Absorbed in an ancient Ethiopian tribe

Full of amazing experiences and positive Big Beyond Ethiopia developments during the recent venture back to the South Omo with the Hamer tribe. Blew me away just as much as the last time. It’s all progressing well and we’re so eager to get started! Just continuing to climb a few hills of bureaucracy first – nearly there : ) Going to share a few pics from the trip and some snapshot experiences here for now.

Although I have spent time in the Hamer region before, the last venture was generally made up of being really really busy, having lots of meetings and dashing around every day working out what’s what. Yet this visit was a slightly less intensive research mission and I got time to stop and absorb. I found that while culturally we may stem from something very different and our life experiences are basically poles apart, it’s incredible how similar some of us in this world can turn out – deep down.

Got the bus from Arba Minch to Key Afar with Sam (volunteer support) and met up with Gadi again, Big Beyond’s volunteer assistant. It was market day which means loads of people come from the villages to trade and it’s busy. For us the day entailed lots of hanging about waiting for our lift to Dimeka, some food shopping in the market, quite a bit of sitting around, being moved to various waiting locations, then at the end of the day, we were off on the bumpy road on our way to Hamer finally…

Quick sideline point on waiting: in one of the hotels Sam had his first nasty experience of witnessing an international tourist welcome a child beggar of about six years old and encouraging her to move aside and pose for him to take her photo before digging into his leather wallet for a large note. Makes me very annoyed to see. This is NOT good! The little guys even miss school for a few birr from these visitors. In Hamer we’ll be working on this. Say no more for now. But grrrr.

And it began again – Ethiopian Hotel Amy, a.k.a the trusty yellow tent. Random camping. First night in the yard of Gadi’s brother’s family home / restaurant in Dimeka. Next up the road in Turmi back in the police station (wouldn’t be the same I guess without a night there!) but this time positioned next to the ‘prison‘ door or metal shack (happily no naughty people that night).

Then moved to the village of Gadi’s family. We hired 2 motorbikes for the week to keep us mobile. The village was to be our base for the rest of the trip. How we loved living there.

Gadi had already taken our bags and food on the bikes to the village and then came and collected us from town. When we arrived he’d already amazingly put our tent up for us and also in a half build local house which made it very luxury camping : ) We made ourselves very at home. What a star he is!

Morning sunrises and the cows start grazing…

Sunsets and evening cooking…

The guys in the village were so great. Me and Sam worked hard at developing our Hamer language which helped us form some nice bonds with our new friends. Even though we are both a bit linguistically challenged! I find the Hamer people particularly kind, generous, smart, interesting and hugely hospitable. Was a pleasure hanging out with them. I think they were quite amused and interested with our little ways as we were with theirs.

Our version of the coffee ceremonies in the mornings were in fact a big attraction for many from the village. Usually about 15 stopping by. We drink the ‘hard stuff’ we bought from Addis (normal coffee with my plunger) and they drink the husks which is weak and not good enough to start my morning! Tastes a bit like green tea. But did some regular sharing.

Technology caused much amusement. Sounds terrible doesn’t it when you visit a remote tribe that you should expose such electronic things?! Don’t know why it’s terrible but it sounds it. You can’t really hude your things when you’re lvinig somewhere though. Anyway the laptop or ‘television’ had to come out at one moment and was a big fascination as we ended up showing them video of the Batwa Tribe in Uganda acting in their forest trail. The camera became the boys toy for many hours and we started to see some special very poses. And lots of blank pictures with half people to edit. They all loved it. Maybe it the lack of mirrors in their life?!

Bush showers were indeed luxury – the waterpump not so far away was a decent pressure for me and my long hair. Occasionally shared with a handful of goats but that can only add to the joy surely. Don’t panic Ethiopia volunteers!! We’re working on a very lovely solution for this.

Being from far away lands we are all expected to be knowledgable doctors. Especially with an extensive medical kit of savlon, antiseptic wipes and plasters means the doctor’s in town. Offered to tend to someone with a cut knee which was followed by other small plaster requests. Doctor Sam.

Invited for milk and coffee one morning with a friend Haitella and family… straight from the cow (but boiled for Sam – I’m not a fan of milk) – or Martha actually and someone else… they name every cow. They’re quite part of the family.

