The Girls

It was hard taking photographs in much of Ethiopia. If I wanted to show you the poverty I felt like a voyeur. I really couldn’t bring myself to invade their dignity.

But is some cases I was rewarded. I only ever took a personal photograph if I asked first.

I really think this is one of those photographs that I feel honoured to have taken. This girl made the coffee in a cafe.

My sister Robin speaks the language and she asked, if I could take these photos. She roasted the  beans and then brewed the coffee. This is her job. Did I pay her for the right. No. But when she brought the coffee I gave her a slightly larger that expected tip.

The next girl was also a coffee maker.

She was not dressed in as much finery – it was a roadside stall. But she had as much dignity as the first girl.

Then we were in Jimma, 360 kms by car south east of Addis Ababa. I walked past a woman and child. They were begging on the street. There was something about them that attracted me. The woman was probably a prostitute. I gave her a coin and she smiled graciously. How can you be gracious when you have to beg? The little girl held her hand out and smiled. I gave her a coin as well and reached out and scratched her nose as I would for any child if I wanted to be friendly.

We walked away, Robin and I, and had a glass of bubbly drink. It cost much more than I had given to the two. On the way back I asked, very gently if I could take their photograph. I didn’t speak, I asked by miming.

I showed them the photograph and I wish I could give them a copy.


The next girl had a different story. She had graduated from university with a degree in Biomechanics. But she wanted to teach. She got a government scholarship and completed teacher training at the top of her class. To become permanent she just needed a signature from the head of the Education Department in her area. She walked in with all her documentation and he said, “No. I don’t want you.”

And that was it. He gave no reason. Now she works as an administrative assistant.

She has stopped being angry she says. What would that achieve?

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