the lower omo valley consists of a small handful of villages separated by long dusty bumpy roads. most of these villages are inhabited by just one tribe, with part of the population living in the village and the rest of the people scattered throughout the never-ending bush. one of the largest villages in this area (and that’s not saying much) is Jinka. Jinka is a tiny town. there’s no electricity in town, and the few hotels and/or restaurants that actually have power, are run off generators which usually are only on between 7pm and midnight. after midnight, everything goes pitch-black. there is very limited phone access in town, and even then most of the connections are spotty. only one of the hotels in town has hot water and even then, it is only on for a few hours per day. goats wander lazily and freely through the streets here and there.
the thing that makes this town “major” compared to the rest of the villages nearby is that it has an “airport”. and by airport, I mean that there is a green field in the middle of the town’s main road. this field is used for cattle grazing and is also where people play soccer. every other day, a plane will fly in, and people have to clear off the cattle and/or soccer players for the plane to land on this tiny little grass patch. that is all there is to the airport.
the various tribes in this area trade with each other, so every day there is a village market in one of the villages. people come from most of the other nearby villages and set up stalls, buy and trade goods, etc. the markets are colorful and interesting and are one of the highlights of checking out the villages. we happened to arrive in Jinka right at the perfect time, the day before their weekly market.
in the morning we got up and ate a the restaurant next door to the hotel. the people there are incredibly nice, and were very proud of the fact that they charged everybody the same (most restaurants charge foreigners more than locals). yesterday was the start of the fasting period here in Ethiopia, a holiday somehow related to st. mary though Iâ€™m not sure how. this means that no one eats meet for 2 weeks, which will definitely put a damper on our eating. oh well. this restaurant makes excellent scrambled eggs mixed w/ either avocado or beans which makes a good break from the standard Ethiopian food.
o our way to go check out the local market, we got harassed continually by little kids who want to be our guides. well, they actually say that they are not guides, that they just want to help us out by showing us around the market, but it’s obvious that in the end they will want money from us. sometimes they say that they donâ€™t want money, but only want to study English, so if you want you can help them by buying them a dictionary. who could resist helping a poor Ethiopian kid out by buying him a dictionary for his studies? well, of course it’s a scam. if you buy them a dictionary, they’ll just go back later and sell it and make money anyways. it’s really a tough situation. you do feel really bad for these kids. and you donâ€™t want to be a dick and just tell them to go away when they keep saying “I just want to talk to you! I like talking and speaking English!”. but really, unfortunately, you just have to be firm or they’ll follow you forever and then guilt trip you into paying them. or, sometimes these kids offer to “help translate” for you when you go to buy stuff in the market. another clever ploy. they, in amheric, tell the shopkeeper to charge you more, and then come back later and collect a kickback from the guy. arggghhh!
well, after fending off these little brats, we finally got to the market. this market was actually rally large. the main square was swarming w/ people squatting on the ground next to huge piles of potatoes, onions, peppers, and other random vegetables. there is another section of the market nearby where people sell clothes. huge piles of sandals are strewn about, people are inspecting random pieces of cloth and trying on scarves, and others are yelling trying to attract customers. nearby is the butter market, where fragrant kinds of butter are sitting in huge gourds, ready to be bought. we walked around for a while, and then caryn got tired of it, but I stayed on for a few more hours. I just love exploring these kinds of markets. it’s so fascinating to me, so used to relying on supermarkets etc, to see how others buy their goods.
walking around there, i was pretty much the only white person there. i got lots of looks. some people seriously looked totally in shock when they saw me, like i was some mysterious creature from another planet. a lot of these people live out in the bush, and hardly ever even venture into any of the larger villages… for them foreigners are something they rarely, if ever, see. some people would just look at me, totally dumbstruck, and when i would wave at them, they would feebly wave back, still looking confused and surprised. others would slowly approach me and shake my hand and then walk off. still others would instantly excitedly call out to all of their friends and point at me. the most excited of all though, are the very little children. the word for foreigner in amheric is “faranji”. everywhere we walked, we would hear little shrill voices yelling “faranji! faranji!!” or “you! you!! you!!!”. it’s so funny and adorable the way the little kids do this. as you walk by houses, you would see kids come racing out to the front gate as quickly as they can yelling “faranji” excitedly and loudly while waving and laughing! at one point, we heard these three kids singing “faran.. JI! faran… JI! faran…JI!” over and over and over and over for the whole time while we walked near their house. sometimes these kids would even race out and either shake your hand, or latch on to your hand and walk with you a little way before racing back to their homes. these funny little moments interacting w/ the overexcited children would definitely become one of our fondest memories of Ethiopia.
walking around there, it was really interesting to see what different clothing the different tribes would wear. i think that there must be some local company that sells ringer tees or maybe some foundation that donated a ton of them, cause it seemed like a quarter of these people wore either red or blue tee-shirts with stripes on the sleeves and around the collar. one of the most fascinating tribes here, and the one we were most excited to see, are the Mursi. this tribe is famous because the women of the tribe, have their lower lips cut, and then they put large plates in the slit to stretch out their lower lip. they keep stretching it and stretching it until some of them have huge discs in their lip that are like 5 or 6 inches across!! apparently this tribe also has a reputation for being really fierce, although Iâ€™m not sure if that is really true. i had heard from some of the annoying kid “guides” that there were some Mursi in the village today, but hadn’t seen them for most of the day.
