Sunday, January 26, 2014

Two Villages, New York & a Flat.


Young Konso child.

We had another nice, leisurely lunch today. It was one of those times when it was just too comfortable to leave the table. My cup of tea was perfect for sipping, the weather divine and the company, just awesome. But, Netsanet was hovering near by - we had to leave as there was still a full afternoon of activities ahead of us, including a visit to New York, not that New York but another place by the same name.

We piled back into the two SUVs and headed down the road to Gamole, a Konso village.  The village of Gamole is located within what is known as the Konso Cultural Landscape, a 55km2 property of stone walled terraces and fortified settlements nestled into the highlands above the modern day town.  The Konso Cultural Landscape was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2011.

On our way to Gamole, we passed a wedding procession. How often does that happen? :-)  There's always something interesting to see on our roadtrips.  Initially, I thought it was overkill that every person would get a window seat but now I appreciate the luxury!

)
We just caught a split second glimpse of the bride, walking under the plaid umbrella.

Arriving into the Konso village; not a very attractive sight :-(

We knew we had arrived into Gamole when we neared the small stands displaying souvenirs made by the villagers. We were welcomed by the usual greeting party - the beloved Ethiopian Swarm.  The one cute thing they have here and I didn't buy one or even dare to take a photo of one, were these cute little Konso TVs (get it?) that the kids made.  Basically it's a small rectangular box made from what pieces of wood are available.  They fashion a mechanism where they can scroll a piece of paper from one side to the other.  The paper is divided into sections to fit the frame - each section has a different picture drawn on it.  The kids scroll through the pictures (Obama was a favorite) to try and get you to buy it. I have to say, it's very creative!  I found a YouTube video, posted by a guy who bought one.  It's a cute souvenir.



After a quick introduction to our guide, Tesfaye (pronounced *suh-fahye*), we began our walk through the village which is his home. I can't remember how many people live there but it was a sizable village.

Part way through our walk, we stood beside a very tall pole.  Tsefaye explained to us that the Konso have a tradition of what is called a generation pole which is basically a pole that is raised every 18 years marking the start of a new generation.  The age of a village can then be determined by how many poles are standing

Another tradition is the one of the erection of stones and poles in the center of the traditional villages; A generation pole is raised every 18 years, marking the start of a new generation. The age of a village can be determined by how many poles are standing.  According to Tsefaye, Gamole is about 18 generations old - doing the math, it means the village has been around for at least 324 years!

We walked along unpaved paths that wound their way through the woods.  Stone walls, that once served as defensive walls, flanked the path.  The walkways connect the compounds of different clans - I can't remember how many clans there are here though Tsefaye did give us a number.  Each clan has its own compound with its cluster of thatched roofs.  The village also has a communal building, known as a mora, where men gather for discussion and often the younger ones will sleep here to watch over the village.  The village also has its version of a town square where generation poles (one pole is raised every 18 years representing a generation) are erected.  Passing through Gamole was like entering another world. I would have loved to have been able to spend a day and night here to really get a better feel for life in a place like this.  For now a visit like that will only happen in my dreams.

Here are some photos that I took on our very pleasant walk through Gamole.

Stone walls separate areas of the village.  First time we had seen such walls in any village.

Following Jean with her dula and she's right behind Pat.  Tsefaye is in the green t-shirt.

Lots of firsts for us, including a mud hut built up on stilts.  I'm guessing it's used for storage
so keeping it off the ground is important - no flooding or animals to damage what's kept inside.

The path we took was narrow and flanked by the stone walls.

Gamole is a pretty village, nestled among trees.  The style of the Konso thatched roof is a unique two tier design.  This house proudly
flew the Ethiopian flag as its topper - more often we would see a terracotta clay pot.

Lots of shaded paths. If I lived here, I would enjoy the daily walks.

As with many African villages, Gamole as a central meeting area for men to congregate and discuss issues.  The Konso call it a mora. 
The picture is too dark to see it well but the area of the mora is under the thatched roof.

Looking inside the mora.  Basically, it's just a covered patch of ground - nothing fancy.

Animals and people share the same space.  True in Gamole as in other villages.

Where there are no stone walls to provide privacy, a fence of logs will work just fine!  This one had gaps that I could peek through.

Konso roofs are always topped.  In this case, a pair of ostrich eggs were the ornaments.