Experienced the bull jumping ceremony this time – it’s the coming of age for men. It was in a dry river bed about an hour away and involved a very dusty hot ride there on the bikes. Now this was a generally strange experience, although interesting, not that nice. Problem is, it’s dominated by the women being whipped by sticks (voluntarily as a sign of respect from the family of the guy who’s jumping). There was…

Facepainting for the ‘whipper’ (previously jumped the bulls and been through a 4 day ritual of spreading different things on him such as butter to get the whipper status) and decor for some of the women too.

The traditional whipping and horrible cuts they endure is below – they are really truly strong women. They did not flinch. I can’t say I enjoyed that part at all though. Hmmmmmm.

Lots of horns, bells, jumping…

Plus various ‘secret’ ceremonies – which we only have on video and I’ve yet to edit. And, the naked jumping of the bulls (I understand this is a small number so he’s not getting all the kudos as some might)…

And then a quick dash before the hoards of tourists left in their 4WD’s kicking up dust on the roads which is not nice when you’re on a bike. I actually felt like I was in an action movie car chase as we went flat out so the car behind wouldn’t over take. Wow what a journey that was! Happily here I am.

Back to project work. Our community organisations are doing good but there’s not been huge development in their work since my last visit. Can’t wait to get to work alongside them and help them take a large stride towards their goals. I had meetings with the schools and the women’s economic empowerment group to chat about the concept we’re working on with them about a cultural museum, cafe, wildlife education and generally good little enterprise for them. Excited about those projects.

Then there was the goat thing. When we left we wanted to give a gift to the family to say thanks. Long story short but we got a goat. Loads of people came to our little house, I presented to goat to the elders by irs poor little leg, bit of chanting, cooked on the fire, drinking Tej local honey wine and all had a very merry evening. It was good fun.

Our house didn’t have enormous amounts of crockery and glassware so guests had to make do with homemade plastic cups.

Then the evening progressed into many hilariries and warrier Amy in Hamer headress.

So we left the village and sad to say bye … we had to go to Jinka for some government meetings.

Arrived in Jinka. Had some meetings with the head of tourism again, met the new manager for Mago National Park and the next day with the head of education – who’s also involved with a new community based organisation which plan to do some brilliant development work in the Hamer villages that the government aren’t yet reaching. We’ve arranged a partnership with these guys now so really excited about that. It’s being led by some great people from the Hamer tribe that I know. There’s educational projects (with a bit of an innovative edge), agricultural, health, enterprise, etc. Exciting stuff.

The meeting with the head of education (Samuel) was on the last day before travelling back to Addis and the UK and did evolve into a different plan than the original! I went out to breakfast with a couple of government guys and then we went for a quick coffee at Samuel’s house to meet his family. Big spread of injera put out for us by his wife and a glass of tej (honey wine). Then it became “tej day” accidentally.

Long story short we ended up loading one bike into Samuels pick up, me and Gadi on the other bike and all drove back to Dimeka where we’d come from! Not to mention the hassle to get our bags to Jinka rom there in the first place with 2 bikes! After a bright tej fuelled idea of wanting to visit Stephanie Wildlife Reserve to the east of Turmi and debating affordable ways to get there, we suddenly got offered a free car (just pay fuel) by the Administrator of the Hamer region to take us there – but we had to go back to Dimeka. Lots of debates. We did just that.

Back in Dimeka in the pub, bizarrly ended up staying at the house of the Hamer Administrator and in the morning waited for the car. Which turned out to be an ambulance. Bad I am very sure! Well we were told it’s fine, filled it with fuel and off we went, eventually. Sam got sick about half an hour on the road. Karma perhaps? Blamed it on food poisoning but it was quite possibly the impact of tej day ; ) He wasn’t well at all. Urrghghg. It was HOT at Stephanie too – I think probably about 50 degrees. We picked up a few local tribes people with their guns to show us the way through the bush. A small entry of the car into a sandy ditch for a while didn’t help the situation! Not the place to be if you’re feeling crap. We ended up sacking if off and driving to our original destination. Lights and sirens on in the end as we zipped through villages, how appropriate. Not quite the planned adventure. Stephanie was pretty incredible lanscape though – I did get to see a bit of it.

Back in Addis with my friend Emnet for some beers… say good bye to Ethiopia for now… the back to the UK for some office time…