Shoppers in Merkato (market).

Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images


Addis Ababa

Wading into the market chaos known as Merkato, just west of Addis' centre, can be as rewarding as it is exasperating. You may find the most eloquent aroma wafting from precious incense. You may also find that your wallet has been stolen and that you’ve got stinky excrement on your shoe. Some people say it’s the largest market in Africa, but as its exact boundaries are as shady as some of its characters, this is a little hard to verify.

What should be noted, however, is that this isn’t one of those nicely photogenic markets with goods laid out on the ground or in little stalls. Most vendors now have permanent tin shacks to house their wares, so in many eyes this changes the market from a scene of exotica to just a slum.

The mass of stalls, produce and people may seem impenetrable, but on closer inspection the market reveals a careful organisation with sections for each product. You can spend your Birr on pungent spices, silver jewellery or anything else that takes your fancy. There’s even a ‘recycling market’, where sandals (made out of old tyres), coffee pots (from old Italian olive tins) and other interesting paraphernalia can be found.

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