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The people of traditional markets.
Story Sourcing in Hawassa, Ethiopia

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a doctor who has not finished high school...
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54 year old Marsamo Mengistu was born into an agrarian community near Hawassa City. Marsamo first opened a small shop in Hawassa, but he could not generate enough income  to support  his family of one child. 

 

He then opened a small restaurant in a rented house where he sold injera, a sour fermented flatbread with a slightly spongy texture, traditionally made of teff flour and shiro wot, a stew or curry made from ground dried chickpeas and various spices. However, that too didn’t attract enough customers, so he started taking the food to sell at the lake shore known as Amora Gedel, meaning in Amharic: Gorge of the Vultures.

 

 His injera and shiro sold well, but Marsamo was not content with his better income. He decided to start making fish soup because he believed that he could make better fish soup than the other sellers at Amora Gedel.

In 2000, Marsmo started making fish soup in an open space at Amora Gedel, but he was unhappy with how people at first reacted to his new business. They began to tease him calling him ‘she the cook’. Society here considers cooking as a woman’s job. 

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Marsamo remembers: “at that time, I was often angry whenever people called me ‘she the cook’, but I didn’t  want to stop making and selling soup. I observed-  in the first two weeks - that I sold more cups of soup than others around Amora Gedel. This  was probably because I gave better attention  to my work, and I added the right amount and variety  of spices in my soup while my customers were waiting and watching. The spice I use for my soup includes: green pepper, onion, garlic, ginger, Ethiopian black cardamom and turmeric powder. I buy  quality spices from a trader in Aroge Gebeya.”

Marsamo’s fish soup business grew quickly and his “fame” spread like wildfire in Hawasa and beyond. People started talking about a sick old man who ate Marsamo’s soup for two months and miraculously recovered from his illness though doctors had said the patient was beyond cure. And Masmao says the story is true. 

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“A 75 year old man came from Arbe Gona -a place about 90 kilometers away from Hawassa- and told me that he had chronic tuberculosis and that doctors had given him medications that did not help him at all. He also told me that he came here because his children had advised him to see ‘Doctor Masamo’ here. I smiled to myself and told him that I was the doctor’s assistant. I then served him his  first cup of soup. Then after, he  came every morning and ate the soup for two months. The old man’s health began to improve day by day. The pale looking, skinny old man finally gained weight and looked healthy. He went back to his home in Arbe Gona, and later brought me two kilos of butter as a thank you gift. And people who heard the story started calling me Dr Marsamo, though I haven’t even finished high school.”

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Marsamo says he now has so many customers that he is sometimes unable to serve them all. “I serve about a thousand customers or more a day. I’m assisted by ten people in the preparation and serving of cooked fish and fish soup, but even with that number we are unable to serve all our customers who come from the city as well from other parts of the country including Addis Ababa. The number of my customers increased in the peak of the COVID 19 pandemic in the country. More people came with thermos flasks and bought fish soup. Many people believed my soup was the best medicine for COVID 19.”   

 

Dr Marsamo shared a story which he said he would never forget: “I remember what one of my customers did on the Ethiopian Epiphany holiday in 2005 when people refused to queue up to get their soup. He knew that the soup would be finished before his turn came, so he bought a fire cracker and threw it in the middle of the crowd who were struggling to get their soup. When the crowd heard the large noise, they were  scared and ran away in different directions. At that point in time, the man  came with his cup and asked me to fill it with the soup.”

 

Dr Masamo is not only famous now, but he is also  better off. He said: “Praise be to the Lord. I  have built my own house, and I own a large plot of land in my place of birth. I have been able to  send  my four children to good schools. One of my children has earned a degree from a government university in Gondar. I have renovated my  house in Hawasa. I use my own motor cycle for transportation. I have done my part  to succeed, but God deserves all the credit for my success.”  

