Commodities – Ethiopian Style

The price of food is cheap. It’s 50 cents for a meal. $3 for a pound of meat and that’s a rarity, once a week. Shoe shines are cheap, the equivalent of a quarter. Coffee is cheap, 10 cents for a cup. There quite a few items that are actually more expensive here. But, some that are surprisingly cheap.

Clothes are expensive. In Neil Ferguson’s book The Rest and the West he proposes an idea that you can judge a country’s economic status based on when or if they have industrialized textiles. Well, Ethiopia has yet to have major textile production. Clothes are expensive and Chinese made. They have odd styles and phrases. The most common word on any clothing is the word “fashion.” There is no doubt Ethiopia has more fashion than America (Crushed that joke). Often there are random English words that make no sense, for example, a popular cut off jean jacket has the words “homie, style, brother,” listed on the back. I laugh at the globalization in front of me. I am in Africa reading a Chinese made shirt. The Chinese have determined English words are fashionable. They don’t speak English but somehow find colloquial, yet outdated American terms like “homie.” They produce the jean jackets then send them off to Ethiopia. We live in a weird place. I wonder the amount of real Addis products here in Ethiopia. There are dozens of different counterfeit brands but some that are incredibly close aesthetically and some very well may be real. 90% on jeans here in Lalo have artificially made tears in them. The tears are over the top, starting at the quads and weaving their way down in different shapes, stars, rectangles, octagons all the way to the shins. The American leftovers make it here too.I have a dream one day to follow one of the goodwill shirts back to the owner if it is feasible. I have started a collection of taking pictures with these people wearing odd clothes. I’ll post it once I have gathered enough. It’s odd to walk up to someone and ask for a picture. Ismael one of the waiters at a breakfast house I frequent has a 2015 Oregon National Champions shirt, ouch. There is one local boy who wears a Dan Dicarlo for District Attorney shirt. I hope he won. One of my students wears a Texas Longhorns t-shirt, I always think of my good buddy Alan who went to UT.

Food is extremely cheap. 95% of people in my woreda (county) are farmers. Potatoes and onions are 50 cents for two pounds. Tomatoes a dollar for two pounds. Bananas are 3 for 1 birr (2 cents). Beef is $6 for 2 pounds. Pasta is $1 for two pounds. Honey is a bit more expensive because they go out into the rainforest and hack down beehives. There aren’t honey farms in all natural. It’s $4 for 2 pounds, with a few dead bees thrown in for free.

Cellphones are surprisingly cheap. There is an influx of cheap phones from China. A smart phone, brand Huwaui can be bought for 1000 birr or ($50). Techno is another wildly popular brand. Phones range from a brick phone for 300 birr ($15) to sophisticated smart phones for 3000 birr ($150).One might wonder how Ethiopians can download anything without WiFi and limited access to 2G or 3G. When someone gets a new game or app it spreads like wildfire through an app called C-share. Now in Lalo only teachers and government employees can afford smart phones. It’s tough to buy anything that is 1000 birr when you’re only selling 30 pounds of potatoes for 150 birr a week.

Coffee is unsurprisingly cheap. All of Ethiopia drinks coffee as well as it being exported abroad but only certain regions can grow it. To the North and East is desert, to the Northwest is mountains. My region can grow coffee and the sheer amount they grow is astounding. It is the only commodity exported from my town. Trucks carrying tons and tons leave on a daily basis all grown by rural farmers. These farmers have no tractors, few tools and little animal power. Most coffee in town is sold still in the shell. It’s 6 birr for each cup they give you. It amounts to roughly 20 birr ($1) for 2 pounds. There are coffee men who buy up large quantites, what they do with it, I don’t know.

Wood furniture is all there is. A small stool is 60 birr ($3), a coffee table 150 birr ($7.50). A bed frame runs 2000 birr ($100). But, the carpenters will only make nice bed frames. I’ve asked for a shitty one but they are confused and refuse. There are also tables made from questionable wood that farmers bring from villages to sell for 100 birr ($5). The workmanship is, frankly, awful, but they’re cheaper. I have one nice and one shitty table. The village table’s legs are comically disproportionant.

Besides that there aren’t a whole lot of other commodities I buy on a daily basis. There are souqiis with various goods such as hair butter, sprite, matches, tea etc. But there isn’t much more provided. People simply don’t need it.

One thought on “Commodities – Ethiopian Style

  1. I enjoyed reading this. It’s very interesting to hear about other cultures . My sister in law is a missionary to PNG. It costs us $100+ to send a box to her from the US. The kids there (she is also a schoolteacher) have never had toys. She gave a little fella the equivalent of .60 and he was so thrilled. She said a coke is .60 and a pack of crackers is .30 there. Most of the stores there, she said, you walk up to the counter, pay, and then they give you whatever you bought from behind the counter.


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