Empty Grain Sacks and Four thousand-birr Shoes!


Ephrem Endale  Contributer

 With the Ethiopian Christmas just around the corner the next few days are going be rather hectic with locals flooding the holiday markets. Yes, we’re in economically trying times; Yes, almost every household is staggering with the burden expenses, more expenses and even more expenses; Yes, we can’t even pretend to hide it as the empty spaces on the dinner table give us away; Yes it appears with life throwing all the jabs and uppercuts at us holidays would be the last things on our minds; and yes anyone who thinks as such is mistaken.

Whenever holidays come around they’ve a way pushing everything else to second place. Despite all the problems we are in the holidays come as some reminders life has the better sides, too. But, even with all the glitter and glow there is no escaping the daily grind of the economic hardships chewing way at our self-worse in the worst scenarios.

You come across this guy you know wearing that long face which seems to says, “Oh, how I hate this world!” That’s some face which has more or less become a common denominator. With the guy making thirty grand a month and some benefits of another ten grand or so he’s the last person you expect to wear that kid of face.

“Is everything is alright?”

“How can anything be alright when I am finding it hard to provide three meals a day for my family?”

“Is it that bad in your house?”

“It’s that bad.”

Now, this is not going to be a comforting discussion. If he, the forty-plus grand guy feels so beaten up, looking like the other Frankenstein twin, you can’t help imagining the depth of the hole fate had readied for you.

“Don’t tell me you lost that thirty grand a month job”

“No, it isn’t that. But with the cost of living soaring by the hour, the demands of the kids multiplying by the day, the frustration of my wife getting the best of her every other night and everyone trying to dig deeper and deeper into your pockets, life is getting real hard. I tell you I never thought I’d find myself in such a situation.” The guy’s sounding as if fate singled him out for some reason while no one expected to find themselves in the situations they’re in!

Time to kick start your ‘Agony Aunt’ genes. I mean, not that you’re in any better situation than others. But even if only for the sake of calming your own screaming nerves, you try to be ‘realistic.’

“You know what I think…I think it’s possible to soften the blow by making a few life style changes.”

You could practically see the nerves under his skin going through the primary stages of some riot. The guy knows where you’re heading for and that’s the one territory he doesn’t want to get into. But then the guy is no exception; most of us are on that very train. “Life is getting hard, we complain 24/7, and some of us might even begin inquiring how the Bolshevik revolution thing came about. Ha! Still we insist on staying the course we’re accustomed to refusing to acknowledge it’s possible to make changes which in no way affect ours and our families’ wellbeing in any way; And all this while things continue sliding from bad to worse. ‘What! Revise my lifestyle?’

“Ok, let me hear you out.”

“For one thing I’ve noticed that in your house there is unnecessary waste of food items. You prepare food more than you need and too much leftover is being thrown out.”


“Can’t you be a little more economical in kitchen? Just enough for the family.”

“You must have a good point there.”

“And another thing is you seem to enjoy inviting guests to your house too frequently. You have to cut back on that Good Samaritan stuff; at least until things start falling back into place.”

Looking at the fast changing contours on his you know you have touched some a raw nerve or two.

“That would be a little difficult. What’d people say when we suddenly stop inviting them to our house?”

“Who cares! Who the hell cares when you’re saying feeding your own kids has become a challenge!

“You know relatives and friends wouldn’t be happy…”

“Sorry for interrupting; but your wife and kids come first. Forget who says what and look for ways where the plates keep on disappearing for the dinner table!” He doesn’t look at all happy. No wonder your ‘Agony Aunt’ role seems to be going nowhere. (I mean, you sound like some Napoleon Hill prodigy and he might even be asking himself, “Where the hell did this guy get all this?”) And then you’ll come to the ‘real stuff’ of his outside-the-home lifestyle.

“I think you have to stop throwing away money on four thousand birr pairs of shoes.”

“What!” He sounds as if some Tyson punch caught him off-guard. “Are you asking me not to buy those shoes?”

“Indeed. I am.”

“That’s not going to happen; not in a thousand years. Can you imagine me joining my friends with thousand birr shoes on my feet! I’d be the laughing stalk of the town! It isn’t going to happen.”

Now this is the guy openly complaining of being forced to put less and less food in his kids bellies. Yet he isn’t ready to part with those habits done for the only reason to be part of the show. After all pole see not the empty grain sacks in his kitchen but the shining shoes on his feet. “This guy really knows how to live it up. Aren’t his shoes wonderful?”

Yes, while we are looking at the wrong places, things get murkier in the right places. We’re looking at the wrong things. While sacks of grains are emptying out, while the remaining teff flour wouldn’t take the family another fortnight, while the maid is forced to use fewer and fewer onion and edible oil in the traditional wot dishes we, the providers, continue going to restaurants where the cheapest commodity is the seventy-plus birr cup of coffee, or to hotels where a sorry bowl of rice drains one’s wallet dry.

How about this piece of fable as a way wrapping it up, “A certain wise man was used to go out every evening and gaze at the stars. Once his walk took him outside of the town, and as he was looking earnestly into the sky, he fell into a ditch. He was in a sad plight, and set up a cry. A man who was passing by heard him, and stopped to see what the matter was. ‘Ah, sir,’ said he, ‘when you are trying to make out what is in the sky, you do not see what is on the earth.’”

If one wants to feed one’s kid the one place to start is by forgetting about those four thousand-birr pair of shoes! How did my performance as an ‘Agony Aunt’ go?

The January 2/2022

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