The Mekele Market – In Pictures

The Mekele market is huge and confusing and strange.  It’s a bustling sprawl of everything imaginable;   everything is negotiable and nothing has a price tag.  Therefore a few weeks ago I went into the labyrinth with Hannah, a pen and paper (for mapping), and my camera.  It was a Monday, the designated market day, so there were lots of people from out of town there to buy and sell chickens, honey, strange spices, and everything in between.  Here are the final results from our morning of exploration:

Here is the map I made after our visit.  The market is too diverse to really map, so this is just a general guide.  Click for full resolution.

Here is the map I made after our visit. The market is too diverse to really map, so this is just a general guide. Click for full resolution.

One of the cotton sellers lined up along the southern road.

One of the cotton sellers lined up along the southern road.

Two more cotton sellers chatting in the morning.

Two more cotton sellers chatting in the morning.

Every seller brings one little bag of handspun cotton.  Women spin these by hand during the week during any downtime they might have then bring their work to the market where it's bought up by middlemen like this guy.

Every seller brings one little bag of handspun cotton. Women spin these by hand during the week during any downtime they might have then bring their work to the market where it’s bought up by middlemen like this guy.

The tire craft zone.  Old blown out tires are recycled into buckets, containers, ropes, shoes, and probably a million other things.

The tire craft zone. Old blown out tires are recycled into buckets, containers, ropes, shoes, and probably a million other things.

Some tires at various stages of de-construction.

Some tires at various stages of de-construction.

The beginnings of some tire sandals.

The beginnings of some tire sandals.

A woman sells her grains in the southern dry goods section.

A woman sells her grains in the southern dry goods section.

Some ladies were selling a few injera storage baskets near the drygood section.  These are made from hand and are found in every Ethiopian household.

Some ladies were selling a few injera storage baskets near the drygood section. These are made from hand and are found in every Ethiopian household.

Plastic Heap #1 which is next to the southern dry goods section.  These old palm cooking oil (mostly) jugs are reused to carry water.  These 'jerry-cans' are found all over the country mostly on the backs of women and donkeys, who laboriously transport water for households.

Plastic Heap #1 which is next to the southern dry goods section. These old palm cooking oil (mostly) jugs are reused to carry water. These ‘jerry-cans’ are found all over the country, mostly on the backs of women and donkeys, who laboriously transport water for households.

This guy is on his way to the wholesale vegetable section with a big load of tomatoes.

This guy is on his way to the wholesale vegetable section with a big load of tomatoes.

Most produce is hauled on donkey cart once it's in the city.  Trucks are used for longer distances.

Most produce is hauled on horse cart once it’s in the city. Trucks are used for longer distances.

Cabbages and more cabbages being inspected by a buyer in the wholesale section.

Cabbages and more cabbages being inspected by a man in the wholesale section.

The cowboy way to drive your horse cart!  Style!

The cowboy way to drive your horse cart! Style!

All sorts of metal scraps are being unloaded by these guys in the metal work section of the market.

All sorts of metal scraps are being unloaded by these guys in the metal work section of the market.

Those metal scraps are then transformed into useful and (sometimes) beautiful things: buckets, sifters, stoves, grills.

Those metal scraps are then transformed into useful and (sometimes) beautiful things: buckets, sifters, stoves, grills.

'Roach Killer' cans are a popular raw material.

‘Roach Killer’ cans are a popular raw material.

These guys are making incense burners out of roach killer and USAID vegetable oil cans.

These guys are making incense burners out of roach killer and USAID vegetable oil cans.

These are the finished product.  Incense burners are a staple of every coffee ceremony that happen a few times per day in most Ethiopian homes.

These are the finished product. Incense burners are a staple of every coffee ceremony that happen a few times per day in most Ethiopian homes.

There are tiny hole-in-the-wall (literally) cafes all over the market.  They offer food, tea, and rest to all the people that pass through the market.  Hannah found this one and we decided to have breakfast there.

There are tiny hole-in-the-wall (literally) cafes all over the market. They offer food, tea, and rest to all the people that pass through the market. Hannah found this one and we decided to have breakfast there.

This is Yirdanos' cafe in the market.  She cooks everything on charcoal and made us some delicious 'fool' (breakfast bean dip) and tea.

This is Yirdanos’ cafe in the market. She cooks everything on charcoal and made us some delicious ‘fool’ (breakfast bean dip) and tea.

Fool being prepared in Yirdanos' cafe.  10 birr ($0.50)

Fool being prepared in Yirdanos’ cafe. 10 birr ($0.50)

This guy was just chillin outside the cafe, hoping for scraps.

This guy was just chillin outside the cafe, hoping for scraps.

The outdoor vegetable section: for household use only.  No wholesale here.

The outdoor vegetable section: for household use only. No wholesale here.

The indoor vegetable section

The indoor vegetable section

Hannah bought a "traditional toothbrush" from this kid.  Olive branch?

Hannah bought a “traditional toothbrush” from this kid. Olive branch?

Tigray's honey is famous in Ethiopia.  Here's where you can buy it.  It comes in variety of grades, the highest being clarified white honey (dead bees and wax removed preferably).

Tigray’s honey is famous in Ethiopia. Here’s where you can buy it. It comes in variety of grades, the highest being clarified white honey (dead bees and wax removed preferably).

