Honey thief in Lalibela

9 Sep

The Saturday market in the hill town of Lalibela, Northern Ethiopia, sprawls over a  square mile or more of sloping terrain, sun baked most of the year but this is just after the rains. I’d bought a kilo of local honey – two sorts, red and gold – but as young Mollo (second from left and peering down the lens) carried it on his shoulder, a young man snatched it and ran.

To Mollo’s left, in blue soccer shirt, is his brother Sisay, nineteen. He’d given chase and caught the thief before standing back as the older man, back to camera and gripping the captive by his neckware, took over. Note Sisay’s clear disgust. Aged seven he ran away from parents and impoverished hill farm, sleeping on the streets of Lalibela and fending for himself for years as shoeshine boy and cigarette vendor until my English friend Marion took him under her wing to get this exceptionally savvy lad an education.

Such life experience begets neither bleeding heart liberalism nor moral relativism. Sisay was unimpressed when I asked that the villain be let off with a warning. As the crowd melted away he asked: will I be there to show mercy next time the thief offends?

I’d no answer to that.

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