At some point the asphalt abruptly stops - a slice across the road, and the hard dirt tracks soon devolve rootlike into ever-narrowing backstreets, alleys, and meandering corridors: a mud-walled, zinc-roofed labrynth of single-room dwellings and businesses, endlessly interconnected and brown.
The hard earth finally crosses the threshhold to become the well-tended floors of most homes. Dirt floors, symbolic of extreme poverty, especially poignant in an urban habitat - this image in mind, consider that on virtually every square-meter of mercato, some sort of commerce is conducted.
The women featured in this group of images received "micro-credit"loans from UNICEF's Woreda Integrated Basic Services (WIBS) program, which allowed them to start their own businesses. The $50 loans were earmarked for women who support families, and along with providing economic security the project's goals serve to empower them, and raise the women's status in their community's commercial and social affairs.
The woman to the right prepares injera, the large sourdough pancakes that are a national staple, on an electric grill purchased with her WIBS money, which she sells to hotels. Electric is ten ways preferable to the wood-fire grilling she had always used in their one-room habitation - her kids will be healthier, for instance, not having to inhale all that smoke. And, she makes better money.
The woman at top, who looks after a family of eight, supplements her income by taking in nightly boarders! The woman below sells vegetables for a profit; the man to the left, eligible as a widower with a family, used the money to buy watchmaker's tools.
We learn from basic physics that matter is not lost, that it transforms; that all things are eventually broken down into their constituent components, that are incorporated in constructions of other things. In another context, every-last-thing in this world has value -and nothing in the world's sixth-poorest nation (UNDP) can afford to be wasted, simple as that. A major chunk of mercato's commerce and industry involves the recovery, reapplication, and resale of virtually every non-organic thing tossed out by relatively wealthier folk. Some call it recycling.
Latent value creates opportunitiesfor its exploitation: skills can be put to good use, deals are brokered, some business is made. At one level or another of the recycling matrix, as producer or consumer, trader or purveyor, everybody in the land participates.