Suitcase and World: Visiting the Dassanech and the Karo.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Visiting the Dassanech and the Karo.

My portrait of a Dassanech girl.  A small ray of loveliness amidst the dusty rubble.

Good morning from Turmi! Heat or no heat, mosquitoes or no mosquitoes, I had a great night's sleep last night.  I think it was because I had such a great afternoon yesterday.  I'm still reliving the images of the Hamar whipping and bull jumping rituals in my head.

I was up and about well before 7:30a departure.  Breakfast was suppose to have been ready by 6:30a but the kitchen obviously didn't get the message because there was no food until 7a.  I quickly gulped down my food.  By the time we all made it back to the hotel front entrance, Netsanet, our drivers and the cars were already there waiting for us.

Today's itinerary would involve a lot of driving.  In the morning, we would head in one direction to visit a Dassanech village and in the afternoon, we would travel in the opposite direction to visit a Karo village.  After yesterday's time with the Arbore and the Hamar, I'm really looking forward to seeing two more Omo Valley tribes.

It was the usual bumpy ride towards the Omo River - our first encounter with the famed river that the region is named after.  Several of the more well known tribes in Ethiopia make their home along the waters of the river.

Pat and I were back with Jean. It's always fun riding with Jean.  She has a very dry sense of humor which I enjoy and I thought I was sharp eyed but she always seems to spot unusual things.  Like these gigantic termite mounds.  Of course, ever curious Jean also wanted to go see if there were actually termites there.  We vetoed that.  I have no desire to be bitten by any termite while I'm here.

Giant termite mounds were everywhere!

And then we happened across some guinea fowl with their bright blue heads and white dotted feathers. It's never a boring ride through the Ethiopian countryside!

Last night Netsanet had informed us that our visit to the Dassanech village would have us going near the border with Kenya and for that reason, we needed the bring along our passports so he could get clearance for us to go and visit the village. Our first stop this morning was for Netsanet to do exactly that.  As we waited, a few went to use the facilities.  I got caught up in reading the tour company stickers on this door.  There was a second door, also completely covered with stickers.  I never knew there were so many companies operating tours here!  In case you're wondering, we found the Roha Tours sticker.

From here, it was a short ride to the Omo River where dugout canoes were waiting to take us across the river where the Dassanech village was located. Jean stayed back as riding in the canoe was something she did not think she could handle - she has difficulty sitting with her knees bent up to her chest.
Our boats waiting for us.  It's not a wide stretch of river to have to cross.  The village lies just beyond the tree line.

It is indeed a crooked canoe but it does ride straight :-)
Carol, Gale, Sam, and Netsanet went in the first boat.  There's no seat inside.  You  just plop yourself on the boat bottom.

The flock must have been right behind us.  Minutes after we pushed off shore and they were down drinking.

We had our escorts.

Unfortunately, I banged my camera lens against the bottom of the boat when I got on board so I cracked the circular polarizer filter.  Luckily the lens was okay and the cracked filter didn't seem to affect photo taking.  I have a spare filter so I'm okay but more poor camera - sure has taken its hits on this trip!

On the other side, we climbed up the embankment and were immediately surrounded by the Ethiopian Swarm. Several of the young girls were carrying baby goats.  There's a famous image of a young Dessanech girl carrying a baby goat and I think somewhere along the line, the villagers have learned to mimic that image to increase their chances of getting a photo taken and therefore, increase their chances of getting money.  As with locals in so many countries, they are exploiting their culture and traditions in the name of tourism and we, the tourists, are encouraging them by taking and paying for photos.  It's a bad catch 22.

A short walk took us to an open desert, the ground a soft red sand.

In the distance I could see small thatched structures of the village. The wind was blowing sand every which way. Several in the group expressed minor reluctance at having to brave the sand storm but I was not about to let that stand in my way so I marched forward. As we walked toward the village, the Ethiopian Swarm grew in size as more and more villagers approached us.

This is one hell of a desolate place to call home.

By the time I arrived into the village, I was a dusty mess.  I think I had sand firmly embedded in crevices that I didn't even know my body has!  Not to mention that my baby blue t-shirt is now a shady of dusty baby blue.  Oh well.

Netsanet leading the way.  He's Ethiopian so by default, he's free of the Ethiopian Swarm.

The village itself looked like a collection of dome shaped thatched structures oddly patched with pieces of corrugated tin roofing. It looked like a slum compared to the other villages we've visited so far.

