Thursday, January 30, 2014

Road Trip to Yabelo. A Hamar Village and a Benna Market.



We left Turmi bright and early this morning - we had a long day's drive ahead of us. By day's end, we would be in Yabelo.  Pat and I were in Car 3 today with Negatu though we should have been in Car 2 and we lost Jean; Marianne was with us instead.  Somehow it didn't feel right.

In no time, we were back on the road, heading towards a Hamar village. While we had spent plenty of time seeing the Hamar people, we had yet to visit them in their village.   Given their colorful dress, I somehow expected the Hamar village to somehow be different from the others....I don't know, perhaps more decorations??  In any case, the Hamar village looked pretty much like the others except their roofs are more pointed.  It was situated in a very nice location though - there were quite a few trees scattered about. 


Perhaps, things are really beginning to blur together but the visit to the Hamar village was pretty much a ho hum experience for me.  We did learn a few interesting facts about the Hamar.  Like many of their tribal cousins, the Hamar are agropastoralists.

Livestock wise, cattle are preferred though herds may contain goats.  Cattle features heavily in the marriage dowry and of course, in the bull jumping ritual.

There is a division of labor in terms of sex and age. The women and girls grow crops - sorghum is the staple. They’re also responsible for collecting water which is no easy feat given the scarcity of water in this region - they have to walk long distances to collect the water and bring it back home.   Of course, women are also do the cooking and looking after the children.  The young boys are the goat herder, the young men work the crops and the adult men herd the cattle and plow the fields.

The vast majority of Hamar are Sunni Muslims though many elements of traditional religion are still practiced.   For example, they believe that natural objects (trees, rocks, etc.) have spirits.  

We did get to walk around a bit.  It was a small village but nicely laid out and very clean. 

Today, the Ethiopian Swarm was comprised mainly of young women.  They were stunning in their appearance, so much so that Jean suggested that we line them all up and do two photos - one with just the women (there were at least 20) and the other with our group included.....it would be our group photo.  I loved the idea and was more than happy to chip in!  We sent Netsanet and our local guide over to negotiate the fee.  Unfortunately, the women were not willing to budge - I think Netsanet was trying to negotiate them down to around 3 or 4 birr per person.  If I had been them - better to have 3 birr than no birr and I would have run with that idea, suggesting it to the next tour group.  No one enterprising in this group.

So, we set out on our own to take photos.  As I was walking about, the occasional Swarmer hanging around me, I heard the faint tinkling of a bell.  It took me a few seconds to pinpoint where it was coming from - a small baby cradled in a woman's arms.  Right there and then, I decided I wanted the photo of the baby and his/her mother. I asked Netsanet to help me find the mother and surprisingly, he did.  I led her over to a tree and tried to show her that I wanted her to sit down but when I put my hand on the ground, I touched a bunch of burrs.  That wasn't going to work, so I led her towards one of the mud homes.  I got her seated near one of the homes.  I previewed it and it was not good.  Bad lighting and no smile.

My first attempt.

So I moved around to take her from a different.  She started giggling....I think at me.  I have to admit, it was getting a bit ridiculous....all this for a photo.  I started to giggle as well.  When the giggling died, she was still smiling and I took the second photo.  That's the opening shot for this posting.  I absolutely love, love, love the photo.  It could still be improved composition wise but under the circumstances, I think it turned out well.  Her necklace, with it's metal protrusion, indicates she's the first wife.  I can see why - she's gorgeous and her baby is adorable.   I did a bit of touch up to saturate the colors a bit more - otherwise the photo looks a bit flat.

We were in the Hamar village only for a short time and before you know, we're back on a bumpy road.  And.....what's a bumpy without another flat tire?  This time it was Danny's turn.

Yep, it's a flat back right tire.

Less than 15 minutes and the replacement tire is on.  Less than 20 minute and we're back on the road.

We were on the road heading back to Jinka.  I recognized the restaurant that the guys had breakfast at yesterday morning.  Soon enough, we arrived into the town of Key Afer.  After days of being in the remote countryside, it sure felt like a busy place - lots of activity in the shops and all along the roadside.

We pulled into the small parking lot of a hotel.  We weren't staying here but it didn't seem like anyone minded that we parked here.

From here, we would be walking to the market of the Benna tribe who are blood relatives of the Hamar.  In fact, they are often referred to as the Hamar-Benna.

Yesterday, I had been joking with Netsanet that all we had seen were beautiful African women but where were the men?  His response was that in his opinion, the Benna men are the most attractive and today, we get to find out if Netsanet is right or not.

We followed Netsanet to the market.  It was a warm morning but it wasn't humid - nice for a walk.

Judy and Netsanet leading the pack.

Soon we  left the buildings of the town behind.  The path was lined with a few vendors.

Before Netsanet set us free to wander about on our own, he took us over to a section where there were a few vendors clustered under the shade of trees.  They were the *traditional goods* and medicine sellers. Here, we saw quite a few men selling uniquely shaped bundles of tobacco as well as the metal implements as we had seen being made in the Ari village.  None of the sellers would allow for photos without payment and so I opted to put away the camera. Besides, it was much more interesting to check out the market than to click the shutter.  Pretty much anything you need, you can buy here though the selection of any item is very limited.  It's not surprising that everyone wears similar shoes or has similar cooking pots. The goods are all about being functional here.  In fact, anything that is purely decorative are the items sold to the tourists.  For a few minutes,  I was tempted to buy one of the small wooden stools that both the Hamar and Benna use.  It's almost the end of my trip and most certainly, the stool is small and lightweight enough that I can hand carry it.  So, I would walk around the market for a bit and if at the end, I still wanted the stool, I would get one.  But....in the end, I decided to not get one - too much stuff at home already!

