It's Amazing What You Can Buy from Your Car

Ethiopian Roadside Vendors Ready to Sell

by Dale Fisher

Ethiopia, West Africa

While I was in Ethiopia last month, I was struck by the large variety of items for sale, either next to the roadside or very close to the road and thought that you'd enjoy seeing a bit of what I viewed. Looking for roadside vendors was fun for me, no matter the journey that I went on with three other Transformational Leadership Movement (TLM) members.

Having visited TLM trainees in six cities, I had lots of opportunities to see what was for sale as we traveled. During previous international trips, I'd taken numerous bad or blurry photos when my camera was set to "auto" mode. This time I wised up and used the setting for a fast shutter speed — results were considerably better. Many of the following photos were taken while driving at speeds between 40 and 60 mph.

Ethiopia is a very hilly country with many valleys and hills, as well as mountains. I always enjoy seeing the many different items being sold along roads I traveled. The vendors and their wares represent the economy of the areas we visit.

I took many pictures of firewood offered for sale; that's one of the items often sold by the roadsides. I was most surprised by the grave markers that come from areas rich in stones. The fact that many of the grave markers were shaped like Orthodox crosses made them more marvelous to see.

Normally, items are displayed for sale in "merchant" front yards; in the following photos, you sometimes see houses in the background where merchants live.

On your next trip to Ethiopia, drive slowly and feel free to pull over to the side of the road — enjoy shopping alongside the asphalt as you buy unique local sale items.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19–21).
Street vendor in Hawasa, Ethiopia selling wooden crosses

Vendors in Hawasa

Normally, outside large Orthodox or Coptic churches in Ethiopian cities, you'll find vendors selling wooden crosses (to be worn as a pendant), as well as religious books, Bibles, and photo cards. Dale bought a number of wood crosses from this gentleman.

Some of the many wooden crosses that Dale has purchased from Ethiopian roadside merchants Click this thumbnail image for a close-up view of Dale's wooden crosses.
Dale was happy to find a locally made coffeepot for only one dollar

A Great Market Find in Addis

Dale discovered a market near the training center in Addis. In this photo, he buys a traditional Ethiopian coffeepot costing approximately $1.00.

To see how a coffee ceremony is a big deal in Ethiopia, see Dale's account from March.

Woman vendor in Addis sells spices, beans, and more

Spicy Sales

This woman was in the same Addis market as the coffeepot seller (see in the previous photo).

Dale loved seeing and touching the vendor's variety of locally grown spices and beans: cloves, curry, rosemary, lentils, dried legumes, and lots more.

Bananas in Ethiopia are sweet. They sell for about 20 cents a pound

Banana Fruit Stand

Every time that Dale and his team member David Neibling visit Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, they buy bananas from this stand. One kilogram (2.2 pounds) of bananas sells for 7 Birr, which is about 45 cents; that's only 20 cents a pound.

Bananas there are very sweet, much tastier than bananas sold in the US.

This smiling Ethiopian woman sells roasted maize on the roadside

Happy Maize Seller

Also in Addis are sellers of roasted maize (corn). This young woman enjoys being photographed as Dale asked her about her produce.

Dale is quick to admit that maize in Ethiopia is extremely tasty, fresh, sanitary, and inexpensive.

A young man carries 15 or more baskets that he sells on the Blue Nile

Nile Baskets

While crossing the bridge over the source of the Blue Nile, in the town of Barhir Dar, one of Dale's travel companions asked him to take this picture of a man, on foot, carrying many hand-woven baskets strategically placed to maximize balance and display.

The bridge is a short distance from where the Blue Nile begins exiting a lake. Dale questions the derivation of Blue Nile's name; he feels it more appropriate to call it the "Brown Nile" from what he saw.

Firewood bundles stand tall on the side of Dilla Road

Firewood Bundles

Dale found that firewood was sold on the side of Dilla Road. The stacks and young boy were presented perfectly for Dale's photo. No, the boy was not the firewood merchant.

Ethiopian firewood gets harvested

Harvest Time

Firewood is harvested in mountainous, dry locations, such as this one on Harar Road.

Sold by the roadside, David bought four bundles of firewood to bring down and give to a trainee family in the next town.