Reminded of a scene from the movie, Mad Max.
The Dassenech are sem-nomadic so anything they construct has to be something that they can deconstruct in a short amount of time so I guess for them, this style of building design works best for them.

By now, we had established a village tour routine with Netsanet. We would begin with our local guide giving some info about the tribe - in this case the Danesche. My routine was to ignore the guide because half the time I couldn't understand them either because they had a heavy accent or else their English was not so good or because I didn't trust their facts. So, here's the info on the Danesche.

The Daasanach inhabit land in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Sudan but in the past 50 years or so, they have been slowly driven out of Kenya and Sudan.  The Dassanech were traditionally pastoralists but when they were driven out of their homelands in Kenya and Sudan, they suffered massive losses in the numbers of cattle, goats and sheep.  In Ethiopia, they live primarily along the Omo River where they continue to raise animals but they also attempt to grow enough crops to survive.  Although the river provides a source of water for the crops and the land is sufficiently arable to grow sorghum, corn, pumpkins and beans during rainy season, it is a harsh life for them.

The one thing that I did recall the local guide telling us....and it was hard to not hear this was that the Dassanech practice female circumcision.  I think every woman felt a twinge of pain as the guide explained the practice to us.  According to Netsanet, the Ethiopian is trying to stop the practice but it's hard to change a tradition that goes back hundreds of years.  As with the other tribes we've visited so far, girls get married around 18 years old but each tribe has a variation of the same dowry system which essentially involves the giving of a minimum number of a animals e.g., 100 cows from the girl's family to the boy's family.  Traditionally, if the family cannot come up with the dowry, the village will help to provide but the family will eventually have to pay back.

More informally, I know recognize the Dasanesche as the girls who where the bottle cap headdresses. Actually, it's more than bottlecaps - I saw small padlocks, zipper pulls, bolts, washers.....anything goes and I think it's a wonderfully creative way to recycle items to create something uniquely beautiful.

As our local guide was talking, villagers fully dressed to impress the visitors lined up behind us. They were at the ready for their photo ops which of course, we have to pay for. While they all looked nice in their native dress, none of them appealed to me. I had to get away from the line up. I was starting to feel like a customer picking out a prostitute from a line up in a brothel and I was not enjoying the feeling. Trying to sneak away is nearly impossible as their is always some sharp eyed villager on the lookout for someone with a camera.

As the rest of the group kept the villagers busy, I scooted as quickly as I could to a less busy area of the village. Even then, I heard a young girl repeated call out, "Photo?" I glanced at her and instantly knew she was the one I wanted to take a photo of. She was sitting on the ground, leaning against the wooden limbs that formed the jamb of the entry to the thatched building. I'm not a very experienced photographer so the fact that she was sitting in the shade made it easier for me to take the photo. I've quickly learned that taken photos of dark skinned Africans in bright sunlight is not a good idea - you just don't get the contrast needed to highlight any subtle features they might have.

But I also knew I only had a few seconds to take the photo before a subset of the Swarm would find me. She was already perfectly positioned but I needed her to smile so I did a bunch of silly antics until I saw the grin on her face. Click! Each time the shutter sounded would cost me 5 birr so the goal is to get the perfect picture on the first try and I think I did it!  The photo I took of here is the one that opens this posting and it's my favorite out of the nearly 2000 photos I've taken so far. Her slightly googly (?) but smiling eyes and big grin just melt my heart. I cannot imagine that life is easy for her yet she has it in her to smile with such joy.

Four BFFs.

As I walked to head out of the village, four girls approached me to take their photo....for money, of course. First it was 2 girls for 10 birr. I shook my head and then the price went down. 3 girls for 10 birr. So, we can bargain. I countered with 4 girls for 10 birr and they accepted. The immediately stood in line like soldiers. Not what I wanted for my 10 birr. I had to relax them so I asked if they were friends. Only one girl understood English and she said replied, "Yes". I then went down the line and asked their names. Of course, I don't remember any of them :-(

After I was done with names, I asked if they were going to school. Ordinarily, I would follow the name question with, "How old are you?" but in the villages, I've come to the realization that it's not uncommon for the people to not know exactly how old they are - there are no birth certificates to record date of birth and no calendars to track passing of time. I'm guessing that years are counted based on either planting or harvest time but unless someone dutifully records the number of seasons passed, you would have no idea how old someone is.

