The roads begin at the very roots of civilization, on the northeastern edge of the Great Rift Valley in the South Omo Region of Ethiopia, along its southern border with Kenya. Leaving Omo Rata, a dusty cowtown and commercial hub, the surface heading north towards Addis is smoothly rutted and wide enough.
All along the way foot trails intersect with the vehicle track, threading to tiny communities of mud-walled tukals sprouting on the perimeter of sheer wilderness: the capillaries of capitalism. Though technically termed a subsistance lifestyle, nobody lives outside the influence of commerce. Every path -
Not halfway there, ant lines of ubiquitous five-ton lorries start to form, rumbling out of the mountainous, semi-cultivated rain forest of south-central Kaffa Region - the biological source of you-know- what - and are joined by others as the road winds through the nation's breadbasket, Sidamo, and the scrublands of Shoa region on what's called the Jimma Road.
At the opposite end of the country, buses wind down through Tigray Region on the vital international artery to the seaport of Asmara, Eritrea. A national battleground for much of the past three decades, the landscape today is subsequently parched, rocky and barren as the surface of Mars.
On coming to the outskirts of Addis the roadways become heavily conjested, pot-holed nightmares, worsening the closer one gets to mercato. The urban blacktop cuts abruptly to hard dirt shoulders with no defined pedestrian areas - that is, no sidewalks in the highly populated parts of town.
- leads to a local market area, attended from throughout the region, and every rutted track leading out turns eventually into a ribbon of thin asphalt that ends in mercato.
The roads to mercato
can be perilous.
The regional motorways turn into pot-holed city asphalt at the outskirts of sprawling Addis. The arterials snake through residential areas that become evermore dense as lorries and buses from every corner of the country press nearer their destination. The transit of mass-humanity alongside the packed roadways constricts the flow of motor traffic; more than one child is killed by vehicles each week.
Occupying about four km2 - under two square-miles - in the center of Ethiopia's crowded capital, bustling mercato is the pounding heart of capitalism in its most rudimentary form. The nation's transport arteries all connect here, goods and people flow in and flow out, recirculated through the body of the nation.