Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Spending Time With The Mursi and The Ari.


Mursi Family.

I awoke to another beautiful morning in Turmi. It's a nice time of day to take a short walk because once the sun rises, it gets incredibly hot here! Our rooms are located about a 5 minute or so walk from the hotel's restaurant. I took a leisurely stroll to the breakfast table - taking in the views around me. It's amazing what crosses your path here - a person or two or perhaps, a donkey or two.

The restaurant is the small building in the distance.

Breakfast was the usual non-event.  One last sip of tea and I was ready to bolt back to the hotel entrance where I knew that Netsanet, Masai, Danny, and Negatu would be waiting for us.

Lo and behold, I returned to see Masai examining a tire on his car.  It wasn't flat but it was definitely low on pressure.  The guys decided to change it out.


The rest of us waited.

This morning's drive would take us to Mago National Park.  The Mursi tribe make their home within the area encompassed by the park.   Back on the dusty, bumpy road.   A short distance from Turmi, we took a short break for the guys to get their breakfast and for the rest of us to use the facilities and to stretch our legs.

Masai, hungry and ready for food and coffee!

I got the front seat today!  More views of small towns.

We made two quick stops in Jinka.  The first was outside the restaurant where we would later be having our lunch.  Netsanet went to get the waiter and they both came back with menus in hand.  We would order our meals now to save on time later.  Netsanet has got this down and I have to say, we have made good time because he knows the time saving shortcuts!

The next stop was so Netsanet could get our park tickets and hire a local guide.  We obviously stopped at a spot where the guides congregate because no sooner had Masai put the car in Park then a group of young men us.  Netsanet rolled down his window and did his negotiations and hiring from there.  I filled the wait time taking photos.

  One thing about Ethiopia - store signs come with pictures so even if you can't read the words, you know what the store sells.
In a country with a low literacy rate, pictures help!  This one's a barbers shop.

Downtown Jinka.

Once we left Jinka behind, we were soon driving through wooded highlands.  That landscape quickly gave way to arid mountains as we snaked our way up towards the Mursi village.

The Welcome Sign.  We had to stop at the entrance to pick up a park ranger.

Once we were inside the borders of the park we started to see one group after another of young boys with their bodies painted in traditional Mursi style using white mud, energetically performed dance moves....for tips, of course.    They would dart out part way into the road and essentially "play chicken" in hopes that the car would stop.  I think all our drivers quietly cursed them as they are a danger not only to us but also to themselves.  As amusing as the boys' antics were to us, non of the people in our 3 car caravan wanted to stop to take photos of the boys so all I have is the image I took from another website.  You have to admit, they are uniquely cute!

Mursi boys.  (photo from Boundless Ethiopia Tours)

There was a lot of road construction taking place on the road leading through the park.  According to Netsanet, a huge sugar processing plant is being built nearby and the road is needed to transport raw product to the factory and then processed sugar out.  Masai had to take extra care driving - not only to avoid the happy boys but also all the construction equipment that was sitting here, there, and everywhere.

Sam is our scenery guy so if there's a good view, you can be assured we would stop.  We had wound our way up to near the top of the mountain where the views of the valley below were spectacular.  I'm not good at taking landscape photos so sometimes I don't even bother taking a photo or even a video.  Here's all I got going up the mountain.  I did get a better shot coming down.

The view.  Not a single structure of any sort for as far as you can see1

Riding with Netsanet and Masai proved to be a lot of fun.  Pat and I made it our goal to embarrass them so for Netsanet, there were a lot of questions about girls.  He was surprisingly candid in his responses though I know that if not for his dark skin, there would have been quite a lot of blushing on his part ;-)

Poor Masai was battling a bad cough and the fact that he's a smoker did not help matters any.  I know how annoying a persistent cough can be so I felt really sorry for the guy. I dug into my backpack where I had stashed away some cough drops that I had brought from home.  I didn't want him to be distracted by having to remove the paper wrapping so I did it for him and fed him the drop.  Now, that's a considerate passenger for you :-)  Of course, Netsanet feigned a couple of coughs which sent all of us laughing!

There was a lot of laughing and giggling with Masai and Netsanet - fun times! 

Our first sighting of Mursi houses, high up on the bluff.

We arrived into the village where the Ethiopian Swarm was there to greet us.  The one difference here was that there were a lot of men in the Swarm and they were carrying guns!   By now, we had gotten used the routine.  Surrounded by the Swarm, we follow our local guide to a shaded spot where he imparts some knowledge about the Mursi.  As always, the Swarm gets pretty noisy at time which elicits a stern instruction from Netsanet to quiet down.  Today our guide was pretty useless so he was quickly replaced by a young Mursi tribesman who spoke good English - he had attended university.   Even so, I'm sad to admit that everything he said pretty much went in one ear and out the other because I could not keep my eyes off the women.  The Mursi women are the ones who wear the lip plates and they are scary pretty or as some people would say, they are just scary looking....nothing pretty about them.  I have to admit, they really do challenge my sense of beauty!

