Begging Performances 21 Comments

poor ethiopia

Sile Mariammmmm, sile Giorgisssssssssssss,” they chant one at a time. Funny, I’ve never heard “sile allah or sile Mohammed.” Mothers with babies nestled in the crook of their arms – at times tugging on a visibly malnourished breast – sometimes the babies are dolls covered in netela.. “Sile ayne birhannnn,”- the blind, grasped at the wrist and led by a human walking stick. “chinkkk kechinkk kechinkk” flip about and sing the dull amst ena aser santim lying on his palms. The walker, as always, dons his nonchalant look silently coaxing you to cough up that coin and let them be on their way.

The monokses shrouded in their orange garb sit in a row inside the gates of Bole Medhanialem. “Mtssss, lijée” they drawl, waving their half closed palms up and down in that reversely hypnotic movement. “Mtssssss, enatéeee,” I want to sing back and then run to knock my forehead and kiss the betechristian gedgeda in that exact order – if I do three of those, I might be forgiven completely for mocking them. But they’ve already captured my heart. The really young and old ones always do!

Act I

It’s a Sunday afternoon. I walk home slowly, soaking up the sun as mamush approaches me head bowed down. Once eye contact has been established the chief conductor directing mamush’s orchestra of tears waves his baton to signal the beginning. They roll down in little balls at first and then stream down as they gain momentum. “Enate ketranye tefach. It’s getting late and I can’t wait for her anymore. But I don’t have bus money to get back to Mercato.” Those huge wet eyes and defeated posture have already made a claim for a 1 birr note. I walk away contemplating if I should accompany him. No need! The same story is being told to another passer-by. I’ve just been duped by a 7/8 year old.


Act II

Stadium pit-stop. I’m sitting in the back of the mini-taxi chatting away with my girls while the weyala continues to load passengers. I’m distracted by a very disturbing sight. He makes his way on his hands towards the taxi doors, dragging his crippled legs behind him. The lower portion of his face is distorted from being stretched by some large discoloured object protruding out of his mouth. Lehach dribbles down his naked chest as he babbles sile mariammmm. The words are not clear, but who can’t recognize the accompanying melody and hand gesture. I’m stunned to silence by the sight before me and my eyes slowly expand until the sockets beg for mercy. Good lord, what on earth is wrong with him, I scream inside, totally fixated on the bizarre contortion and debating how much I should give him. While his face shocked me, my face must have amused him because he started laughing. I realize that the protruding object is a big chunk of ice, slowly melting to create that constant drool. I laugh at the realization. He laughs at my laugh and I at his inability to continue begging because he’s laughing at me. The laughing cycle continues for a bit, till he takes his man-made distortion to another taxi. I’ve just been duped by a cripple.



Stopped at a red light near National theatre, sweltering in the midday sun. A group of young boys snake their way around cars, stopping at random ones and singing in unison “godana new bete, godana new.” That song has now become a cliché, so no luck today – no charity. They disperse in subunits of two to three boys. I roll up my windows quickly as one unit makes it my way. “Sisteriye eraben,” they beg and I ignore them and stare ahead, silently begging the God of traffic lights to turn it green. One stays glued to my window and keeps asking me for a tsemuni le dabo as I keep ignoring him. A few seconds before the lights go off, he bids me farewell with “min, dihenet migaba meselesh ende?” I’ve just been humbled by an 8/9 year old! A few years later those parting words still haunt me.


Begging is a performance. The most creative performers get the big bucks. Give me your best comedy or tragedy and I’ll give you my best dollar. Hit me with a unique line, and I’m unconsciously game to toss a coin or two your way. The only thing is we pay inadequate amounts for the amount of creativity that goes into some of these performances. Do I feel stupid for being lied to one too many times? Yes I do. But I probably deserved it. If the honest “I’m hungry” cries are not enough of a rude awakening to the conditions of the impoverished, then maybe we all need to be lied to and seduced with sensational stories to rouse our own creativity in finding sustainable solutions for the needy.

21 Responses to “Begging Performances”

  1. 1 Sofi

    This was hilarious! The ice and the “migabaw dehenet” are classic. I loved it :)

  2. 2 Dinich


    I love this. I second Sofi….dihnet migaba meselsh is a classic…

  3. 3 tersit

    This is so sad not funny at all. I feel so sorry for my brothers and sisters who are forced to do this….. Laltadelech ager

  4. 4 Nolawi

    Yes I agree.. its aperfomrance art… seriously.. gin so is the art of kissing ass… as is the art of bsing… but very entertainsing indeed!

  5. 5 justme

    [quote comment="87989"] so is the art of kissing ass…![/quote]
    !!!!I never heard of this kinda art movements before….sbs…

  6. 6 Nolawi

    Lol, Justme… now you heard go practice…

  7. 7 ethiopioneer

    don’t generalize that it is always a performance act. Have you ever seen an old lady or old “SHIMAGILE” who couldn’t compit with the Godana Tedadariwoch ? that is …survival for the fittest. Have you come accross a begger who doesn’t even say Sile mAriyam or what ever, may be because too tired of begging and just walking … with deep thought, grif face that makes you really compasionate…

  8. 8 Nolawi

    Hmm I actually saw a documentry on india… the homeless kids beg and they get money and food… thus, a bright idea for someone to make opportuniy of it..

    They started something characterized and a begging mafia, they organize a bunch of kids to beg for and give them the money…

    read this

  9. 9 Jan


  10. 10 emebet

    Masinko Melody you are hilarious. i am loving the way you wrote this article. amusing but not degrading. and you are right, the more orchastrated the performance the more rewards that follow. i saw this guy with a sign reading “my family was kidnapped by ninjas. need money for karate lessons”. i damn near pissed my pants

  11. 11 Sky

    Nice post M’Lady. You took me back home on the streets of Addis for a minute there.
    Thank you.

    LOL Emebet “my family was kidnapped by ninjas. need money for karate lessons”. i damn near pissed my pants”

  12. 12 meron

    my favorite was two girls with babies in piassa…’enatiye le cigara…benatish’ Dang!

  13. 13 habesh

    I am usually confused by this thing … hard to tell who is really telling the truth. One thing happened years back that has changed my attitude. It was early in the moring, i was going to school by “Weyeyet taxi”. We were going from Mexico to “Sidist Kilo – Shero Meda”. One guy was sitting infront of me, his cloth, age, look,…all were normal to me. Around “bete` Mengest” the guy asked on of the passangers if the taxi was going to “Adissu Gebeya”… all the passangers looked at him, including myself, and told him that he got the wrong taxi! He said that he wanted to go to “Fiche`”, outside Addis! He told us a short “story” … he was in Addis for a funerral and wanted to ask someone a ride to “Fiche`” once he found the “Suluta Road”. Most of the passangers gave him some cash and told him to take the “Piaza” taxi at “Arat Kilo” … Guess what the Weyala said to him when he got off the taxi? “ante seweye lemin serthe atebelam?” The guy replied, “enathe ****… min agebahe ena new?”

  14. 14 masinkomelody

    [quote comment="88912"]my favorite was two girls with babies in piassa…’enatiye le cigara…benatish’ Dang![/quote]
    lol meron.

    A pan handler here once asked me for change cuz “he needed to buy marijuana”.

  15. 15 Doro Mata

    beautifully put. gotta agree, this thing is becoming a real art form

  16. 16 Eyob

    What is the world coming to “Begging Performances”! Masinko Melody, this is the problem with Ethiopia, and the so-called the 3rd world , no mercy and compassion.

  17. 17 Alisia Richer

    I love the Ice Age movies, very good animation.

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