The Hard Work of Unemployment, EthnoTraveler

Last week I had this post at EthnoTraveler about how hard the unemployed in Djibouti work. I have always wondered about the women sitting on the side of the road or in empty lots, beside ramshackle structures, beneath frayed tarps or dented aluminum sheets. They poured drinks and stirred pots and seemed to increase in number every month. Who are they? Who do they sell to? How do they get started? Do they earn enough to survive? To move upward? Where are they from? What is their work like? Their home life like?

Finally, in place of the questions I bombarded myself with as I passed them, I summoned my courage and approached one such woman who worked beside a new construction site in a booming, upper-class section of town. I asked if I could sit with her for a few days and observe and learn about her work, if she would allow me to write about her work. She welcomed me warmly, though thought I was a little strange.

I was impressed with the efficiency of labor, the complex web of relationships she navigated, and the hard work she put in to earn a meager amount of money. The women bantered while they worked and there was an absence of self-pity or whining, a kind of courage that comes from staring life straight in the face and daring it to push them down. These are women who rise.

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Here’s an excerpt of the piece for EthnoTraveler…

The CIA World Factbook quotes, as of February 21, 2013, a 59% urban unemployment rate for Djibouti and an 83% rural unemployment rate. This means nearly seven out of ten adults are without work.

This number on a piece of paper or a website does not take into consideration independent restaurateur Amina, her shalmad shellacked to her back with sweat and her feet calloused, elephantine. Her temporary restaurant is not registered and she is officially unemployed. So, according to the numbers, she does not work as she alternately stirs a pot of beans, a pot of pasta, a pot of tea, and chops eight kilos of onions before eight a.m.

Hundreds of restaurants like hers, nameless and hastily constructed, spring up near new building sites and are managed by women unable to secure government-sanctioned employment. Teachers, soldiers, port employees, these are the employed. A woman cooking over an open fire in front of a ramshackle hut or a man cutting hair with a razor blade and an overturned tin can for a chair or a child sorting trash, these are not the employed. These are the creative, the desperate, sometimes the illegal aliens, the ‘invisible’ masses who occupy the lower rungs of a rapidly developing nation.

Read more here…