Priests and children alike hurry along as the cool breeze twists the almost-white nutellas and gabbies covering every head. Donkeys, sheep and the occasional camel zig-zag back and forth as they’re coaxed down the single, dusty, busy thoroughfare. Suk owners diligently sweep the constantly reappearing silt from their steps while keeping an attentive eye on passing pedestrians. Dingy bus boys shout “Wukero, Wukero, Wukero,” as though the road leads to more than one place. The harsh Ethiopian sun always rises a little brighter on Saturdays. It’s market day in Atsbi.
Ethiopians keep their to-do lists tucked neatly away in their heads, but the first errand on the busiest day of the week is always a tiny cup of tea and a little, round loaf of dense bread. Whether in a café, a dark room tucked away in a hidden compound, or in the snotty hand of a smiling child, breakfast comes with a dose of Tigrinia music. Boom-boom, boom-boom, boom-boom. The day follows a similar, perpetual rhythm.
As the sun finds it’s way to the middle of the sky, everyone finds his or her way to the market grounds. Swarming masses of people expertly maneuver through a maze of pointy piles of goods and lean-to stalls as they search for just the right sized head of cabbage. Everyone buys and everyone sells. Spicy, tantalizing smells waft from heaps of colorful, exotic spices. One-kilo blocks of salt are arranged next to refilled bottles of reddish palm oil, which are arranged next to mismatched plastic shoes. The chaotic mess has an unusual, constant flow that works. And works well.
The disorder seems only to occupy one part of town at a time. When baskets are full of potatoes to last a week, festal boys have sold all their bags and nothing remains at the north end of town but squashed tomatoes and hungry pigs, the chaos moves inside. Shopkeepers have stocked the shelves for this very moment. Even the tiniest spaces can fit a crowd of waiting customers. Wobbly ladders bravely support men, women and children trying to reach soap, cookies, fingernail polish and pens. They’re good at math. There’s no time to waste with calculators as ratty one-birr bills change hands.
Once again the wana mangadi, main road, is congested. This time the priests and children alike are hurrying along in the other direction. Walking sticks balanced on their shoulders hold satchels full of the day’s prizes. It’s enough to last a week. As the shadows grow longer the buzz dies down. Only a faint boom-boom, boom-boom, boom-boom can be heard escaping from the darkened doorways. It’s market day in Atsbi.