Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The 'Ninjas' of Addis Ababa.

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These are not the kind of "Ninjas" one sees in oriental movies. These are frail young and old women who have never in their lives heard of taquando, karate, wushu or judo.

These are some three thousand strong women who rise early in the morning and start cleaning the main streets of Addis Ababa.

To protect themselves from the dust they cover their mouth with pieces of cloths and wear straw hats. Street children refer to them as "Ninjas."

Their aim in life is to make ends meet and to try to keep body and soul together while they can by cleaning the streets of Addis Ababa where an estimated four million people live and where cattle, stray dogs and other animals roam the roads as they please. Sheep and goats are even sold on pavements.

The "Ninjas" are angry with people and animals who dirt the streets that they have to clean every day except on weekends.

"People who throw cigarette buds, pieces of papers, banana peels and mostly sheep's and goats' droppings make our job very difficult. We feel our employers, the City Council, should discipline such people and teach them how to become responsible citizens," says 30-year-old single parent Belaynesh Kassa who supplements her 200 birr (about 25 dollars) monthly salary by brewing local drinks.

Her customers, mostly daily laborers in her area, enjoy her tella and food. "For two birr (0.25 US cents) I give them a plate full of Ingera and shuro wat and a tinfull of tella that normally holds three medium-size glasses. I give credit to those who wish to pay me when they get money. My customers have never failed me. You know we poor people are credit-worthy," she says.

With the money that she earns this way, which averages 300 birr (about 37 dollars) a month, Belaynesh is able to feed, clothe and educate her two children from two different men.

She scoffs at being called "Ninja" " What is wrong for an illiterate woman like myself in cleaning the streets? Our only regret is that the authorities are not providing us with gloves, gumboots and aprons which we so badly need for the job."

Her friend, Taitu Mergia, 37, came from the rural area to escape from famine and joined her husband and four children in the city.

"The old man and my three sons work as laborers in different construction sites. They were all hard-working farmers and good at tilling the land before the drought stuck once again. My last-born is a shoeshine boy. We don't think we will go back to farming as the land has become barren and cannot be cultivated any longer," says Taitu, as she leans on her worn out broom while her friend sits in a wheelbarrow and a foreman leaning on an electric pole that has become a billboard like thousands of other poles in the city.

"She is not feeling well. She had to come and try to do what she can lest she loses the job envied by many other women. Our foreman is a considerate man. He understands her problem. So, he lets her rest for a while," says Taitu who travels from the outskirts of the city to the location some 10 kms away from her makeshift house of plastic to do the cleaning.

"I would have liked to be on my farm. But what else can I do? I will try to save some money and open a business like my friend Belaynesh. I am good at making tella, you know," she quips.

The foreman is one of the hundreds of individuals recently demoted from various posts at the Addis Ababa City Administration to inferior positions for being either inefficient or corrupt.

"I don't care about what I do so long as I get my salary." says the foreman, a former clerk earning a monthly salary of 500 birr (about 62 dollars) For other younger "Ninjas", again mostly from rural background, the job of cleaning the streets of Addis Ababa is a stepping-stone to some other occupations in places like Kazanchis where there are many bars and prostitutes.

"If all goes well I am hoping to be employed as a barmaid in one of the bars in Kazanchis where I hope to meet men who would readily pay for my services. In the meantime I clean the streets with my face and head covered. Who would recognize me? It is ingenious of these street boys to call us "Ninjas," says Alemash Abebe, a very attractive young lady of about 20 who supplements her income working as a prostitute.

*All names used are pseudonyms

by Yohannes Ruphael

Copyright Addis Tribune. Distributed by All Africa Global Media(AllAfrica.com)

News Provided by COMTEX (http://www.comtexnews.com)

Source Citation:"The 'Ninjas' of Addis Ababa." Africa News Service (Oct 3, 2003): 1008276u6507. InfoTrac Diversity Studies eCollection. Gale. BROWARD COUNTY LIBRARY. 8 Sept. 2009

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