This text was kindly translated by Michelle Fidelhoc. Thanks!
We were waiting for the bus like everyone else. Me and a Spanish friend had come down from our first bus, a ride of more than 10 hours, and were then waiting, sitting in an tree trunk, in the midst of a light rain. All of the gazes were  focused onour strange presence in that village, making a route that is not so common for farengis to do. Anyway, we had the rest of the way by land ahead of us and we needed a "ride".

We tried to enter the first bus that passed, but were denied permission. Not that there weren’t vacant seats left, but the driver made ​​it clear on some sort of body language that he couldn’t take us before the intermediary defined our differential price. After a series of evaluations, a young man warned us that, if we wanted to catch that bus, we should reserve our seats first, paying four times more than the rest of the passengers.

Suddenly, a light came up: a rich-looking Ethiopian citizen who spoke excellent English was doing the same route as us. He offered to help as our intermediary, but we soon started to realize that the light was not as bright as we had thought. He was actually negotiating the seats of those who were already inside the bus, offering more money and forcing them to leave the bus. We made it clear to him that we disagreed with what he was doing, and we didn’t mind waiting for the next bus and traveling "normally".
Everyone left the bus and a reorganization of seats began. First, our "friend" took the front seat, which is considered to be the best. Then, the boys pushed us into the bus. Right after that, all of the people that were there before us had to squeeze themselves in the remaining seats. As we sat, the prices were put on the table: 20 Birr for everyone, 40 Birr for our friend and his special seat, and Birr 60 for two farengis that can not argue directly with the driver.

Seated, I complained about having a seat that I did not deserve. I complained also for paying three times the price of the trip. And discussed with our "friend" about all that reorganization of seats being simply wrong. Apparently, after some laughs, it became clear that morality and ethics were not a concern for that gentleman, who had just returned from a training for international agencies in Germany. For me, they were. We threatened to get off the bus, but were warned that the procedure would repeat itself in any other mean of transportation that we tried to take.

Meanwhile, among the crowd that watched us, one face was static. His clothes were torn. That is no new in a place where so many children are covered with only a few rags. The adults also seemed to be wearing the same piece of clothing that they were in weeks. The brownish color of the dirt and the wear prevailed over all the other colors, and the smell permeated the atmosphere of the mini-van.
I noticed him looking at me from the moment I got off the first bus. I, of course, could understand that I was new to him. I was impressed with the amount of time he spent watching me. Actually, in Gashena, a village 62 kilometers from Lalibela by land, there is little opportunity for activities, be it economic or social. His black skin was very dark and smooth, but it was covered with dust. His dry lips, almost motionless, outlined from time to time a half-smile.

I did not smile. I was furious with the reorganization of the seats and with hearing the excuse I hate the most: "This is Africa"​​. My gaze was fixed on a boy outside the mini-van. Our eyes didn’t leave each other for a second, and I wondered what he was thinking. Wrapped in a cloth that was once purple, there he was, static, maybe with a head full of thoughts, maybe not.

I don’t know what happened. My chest tightened. My eyes moistened. I was embarrassed. There I was, after more than a year of traveling, shedding tears for some kid in a village somewhere in the middle of Ethiopia. I didn’t hide my tears, but they were unnoticed. The salty water that ran down my cheek was a response for what I’d seen in the last days. And I considered myself so strong and prepared to observe and reflect on Poverty.
There was something in the complexity of that whole scene that made ​​me lose my composure for a moment. I did not cry of pity or sorrow. I did not cry of hatred or anger. I cried, for I did not understand. I cry because I still do not understand how it is possible that two very different worlds live together in such harmony. I cried, but I no longer cry.

This text was kindly translated by Tania F. Cannon. Thanks!Latin America (with a few exceptions), Asia and Africa are very cheap places to travel.  Many people chose those destinations because they know they can spend much more time touring, living in different cultures without spending too much. This usually happens because of the disparity in exchange rates, differences in the cost of living or something like that.

However, I would like to highlight a problem, through an example coming from Ethiopia. The amount of beggars and poor people amazed me. Everywhere, people in different stages of health, physical conditions and ages walk along the streets begging for money. The number of people who depend on those donations usually triples in the touristic areas.

Here are some figures, collected from informal talks, to help understand a small problem: the average wage of a hotel maid, receptionist, or security officer in Lalibela, north of Addis Ababa, ranges between 350 to 400 Birr a month (something around U$20.00/month). Those services usually take more than 10 hours a day, in questionable conditions, with no job security and many times, based on a verbal agreement (no labor laws or anything like that). A tourist pays, in average, for a simple and clean single hotel room, approximately 60 to 120 Birr (3 to 7 dollars) for a night.

