Another day on the road heading west towards Jinka. It rained all night so the roads were bumpy, muddy and a bit treacherous! Our plans for the day included visiting the largest market in the Omo Valley. All the local tribes attend this market — the Banna people wearing goat skin skirts, the Karo people draped in colorful beads, the Hamer women with their beautiful red hair, the Murci people with their amazing lip plates and the Tsemai warriors with feathers in their hair – it was hard to know where to look first! All of them come to the Key Afar Market to trade and get supplies.
Shopping there is challenging and those who don’t enjoy haggling and bargaining for the best price won’t have a good time. But we all found something wonderful to remember our visit and left happily with lots of small children jostling to hold our hands! Getting back in the cars we headed off to our new hotel in Jinka.
Before dinner we walked around the town visiting their local vegetable market and then stumbled on a primary school where we talked to the principal and met some of the students. On our walk back to our hotel two of the students walked with us and shared stories of their families and hopes for their futures. Eventually they asked us to buy them school books which we had been warned is a way that kids get money from tourists. Whether it is true or not, we gave them money and decided that the experience of spending the afternoon with two local boys walking around town as though we were locals was well worth it.
I woke up before dawn and hiked to the hill above our hotel to watch the sunrise. After breakfast we headed off to visit our first tribe of the day – the Hamer people. The Turmi area is inhabited by several different tribes who inter-marry and share similar customs. Most of them are largely pastoralists, so their culture places a high value on cattle. On the way to the village we came across a beautiful young Hamer woman who was walking along the road. This chance meeting was proof to Kevin that these people really do live and dress like this. We were literally just driving through and witness to their existence. At the Hamer village we were pleasantly surprised to find a school. Despite it’s poor condition, nearly 30 children gather there one day a week to learn. It gives us hope for these beautiful people!
The next tribe we visited was the Karo people who live along the Omo River. As a gift, we brought them a first aid kit with supplies they couldn’t get at their local markets. The Karo tribe is one of the smallest ethnic groups in the area – about 800 people living at the banks of Omo River where they were pushed by their neighbors. The women are beautiful and adorn themselves with strands and strands of beads. The men paint their bodies with white paint and scar their chests to show they have killed an enemy or dangerous animal. They are very happy people and laughed easily when we encouraged them to smile. We enjoyed ourselves so much that we didn’t want to leave. But we knew we had plans for dinner at a Hamer village near our hotel so we headed back over the terribly rough roads. Near dusk we arrived at the village in time to see our goat meat being placed by the fire to cook. Each of us ate our share washed down with our favorite Ethiopian beer – St. George! After eating the Hamer men and women danced by the fire light in a tradition they have done for over a 1000 years. Sitting around the fire and watching the children laugh in the glow of the warm orange glow, I turned to Laura and asked her “How could we ever describe an evening like this to someone else?” She said, “We can’t. That’s why we flew nearly 10,000 miles and drove for three days to see them.” To us it was an evening we would never forget. To them it was a chance to gather and dance. They had no idea it was also a bridge of their traditions to the Western world.
We woke up early and the ground was still wet from the night’s rain. After breakfast we were back in the cars and driving further south to the Omo Valley. This part of Ethiopia is where the amazing tribes live. Historians believe that the south served for a millennia as a kind of cultural crossroads where different ethnic people met as they migrated from the north, south, east, and west. The peoples of the Omo Valley are considered among the most fascinating on the African continent. After hours of driving we arrived at our first tribe of the trip – The Abore people.
After flying over 20 hours and a 16 hour layover in Dubai we arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Our guide Daniel met us at the airport and we headed south for a full day of driving. Late in the afternoon we stopped for a break and were reminded how we take clean water for granted. We met a family who were filling jerry cans from a pool of rain water that had collected in a previously dry creek bed.
Hours later we stopped by a hand-pump well where a group of women were filling jerry cans with clean fresh water for their families. 250 miles southwest, we arrived in Sodo for the night. As we fell to sleep it began to rain – the sweet, fresh smell washing away the dust of the day and lulling us to sleep.
Thank you to everyone who came out to support us for our first art show and fundraiser! We are honored and thrilled to have so much support in our lives. More photos coming soon!