Like everything else at this market, honey is definitely buyer-beware.  Therefore you have to sample everything before you buy it.  Ti-Um!

Like everything else at this market, honey is definitely buyer-beware. Therefore you have to sample every one before you buy. Ti-Um!

Dry goods (coffee, lentils, rice, wheat, beans, peppers, flax, teff)

Dry goods (coffee, lentils, rice, wheat, beans, peppers, flax, teff)

A women watches over her store of dry goods.

A women watches over her store of dry goods.

A hobbled donkey waits for someone in front of the Plastic Heap #2

A hobbled donkey waits for someone in front of the Plastic Heap #2

A shop for traditional housewares (raw hide, carved wood, dried grass, woven reeds) near the chicken zone.

A shop for traditional housewares (raw hide, carved wood, dried grass, woven reeds) near the chicken zone.

This is the chicken street.  Guys bring in a dozen or so chickens from the countryside by hanging them upside down on a stick.

This is the chicken street. Guys bring in a dozen or so chickens from the countryside by hanging them upside down on a stick.

Chicken paws. Dinosaur claws.

Chicken paws. Dinosaur claws.

Hannah holds up an unhappy rooster.

Hannah holds up an unhappy rooster.

Some wild prints on the mattresses available at one of the stores near the market.

Some wild prints on the mattresses available at one of the stores near the market.

And this is why I call the stream the cuts through the middle of the market Pig Creek.

And this is why I call the stream the cuts through the middle of the market Pig Creek. gross.

There is a whole building devoted to tailors who make the classic women's dress, popular with most women, but especially those who come from the rural areas.

There is a whole building devoted to tailors who make the classic women’s dress, popular with most women, but especially those who come from the rural areas.

Some dudes making dresses.  One of these dresses is around 400 birr ($20)

Some dudes making dresses. One of these dresses is around 400 birr ($20)

WILD fabrics!!

WILD fabrics!!

Another busy tailor making dresses.

Another busy tailor making dresses.

These plastic sandals are the most common foot ware for guys in Ethiopia.  They come in all sorts of crazy colors that you would think wouldn't be too appealing for a lot of guys, but...they wear em.

These plastic sandals are the most common foot ware for guys in Ethiopia. They come in all sorts of crazy colors that you would think wouldn’t be too appealing for a lot of guys, but…they wear em.

There are also plastic shoes for the girls, but these are some of the regular shoes available in the Mekele market.

There are also plastic shoes for the girls, but these are some of the regular shoes available in the Mekele market.

I have no idea why this huge section is completely illuminated with blue lights and NO daylight, but I see it leading to serious buyer's remorse: wait, that shirt I just bought is yellow?  It's a maze in here.

I have no idea why this huge section is completely illuminated with blue lights and NO daylight, but I see it leading to serious buyer’s remorse: wait, that shirt I just bought is yellow??? Plus it’s a maze in here so good luck returning it.

Shoes and jeans in the blue light zone.

Shoes and jeans in the blue light zone.

There is some nice stuff in the leather work section like this highly decorated baby carrier.  Ethiopia produces a huge amount of leather and some of it is sold here.

There is some nice stuff in the leather work section like this highly decorated baby carrier. Ethiopia produces a huge amount of leather and some of it is sold here.

This man specializes in army surplus fatigues and utilitarian jumpsuits.

This man specializes in army surplus fatigues and utilitarian jumpsuits for the working man.

The traditional clothing section is full of stores like this one.  Women wear these beautiful dresses for holidays and special occasions.

The traditional clothing section is full of stores like this one. Women wear these beautiful dresses for holidays and special occasions.

A woman poses in front of her store full of traditional dresses and scarves.

A woman poses in front of her store full of traditional dresses and scarves.

A lot of the detail work on these dresses is done by hand.  s.l.o.w.l.y.

A lot of the detail work on these dresses is done by hand. s.l.o.w.l.y.

They sell a few things in these kitchen stores... just a few.

They sell a few things in these kitchen stores… just a few.  …and all this stuff gets put away at the end of the day, just to be brought back out for display the next day.

Hannah in between two kitchen stores.

Hannah in between two kitchen stores.

Gaudy plastic flowers on display in front of one of the party supply shops.

Gaudy plastic flowers on display in front of one of the party supply shops.

The busy street that leads back into town and the mall.

The busy street that leads back into town and the mall where you can buy even more stuff…like electronics, frozen fish, and ridiculous furniture.  Maybe that will be my next photo walk.

Sensory overload?  Too many pictures?  Too many colors?  Yes, I agree.  Go drink an Avocado juice.  That’s what I did after 3 hours of wandering around in this crazy place.

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About copelaf

photographer, writer, engineer, eater, traveler, and - occasionally - a thinker.
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3 Responses to The Mekele Market – In Pictures

  1. Paula Yang says:

    This is EXCELLENT !!!! GREAT JOB! Thanks for doing that you guys !!!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Colleen Fulp says:

    Love all the photos! Awww makes me miss Africa. Ghanaian markets have many of the same features. Except for the blue light section, how unique. haha Thanks for sharing your photo walk!

  3. Dr. Vinod Kumar Khatta says:

    Developing but nice place

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