Radar | May 31,2020
Mud is brought to life every day through the potter's hands at Ensera Pottery Centre, which is located in Gullele District's neighbourhood of Chelot Medhaniyalem in front of the Nigerian embassy. They mould, burn, smoke and wield the soil from the ground into pots, dishes, mugs and vases for a living - a mastery of craft that has been handed down from one generation to the next for most of the potters.
"It's our tradition," said Nunush Beshahwored, one of the potters working at the newly established Centre. "I've made my living with it as my mother has and her mother before her."
Nunush and 350 other potters work at this Centre, brought to life through the initiative of former Deputy Mayor Takele Uma as a way to make the lives of the potters better. Many like Nunush, used to work from their homes before Ensera, meaning "pot" in Amharic, was opened.
"Pottery isn't an easy job," said the mother of two. "It involves multiple stages before you see the final product, but I work so my kids can have a better future."
It has been three months since she was invited to start working at Ensera, a working space built to accommodate 1,000 potters. The construction took 16 million Br, and its two warehouses, combustion centre and cafe lie on 4,400Sqm.
During the inauguration ceremony, Takele said that the City Administration built the Centre with the goals of fostering traditional pottery arts and transforming the lives of the people engaged in the sector. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) visited at the end of June.
The City Administration chose the location, a former minister's office, as it had been unoccupied and within close proximity to the potter's homes, according to Mahlet Ayalew, public relations officer for Gullele District.
Financed by the District and constructed by Gullele
District Construction Office, the Centre's aim was primarily to provide better working conditions for the potters with a daycare centre and a cafe to boot, according to her.
And indeed, it is a far cry from where the potters used to work. For one, the Centre has its own electronic combustion centre, a welcome respite from the dried cow dung Nunush had been burning in her home.
"The most difficult part was heating the moulds, as the smoke really affected my eyes and lungs," she said. "Having this workplace means a lot to me."
But it seems that those who built the Centre, completed within 19 days, have overlooked a number of considerations.
For starters, the high status of the Centre has come at a cost for the potters. The cost of the raw materials doubled once the women moved into this new place, according to Nunush. The cost of having mud delivered to the Centre also increased.
"I used to pay 30 Br to 50 Br to transport 10kg to 15kg of clay mud from the source to my home," she said.
This was enough for Nunush to make up to 40 pots a day. Now, that cost has lept to almost 300 Br. Other potters also share her experience.
"The price for the transportation of the mud is more than what I can afford," said Belay Dejen, another potter in the Centre. "But it is the basic material to make the pottery, so I borrow the money from the shops nearby to pay back after I sell what I make."
Belay, like Nunush, inherited the craft from her grandmother. She makes her livelihood and supports her two children solely through her work after she lost her husband a decade ago.
"I came to work here after I heard what the former Deputy Mayor shared at the opening of the Centre," she said. "He said that he wants to support us, and that he initiated it after seeing our neighbourhood filled with smoke. He thought that it had caught fire but discovered we were just working to earn our living."
The words of the Deputy Mayor motivated Belay, but life has been getting harder for her since she started working at the Centre. Her expenses have increased, but the red and white soils she needs will still have to be purchased.
The promise of a link to an expanded market, one of the advantages touted at the opening of the Centre, has also not yet materialised. The Centre is equipped with a showroom, but visitors are few and far between.
"I'm still selling my products to my old customers," said Nunush, who makes up to 30 coffee pots in a week. Flower vases and bowls, completed two or three at a time, require a week to make.
The community's unfavourable outlook on the craft has not helped as well.
"We're rejected by the community," she said. "They don't appreciate what we do, yet they use our products."
The rainy season has compounded the problems. The mud takes a long time to dry, and the pots break easily, according to Meseret Tilahun, another potter in the Centre. She, too, has experienced the sharp increase in expenses since moving to the new location.
"I'm living to survive at the moment because of the transport and material costs I have," she said.
But even the capacity of the Centre, functioning at less than half its intended size, is questionable to some of the potters. It is too crowded even for the potters currently working there, according to Genet Assefa, another potter.
"There needs to be adequate space for production," she said. "Pottery requires a high level of care, and we need separate work areas for finishing the products since they can easily be broken."
The onset of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has made the bad situation worse. This has been felt not only by the potters but by the retailers who sell their products. For Emebet Bekel, who has been in the industry for eight years, business is not faring well.
"People don't leave their house, which means business has slowed down," she said. "I used to receive new orders every two weeks, but now that has gone down to once a month."
The amount she produces has also been affected by transportation costs from the Centre. She used to make up to 200 coffee pots in a three-month period, but that amount has now fallen to as few as 50.
The project itself does not seem like it has been studied well, according to Zerihun Berhane (PhD), an associate professor and lecturer at Addis Abeba University's Department of Sociology. His research areas include climate change adaptation, social protection and livelihood systems.
"What I see is a total failure from project planning to sustainability issues," he said. "There should've been studies on how these women generate their income from the beginning to the end."
Just because there is one space does not guarantee its use, according to the expert, who believes that the project planners need to retrace their steps to pinpoint where the problem lies.
"Creating a business chain like the potters mentioned is also necessary," he said.
For potters like Nunush at the Centre, what is keeping them going for now is the expectation of something better tomorrow.
"This is my way of life," she said. "Hope is the only thing keeping me going."
PUBLISHED ON Sep 06,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1062]
Radar | May 31,2020
Editorial | Dec 11,2020
Radar | Mar 07,2020
Featured | Nov 21,2018
Editorial | Jan 09,2021
Films Review | May 04,2019
Commentaries | Feb 22,2020
Fortune News | Jan 11,2020
Fineline | Feb 02,2019
Radar | Oct 10,2020
February 13 , 2021 . By TADESSE TSEGAYE
In Arada, I stopped over by a hotel in front of Cinema Empire. I sat alone inside wit...
January 30 , 2021 . By FASIKA TADESSE
The Council of Ministers approved a regulation that will establish the Liability &...
January 16 , 2021
It was a sunny day on September 12, 1974. A machine gun mounted on top of a tank was...
January 3 , 2021 . By ABDUREZAK LESMAN
Women wearing netela, a white cotton garment with woven coloured borders, and men in...
On November 6, 2020, the Sudanese military carried out unprovoked aggression against...
Leaders of the National Election Board are in a charm offensive mood, of a sort. Last week, they organised a rare tour for members of the me...
When the country’s most senior diplomats and envoys return back to their posts after two-week debriefings, they leave behind a point or tw...
February 27 , 2021
That Ethio telecom would remain in the hands of the state was never a sure deal. A ra...
February 20 , 2021
The late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was in parliament in 2010, taking questions on h...
February 13 , 2021
What most spooked buyers owning a billion dollars of Ethiopia’s Eurobonds was not a...
February 6 , 2021
The feeling of helplessness; the confusion to understand what is unfolding; and the d...
PM Abiy Ahmed (PhD) at a Gala Dinner Called for the Awarding of the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize
May 6 , 2019
Sometimes two close friends get into a heated argument in front of us, and we are asked to step in and play the role of referee. This presen...
Or see contact page