A cluster of Mursi mud homes.

When a girl is about 15 years old, her mother pierces her lip and a small piece of wood is placed in the piercing.  At the same time,  the front two lower teeth are also removed.  Gradually, larger pieces of wood or pottery places are inserted until the desired size is reached.  According the women we spoke to, it can take up to about a year to stretch the lip to the point where a large pottery plate can be inserted.   Just the thought of having to endure through the pain of cutting through the flesh and stretching the skin to fit the plate was enough to make me shudder.  Ow! Ow! Ow!

It is up to the Mursi girl to decide whether or not she wants to wear a plate but given that this is a sign of beauty, if she opts to not do it, then her dowry for marriage is less.

Another Mursi cultural tradition is stick fighting among the men. They usually do this for ceremonial purposes and since there wasn't a ceremony taking place during our visit,  we didn't see any stick fighting.

Mursi mud homes - really just twigs held together with mud.

We did see a lot of men carrying rifles - supposedly used protection of their animals and not fighting with other tribes.  The weapon of choice? A Kalashnikov!  It's common to include a rifle, along with the usual complement of animals, as part of a dowry.

One of the unique aspects of the Mursi culture is what is referred to as *age sets* and it applies solely to the men.  Basically, there are age ranges that men have to reach before they are allowed to perform a specific function (i.e., get  married) or service (i.e., serve on a tribal council).  Men will pass through several *age grades* during the course of their lives; married women have the same age grade status as their husbands.

Like many of their Omo Valley relatives, the Mursi are semi-nomadic and are agropastoralists - they travel to region around the Omo River during the dry season from September to February and return to their farm lands and livestock between March and August.  Their homes are definitely not designed for extended stays.

At our request (we're just a curious bunch of tourists), our young village man took us over to his hut.  Outside were both his wives, hard at work.  Yes, the Mursi are polygamists.  Both he and his wives seemed so young but given that they can marry at 18 years of age, it's not surprising.

After we wrapped our visit with the young villager, we were let loose to take photos.  Before arriving into the village, I had my thoughts set on taking photos of women at work.  But after seeing the extreme manner in which the women were made up, I decided I wanted a photo of a *classic* Mursi beauty.  Walking about, I found two women who fit the bill - lip plates and headdresses with horns.  Pure Mursi beauty!

I had the younger one insert her pottery plate.  I tried not to cringe watching her do that.  With Netsanet's help, I got them to sit under the shade of a tree.   I was so wrapped up in trying to find a suitable spot to take the photo that I hadn't even noticed the toddler that the younger of the two women was toting around.  He was adorable, with his face paint.  Of course, there was a subset of the Ethiopian Swarm around me so I really struggled to get the women's attention.  I fired off one shot which is the one below.  The younger of two women was looking away from the camera when the shutter went off - she really does not look attractive so I prepped to take another shot which is the one that opens up this posting.  The lighting could be better but it's still a nice shot and I'm happy with it.  It wasn't until I loaded the picture on to my iPad that I could see just how beautiful her outfit is - there's beading along the bottom front of her skirt and small metal rings along the back.  She has scarification all along her left arm as well as just above her left breast.  Scarification is also a sign of Mursi beauty.  Metal bracelets, beaded armbands and earrings complete her look.  The toddler is just adorable!  His face is decorated with bands of black mud dotted with white mud to create a pattern that I am guessing is to imitate some sore of animal.  He too, is adorned with bracelets, armbands and a necklace.  Oh, how I wish the Swarm had not been around me. I could have taken more photos of this threesome - I was just beginning to appreciate their beauty.

On my way back to the car, I was mobbed by a slew of Mursi men offering for me to take their photos.  As decorated as they were, they were nowhere near the level of extreme beauty as the women were so I actually declined all the offers.....which kept coming even after I was safely inside the car.  I could see a few pairs of inquisitive eyes peering inside.  I quickly put my camera away in my backpack and nudged the backpack behind my legs.  Once the other three returned to the car, Masai drove us out of the village.

Stopped for the view on the way out of the park.

We backtracked to Jinka - dropping off the ranger at the park entrance.  I guess he came along to make sure we didn't violate any of the rules of the park and that no harm would come our way.  Next, we dropped off the local guide....who got paid for doing nothing.  Don't think Netsanet will ever hire him again!

We had lunch at a restaurant called Besha Gojo which supposedly is just about the only place in town suitable for *farenjis* aka *tourists*.  It was a nice enough place and the food was okay.  Before our food arrived, I quickly went over to a nearby small roadside stall selling munchies.  I had run out of cough drops for Netsanet so I plopped down 5 birr to buy more.  Yes, I have a soft spot for the guy - he's a really sweet man!  (Happily married with a 10 year old son.)

