MOE_mortar
Photography by Amber Henshaw

The area around the house of Azmeraw Zeleke in northern Ethiopia is littered with burnt-out mortar shells left over from a war with neighboring Eritrea.

For months, Azmeraw wondered what he could do with them as he saw them being sold around Mekele town (about 800km from the capital, Addis Ababa). They were being used for washing clothes or for crushing things. Finally, he struck upon the idea of converting the shells into the inner workings of coffee machines.

The shells stand about 1 meter high. Azmeraw cuts off the pointed ends, seals them, and puts holes in the aluminum cylinder. The cylinder then channels the water, coffee, and milk.

Coffee is a major export from Ethiopia and plays a big role in life. After meals, the traditional coffee ceremony allows family and friends to get together to share news and discuss the issues of the day. Coffee shops are also popular. Each of Azmeraw’s machines costs about $1,300, which is relatively cheap compared to imported machines. A local coffee shop owner, Haile Abraha, says the machines work well and make great coffee.

Azmeraw thinks he has sold hundreds — he’s not sure exactly how many — since he started production five or six years ago. But he says it can be difficult to convince people in the area to buy the machine because of the mortar shell. “These shells have all been used. We all need peace and we don’t want war, but once these shells have been used, we should use our skills to do something with them,” he says.

“Sometimes I think about the fact they were used for war, but I want to change them to do something good. They could be a symbol of war, but I am doing something good out of the bad.”

Azmeraw has big plans for his small business. At the moment, he works out of three ramshackle rooms with gaps in the corrugated roof. His staff of six sells the machines to coffee shops and restaurants in the area. In the future, he hopes to sell them even farther afield — perhaps even to Eritrea.

From the column Made on EarthMAKE 10, page 20 – Amber Henshaw.