finally, just as i was about to leave the market, i saw some Mursi. they were unmistakable distinct. much darker than any of the other people in the market, and the one woman with them had the huge hanging lower lip. one of the guys carried a large machete in his hand. wow! i knew i had to get a photo of them. the problem is that most of the remote tribes people in the omo valley, want money for having their picture taken. they very quickly realized that these white tourists coming around donâ€™t want to buy their handicrafts, they donâ€™t want to buy their potatoes… the one thing that tourists want from these people is photos. so if the tourists get what they want, why shouldnâ€™t the tribes people get what they need as well? so, most of these people, and *especially* the Mursi make you give them 2 Birr (25 cents) for taking their photo. at this moment, one of the annoying child guides” ran up, and offered to translate for me, and desperate for the photo, i said yes. soon enough, i had a couple photos. check out the lower lip of the woman on the right…
the rest of the day, was spent arranging a land cruiser for the next day. we wanted to go see the village where the Mursi live, and it is deep in the bush, only accessible by 4WD. these things are a bit expensive to rent, but luckily, we met up with a Slovenian couple named Borut and Eva, who not only were really fun to hang out with, but also were looking to have someone split the costs of renting a 4WD. they, and their guide Anthony would go with us the next day. right before going to sleep, we ended up having a British couple join up with us as well. nice! the next day should be fun!
one thing that was a bit unsettling, was that the guy arranging our car was wearing watch… with osama bin laden on it. the first time i saw it, i was in total shock. i just couldnâ€™t believe it. later on, in the market, i actually saw a large pile of these watches for sale, and other days later in Ethiopia, i saw others wearing them as well, sometimes even very little kids. Iâ€™m really not sure what this means. there really doesnâ€™t seem to be any anti-American sentiment here as far as i can tell, so on one hand, i donâ€™t even know if these people knew what the watches might mean. plus, Ethiopia is a mainly Christian country, and not Muslim, so that makes it even more puzzling.
woke up damn early before dawn again. having no power, made it a bit difficult to get ready in the dark. we staggered sleepily out of the hotel, had breakfast w/ or new group, and then set off. the road was bumpy and rough and a bit painful, even in a 4WD land cruiser. every jolt and bump would send a jarring shock through your spine. eventually, we picked up a scout who would be going with us as well. the scouts job? he carries a gun with him to keep the Mursi at bay and to be used if the Mursi get out of hand. yikes!
we drove and drove down the road. from tie to time, little children would race out of the bush or out of their homes and run after the car while squeaking loudly . after driving for what seemed like ages, we arrived at the Mursi village.
(unfortunately, a lot of these photos aren’t so great. photographing a darkly colored subject under the blazing bright sun is difficult)
pretty much from the moment we arrived, we were surrounded by Mursi. all of them were asking repeatedly to have their photos taken. a lot of them pretty much wouldnâ€™t take no for an answer. they would just ask over and over and over. if i tried to walk away, they would literally grab at my arms and try to not let me leave. they would step in my path to block it. after a while, i started feeling really bad for them. in a way, it was almost like a beauty contest. the ones who were more photogenic or who had more interesting lip plates or whatever would get photographed and thus paid the 2 birr, while others who didnâ€™t look as interesting would not.
it was definitely a weird scene. i could see how some people would liken it almost to a human zoo on one hand, or say that the whole thing was just so commercial. but if you look at it in a different way, it’s really not too bad i guess. tourists get what they want: photos of the tribal people. the tribal people on the other, obviously should get some kind of compensation for the foreigners infringement on their time and land. this small extra income actually helps the tribe get by, so they can continue living in their traditional ways unlike other tribes who in search of other income have been forced to modernize and move to the cities. in a way it is a win-win situation, even if a bit strange.
eventually, we left the village. i was glad to have seen what i had seen. where else would i see people like this? the whole lip piercing thing was so crazy. it’s amazing how far people will go for body decoration. what i find funny though, is that these people, with their lips stretched out so far it hangs almost past their chins, recoiled in horror and pain when they saw caryn and my tongue piercings. the tongue piercings seemed totally crazy and painful to them! anyways, we got back in our truck, and gave a few Mursi a lift back to the main road. by that point, it was a bit of a relief to get away from the pressure of taking photographs!!
on the way back, we stopped to take a photo of some Mursi boys climbing a tree, and also of our crew in the land cruiser.
as we drove back, our car kept sputtering. uh-oh. we were running out of gas! yikes! eventually, right when we were crossing this rather deep river, the car just died and wouldnâ€™t start. we were stuck right in the middle of the river with the water reaching up practically to the doors of the jeep. the locals near the river seemed to find this very amusing, and people gathered around watching and laughing. the driver kept trying unsuccessfully to start the car. we sat there worried. we definitely didnâ€™t want to get out and wade through the dirty river. what would become of us?!
look how deep it is
eventually, another jeep passed by and they crossed the river successfully. a rope was tied to that jeep and our guide dutifully plunged into the river to tie the other end of the rope to our jeep. the rope was small, and we thought there was no way it would be strong enough… but miraculously enough t was. we were pulled out!! the car then remarkably started, and we made it back to Jinka without incident, but exhausted!!