Grave markers, many shaped as crosses, are sold on the sides of roads in Ethiopia

Need a Grave Marker?

Atop a high hill on the road from Hawasa to Dilla, headstones and other stone items were on sale in this very rocky area; industrious residents make the most of their resources. Most grave markers appear to be Coptic or Orthodox crosses; one resembles a house.

Life and the economy are simple here. The family that carves and sells the grave markers probably lives in this house. No middlemen, wholesale dealers, or shop clerks in this basic economic structure.

One of many iIndoor markets in Harar, Ethiopia

City Marketplace

Some Ethiopian towns such as this one in Harar have a proper indoor market. In this marketplace isle, lots of T-shirts, shoes, and other clothing were the primary items being sold.

Roadside mortar-and-pestle sets for sale

What Is This?

Dale could barely believe seeing these mortar and pestle sets for sale; he's never seen this before. What a visual treat! Local people use these to grind corn and other food crops by simple pounding it with a pestle. Ethiopians also grind coffee beans similarly, using a much After the beans have been roasted, they get mashed into coffee grounds, not with an electric grinder but with only a mortar and pestle! A steel pestle grinds beans in a wooden mortar.

The pestle used at the training center measured nearly 8 inches in length and approximately 1 inch in diameter. Solid steel, the pestle reminded Dale of an automobile axle.

The grinding step takes a few minutes.
smaller mortar and pestle

One of these roadside sets was priced at 200 Birr ($14). Dale asked David if he wanted to buy one and bring it home for his wife. He answered,"It's too big for my luggage; neither does it fit the decor of our home." Maybe Dale will buy one next time.

Mattresses galore are sold at roadside markets

Sleep on This

If you need a foam mattress in Ethiopia, you have many to choose from at this roadside market.

Word to the wise: The thickest ones are the best!

Inexpensive, wooden stolls are stacked for sale on a roadside.

Wooden Stools for Sale

Stools for sale. The stool type shown is widely used throughout Ethiopia. They're cheap, made out of a light, rugged wood.

Dale recalls that on the way to Hawasa he saw a stool under the seat of the minivan he rode in. During the ride, a man in the van's back seat complained that his legs were cramped and hurting. The minivan conductor (not the driver) quickly pulled the stool from under the seat, set it near the door, and gave the man a more comfortable seat!

Not what you'd expect for a lumber yard

Local Lumber Yard

On the road to Dilla, Dale came upon something of a lumber yard having wooden poles that were standing in lines or stacked on the ground.

Note the three donkey carts at the far left. They're used to carry transport poles from the yard to local construction sites. Poles are often long enough to make their tips drag on the road behind the cart.

Well-stacked poles of wood await their sale

Poles for Sale

This huge pole yard was near where Dale photographed a man selling pineapples (see the last photo). There were thousands of long poles for sale, probably eucalyptus. Dale had never seen such a well-stocked pole yard.

In Ethiopia and much of Africa, long poles are used as scaffolding in the construction of new building.

Dale regrets that he was unable to bring a pole back home for "show and tell."

Ethiopian vendors sell their onions on the sidewalk

Colorful Market

In economically underdeveloped countries, merchants typically sell their wares, such as onions in this case, on sidewalks.

Woven items used for fences and walls dry on the road

Weaving Between
Woven Walls

In a small village outside Dilla, Dale and his team visited a church plant, which a local denomination used Transformational Leadership Movement materials to start. On the way home, the driver had to weave between woven items on the road to avoid running over them. Local people make these 4' by 8' sheets; when dried, they're used for fences, walls, or barriers.

A young man approaches cars as he encourages your purchase of pineapples

Pretty Fruity

This man was selling — really selling — pineapples, on the road to Dilla. (In Kenya, roadside vendors sometimes lift up the item to catch your attention. In this part of Ethiopia, vendors do lots more.)

This man stepped into the road holding the pineapples high, waving them. Dale was told by travel companions that pineapples usually look good but are second rate and shouldn't be purchased. A funny thing happened when Dale returned from Dilla and stopped the car near this man who thought Dale was interested in buying pineapples so he came running towards the car. Actually, Dale had stopped the car so two passengers could relieve themselves. After waving to the seller not to come closer he finally stopped approaching us. After that he probably sat down and took a much-needed rest!

another Christian fish with a cross