No matter where in Ethiopia you live, from the time you are young you hear - by way of travellers, over the radio, from legend - about the money you can make in mercato. And you know that with money you can buy things, have security, make a better life for yourself.
So you catch a ride and go.
Sometimes things don't work out as planned.
Rural-to-urban migration,especially among children and young adults, intensifies competition for menial jobs, encourages exploitation and anti-social activities, and of course increases burdens on community resources and social services.
Addis Ababa grows 5,8% annually - among the highest rates in the world. Roughly estimated, the city will gain a quarter-million new residents this year, and by 2015 its population is expected to stretch toward 7 million (UNDP-HDR).
Whatever dream of opportunity draws a person to mercato, the end of the road is never out of sight.
The sirens of mercato offer
something better than what you've got -
This single, three-room schoolhouse serves about 1,300 students, one for every 20 or so children officially residing in mercato.
The official 1997 census showed +93,000 mercato residents - though the nightlypopulation is estimated at maybe a quarter-million.
- something to do while hanging out, waiting for lightning to strike -
- maybe even get an education;
For every resident, two more are transcients - visitors off a bus from somewhere else who need a place to stay. Therefore, virtually every habitable space in mercato rents by the night; the night-time occupancy averages 8 in each room.
In all mercato there are just12 toilets, in two block outhouses built by UNICEF in the 1990s. Maybe there are more now.