Let’s suppose that someone feels sorry for a beggar on the street and gives him/her 10 Birr, equivalent to approximately U$0.50. And half an hour later, someone else shares the same feeling and gives them the same amount. And lastly, let’s suppose that all of it took place in a one-hour span, in the morning, when tourists leave their hotels to explore the touristic attractions of the city.

Supposedly, this situation repeats itself every day of the month. If you are also calculating, we are talking about 20 Birrs for a one-hour work , times 30 days a month: a total of 600 Birrs (U$35.00), almost 50% more of the hotel wage. Instead of spending the entire day cleaning bathrooms, and organizing someone else’s mess, with no sign of guarantees or labor laws, begging becomes an excellent option. Much more profitable and much less tiring.

Then, what can be done? I see a solution from two different angles to be resolved simultaneously. I believe it is not enough to tell tourists not to give money to the beggars; it is also necessary to regulate and qualify the work of those people. Those two actions need to be coordinated and job opportunities need to outdo begging.

Maybe the cost of a night at the hotel will go up. Even if it doubles, it is still a good deal for a tourist, and the funds coming from tourism may finally contribute to the development of regions such as Lalibela in Ethiopia. Tourists will have to agree to spend a little bit more for their tips, paying the price to help the development of those communities. And that, of course, only if the money is well used.

The image most people have is that Ethiopia is widely distributed in times of crisis: starvation, drought, poverty and diseases. Skinny adults and children observe the camera lens with a lost and helpless look. Lying in a desert landscape or in the middle of the street, they are apparently desperate for food or help. Well, Ethiopia doesn´t look good in the picture.

Begging is established and socially accepted here. It is more or less expected that a portion of your wealth ends up directly into the hands of beggars from the streets. If you oppose to contribute, this decision is also respected by those who beg. It´s difficult to find a beggar who will talk a lot and will follow the pedestrian for miles. He asks, you answer. And so it is.

It is virtually impossible to walk around the city without having to turn away at some point, avoiding an image that is hard to handle. At the same time, it is impossible to spend time on the street without a spontaneously smiling. Somehow, the (very genuine) friendliness and warmth of the Ethiopian made ​​me feel very welcome. I've never seen people so helpful, friendly and open.

The country clearly lacks basic infrastructure and maintenance. The streets and sidewalks are generally wide and well designed, but the asphalt is flawed, full of holes and leaks. Often, street and sidewalk are mixed in a pile of stones stacked up covering or exposing small lakes that form with the rainwater. Sometimes we observe the sewer exposed on openings in the ground with more than 2 meters deep.

To cross the wide streets, crosswalks are widely respected. Despite the shortage of traffic lights in operation, dozens of police officers organize traffic and drivers are always aware and stop to the safe crossing of pedestrians. Traffic express a little of the country's social disparities. Among walkers wrapped in blankets, mini-vans for public transportation and cars in questionable condition, one class stands out: the middle / upper class of the international aid agencies.

Pickup trucks and 4x4 vehicles stamping the most diverse combinations of initials and logos march through the city. These vehicles stand to the dirty gray landscape of the rest of Addis Ababa, carrying mostly a clean white color. There are some places in the city known for being attended almost exclusively by that class (whether they are foreign or local consultants hired by these agencies).

In the region of Bole, full of embassies and representations of international organizations, we can find a wide variety of products directly imported from the U.S. or Europe, or Friendship Market or Bambi's Supermarket. In addition to the markets, some cafes offer a more, let´s say, Westernized environment. Of course, the prices, though still infinitely cheaper than in the West, reflect certain social disparity. The famous Kaldi's Coffee is the Ethiopic version of Starbucks (or the reverse, as many here say), and as a friend of mine told me, offer besides coffee, a meeting point for farengis (tourists / white people / foreigners) to get in touch with the widespread prostitution in the country.

We hear lots of complaints of lack of job opportunities in the country. And the lack of professional qualification offers the best options from begging than in stressful underemployed. Still, there is a wide variety of "street jobs" such as shoe shiners and shoe cleaners (yes, with soap and water), phone card and books sellers, taxi assistants and, of course, a few cheaters by the areas filled with tourists.

The best job opportunities are with agencies and international organizations. Jobs displayed on bulletin boards along the streets and with companies of job relocation. At the same time, many complaints also come from these organizations accused of investing more money in their own team and well-being than on the specific needs of the country. The great complex of the UN exposes some of that reality.

The country's currency is the birr, which in English sounds like "beer". Perhaps cordiality comes from there, after all, every debt is resolved by paying a few "beers". The bills appear to have been printed once in the past and never again. They dissolve in our hands and smell really bad, giving the impression that they are circulating for a long time. In various bills that passed through my hands, one was marking 1995. The problem is that, knowing that the calendar used in Ethiopia is eight years late *, these bills may have more than 20 years.

