Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, March 28, 2009 (Ezega.com) -- Working as “Weyala” (Minibus Taxi Conductor) in Addis Ababa is not easy. You got to get in and get out while the taxi is still speeding. You must call people to ride with you at every stop and all day long - yelling "Yemola!, Yemola!" (meaning, taxi full and ready to go). And you do this while consuming the dust and fume from Addis Ababa’s polluted roads and streets. This is a hard job for anyone, but a lot harder if you are blind. Meet Gizachew Wale who is probably the only blind “Weyala” in town.
The 21 years old Gizachew Wale is a grade nine student at Tikur Anibesa Secondary High school. He was Born in Mertolemariam, Gojam. He came to Addis Ababa at the age of nine. He supports himself by working as “Redat” or “Weyala” on minibus taxi. What makes Gizachew different from other “Weyalas” is that he is blind. Ezega.com interviewed Gizachew about his job, his school, and his life.
Ezega: Were you born blind?
Gizachew: My parents told me I was born healthy. And then at the age of six I got sick. They didn’t tell me what exactly the disease was but they tried to get me various treatments but none worked. Finally, my sight worsened and I became blind.
Ezega: You came to Addis Ababa at the age of nine. Why and how did you come here?
Gizachew: My grandmother lives here in Addis Ababa. My families thought I might get better treatment here so one of my family members helped me come here. My grandmother tried to get me medication in the hospital and then took me to “Tebel” (place with holy water) but none worked. So I just started my school here and never returned to Gojam.
Ezega: You are living by yourself. How do you mange to do activities such as washing clothes, cooking, and other things?
Gizachew: I can make my bed and clean my room but I can’t cook so I usually have my meals in the cafés and restaurants. I give my cloths to a woman who provides washing service. The reason is not because I can’t see; I know I can do it. But you know, I spent the whole day at school and at work. I usually go home after 9 pm and I have to do my home work and study what I learnt in the class. Because of these reasons, I don’t have enough time to do other stuff.
Ezega: You are going to a public school for students with vision and who are not blind like you. How do you compete with them?
Gizachew: It’s not only me, but many other blind students like me also learn this way. Before you join public school you must learn how to write and read in Braille. I studied Braille for three years and then I started regular class from grade four. In the classroom, I listen and write what the teacher says. Here, the magic thing is my ears. After class I try to reinforce what I learn at school by going to the library. The school has a library for us that is not satisfactory but still helps us a bit. The Ethiopia Blind Association also has a library around Afincho Ber. I go there too. In addition I always discuss what I learn at school with my friends. It helps me understand my lessons well and help me clarify anything I missed in the classroom.
Ezega: How are your grades?
Gizachew: Thank God! I always get excellent grades and I finish first to third in my class.
Ezega: How did you become a taxi “Weyala”?
Gizachew: I grew up around Coca Cola near Tor Hailoch. There is a taxi station nearby. I started going out with my elder brother and started changing coins for the taxis and became friend with everyone. Because of that, the taxi drivers and “Redats” around there begun to teach me how to get in and out of the taxi easily while it moves. I go with them and study the places along the line and the prices they charge. After a few months I started doing it without any difficulty. At first I worked on short distances that charge the least price (65 cents). Then the drivers started believing in me and gave me a chance to work with them in long distances. The taxi users also have their own great part on my job; almost everybody helps me out.
Ezega: In a minibus there may be more than ten people riding and you have to collect fares and give them change. How do you deal with this?
Gizachew: Well, at the departure station, I collect fares turn by turn. But when some people get out and other people get in, I try to guess the seat that was just vacated or the seat that is being occupied by a new rider. People’s voices have a very great role here. When someone asks me to pullover, I know from where the voice comes. Then when a new rider comes in, he/she normally takes that seat, so I go to that seat to get my money. But what I want to tell you here is that taxi users are honorable. I have never been cheated. Whenever they find out that I am blind they try to help me and encourage me. I want to thank all those who support me.
Ezega: You worked as Redat since 2003 and you told me that you worked part time for the past two years. Why is that?
Gizachew: Last year I was in grade eight and as you know there is a national examination. So I want to focus on my school to get good results. And this year my school time has changed; I spend the whole day there. So I have to work part time. I wish I could spend all of my time in my school. But, as I told you, I live in a rented home for the past three years. So I still need to work here.
Ezega: Your school, libraries and other places you go to are far from your home and from one another. And you always walk alone. How do you know the places?
Gizachew: As I told you earlier for people like me nature gave us the ability to do such things. When we go to new places, we try to learn directions, how long it takes, where to turn and the like. Like everybody else, we also ask for help if we miss a place or two but mostly we can manage it.
Ezega: What do you like to do in your free time?
Gizachew: I don’t have that much free time but when I get one I would like to go to the Ethiopian Blind Association to meet my friends. We gather there and listen to radio or enjoy our time by talking with each other. I would be happy if I could get a chance to read other books like fiction, history and others but there isn’t much available in Braille in Ethiopia.
Ezega: What is your dream for the future?
Gizachew: I would like to be a historian. I think I can be successful in this area.
Ezega: In our country, disabled people are not expected or encouraged to do much. But you seem to have shattered this attitude. What do you want to tell others to do the same?
Gizachew: I think what you need to do first and foremost is convince yourself that you can do anything. Once you convince yourself, then it’s easy and you can show others your capability. Look at me, if I thought that I can’t do anything and sit there my only chance would be becoming a beggar. But now I am helping myself. So what I want to say is believe in yourself and then you will make others believe in you as well.
Ezega: Gizachew, thank you very much for your time.
Gizachew: No problem, Thank you!
This article was written by Sindu Alemu reporting for Ezega.com from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She can be reached by email at News@Ezega.com. The article can be reprinted in full or in part elsewhere but only by giving full credit to Ezega.com. If posted on a website, we ask that you place this active link on your website: Ezega Ethiopian News, pointing to http://www.Ezega.com .