Lots of mud homes which I know looked cuter than they were comfortable to live in.

The clay pot roof toppers.  So darn cute!

Some spots the stone wall was really tall and the path really narrow!

Judy enjoying our stroll through Gamole.

Our walk took us to another mora.  You can get a better sense of the exterior from this photo.

Villager sitting nearby the mora.

I don't know how many kilometers of wall there were but it was all built by manual labor.

As we walked through the village, several women in our group wanted to take a photo of a Konso woman dressed in her native costume - really it was the skirt they wanted a photo of.  I crossed paths with this lady, who did not look like she was specifically dressed for tourists - nothing about her screamed *I'm dressed in my Konso finest*.  I asked Netsanet to find out from her if she was willing to pose for a photo (for a tip of course) and she agreed.  Yep, Ethiopian villagers only know how to pose one way and this is up - stiff like a toy soldier.  I must come up with a better way to pose my subjects and to get them out of the bright sunlight to avoid shadows.  I'm already struggling with taking photos of dark skinned people and the bright sunlight is not helping matters any.  In her defense though,  there really was no other way to pose given the bundle of freshly cut reeds she had on her back.  Several others in the group took the opportunity to have a photo of the same woman.  Oh yeah.  I forgot about the skirt.  Her pretty skirt is sewn up in a the style that is traditional Konso.  The material is thick cotton cloth called buluko which is woven locally by the men.


We all tipped her - that made her happy!  Then it was back to the SUVs as our tour was over.  Tesfaye came for the ride to our next destination which was oddly called New York. Turns out the place is sandstone place a rock canyon reminiscent of Bryce Canyon in Utah though the Ethiopian is far, far smaller and less impressive.  Still, it was quite something to see.

We walked along a narrow ridge - the cliffs were on both sides.

As wide angled a shot as I could get.  Craggy, free standing spires in the foreground. Someone thought the spires
looked like the skyscrapers in New York city and voila, that's how the formation got its name!

A solid wall of gorgeous red rock.  This was to the left of the ridge we were walking on.

Finally got the guy to chuckle.....he can laugh :-)

Pat is quickly becoming my photo muse though most times, I'm catching her off guard....Hey, Pat.  Turn around!

Sandstone cliffs to the right of the ridge.

Everyone was in great spirits this afternoon - the chatter in our SUV was definitely lively and there was a lot of laughter.  Helps too that we broke out the snacks - I passed around the roasted wheat snack that I had bought in Addis.  There was so much to keep our attention focused inside the car that I completely forgot about the world outside.

We passed by a field of some kind of grain - perhaps tef??

On our way to the next destination on our sightseeing agenda, we got a flat tire.  No one was perturbed or worried.  In fact, we didn't even know we had a flat.  Masai just pulled over to the side of the road and stopped the car to check the tire.  When he confirmed the flat, then we found out about it.

Almost down to the rim.  Caught the flat just in time!
I'm sure this happens quite often on these unpaved roads and I was actually kind of surprised it hadn't happened sooner.  Masai and Negatu expertly replaced the tire and we were back on the road in less than 20 minutes.


Pushing a rock near the tire. Masai would roll the tire atop it.  Then the jack went into place.

Negatu working on getting the jack in place.

Masai and Negatu putting the replacement tire in place.

Ta-da!  New tire and rim back in place.  Ready to roll!

Guys stowing the flat tire and packing up the gear.

We're back on the road!

Okay, flat tire diversion over, we were back on the road. Netsanet had arranged for us to visit a Konso village Chief. This one holds the reputation of having been educated as an engineer in Addis and also of having spent several years working in the big city. He returned to his home village as Chief shortly after his father passed away 12 years ago.  We were on our way to visit him and his village.

Masai parked the car outside the Chief's complex. The Chief was entertaining another audience of tourists so instead of immediately entering the Chief's residence, Tesfaye took us on a short walk through the woods to see the wooden totems, called waga, that the Konso are famous for.

Trying to tempt Gale into buying a Konso TV.  I wonder where they learned that from?

Kids do work hard here. Even the young ones herd animals.

They even do their own laundry!

The Chief's complex was nestled in the woods.  We had a beautiful walk among the trees.

A Konso generation pole.  Each notch represents 18 years which is a Konso generation.
Count the notches and you know how long the village has been in existence.

