunken beggar shouts at the members.

“You are jealous,” says another fellow trying to calm down the first pauper. “Let them go to God. Maybe, he will consider rewarding us on their behalf.”

An observer smiles, turning his face away from their gaze. All of them sit in a circle by the gate of the Senbete and play cards or other gambling games that often culminates in a fight. All arguments and conflicts are settled by physical means, punching and wrestling till the bully gets his way. Noses bleed and sometimes broken teeth are spat out.

Some of these bumbling games, such as throwing up coins and guessing heads or tails, are less risky than playing cards. All they have to do is simply collect the coins and pocket them if they win.

The words of slander they use are despicable. Passersby hasten to go away to avoid hearing them. Most of these street boys and delinquents have little or nothing to display.

They are so dirty and nasty looking to deserve any sympathy. Every sentence they speak contains demeaning words.

My efforts to know what brings them to the streets has shown me that most of them come from broken families or are simply runaways from home for varying reasons. Many of them are brought by brokers who try to make fortunes out of them. Once they come to Addis, they have nowhere to go except the nearest church yard or the sheds of the bus stops. Stretching out begging hands does not seem to need any training. They see others doing it and they join the band. They have no other stories to their credits.

There are times when some of these youngsters engage in the business of being watchdogs, keeping an eye on automobiles parked along side roads. The old proverb, “birds of a feather flock together” holds true there. Other boys with similar fates exchange information, which could serve as a lesson. Starvation becomes the driving force leading them anywhere, so long as they could find something, anything.



By Girma Feyissa


Published on August 18, 2013 [ Vol 14 ,No 694]


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