You Are Here: Newspaper Man

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In Chidtera, on the western edge of the Mercato, the claustrophobic alleyways slowly start to open up. The trampled pulp of cardboard and fruit fiber is replaced by wet grass and the stench of residential sewage. Storefronts slowly morph into schoolhouses and mosques, and the shopping takes on the good-natured banter of a neighbors and friends.

This is Abdulseid’s neighborhood. He was born here, he went to school here, he goes to the mosque here. Now he sells paper here. His brother sells paper, and his sisters sell paper. When he was younger, his parents and uncles sold paper. “My family has a long connection here,” he says. “We have been here a long time.”

His attitude is reflected in his product—the paper Abdulseid sells. Nothing is untouched or unread. His paper carries years of travel and abuse, because none of it is new. In all the mountains of yellowing paper stacked against his wall, nothing has a date on it from fewer than two years ago. Everything is recyclable in the Mercato, and the news is no different.

Most people buy Abdulseid’s old paper for wrapping. The fry ladies with the makeshift samosa stalls cut squares out of the news and wrap their greasy snacks in them, so that the oil and fat runs black with ink after it saturates the thin layer of print.

But some people come and buy old news by the kilo because they like to read. Abdulseid smiles, weighing out a stack of magazines from 2003 with an old-school balance scale and a series of weights stained from newsprint smeared across his dark fingertips.

Headlines recall diplomatic accomplishments of years past: Eritrean leader fears US plans to kill him. Others carry Ethiopian human interest stories back out of a time capsule: GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN VIRGIN.

Through the stacks of old news, Abdulseid flutters to and fro, his long, military-green overcoat sweeping the ground. “Old paper,” he calls out to the passing crowd. “OOOOOLLLLDDD paper! Twenty birr per kilo…OOOOLLLDDD paper!”

Despite the twine tied sharply around the bundles of old paper, they still shudder and flap in the breeze. The scent of dust and decay gets carried up the quiet street. And another day in Chidtera passes smoothly into history.

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