Despite the urban esthetics of the country being unfavorable to the lens (but favorable, of course, to the sensationalism), the feeling of traveling the main streets and small alleys is that you are at home. Well, actually I felt much safer here, walking by night and in total darkness than at home, but each one with their own problems. Ethiopia, then, does not look good in the picture. But outside the television screen, or magazines and newspapers pages, the country brings a charm mainly characterized by the human coexistence.

The market carries the Italianized name of a time of foreign control over the country. But, with no doubt, walking along the little alleys of the place, it is Africa: from stigma to reality. Chaotic, disorganized and no planning, the market offers all kinds of merchandises. And all types of landscape as well.

In less than a twenty minute walk I was already at the center of Mercato. I didn’t go alone. I was accompanied by a local boy who, according to his story, had worked for three months in the local census. However, within a few minutes walking, several people approached him smiling and shouting “Ganja” (which I know from my previous trip to India that it means marijuana). I don’t care. I am more interested in the fact that he has access to and respect in the region, enough to take me away from the touristic beaten path and show me, more in depth, the hidden secrets of this anthropological nook.

Our path shows streets with no asphalt, with no clear definition of beginning or end and is muddy due to the rainy season. An intense movement of people, animals and merchandise. Work horses, goats, beggars, mutilated and sick people circulate with no distinction. Sometimes, lying on the ground, a corpse, either human or animal. During my conversation with my improvised guide I can see over his shoulder a gray and painful landscape. No one seems to note my presence. But my thoughts seem to be plugged to a 220v current.

In terms of businesses, the stores are more or less grouped by activity. Coffee growers on one side, iron handling on the other (exported mainly to Chinese companies for road construction). Vegetables are cut and distributed on the ground of a narrow alley; moving along is quite impossible; clothes and fabrics are manufactured at the end of the long corridor.

Wearing sandals I can feel between my toes the insalubrity of the place. And when I watch the children and the handicapped lying on the same floor that causes me so much discomfort, I feel my feet a bit heavier when I move. I ignore the fact that I saw a dead rat. I am distracted by a beggar whose skin is taken by large blisters and wounds. He exposes his body in the middle of the street and, even though, manages to have looks diverted from him. Not mine. I am no longer looking at him, but his image is etched in my brain.

No time for reflections. Then we entered a symphony of youngsters and children, almost synchronized, hammering long pieces of iron. The raw material must be exported to China. And the profits are also going to the Chinese. Huge pieces of a whitish seasoning are hastily cut and offered to the pedestrians who crowd the few centimeters between the tents.

Most of the clothes are stained in brown. Although some of the clothes and scarves originally had bright colors, wear and tear is stamped on them as a brand label: Ethiopia. There is an area for seasonings. There is an area for craftwork. And there is the “clean” part, with souvenirs and mementos from Ethiopia, inhabited by some few differentiated faces in the crowd: the farengis. Caucasians, foreigners.

Lurking around there is always a crowd of beggars. In a way, they respect the decision of passers-by to share or not their small wealth. On one corner, some officers with their wrinkled uniforms watch the crowd. I witness a theft followed by persecution by the police officer. All fake, accoridng to my young guide. Later on, both will split the profits and many times they also split the rewards for the apprehension and return of some valuable.

From the second floor of a small business I watch and, for the first time, I take pictures. There is no way to capture the energy of the place, nor its several smells. The camera’s lenses cannot see what I am watching. I go downstairs avoiding someone in a wheelchair, whose arms move a pair of pedals. He is being pushed by a young boy covered by a filthy cloth, and together they beg for help. Not to me. My presence here is barely noticed, and I can’t understand why.

The Mercato moves several industries in the city. On one hand, Chinese use the iron produced in the region to build roads, while the Indians explore the manufacturing market. All get together at the market to buy several types of goods. And many see the Mercato as a business opportunity, a place for alms or for a theft. There is room for everybody and, at the same time, everybody tries not to touch others.

A residential area surrounds the market and shelters a major part of the families that work at the Mercato. Alleys of rocks and earth, much less populated. Lying on the ground a few more bodies. It is impossible to understand the vital status of each one of them. While some seem to have chosen the place to get established, with an outstretched small plastic piece in front of them and looking for charity, others seem to have died for lack of option. The residential area is not made for visitors; therefore, I do not spend much time there.

On my way back I opt for a long walk. Several images come to my mind and I need some time to review them. The place is considered one of the largest outdoor markets in the African continent, but I am sure that the place is much more than that. I leave without buying anything, I was told not to carry anything with me. But I take as my luggage a lot of images and impressions of what goes on there.