The Omo Valley
A notoriously difficult place to travel, though still wild and tribal, the Omo Valley is also overrun with rich tourists, making the local people, who are often also heavily reliant on alcohol, extremely hostile towords westerners. There is also the assumption we are all literally millionaires with money to burn, which is a fair assumption when everyone they see comes and goes in air conditioned jeeps, but makes it tricky for shoestring travellers like me. It was without a doubt the most challenging trip I've undertaken, you can read more about my experiences in an excerpt from my journal below.
On the Road to Jinka, the same journey gave me a packet of biscuits that meant the world to me in such a lonely place (read more at the bottom of the page)
The mother and sister of my guide in the Ari Tribal village of Bako. The whole village, and this family in particular, had a wonderfully welcoming air, which meant a lot to me after the frequent hostility I found through Ethiopia.
Getchou was the father of my guide in the village of Bako where the Ari People lived. I was only told afterwards about his history as a fighter under Mugabe and the ANC in Zimbabwe, something I wished I could have asked him more about.
This sweet lady was flattered when I asked for a photograph of her under her beautiful red umbrella, shading her from the hot sun. Many people in the markets would be hostile or angrily demand a lot of money in exchange for a picture, so I made it a principle that I would only take a photograph of people who were genuinely happy to have one taken, who I could build some kind of rapport with.
This whole interaction was difficult. I met a group of Mursi people through a Mursi man in the street who wanted to take us to the house they were staying in while they visited Jinka market. It was 8 in the morning, they were already fast making their way through a bottle of 40% alcohol. I'd been warned about their heavy drinking, but seeing it in reality was hard, particularly these girls with babies, clearly sick with mucus smear eyed, who were mostly ignored by their glassy eyed mothers...
She looked empty, animalistic, like she'd long let go of her broken soul. From what I could work out, she was one of various wives belonging to the chief, likely married off at a young age, beaten and mistreated. Women are treated like dirt, they said. They said a Mursi man would rather eat three loaves of bread himself than share it with his wives or children, though in reality, they said, he would just spend the money on alcohol. It's all the Mursi care about. Her life is impossible to imagine
We stopped for a coffee before getting the bus at Jinka Bus Station. I couldn't stop looking at this beautiful woman, and just had to ask if I could take her picture before I left.
Hamer woman at the market
This sweet boy actually followed me around quite a bit and we ended up sitting together for some time while he played with my camera. Dimeka Market,
This trip is more challenging than any I've done before. Each day is a struggle and an exercise in perseverance when all I really want is to go home. Yesterday they charged me an extortionate amount for a grimy room with a rotten shared toilet, a bin overflowing with shit stained paper and a shower flooded with brown water. Then an inedible breakfast with eggs so rotten I very nearly spat out the tiny slither I tried before forcing it down with water and coffee so as not to be rude, later Kusse confirmed that they were rancid, it wasn't just a western thing- "But they were eating them... How could they eat them?" He asked me. I'm glad I have him with me, my one friend. They think I'm made of money, they don't know that I wont be able to pay my rent when I go home, my phone's already been cut off... I don't know what I'm going to do...
It feels like if I was hanging from a cliff they'd only reach for my hand if I was holding enough money. I saw them all as jackals on the bus, waiting to make their attack, no humanity, no kindness, they're so angry at me for no reason other than my skin, I am nothing to them, and it's a damn lonely feeling. A miserable way to feel, and ever since the little kids throwing rocks and swearing at us, those aggressive arsehole bus men and the boy who spat skilfully at me through the bus window, landing perfectly on my shoulder as he laughed at the sadness he'd created on my face, I have felt heavy despair, especially on Mother's Day.
Kusse bought some khat, I felt reluctant to try it in my vilnerable state of mind, but he gently persuaded me to put the soft young leaves in my mouth. They tasted bad- dry and bitter, he gave me a little bag of sugar to sweeten the cud, and that felt better, and as we waited near on two hours for the mini bus to fill, we chewed more and more until a mellow calm fell upon me. My anxiety drifted away and I felt a soft quiet in my mind that let it drift slowly and sharply to new thoughts and considerations, and decided to take out my moleskine to draw a while, as a sweet young boy of eight watched over my shoulder.
We kept chewing as the bus finally started rolling it's way towards Jinka, five hours long with heavy beautiful storms following us, shining golden light through the thick black cloud onto little huts and toiling people, a humbling sight, and eventually a deep sunset. Then the night sky lit up with lightening, illuminating the herds of cattle along the road, and a young herder in his pants, long legs striding down the asphalt.
Somebody handed me a small pack of biscuits to still my growling insides. It was the first gift I'd been giving, with no need to repay or be asked for money, just a gift from one person to another, and it meant the world to me.