Children of Harar

The many faces of Harari children…
July 4th -7th, 2015

Only two of these photos truly need further explanation, I think; The set of photos with the young boy holding a bag of leaves and the set of photos of the boy in yellow looking very sad. So I will explain them a bit.

The young boy in the photo, hugging a bundle of leaves, is actually holding a giant bag of amphetamine. The local drug in Ethiopia is something called chat, which acts similar to ephedrine (found in cold medicines(what people steal to make meth)). The leaves of the flowing plant are chewed for hours to induce a high similar to anything from drinking a cup of coffee to snorting cocaine. Chat is an extremely social drug since it takes hours of chewing the leaves to maintain any “high.”

Chat is legal in Ethiopia and is commonly seen on the streets of most towns and cities. It is, for the most part, socially acceptable. In muslim communities, such as Harar, chat is seen EVERYWHERE. It was especially useful during the fasting Ramadan, since the community was fasting all day and staying up all night. So, they would chew chat all night, in order to stay up and enjoy their night.

Chat’s active ingredient is only potent for about 48 hours, so exporting it long distances or drying the leaves is problematic. However, that doesn’t stop chat from being Ethiopia’s second largest export behind coffee! There are still many debates on whether chat should actually be considered a drug, and in many Ethiopian communities it isn’t. To me, a drug comes with certain taboos but in most parts Ethiopia, it is commonly accepted by men, women, and children. As you can see in the photo, this child’s parents have sent him to bring home the chat. Clearly, they see nothing wrong with it, as if they sent him to the corner market for a carton of milk.

As for the set of photos of the sad faced boy in the yellow shirt…

Being foreigners in Ethiopia, we are fairly used to a certain level of attention in our own towns and villages and especially when we travel out of our towns. Children have a number of ways to ask for things from foreigners, a common go-to is simply “money money money” with their hands held out. While we did get a good share of this in Harar, I was also delightfully surprised to get a number of children who, when they saw my expensive camera, instead of asking for money, smiled brightly and asked for a photo.

As a photographer, I was thrilled by this new greeting! Especially since I rarely take out my nice camera in Ethiopia, to avoid being seen as having money. However, since I was a tourist in Harar and was on my vacation, I wanted to take photos.

This young boy in yellow had followed us on our tour for a little bit and I think had asked us for money for a few minutes. We then stopped to sit on a set of stairs to wait for one of our friends. At this point, the young boy had given up asking us for money and just sat on a rock about five feet away from where we sat, looking weak and sad.

While we sat there in the shade taking a break form the Harari sun, he was truly breaking my heart. He looked so sad and exhausted. I decided to take a few photos of him, hoping that seeing the photos on my LCD screen would cheer him up. I did a mini photo shoot of this little guy and kept showing him photos, each time I showed him he would giggle and smile. Oh he was such a cutie. Then as soon as I would start photographing him again, he would turn somber once more. Nevertheless, I brought a smile to his face and he brought a smile to mine.

Until next time,

Make sure to check out my other two blogs from my trip to Harar…
The Colors of Harar
Camels, Hyenas, and Goats Oh My!

—-ALL photographs, designs, and text, are licensed by Cundiff Creative Photography and Graphic Design and are not to be used for commercial use or modified. License permits others to copy and distribute my work provided you give Cundiff Creative full credit and follow the above specifications.

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