Aaahhhh.... our youth - filled with shinny games, puzzle making and fort building. That was the life. Every child has that freedom and experience right?
Ethiopia isn't a place to grow up, most children are expected to contribute to the family income in some way, whether it is a 4 year old tending sheep or a 10 year old cooking all day with meager resources. The only time a child is truly free is until they can walk, then it is game over.
Take Melkomu for example. I met him in Lalibela where he, like all the other grade 9 students, are desperately trying to make ends meet in order to attend school. He bothers faranji or foreigners for money. But this one is different, first of all, his face is kind. He is desperate like all of them but his English is impeccable and has a curiousity and awareness that belies his 12 years.
Unlike most street boys that I completely ignore them or tell them to leave me alone, I actually spoke to 'Malcolm' and we chatted most of the day about our lives. He taught me Amharic, I taught him English. He told me about prices in Ethiopia, I told him about costs in Canada. His father makes roughly $0.60 a day working for rich Ethiopian families as a handiman, then on weekends he acts as a porter for $0.05 a load. In Malcolm's family there are 7 people - 3 brothers and 2 sisters.
A kilo of tef or the grain that forms the staple of Ethiopian food, injera, costs $1.30 and will last a family 3 days. A chicken costs $1.20 and a goat costs $20.00. They can barely afford to eat most days and 2 days that I spent with Malcolm he never ate breakfast and had one dinner.
He didn't own shoes.
It's a struggle to grow up here. But children still manage to be children - I saw children in remote villages playing jump rope with a handmade rope. In another village two small girls were practicing handstands and then there are the boys that are constantly wrestling and racing eachother through the fields. Despite the hardships they face, kids manage to still play here - with balls made from torn plastic bags or torn clothing and tree climbing, hiking and inventing games to fulfill their imagination. Something that our children miss in order to play more Xbox.