The path from town led to a large open field where the main market was.  Of course, the souvenir section greeted us.

It's not the big market day but it was still crowded.

Carol checking out the market.

The veggie section.

It wasn't the big market day so there were plenty of empty spots.

The produce here is pretty meager looking but people sell what they can.

The clothing/textile section.  Very colorful.

For lack of a better description, the *liquor* section - very popular though I swear a few of the vendors had been dipping into their own stash.

The Benna men and women do dress very similar to the Hamar.   In my opinion, I prefer the dress of the Hamar women - it's more elaborate.

Comparing the men, the Benna men wear the same clay/feather cap as the Hamar men but they love to wear vests (they look like cotton hunting vests) and colorful woven headbands.  Unlike the Hamar men who wear wrap cloths that come half way down their thighs, Benna men wear much shorter wraps - looking almost like a mini skirt.  Proportionally speaking, Benna men are tall, lean and have longer legs than their Hamar cousins.  I can see why Netsanet said they were good looking but for me, the Hamar men are far more attractive ;-)

I tried to take photos of the men without them spotting me but it was difficult.  I was just about to give up with I saw a young Benna man, very attractive.  Pat was with me so I asked her for her opinion.  Her response was, "fine specimen" :-)  I decided to approach him and asked if I could take his photo.  So, I asked, "photo"?  He replied with a chuckle and a shake of his head.  Damn.  There went my chance.

By now, it was almost time to meet back up with Netsanet.   I told him about the young Benna man and he offered to go and talk to him for me but I declined.  I told him, jokingly, that the young man had broken my heart and there was no way to recover.  Yeah, sure. We all had a good laugh over that!

Soon, it was time to leave and get back on the road.  We still had quite a long distance to go.

Following our fearless leader back to the cars.

It was a pretty quiet drive today.  Neither Pat nor I had much to talk about with Marianne.  I turned my sights to the world whizzing by my window.

We arrived into a town, one of many, and it was packed with people - market day!   Netsanet stopped the car caravan to let whoever was interested, take a few photos.  I have plenty of market photos so I stayed back.  Instead, I shot a few photos of the roadside shoe vendors.  I watched them cut sections from tires and then shape them into the ubiquitous sandals that we see being worn by pretty much everyone in the Omo Valley.

Cutting, making and repairing shoes.

It was rare but we did see a few local buses - every one of them crammed with people and their belongings!

We came across our first herd of camels.  This we had to stop for.

Two young boys were shepherding this good sized herd of camels.

A view you can only see in the Omo Valley - camels on one side, goats on the other!

See that bell?  I have one just like it! :-)

Another flat.  According to Netsanet, they average around 3 to 4 flat tires per trip.  We're on par.

Jean posing for me.  Only she could rock white pants to a place like this!

Desolate landscape.  We are in the middle of nowhere Ethiopia!

Queen of the world!!  (okay, it's Pat)

Technically, we're not in a desert but we might as well be - it's dusty, hot and dry here!

It was pretty boring drive today.  I was hoping Yabelo would offer some diversion but as we arrived into town, those hopes were quickly dashed.  It's a small town, even by Ethiopian standards and there did not seem to be a whole lot of anything to do - not even shops to stroll by.  I equate it to a frontier town of sorts - quiet, sleepy town in the middle of nowhere.  Oh well.

The street our hotel is on.  We're where that bright yellow sign is.  Right out front was the bus stop and to one side, the gas station.

My room from the outside.

We're staying at the Yabello Motel and motel it is - looks like a highway motel back in the US. We'll be here for two nights.  Accommodations are very basic but the bed and bathroom are clean so I'm good to go!

My room on the inside.

Jean peering out at me from her room - she was next door to me.  I told her she looked like a prisoner looking out from her cell :-)

Before we settled into our rooms we ordered our lunch as it was already early afternoon.   I don't think anyone was really hungry but it's good to keep up a regular meal schedule, especially when you travel.  It's so easy to get caught up in sightseeing that you lose track of time and your meals get all out of whack.

Tasty Glucose.  Not exactly a good brand name for cookies :-)

We had some time before the food would arrive so Pat and I decided to check out the roadside shops across the street from the hotel.  Good time to use up some small change and get snacks at the same time.  Marianne followed us.  Ethiopians are not big snackers so there's not a lot of variety when it comes to munchies.  Biscuits are about the best bet so that's what I was aiming for.  As we surveyed our options, we also quickly realized that not all the sellers were asking the same price for similar biscuits.  By the end of the row, we were picking up a small pack of biscuits for around 5 birr - 25 cents.  We also found a small supermarket!  It was obvious they catered to tourists given their proximity to the Yabello Motel which is known as a tourist class hotel.  They had a nice selection of biscuits and we settled on some chocolate wafer cookies - can't go wrong with those!

The strip of shops and restaurants located just down the street from our hotel.  No, it's not a pretty place.

Back at the hotel, we just relaxed the rest of the day and night away.  It was nice to have some down time.  I got caught up on doing some laundry and blog post writing.  Unfortunately opr perhaps fortunately, neither the Turmi Lodge nor the Yabello Motel offer wifi so I've not been able to post up anything or check email for several days now.  At first, I was uneasy about losing connection to the outside world, so to speak but I have to admit, I'm now enjoying the *peace* of not having internet access.....for now :-)

It's almost time for dinner so goodnight from Yabelo!