8/8/05 continued…

after the pleasant nighttime drive, we arrived in Turmi late at night, a bit past midnight. the town was pitch black (there is no electricity), and it turned out that all the hotels were full. DOH! luckily, our friend’s guide pulled some strings and one of the hotel owners let us sleep on this small mattress outside. it wasn’t the nicest accommodations, but it was the only thing we could get at that time!


Turmi is a really small town. even smaller than Jinka. this is where the Hamer tribe lives. they seem very friendly, and the women of the tribe wear their hair in a distinctive style with this reddish brownish clay mixture in it, accentuating their braids. we had missed the town’s market day (it was the day before), but there was supposed to be a village market in a nearby village called Dimanka. the problem was, how do we get there? there wasn’t any buses or trucks going that way, so we would have to try some other creative options.

in this region of Ethiopia, there are two types of travelers. there are the budget travelers like us who try to organize everything on their own, take buses and cargo trucks between towns, and basically just wing everything. then there are the rest of the people who usually just book a tour. they get picked up in the capital by a landcruiser, and then get driven around between all the villages by their guide. of course, this is the more expensive option (car rental is almost 100$ per day). there are pros and cons to each option. on one hand, of course, the landcruiser option is nice and easy, more hassle-free, and quicker. on the flip side, the non- landcruiser option, is cheaper, and it also has the benefit of letting you interact with people more. you talk to locals on buses. you talk to locals on trucks. you travel like the locals do, and get a better taste of their life. you’re not wrapped in this little bubble of your own vehicle, with only your guide (who does all talking to anyone). I definitely think that doing it budget-style is more of an experience!

but, sometimes, traveling like this, there’s just no way to get to a certain village. that’s when you do your best to mooch a ride, heh. so, putting any dignity aside, I went to go ask random landcruiser types if they were going to the market I the nearby village, and had any room in their car to take us. luckily, I was able to find people pretty much right away. these 2 Spanish guys kindly agreed to give me a lift. but my luck was even better… not only would they take me to the market later in the afternoon, but they were heading to this tiny village called Omorante, which was a few hours away, and said they’d take me there as well before we headed to the market. Perfect!!

caryn didn’t feel like going, so I jumped in the landcruiser w/ the two Spaniards and their driver, and we were off! oh man… it was so nice being in the landcruiser! traveling was so fast! plus, it was really cool to just be able to take off and go where we pleased. normally, by traveling on buses or trucks, there would be no way to just decide to swing by some village for a couple hours an come back. so, I guess traveling his way definitely has its own advantages!

after a short one hour drive past drier and drier vegetation, huge 8 foot high termite mounds, and lots of reddish dust, we got close to Omorante. the village is across a river, so we had to hire a guy to take us a cross in a dugout canoe. a few of the village kids jumped into he water and swam across after us which seemed like quite a feat.

we walked to the village, and finally saw it. the tribe that lives here, the Caleb (sp?) tribe, lives in these small dome-like huts, that look like something out of a star wars movie. these huts are made of tin, canvas, rope, sticks, cardboard boxes from food aid, etc etc. once we walked into town, as usual, we were surrounded by people asking to have their photos taken for money. they were definitely less persistent and pushy than the Mursi, but it was still a bit tiring after a while. we only stayed for about half an hour and then left. it was still cool to at least see how they live.

after Omorante, we headed back to Turmi to get some food. while at our hotel, we ended up hearing about this “bull jumping” ceremony tat was supposed to happen. this is a ceremony that takes place when a young man from the Hamer tribe comes of age. it’s supposedly quite an impressive ceremony, so we decided to go check it out instead of going to the market as planned. a local kid told us that he knew where the ceremony would take place, so he jumped in the landcruiser w/ us and we took off to go find this ceremony that was supposed to take place in the middle of nowhere.

after an hour of driving, we arrived at one of the smaller Hamer villages, and then there was a long one hour walk in the blazing sun. it was an exhausting walk, and I kept getting pebbles in my sandals and also there were all these crazy thorn trees that would snag your clothes and you’d have to stop to try to break free.

