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Walking around 2 in the morning, I found many street children close to 30 of them scattered all over the city especially on Romanat Square. Some of them sat in groups their legs against their chest in order to avoid the bitter cold. They sat nearby the bars where countless drunk people walked by them in Romanat Square— hoping some people would give them money out of pity.
One night in Mekelle, I interviewed a young girl who is 18 years old and works as a setnya adari (commercial sex worker) on the streets of Mekelle. Below is the audio interview with this young girl. The interview is in Tigrinya but I have translated it into English.
What is your name and where are you from?
My name is Merhawitt, and I am from Mekelle.
Do you have parents?
No I don’t have parents. They died.
What happened to them?
They died from illness.
So what caused you to become a commercial sex worker?
When my parents died, I left home and ended up becoming a commercial sex worker. Although I tried to live with some relatives, I didn’t get along with them and I usually fought with them.
How long have you been working as a commercial sex worker now?
I have been working as a commercial sex worker for three years.
So being a commercial sex worker, what kind of problems do you face at night?
I face lots of problems. For example, condom breaks; drunken people try to hit us. Sometimes people don’t pay us money and when we take the to the police station, the police officers don’t really pay attention to us; they belittle us saying these b*****s it’s their fault. During the day, we don’t have that much freedom. We are afraid that we will be shunned by the people and treated us as an outcast.
Do you go to school?
Yes, I used to go to school. But I dropped out of school in 9th grade.
What have you learned over the years being a commercial sex worker?
Working as a commercial sex worker is very dangerous and the worst job in the world; because you don’t know who you are dealing with or sleeping with. The people you’re dealing with could be sick or healthy you don’t know. Also, there are so many diseases that can be transmitted during sex.
So what are you doing to get out of this business?
My biggest wish is to get out of this business; in order to do that I’m saving up money, and I have a baby to raise.
You have a baby! When did you have her?
When I was 17 years old.
How old are you now?
I am 18 years old.
So you’re a single mom raising a baby and saving up money for what?
I am hoping to change and hopefully open my own boutique. I am not even interested in opening a bar or hotel I just want to open a boutique—and I don’t want my baby to know about this terrible job at all.
So what’s your message for girls who are at high risk of becoming a commercial sex worker?
Merhawitt: My message for girls who are at high risk of leaving their homes please don’t leave your home; even if you don’t get along with your families and fight a lot try to stay home and work it out. Also, don’t even go out late at night, it’s not worth it because you can get caught up in doing something that is not good. Just stay home and don’t leave.
The sudden death of Prime Minister of Meles Zenawi shocked the whole Ethiopia. People were not excepting to hear an appalling news about Meles on Ashenda holiday, therefore the whole people in Ethiopia mourned for days.
When that happened, I was in Mekelle, Ethiopia doing my research on street children. On August 26, I decided to go visit Mekelle Hawelty since I didn’t have the time to go visit earlier. I was quite surprised what I found there: countless militia men and women marching while carrying their AK-47 and honoring Zenawi.
Some of them were crying especially the women and others shouting “Gigna Aymewuten” meaning a hero will never die. They also shouted as one saying that the blue nile dam will be built and all the tasks that Zenawi has left behind will be finished and fulfilled.
All the men and women were very emotional, and yet they expressed unity and determination and a sense of hope and positivity to move forward.
When I walked around downtown of Mekelle to see how many more street boys/girls I could find during the night time, I discovered the nightlife in Mekelle City was unbelievably crazy—and I found more street girls and boys that I had not seen during the day.
On Saturday, July 21st, at around 11 p.m. I decided to walk around in the City. I did this because I was curious what I could discover at night. Also, from my experience when I used to be a street vendor in Mekelle 10 years ago, the nightlife was crazy too. I used to see lots of drunken people as well as lots of prostitutes who worked in a hotel or bar. They were roughly over 20 years old. But I did not see so many street girls back then, only a few of them that used to come out at night.
Ten years forward, the nightlife in Mekelle got three times crazier compared to what I used to know as a kid, when I was a vendor. That night, I had seen more young men and women than grown ups. Back when I was a vendor, I used to see lots of grown ups and less young people. Now it is completely the opposite. Lots of young people go out at night than grown ups.
It was shocking what I discovered on that night, I saw lots of young street girls. They are called “Setenya Adari,”—which means simply prostitutes. They don’t work in a bar or hotel but work on the streets. They stand in one specific location called “Romanat” or “Kebele 16.” Around that location, there are a multitude of bars in which countless young people go to, to socialize. It took me a while to convince some of the Setenya Adari if I could ask them a few questions about their lives.
