Friday, January 31, 2014

Around Yabelo. A Salt Lake, a Singing Well, and a Village.


I asked these Borana two women if I could pose for a photo with them because I loved their colorful dress and jewelry
 which is typical Borana.  They agreed, for a tip of course.  Netsanet had the honor of snapping the photo. I gave a smile
 but they're not looking happy....at all and the young girl actually looks a bit pissed.  I should've done something
to make them feel more comfortable before taking the photo.  Awkward or not, I still love the picture!

I just looked at the calendar and realized that today is January 31 which means that I only have three days left in Ethiopia. I cannot believe how quickly time has flown by - I'm enjoying this trip so much, I don't want it to end!

Jean, Pat and I are back together today and the conversation was once again lively!  I missed Jean's dry sense of humor.

The crate with the lake in the middle.

Today's first destination was the village of El Sod (‘Chew Bet’ in Amharic) which is located beside a crater lake known as the House of Salt.   The lake itself sits about 500m below the crater rim and is so dark in color, that it actually looks black.  This is a salt lake and the villagers do extract it from the lake though we didn't see anyone working this morning.  I think it was Gale who asked Netsanet about whether or not you can walk down to the water's edge and he replied that it's not an easy trek either going down or coming back up.

House of Salt, not much of a lake.

Perhaps it's because it's dry season but the lake looked really small, not very impressive if you ask me but then again, I've been to the Dead Sea which is a massive salt lake so this can't compare.

The lake is a tourist attraction so as you can expect, souvenir vendors had set up stalls nearby.  I had something else in mind that I wanted to buy so I just walked about - with a subset of the usual Ethiopian Swarm accompanying me.   I hate to say this but they are as persistent and annoying as bugs circling around your face but unlike the bugs, you can't physically swat at this Swarm so I just ignore them.

Yesterday, when Netsanet had told us we would be visiting a salt lake today, I told him I wanted to buy some salt.  He wondered why so I told him that I actually collect it.  So far, my collection has salt from the UK, France, Greece, Hawaii, Mongolia, Turkey, India, and Mali - some I got as gifts but most I have picked up on my travels.  Adding salt from Ethiopia to my collection - black salt at that, would be cool.


From the souvenir vendors, we made a beeline to a set of buildings that looked shuttered up.  Netsanet had spoken with one of the villagers about the salt and so we were following this young man to one of the storage locations.

He removed the padlock and opened the door.  I stepped inside.  The mud floored room was completely empty except for a mound of gray salt.   This would be what we would consider as table salt and would be sold at the market.  I picked up a grain and tasted it - not as salty as some other salts I've tasted but slight stronger mineral taste.


I then had Netsanet inquire about the black salt.  The guy had to go another building to bring some back.   What he showed us looked like a clump of wet, black clay.  I'm eternally curious so took a small pinch to taste it.   It was quite salty and very mineral-y tasting.  It reminded me of the taste of a Chinese century egg - they must share some mineral in common, perhaps lime?

In any event, I decided to buy some of the black salt.  I got a small clump.  I then asked to have a bit of the gray salt which I got for gratis - probably cause I already overpaid for the black salt.  I don't know if I will use the black salt in food or if I will just display it.  I know I'm weird but I think it's pretty cool stuff.

I had no idea where we were heading  next but whatever the destination was, it took us offroading to get there though we were probably less than 10 minutes drive from the village.


Once we had parked and gotten out of the cars, then Netsanet told us we were heading down to one of the singing wells that dot the region.

Hardworking donkeys on a meal break.

Above ground water sources are extremely scarce so the villager have dug their own wells.  Except these are no ordinary wells. Using hand tools and a lot of human labor, the villagers have dug wells going as far down as 100 feet - basically reaching the water table.  They constructed ladders down to the water level.  Then, using a human chain, they pass buckets to haul up the water which is then deposited it into ground level pools or troughs for animals to drink from and for people to retrieve their water from.  Collectively, the wells are known as the *Singing Wells* because as the people bring up the water from below, they sing in an ominous, dip-pitted tone  (sounds almost like monks chanting) to keep up the rhythm of passing the bucket from one person to another.

Following Netsanet on the path leading down to the well.  I was surprised to feel soft sand beneath my feet.

The path dead ended at the well which is were all the people are huddled around.  The donkeys are standing in front of the water troughs.

There was another large tourist group and so it was difficult to take photos and video.   That and I was so fascinated watching the men and women do their job, I often forget to use my camera!

Looking from above, I could see a man scaling the ladder.  The water level wasn't too far below ground level.

A man and woman climbing out of the well.  Notice her outfit; it's typical of the Borano Omo tribe - such a nice dress to be wearing to haul up water!

The human chain.  Not easy work as I estimate that a full bucket easily weighs 10 lbs!

From my vantage point, it looked like the well was built like stories of a building with pools on each floor.  .  If I were to construct the well, this is how I would do it so essentially, water is hauled up and deposited into the pool on the first level til the pool is filled.  It's then  hauled up to the next level and deposited in the second pool until that pool is filled and you keep going til you reach the surface.  This way, you can accomplish the water hauling task with fewer people - just enough to cover the section of ladder between levels.


You can't see it very well in this photo but the water was crystal clear and most likely very clean.  I could've probably drunk it without getting sick!

They have their rhythm down - it's almost hypnotic watching them.....and yes, that's a woman working in the pool

And the goats arrive!

Very well behaved goats - they all made room for each other....even for the donkey!

The goat herder.

Some animals, like the pregnant females, required special attention.  Awww......

