Copyright Kari Eloranta. All right reserved. 6/5/2009


Kari Eloranta

A spent 130mm artillery shell case is a brass cylinder about the length of a man's arm. It's open at one end and often still shiny on the outside. After all it spends most of its life well protected in an ammo box only then to be used for a split second. It might seem like scrap but is in fact just about perfect for making a strong cup of coffee.

On most days of the week Azemeraw Zekele is easy to find in his workshop in downtown Mekele. There he is with his six young apprentices busy drilling and cutting metal and welding the pieces together. The shop is a bit cramped and often the final assembly spills over to the street. This rarely bothers those passing by - on the contrary it sometimes attracts him new customers.

Azemeraw is man in his forties, a solid fellow that seems to get genuinely well along with the younger men. Life wasn't always this good for him - ten years ago he had to flee his home in Asmara since the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia had just broken out. He settled in here, in the north of Ethiopia, and after a while, when the arms fell quiet an idea came to him. Could he rebuild his ruined life using the war junk?

Soon after I've met him and asked the first few questions, Azemeraw guides me in and grabs two big metal cylinders. Holding them under his arms he wants me to inspect and compare them. The pieces are about the same size and look similar but not identical. Each has a number of holes and various pipes and wires attached to them. One is an old copper cylinder of Italian make. The other one is made of brass, it's one of the shells worked out by him and clearly his pride. He explains their details, relative merits and turning around in his shop points at the various stages of the work done to convert an artillery shell into a pressure chamber. Finally he puts the heavy pieces down and takes me next to an almost finished machine. There he shows the pressure gauge, the safety valve and a number of other parts simultaneously explaining the functioning of the machine. With particular pride he shows the molds used to cast the parts as well as the AZ logo, which will only be attached to the machine after is has passed the final tests.

With the locals scavenging the surrounding terrain he has secured an essentially limitless supply of the pressure chambers at the heart of the espresso maker. The demand for the machines is there, too; this very land is the birthplace of the coffee and it is still drunk here in great quantities. Quality is expected both from the beans and the machines used to brew the cup. Along the way Azemeraw mentions a few of his many customers including a western embassy in Addis Ababa.

But at the end this is just talk and only the real thing will do for Azemeraw; he asks one of the boys to turn on the machine on the test bench. Dark beans are ground, filled in and soon the drops are filling the cup. A moment later I'm convinced that rarely has a war had such splendid aftertaste.


This is a picture story. Minimal editing of the text allowed. The material is from February 2009.

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