At first, they showed a great deal of disinterest. They said they would not be videotaped, photographed, or even interviewed. I told them that was fine. How about recording you while you’re talking? No video or photography. Finally, they agreed to this option to do so. One of the girls expressed her thoughts in a very concerned tone she said, “We just don’t want to be seen on TV because we don’t want everybody to see us like this.”
From this first statement that the girl made and also other things that they had said to me as I interviewed them, I learned a lot of things about them. Especially when the interview became just like a conversation, they were telling me lots of shocking things. For example, most of the girls who work on the streets are from the age of 16 and above. Most of them have either one mother or father and the rest are fatherless and motherless. Most of them go on the streets and work as prostitutes on the streets 1) when their parents are too strict on them 2) when their parents are too abusive, 3) they become sex addict at young age due to the cash money they make from selling their bodies.
From the conversation that I had with them, I learned that they carry a huge burden of shame. During the day they said, we don’t go out we just stay at our rooms. If we want to buy something we just wear a hoody and cover our faces. We just don’t want people to pin point at us. They also said, they hated working as Setenya Adari (prostitues). 1) They don’t know whom they are sleeping with, 2) drunken people curse them saying, “Come on you bitch, you garbage,” 3) some men want to have sex with them without just a condom, 4) some men refuse to give them money after intercourse.
One of the girls said, “Do you know what people insult us, they say ‘we are horror looking during the day, and nice looking during at night. People don’t treat us like humans but they treat us like animals.”
Shockingly, the two girls I interviewed gone out to the streets at age 17 and at that age they both were pregnant and had babies. One of them now is 18 and the other 20. I couldn’t believe it myself when they told me they had babies. I just stood there in disbelief. How is this so, a young girl who just had a baby at young age still works as a prostitute to take care of her baby. I just didn’t know what to think. Their final words were that “They want to change and leave this prostitution business if somebody is willing to help them.”
Some of the street children I interviewed in this video, are children who have run away from home due to extreme poverty and also due to demostic violence. This is just a short clip of what I am investigating in Mekelle, however there will be more to come.
Yesterday, when I went to The Operation Risk, which is an NGO to interview the orphans, suddenly it began raining so strong. It was a mix of rain and hail and it was very powerful. As it rained and hailed, instantly the clouds got darker and the trees shook back and forth, and some almost got knocked down.
I shot this video because it reminded me of my childhood way back when I used to sell boiled eggs. Not only did I sell boiled eggs, but also sometimes I used to gamble money using the boiled eggs. The way the gambling works is fascinating: first, you pick any eggs; second, you check the tip of the egg with your front tooth by hitting it against your front tooth. You do this to make sure that the tip of the egg is strong enough to crack another. After you pick your egg the one you think is strong then you start your gambling either with money or with egg itself. The point is that if you crack another egg using your strong egg, you win whatever you’re gambling with. Just like the way the kids are doing here.
Two days ago, I was walking around downtown of Mekelle early in the morning hoping to find some street children sleeping. As I was heading to a district called District 14—where I was told that I would find many street children sleeping—suddenly I saw this huge blanket, which I thought at first it was just a dirty rug lying on the ground. Then I noticed something moving. I thought to myself, is it me or this is moving for real. I kept gazing at it if it was true. It was true that it was moving and people were sleeping in it. I couldn’t see how many of them were sleeping under this blanket, and also I couldn’t tell whether the people who were sleeping in it were children or big men. I suppose they are street children.
I have been going to Human-to-Human Training Center to see the kids what kind of support they are receiving from the organization. All these children are former street children, but now they are part of the Human-to-Human Training Center and no longer are on the streets. Most of the children at the organization love to play soccer so I went shopping and bought them a soccer ball. They were excited and grateful.
In return, Ato Tedros, the Coordinator and Founder of the Human-to-Human Training Center, gave me a Tigrinya dictionary. He said, “Because we want you to be an advocate for children who are in need for the future, here is a Tigrinya dictionary so you don’t forget your language.” I thought that was very powerful and it was a very thoughtful of him to do that. I am grateful for it.
On Monday and Tuesday, we had a massive rain in Mekelle City. As I was waiting for a taxi on Tuesday to go downtown, suddenly, it began to rain dogs and cats. In fact, not only did it rain, it hailed as well. Right away, I ran into a super market to escape the massive rain. The super market was packed with lots of people who were walking by happened to go there to avoid the rain.
It ran roughly for forty minutes straight then slowly it stopped. I looked outside to see how everything was like, and I had to say everything looked insane. All the roads were covered with a huge stream and people couldn’t walk in it. Cars and taxies could hardly drive on the road. People were saying jokingly, “This stream can definitely take a person”.
It was hard to find a taxi at the moment. But soon, I found a taxi that was heading downtown, and yet I was not certain if the taxi could make it downtown due to the powerful stream. Surprisingly, it made it downtown slowly and carefully.