16 October 2012

Raw meat, weaving, and pottery in Addis

Today I took the afternoon with my friend Afework to find a women's cooperative I'd heard about in the Kechene neighborhood. This is the neighborhood where I lived last month at the north end of Addis, up the mountain. We took a series of three minibuses to get there, and it probably took about an hour of travel time. When we got off of the last bus we asked around until someone was willing to show us where the cooperative is, as there are no signs and it is tucked away off of the main road. We eventually found the pottery place and it was a really cool set-up. About 46 women are working together in three buildings, throwing pots on hand-turned wheels. In order to set up this cooperative, the women got together, pooled their money, plus the Ethiopian government gave them a loan and provided the buildings, plus the outbuilding with four kilns. Next door to the pottery buildings, there is a dairy barn. This place supplies manure that the women use for fuel to fire the pottery. The manure is made into large pancakes that can be burned in this case for the pottery, but in other cases to bake traditional bread.

After speaking with the women about the pieces they were creating, we went out to the kiln area to see how the work is fired. It is a big room, like a barn, with large open ovens. Some of the pieces are put about two meters above the fire, on a wire rack, while other pieces are wrapped in a type of leaf and put directly into the fire. They were not doing this part of the process today. To get different colors they add another layer of soil based diluted solution directly to the fired pot and fire it again. Sometimes it is painted, sometimes designs are sketched into the clay itself. To shine it up they use an oil and then put it in the sun to bake in.

Throwing pots on hand spun wheels
Adding orange/brown glaze to the fired coffee pots, these also come in black.
The clay comes from a place that is brought by bags, usually on foot. The clay is all over the area in open bags on the ground. The women make coffee pots, cooking pots, little ovens for burning incense or cooking food, and an array of bowls, candlesticks, and some kitschy things like little chickens or bulls or ashtrays. They make many things standard for wholesale to the shops or on special order. They told us how they have a hard time making a good profit since they do not themselves have a shop, but sell to shops that then mark up the price for profit themselves. I thought it would be great to perhaps try to raise money to help these women build their own shop on the main street.

One of the three main buildings, finished and partially finished pieces.
Weaver in the cooperative. I bought this fabric called nutella.
After the pottery cooperative we stopped in another series of buildings where weavers work. I have been one other time to a weaver's cooperative, in Axum. There, the weavers were all Muslim men - making the traditional cloth worn by Orthodox Christians to church. The buildings were donated by USAID. This time again it was all men, but these are all Christian men and the government provided the buildings. The looms are big rough wood affairs, with the softest cotton threads. Most of the looms contained white threads, but one loom was full of bright blue thread. We saw people preparing the threads for the looms outside with these large skeletal structures that allow for even distribution of the threads on nails attached to a house or some other structure. There are these little pieces of wood that look like boats, that the men continually throw back and forth to weave the material. It is such beautiful, soft, and transparent fabric in the end. They also put what looks like embroidery along the edges, but this is in fact also woven into the fabric.
Weavers in Axum

detail of beautifully woven designs

Axum weaver - see the barefeet technique, and he is messing with the little boat device.

Whenever I travel I am very attracted to the handiwork and traditional crafts made in a country. I tend to find that there is a certain level of organization, like in cooperatives such as the ones I visited today, but sadly, the people that do the work make the least amount of money from the work, but put in the most amount of time. It is good to see that these things are continually made and used in Ethiopia. It is also good to see that people have come together of their own accord, and with the support of the government, have been able to create a standard market for themselves, at least as wholesalers. I do not think it is super common for tourists to seek out these places, especially the women's cooperative which was deeper into the neighborhood of Kechene - so much so that Afework, a native to Addis Ababa, was uncomfortable going in and almost turned us around. But, I think the value of going to see where these items are made and meeting the people that make them is more valuable than consuming the end results, marked up considerably, in the tourist shops that line the main road. I am thankful that my friend had the time to take me there.


The Kechene neighborhood.

Butchers near to where we ate lunch.
Finally, when we were finished exploring we went back into the center of the city, Piazza. Afework was very keen on eating raw meat, a traditional dish in Ethiopia. He took me to a street that was lined with butchers. Animal carcasses hung in all the windows and bodies stripped of skin were piled into waiting vans for transport. We ducked into one eatery, with simple low tables and benches. There he ordered raw meat for himself and BBQ beef for me. We ate this along with spicy sauces - metmeta - the chili pepper, berberie - more of a dark red paste, and a type of mustard paste. The food was delicious, but I was a bit overwhelmed by watching all the people around me slicing and eating raw slabs of meat. I watched as two women fed each other and sliced the meat with a knife between their fingers. The smell is strong. I did not try it.