one of the Spaniards and our young guide

we finally arrived. before the actual ceremony begins, there are a lot of elaborate rituals that take place. first of all, the women of the tribe com out and dance for a long time. they’ll march around in a circle, and then come together in a large group and jump up and down repeatedly while singing, blowing whistles, etc. this goes on for quite a while, probably almost an hour and is all happening in the blazing sun. at one point, one of the women, totally exhausted and sweating, came over and asked me for some water. so I gave her a sip from my bottle. bad mistake. the second this happened, I was instantly swarmed by a ton of others, all of them wanting water. by the time 5 of them had a “sip” (which really were huge gulps), my bottle was almost empty. I had to tell the rest “no”. for the rest of m time there, people kept randomly coming u to me asking for water. it’s one thing to refuse to dish out money, but when someone walks up to you totally exhausted in the blazing sun and asks for a sip of water, you feel like a total asshole saying no. but what could I do? I had hardly any water left, and I knew that if I gave one person some water, I would instantly be mobbed. of course, I couldn’t explain this to the tribespeople (who spoke no English) so I only shook my head, and I’m sure they thought I really was a bastard.

the craziest part of the ceremony came next. all of the women who were dancing around were holding these long reeds. the women then prove their loyalty to the tribe by having the men of the tribe whip them with these reeds. this part was just absolutely insane. a woman would run up to a guy and hand him her reed, an then beg him to whip her. sometimes he would just throw her reed down and walk away, in which case she’d pick it up and run after him, shoving it in his hand and not leaving him till she got whipped. often, even after getting whipped, the women would just grab the reed and then beg for more! women in the tribe would literally push each other and shove each other out of the way in order to be whipped first. it was so nuts!! and I’m not talking light whipping. these women were being whipped HARD. most of the women around had blood dripping down their backs from huge slash marks. these open wounds were on top of tons and tons of tiny other scars… obviously they have been doing this their whole life.

the whole thing was *extremely* disturbing. I really just couldn’t believe it. but, I guess that initiation rites are common in pretty much every society. fraternities have hazings. martial arts groups kick their members in the stomach when they get a new belt. gangs jump their members in. etc etc. in so many different ways, people need to prove to their peers that thy are willing to sacrifice and endure pain in order o be part of the group. in a way, I guess that maybe this ritual that I saw isn’t so bizarre after all, but it definitely made me cringe to be watching it!

finally, it was time for the actual bull jumping. they brought in all these bulls. tons of them. for a long time, the women started jumping and dancing a5roundn the bulls. finally, the men in the tribe grabbed the bulls and lined them up side to side. there was a line of about 15 bulls. the boy who is coming of age, has to jump from back to back across all of these bulls, back and forth 3 times. it’s not easy, seeing as the bulls tend to move about, but the kid made it! apparently, if he doesn’t make it, the he “isn’t a man” and is scorned by everyone.

then that was it. if there was more to the ceremony, I’m not sure, but everyone left at that time, so I had to go. the hike back was so tiring, as it was close to a billion degrees by then, ugh. I was so exhausted, especially after spending pretty much the whole day in the sun. finally, we got back to town. we went to the hotel to sleep, and walked through the pitch-black (no electricity in town). the town also had no running water. the only way to shower was when the hotel would bring huge vats of water and put them on the roof so you could shower under them. our hotel hadn’t bothered, so no shower for us. I’d gotten used to not getting *hot* showers… but no shower at all? after sweating all day? the hotel of course also didn’t have toilets either. just a filthy whole in the ground with a wooden hut over it so people cant watch you. so gross. so yeah, the wonderful and exciting day, ended up with being in fairly unpleasant surroundings. but what can you expect in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere?!


6 thoughts on “Turmi”

  1. jeeeez vlad! those are some amazing stories. i have absolute respect for your courage and patience. (and caryn’s too). Seeing these photos in National Geographic isn’t quite the same as when a friend does it. You figured, Natl Geo. guys have immense budgets for guides, travel and what not. Plus the extensive research that probably happens before each trip. But for you guys just going on your own. In public transportation nontheless. It’s insane to me! Hope all’s well, sending comfort vibes from California.

  2. Holy Jeezus… the whipping would have been really hard to watch…

  3. nice!! i’m glad you liked the photos and stories… ethiopia was definitely a challenge, but so worth it! i really felt like we were seeing something that hardly anyone ever gets to see!

  4. heh, actually, in ethiopia i wasn’t getting any access at all. they usually didnt even have phone lines! but here in kenya and tanzania, most of the medium and large sized towns have net cafes.

  5. yeah, it was brutal. i got some video.. i can show ya when i get back..

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