Every girl nodded to indicate that she was going to school. By now, they were starting to relax and one even slung her arms around the shoulders of another. Before they had a chance to stiffen their stance back into soldier position, I clicked the shutter. They look like four BFFs just hanging around. It's a lovely photo of four lovely Dassanech girls. It wasn't until later that I realized that one of the girls was the one I had taken the photo of earlier just a few minutes earlier. She must have rushed and gathered her friends around me after I finished taking her photo. Pretty girl and smart too!

Once everyone was done with their Dassanech photo taking ops, we back tracked to the river where we waited for dugout canoes to ferry us back to the other side.

Waiting for passengers to get off so we could board. 

Sam and Judy at the ready with a smile for the camera.

Leaving the subset of the Swarm behind.

Sam was always asking us for our opinions on various matters.  On the boat ride back, I decided to turn the camera on him :-)

It was a wet bottom, muddy water kind of boat ride. 

Jean and the drivers were waiting for us when we got back up the embankment.  On the way back to Turmi Lodge, it was another quick pit stop to admire some guinea fowl.

Gorgeous birds!

We had our lunch at the hotel.  Really, really hating the tourist lunch. On the other hand, I hate to say this but after a while, injera and tibs tastes the same no matter where you go - it's pretty much a one note kind of meal.

After lunch, we all piled back into the cars and headed in another direction but also towards the Omo River.

Enjoying the ride with Negatu, Jean and Pat.  My spare circular polarizer is not doing as good a job at filtering out light as my busted filter did. 
I need to find replacement for the replacement when I get back home :-(

About an hour and a half later, we arrived into a Karo village, located on a bluff overlooking the Omo River. It was an ideal location and as far as Ethiopian tribal villages go, a pretty village. Unfortunately, it was also searingly hot. The temperature gauge in the car read 45 degrees Celcius!!

Beautiful view of the Omo River from the village.

We went through our village tour routine.  Step out of car and be welcomed by the Ethiopian Swarm who accompany us into the village where we have an introduction to village life and culture given by local guide whom we cannot understand.

Sometimes, Netsanet would jump in to help explain something the guide was trying to tell us.  There were quite a few *lost in translation*
moments for us.  At the Karo village, he didn't look like he was enjoying himself - I blame it on the extreme heat!

I really wanted to take a photo of the Swarm and guide but it would have cost me a hell of a lot of birr!

In my case, I do a lot of looking around while the guide talks - just want to take in the surroundings. I have to admit, the villages are quickly beginning the blur together. As I said to Pat, there's only so much you can do with trying to make your mud/stick/thatch building look different from someone else's.

As far as Omo Valley villages go, the Karo village was quite nice - relatively neat and tidy.

Karo buildings.

Jean loves the kids and it was not unusual to see her surrounded by more than just a few.

Before you know it, it's photo op time. Basic guideline for all the villages is 5 birr per adult per photo, 3 birr per child per photo and 1 birr per baby per photo. You can rack up up serious photo charges if you're not careful. Luckily, negotiation is possible but I found out that that only works if you have at least 3 or 4 people in the photo you want to take.

I had my eyes on the women here - they decorate their faces with face paint. The common design was some sort of geometric pattern created with dots of white paint. I have to say that the Karo girls are quite attractive in that they are taller and more voluptuous than the women of the other tribes. I picked out four girls that I thought would make for a good photo - I think I still had the Danesche foursome in mind when I came up with the idea for the Karo girls photo. When I first spotted the girls, they were just hanging out around a fence and that's the shot I wanted to capture. But for some reason, by the time I was ready to take the photo, no one could find the fence. Huh?? There's a fence just about everywhere you look. So, instead I settled for what I thought would also be a good shot - line the girls up with the Omo River as the backdrop. Well, good idea, bad execution on my part. There were so many people around me and the girls, that I didn't have a chance to get them to relax their pose and I couldn't get any of them to look at me. Not my favorite shot but they are a beautiful foursome. I just wish my camera skills were better and I could have done them more justice.

After we bid the Karo farewell, it was back to the hotel.  It was the usual nightly duties before hitting the sack. Today though, another tour group had checked in and they were a noisy lot.  Kept me awake til nearly midnight.  Argghhhh......!!!  A minor annoyance given the great day that I had had today.  Tomorrow, we get to meet another two tribes.  Very excited as usual!

Goodnight from Turmi!