Keeping a watchful eye over his herd.

Donkey being loaded up with water containers.

It's quite a load!

And off he goes!  All on his own.....he knows the way home!

I saw the herd of goats leaving and I decided to walk with them.  In no time, I was the lead goat.  Watch how well behaved they are when I stop to wait for the cows to pass by.   I love the way the one goat looks at me as the cows walk by us - it's as if he's looking for me to give him the green light to move on.  I suspect he was lead goat before I rudely butted in :-)


It's now the cows turn to drink!

Being at the Singing Well was such a unique experience and one that I will always look back fondly on - loved walking with the goats!


From the well, we backtracked to the Yabello Motel for lunch.  On the way,  eagle eyed Negatu spotted a herd of gazelleMore specifically, a herd of Grant's gazelles, beautiful creatures with thin, long, slightly curved horns.  We stopped and got out to take a better look.  They were way off in the distance - it was tough seeing them even through my zoom lens.  Unfortunately, they were making their way away from us rather than towards us so we never really got a close up view.

Thank God for a really good zoom lens and a steady pair of hands!

Back at the hotel, it was another ho-hum tourist menu lunch.  I've lost count of how many times and variations of pasta with vegetables I've had on this trip :-(

After lunch, Pat had a bit of fun.  Just a few doors down from my room was the hotel pool hall which we had to walk past to get to our rooms.  Pat is a bit of pool shark.  Yesterday, she had watched some men playing and I could tell that she wanted to join in but, she said they were playing a version of the game that she did not know and so she opted to stand aside.

Today, there was just one guying shooting on his own.  This time, it was hard for her to say no so she started to play.  There was only one cue that was usable so they switched off.






I hung around long enough to take a few photos and then left her to play out the game.  Although it had been a few years since she last played and so she felt a bit rusty,  she was in her element and the both of them were enjoying themselves.  His English was as good as her Amharic so there was no explanation or agreement of the rules but it didn't matter.  Who says you have to speak the same language to have a bit of fun?!  I applaud and admire her for her spirit!  In case you're wondering, she won!

Late afternoon, we all piled back into the vans for a short drive out of town.  We were headed to a nearby Borana village.

When the cars stopped and parked by the roadside, we could see a lovely village in the distance.  Surprisingly, there was no Ethiopian Swarm to greet us.

Borana Village.

From the road, we walked across a short, rickety bridge fashioned from small tree limbs, to arrive at the village compound.

Following Netsanet and the village guide into the village.

Looking back in the direction of the cars, I took in a wonderful view of the surrounding area.  Whoever decided on the location for
 this particular village picked a good spot!

As we walked towards the main part of the village compound, a few more kids and young men joined us but they were a very polite group.  There were a lot of curious eyes but very little pestering of any sort!  As we stood in the shade of one of the buildings, Netsanet gave us brief insight into Borana culture.  They are the largest tribe in the region and not surprisingly, are semi nomadic herders. With dimishing livestock populations, they also grow crops but livestock are their mainstay.  They also share a similar age set tradition as the Mursi do and like many of their tribal cousins, girls marry around the time they are 18 years old and there is a dowry system centered around livestock which includes camels for the Borana.

Like many of the other villages we had been to, it was mainly women that we saw here - men were out shepherding their animals.

From here, we entered inside one of the homes where we had a chance to ask questions delving into typical Borana homelife.  As often happens, I was completely distracted by the sight of young faces peering in through a window.  So cute!   The moment we were back outside and I was chasing them around.  I have more fun interacting with the kids than listening to our guides.  No offense to the guides because I'm sure they were doing a great job but I can always read up about the Borana online; I can't chase cute Borana munchkins around mud buildings online!  Precious memory.

Sam doing what he enjoys the most - taking videos!

Borana woman whom we spoke with later.  She's 66 years old but looks far older than her years.  Hard life.

I really loved our time in this village.  It was a beautiful location and more important, the villagers were ever so friendly and lastly, there was no Ethiopian Swarm.  I wanted my photo taken to remember my time here so I handed my camera to Carol.  Like a good villager, I posed like a soldier and like a camera toting tourist, she wasn't going to have it.  I did a couple of silly poses and she snapped away.

Silly pose.

Final pic.  You have to admit, it's a beautiful setting.

In fact, it was so beautiful, I asked Judy to pose for me.

And Netsanet wanted his photo taken too.....alongside one of the women who had been
accompanying us on our walk through the village.  He looks happy....she, not so much. 
Her t-shirt is not Borana dress but her colorful skirt and beaded necklace are.

And Gale, as she was so often doing, showing images on her camera to the people she had just taken photos of. 
There were always a lot of happy people around her.

After our visit to the Borana village it was back to the hotel where we had the rest of the day and night to ourselves.  Netsanet joined us for dinner that night - he had a meal of injera and tibs as every good Ethiopian would and the rest of us ate from the tourist menu.  I was not up for a whole plate of injera and tibs but Netsanet kindly gave me a few bites from his plate - it was tasty bite of goat tibs but I've had my fill of injera....and of pasta with vegetables.  The dinner conversations are always lively with this group - that makes up for everything!

I had nice cup of tea to end the meal and then sat out on the front stoop of my room to enjoy the warm, winter's night.  It's freezing cold winter back in DC and I'm going to enjoy this warm weather for as long as I can!!

Then, it was back inside to pack my suitcase and to do a bit of writing.  Tomorrow, is another roadtrip - we're heading to Awassa.

Goodnight from Yabelo!