Story Sourcing

Story Sourcing is a semi-formal, journalistic process conducted by Story Scouts to gather stories directly from the audience of interest. These stories will be used to inform the design and production of various types of media-based programs. The heart of the Story Sourcing process is the people whose behavior the media program seeks to influence. Program design is guided by speaking with the audience to gather stories from their life experiences to use as building blocks to construct resonant, entertaining, and culturally relevant media programs. The aim, in part, is to prevent assumptions and stereotypes and to ultimately create stories that genuinely connect to the people whose behavior the program is trying to change. 

Story Sourcing then provides clues as to what kinds of stories might be immersive for this particular audience and what kinds of characters they might identify with. By speaking directly with the audience, we are able to capture glimpses of their motivations, aspirations, fears, hopes, and longings and uncover stories that demonstrate how those feelings play out in action.

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JEALOUS HUSBAND UNDERMINES HIS WIFE'S BUSINESS

Abiyot Zeleke, 45, is one of the food consumers at Ange Gebey. She often visits the market to buy food items to feed her family. Abiyot is married and has three children. For a living, she buys and sells used kitchen utensils in front of her home not far from the market area. 

Over the last 15 years, despite lots of challenges, Abiyot buys the items from neighboring residents, does some maintenance, and sells them with little profit just to feed her family.

 

Her husband who is partially deaf occasionally goes to Lake Hawassa to catch fish just for family consumption, and he has had no permanent job for the last 15 years. "When we got married, my husband was a fisherman and we had a decent life," said Abiyot. "After some years, when we had the kids, life started to challenge us, and his income was declining each year." When husband's income was too little to cover all expenses, she decided to start her own business to maximize the family's income.

 

"As I started my business, he was not happy about my new job," she said.  As she started making money and meeting new people, he became jealous. 

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After four months, her business attracted many consumers, but Abiyot said her husband told her to stop working.

"He didn't want me to proceed with the business at all, but he knows if I stop working we don't have anything to eat," she said. "I really felt sad about him, because he knows how much we suffered to feed our family."

Abiyot tried every effort to continue her work, but her husband remained rigid on his decision and continued to try and stop her business. One morning he went to a police station and falsely accused her of selling items she stole from her neighbors and told the court to seize all the property and start an investigation. “When I was called by police, I was feeling mad. I didn't expect him do such a foolish thing to me, his lifelong partner,” Abiyot said. "All his accusations were false, and he only did this to force me stop the work.”

When police called all the neighbors and asked them if they had lost any item and if they have any suspects on her stealing any property from them, all of them said that she is not that kind of person and witnessed to police that she is a hardworking and respected woman in the community.

 

Then the police released Abiyot for free and arrested her husband instead.

After some days, the elders in the community negotiated with the couple to help them to settle their conflict. Her husband accepted that her work would benefit his family and allowed her to proceed with her work. He himself also started searching for a job. "That was unforgivable, but we're still together. I forgot all and forgave him," she said. "Now he is changed and understands everything."

 

Abiyot said one of their daughters is also now grown and starting to help them manage conflicts in negotiations. "Every time there is disagreement, she becomes our mediator to help us settle our issues peacefully." 

EatSafe

USAID’s Feed the Future’s Evidence and Action Toward Safe and Nutritious Food (EatSafe) is a five- year collaborative agreement implemented by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), the International Livestock and Research Institute (ILRI), Busara Center for Behavioral Economics (Busara), and Pierce Mill Entertainment & Education (PM). A key objective of EatSafe is investigating what role consumer demand can have to improve food safety in informal markets in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). As such, EatSafe has two primary audiences: the consumer and the informal market vendor, both of whom play critical roles in improving food safety.

In May 2022, four Story Scouts executed Story Sourcing for EatSafe: Maya Misikir, Snetsehay Assefa, Solomon Yimer, and Mintesnot Kasa, a Hawassa native.

The Scouts interviewed 79 food vendors and shoppers in the Aroge Gebeya area, one of Hawassa's traditional markets. Each Scout selected six best stories to write up. These stories will then be used to inspire design of EatSafe media programs, and to infuse them with relatable and credible local details.

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Stories of Adventures with Food

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Stories of Family Dramas

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Stories of Community Support

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Stories of Dreams and Aspirations

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Stories of COVID-19

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