As best as I can understand it, there are two types of Poles or as Tsefaye referred to them, totems. One is the generation pole.  The other is, for the lack of a better label, a Chief totem which is used to identify the number of chiefs who have reigned prior to the chief who is presently in charge. In other words, if a totem has 18 notches on it, then the current chief is number 19. Chief totems are also often used as grave stone markers.  Additionally, graves are also marked with carved sculptures, called wagas.

The wagas and the Chief totems.

Tesfaye took us through the woods to see some totems and wagas. I think, though not sure, that what we saw belonged to a father and a son but I don't know exactly how they are related to the current Chief.

Two Chief totems and two wagas.

Close up view of the waga.  It even has carved teeth!

Carved wooden statues are also used to mark the grave of a famous Konso tribal member.  The marker, called a Waga is placed above the grave and smaller statues are then placed around the larger one representing his wives and conquered enemies.

Another waga with two Chief totems.

Close up of the waga.

After seeing the wagas, we backtracked to the Chief's complex.

The front entrance to a Konso home.  They definitely don't like strangers peeking in!

Neatly trimmed, thatched roof tops of Konso village buildings.

By the time we made it back to the Chief's complex, the previous group of tourists had departed and he was ready to accept us. I really didn't know what to expect and was pleasantly taken aback by what greeted me. Slight in build with very friendly face and a fairly soft handshake.  And we finally got his name - Kalla Gezahegn.

Our host, the Chief.

He seemed nice and I was looking forward to hearing the story of his life and asking him questions. He graciously invited inside one of the thatched roof houses. I presume this is where he holds public audiences. We were so rude. Before the man even had a chance to tell us about his life, several in the group already started peppering him with questions. Luckily, they quickly remembered their manners and they let the man speak. In a very soft and deliberate voice and with excellent English, he told us of his early years growing up in the village, attending university in Addis, working as an engineer in Addis, returning to the village after his father's death to assume his familial obligation to be the Chief, marrying and having children (6 - two boys and 4 girls). Then it was our turn and most everyone in the group had questions for the Chief - from what are some of the issues that he has to mediate to what improvements he plans to bring to the village.

The group chatting with the Chief.  As usual, Sam was recording it all :-)

The man has a huge weight of responsibility on his shoulder and he seems to bear it well. I think several of our questions made him a bit uneasy but he diplomatically answered them. Before we left, he showed us a few pictures of himself - on his coronation day, on the day that King Albert of Monaco visited. I asked the Chief if he had received a gift from the King and apparently, he got some sort of medal.

Many of us could have stayed on to ask more questions but there comes a time to leave and when it was ours, we thanked the Chief for his time. He then invited us to walk about his personal residence and we all gladly took him up on his offer.

I was surprised how closely clustered the buildings were.

Food being cooked in the building designated as the kitchen.  I don't know if having a
separate kitchen is typical Konso or not or if this is only because we were in
the Chief's personal residence.

Oddly enough, some of the arched entries were very low.  Even I had to crouch
to pass through. I wonder this is a throwback to the days when villages had to
ward off enemies. Sure would slow an invader down if they have to constantly
crouch down to pass through an entry!

Cooking is a slow and laborious process here!  Another pot stewing for the Chief!

The Chief's living quarters.  He sleeps in the building on the right.

You have to crouch to enter any of the buildings.  Sorry for the butt shot Pat!

It was a quick walk through the Chief's private residence - very basic living quarters by most peoples standards.

There was more laughter with Masai and Netsanet on the way back to the hotel. I really enjoyed my day riding in Car 1 and I'm now beginning to appreciate the whole car rotation thing.  Tomorrow, we get to be with Danny - it will be our first time riding with him.  Looking forward to having both Pat and Jean as car mates again!

Masai waiting by our SUV.  Herd of goats returning home for the day.  Not something I see in my usual day to day life.  Pinch me again. 
Yep....I'm still in Ethiopia....and loving every priceless moment!

Parting the herd of friendly goats.

Cows butting heads.  I kept my distance from these two!

By now, it was late afternoon and I think we were all ready to call it a day. Dinner was back at the hotel. Ho hum.  At night, I took a quick (cold no hot water) shower and packed.  It was a really fun day today and I am tired....good sign.  We have to leave at 7:30a tomorrow so I'm hitting the sack now - I need my beauty sleep :-)

Goodnight from Konso!