After lunch, we drove straight to visit one of the villages inhabited by the Ari tribe.  The Ari number around 120,000 in population and they live around Jinka.  The Ari territory is fertile relative where the other tribes live so they have arable land for growing crops, including coffee, and raising livestock.

The village we arrived into was nestled into the woods.  There was greenery all around us.  As far as village locations go, this was indeed the nicest we had been to.  Our local guide took us around on a walk through the village.  Along the way, we stopped to see several villagers displaying their skills.

We had an Ethiopian Swarm follow us but this was a kinder and gentler Swarm - mainly very young children who just wanted to hold your hands as you walked along.  I pretty much lost my fingers on both hands to little clutches which explains why I did not take any photos until we reached our first demonstration area and why I don't have any photos of our walk through the village.  The little munchkins were just darn cute for me to care about photos of trees and mud huts.  Seriously.  Here a pair of girls entertained us with a bit of song and dance.  Carol and I were simply captivated.  Underneath the layer of dirt and grime and tattered clothing were two little joyful girls!

Sorry for the blurry video.  I smile every time I watch this short clip.


The first demonstration we saw was making injera.  After she made one, I tried my hand at it.....it's a lot more difficult pouring the batter out evenly as she makes it look.  My piece of injera would not have passed quality control :-(

Lightly greasing the pan.

Pouring the batter. Needs to be evenly thick and there should not be any gaps between the rings.

Pan is covered to let the injera cook.

Flipping the injera over to let it cook briefly on the other side and then, voila, it's ready for tibs!

Outside, the girls were still singing and dancing.  Yes, a song to Obama.

Then, it was off to the pottery maker. The Ari women are known for their pottery making skills.  We saw the woman take a ball of clay and fashion it into a plate.  Her items were for sale but I'm avoiding buying anything breakable so I passed up the opportunity though Marianne did buy a small Ethiopian coffee pot - nice souvenir.


Watching the potter at work.  Swarm to tourist ratio was about 1:1.  Pretty light.

Next, it was off to the brewer where they were making alcohol from corn.

Corn on the cob, waiting to be shucked.  It was the first time I had seen corn, anywhere, in Ethiopia.

Corn kernels ready to be turned into alcohol.  Hops plants were growing nearby for producing beer.

The brewing area.  Somewhere in here is also equipment for distillation.

A sample of the booze, which looked like moonshine, was passed around.  I declined as I don't drink alcohol.

We had fun with the villagers.  I had a group of young village girls keeping me busy and laughing.  At the same time, a couple of my tour mates had their moments with villagers, including Judy who immediately transformed herself back to being a teacher.  I don't know who enjoyed those moments more - the kids or Judy :-)

While the rest of the group was hovered around the booze, Jean was showing off pictures on her Samsung phone.  First there were four.

Soon, she was surrounded by more.  She was pleased that they recognized sights in other regions of Ethiopia.  They were surprised
by the images of her llamas - they had never seen such animals before! 

Carol took up a girl's offer to braid her hair.

I don't think the girl was used to working with faranji hair - Carol's braids weren't quite as straight or neat as her own.

Yes, Carol was having a lot of fun!

Every strand of hair that could be braided, was :-)

From the brewer, we had one more craftsman to visit.

Walking through the village.  There's always a hand needing to be held and Judy will never turn down a request.

Ari homes.  Quite sturdy.  I think that not being a nomadic tribe means they can build structures that last longer.

Judy and Carol, arm in arm.  We've all grown really close to each other.

The blacksmith.  He was using a bag, home made from goatskin, for the bellows.

Working the red hot metal.

He was pounding out a knife that he would sell either in the village or in the local market.

On our way out of the village, Grandpa Sam asked me to take his photo with the two young boys who had accompanied through the village.  So sweet.  Sam's the only man in our group so he quickly ran out of fingers for all the village boys who wanted to tag along with him! 


By the time we made it back to the cars, the Swarm had thinned out.  I was hoping to have a photo taken with the girls I had walked with but they had long left my side - I spotted them playing in a nearby yard.

Village wise, I really enjoyed our brief time in the Ari village.  It was like a nice stroll through a wooded neighborhood and the kids, tagging along with us, were priceless.  You could tell, simply from looking at the mud buildings and the faces of the children, who looked to be relatively well fed, that the Ari are far better off (i.e., *wealthier*) than any of the tribes we've visited so far with the exception of the Konso.  It's still a hard life for them.

After we left the Ari, it was a straight ride back to the hotel in Turmi.  I did a bit of repacking before dinner - we leave tomorrow for Yabelo.  After dinner, it was a shower and a bit of writing for this posting.  I'm going to try and get to sleep early tonight.  It's another long day's drive ahead of us and I don't want to miss out on a single thing!

Goodnight from Turmi!