Suitcase and World: Introducing the Hamar.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Introducing the Hamar.

Hamar girl - a small bag of eggs in one hand and her wooden stool in the other.
She wears a beaded neck collar which means she is not married.  She shyly posed for me. 

Barely 5 minutes down the road from stopping and taking a photo of an Arbore girl, I had Danny stop once again.  We're in Car 2 today; I'm sure the folks in Car 3 were wondering what the heck was going on.

This time, I had spotted a Hamar girl. Again, I ran out and asked if I could take a photo. She agreed and so I quickly took it. Jean had followed me and did the same. We each handed over 5 birr and headed back to the car. It wasn't until I looked at the photo more closely that I realized that we had caught this young woman as she was either headed to or coming back from the market. In her right hand, she was clutching a small bag of eggs and in her left hand, a small wooden stool to sit on. Her hair is done in typical Hamar style - short dreadlocks coated in red mud. Her outfit is also typical Hamar - a cow skin apron with a cowl shell strap that drapes around her neck. The cow skin is beautifully edged with beading. Earrings, neckband, armbands and bracelets complete the look. If you look closely at the neckband, you'll notice that the pendant like piece is actually a section of the metal band of a man's wristwatch! What a creative and resourceful way to recycle something that many people would simply toss away in the trash. On her feet where a simply pair of leather strap sandals. Having encountered this young Hamar woman, I was now more excited than ever to meet the tribe. But, she has set the benchmark for what I am expecting and I have very high expectations!

We're on our way to the town of Turmi which will be our launch point to visit the tribes and villages of the Omo Valley. We'll be spending the next three nights in Turmi.  Before we arrived to the hotel, we had two other stops to make.

First stop was to a view point to see Lake Chew Bahir or as Netsanet called it, Lake Stefanie.  Chew Bahir is a small salt lake.

Cars parked, we have a short walk to the vista point.  Curious goats checking us out.

It was a bit of climb, albeit a short one, to get up the vista point.  There are no paths here so I took it slowly, clutching my camera in my left hand and arm so I could use my right arm to brace from falling.

Netsanet, Pat, Carol and Gale looking out at the lake.  It was a hazy morning and the gals
could barely make out the lake.  Based on that feedback, I opted to not go all the way to the top.

Took a photo on my way back down to the car.  Yep, there was no path leading up to or down from the vista point!

The Omo Valley region is one huge arid landscape.  Days were sunny and temperature wise, was hot but not humid.   With a few exceptions, the roads are unpaved.  We had to keep our windows rolled up to keep the dust out and Danny turned on the air conditioning to keep us cool.  Gratefully, we also had a refrigerated compartment in the car so we had the luxury of cool, bottled water.

Bumpy ride....which we had long gotten used to.

Another common sight for us by now - thatched roof mud homes.

Once we arrived into Turmi, we headed straight to Hamar market. There was already a local guide waiting for us. I have no idea what he said - I was far more captivated by all the activity that was around us. Netsanet gave us about 50 minutes to walk about.  Before he set us free to go, he warned us to not take photos of people without paying; general photos were okay.  We happened to be standing near a large group of women and the moment a person in our group held up their camera, they responded with words spoken in stern tones and wagging fingers.  I decided this was not going to be a friendly crowd and I decided to refrain from taking too many photos.  I can understand their anger.  The Hamar, especially the women, are very interesting to look at and every tourist is eager to take their photo but I can imagine how annoying it must be to have tourists sticking their cameras in your face.

Pat and I broke away from the pack.  It was hot as hell here and there was no shade to be had except for where that large group of women was sitting.  Luckily, it wasn't a large market space so I figured we could cover it all in the time Netsanet had given us before we would completely wilt.

Here are some photos I took from our walk around the market.

Pat scoping out the market.

A photo of the grain section.  There was not a whole lot of anything for sale in the market.

Sitting in the shade. 

Another section of the market, selling mainly firewood.

After we made one circle around the central part of the market, we headed down some of the side streets.  On one of them, we stumbled across a flour mill.  Our guess was the women would buy the grain in the main area of the market and then bring it to mill to be ground into flour.

Retrieving the flour.  It was hard taking photos without feeling you were about to anger someone.

It was at the flour mill that I saw two women that I thought would make for a good photo - their whole look from the mud caked dreadlocks to their animal skin dress down to the one woman's ankle bracelets completely fascinated me.  I wanted the photo so badly but didn't know how to approach them.  Then out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a Hamar man who was dressed in western garb.  For some reason, he looked like maybe he would understand English so I pointed to them and at the same time, looked at him and simply asked, "photo?"  He must have understood because he said something to them and they nodded.  I don't know if they expected money or not but I gave them each 5 birr.

It wasn't until I got back to my hotel room and loaded the photo onto my iPad that I truly got a good look at the women.  What I saw just amazed me!   The firs thing you notice is their hair which is typical Hamar - short dreadlocks with bangs.  Hamar women also rub a paste into their hair and over the upper part of their body.  The paste is a mixture of red clay and animal fat which gives an oily sheen to their hair and chests.  Sometimes, you can even see the paste dripping down their body as the women sweat in the heat.

The animal skins come for their own animals but the shell and glass beads are items they trade for.  I was told that many of the beads come from Kenya.  Presumably the shells come from neighboring Djibouti.

Two Hamar women, at the flour mill, in their traditional dress.  

Both women are wearing two metal neck collars indicating that both are married but the absence of a metal protrusion on the collar means that neither are the first wife.  The Hamar are a polygamist society.  You can see that the woman on the left is also missing her lower, middle tooth which was deliberated removed as as a sign of beauty.   The woman on the right wears the typical rubber shoes in this region - they are fashioned from old tires.

Only spot for some shade was along the back walls of two buildings.  Otherwise, you're out in the heat in a red dust bowl.

The market also had a souvenir section which we did a quick walk through.  Pat's reached the age where she's no longer interested in accumulating stuff and I've reached the age where I only buy an item or two and nothing here tugged at me so strongly that I would have pulled out some birr for it.

When Pat and I had had enough of wandering around, we headed to meeting point - local bar/restaurant. Drivers and cars were there waiting for us. When everyone had arrived back, we piled into the cars and went on the short drive to our hotel, Turmi Lodge. Netsanet got us checked in and handed us the keys. These were very basic accommodations. As long as bed and bathroom are clean, I am okay. Electricity is on a generator from 6:30p-10:30p at night here so I will have to be mindful of charging up my camera batteries. We had another unmemorable lunch at the hotel here before meeting back up with Netsanet and the drivers at 2:00p.