Just over the border from Djibouti, amid a barren and parched scrubland, stuffed plastic bags shower down from the wagon car of the tinny, small-gauge train bound for Addis Ababa. Standing by to collect the bags are nomadic Afar tribesmen, who tie the sacks to their camels, and set off to rendezvous two days later with lorries waiting on the far side of the customs house in Dire Dawa, 50 kilometers away. From there, the tax-free merchandise trundles off on the final leg of its global odyssey, en route to mercato's clothes market.
I dearly wish I'd photographed this part - alas.
The clothes come from so many places in the world. Donated cast-offs from Arab countries, Europe, and America that have somehow made their way into a shady international market, joining production overflows from factories in China, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Thailand. Garments of every sort - a lot bearing designer tags - purchased wholesale by the ton, traded by the kilo, and finally sold for profit by the piece, usually in the range of just one to five dollars.
A high-volume, low-overhead business, serving a cost-conscious consumer base - a pure form of the laissez-faire economy, some would say. But not without its risks. Buying clothes by the bag, sometimes you get stuck with the truly unsellable - like the sailcloth held aloft by the guy to the left.
< This photo wasn't made in mercato, but I like what artistic folk call the juxtaposition. Fat-Free Fat?Quite a concept!