Ethiopia 1




For our three week Christmas 2003 break we traveled to Ethiopia. We have wanted to visit Ethiopia for a long time, so we were thrilled to finally get there.We were amazed at the diversity of the country and the friendliness of the people.

For our first ten days, we hooked up with another American couple, Nori and Scott. (Check out their great website!). We rented a 4 wheel drive with a driver and headed for the Omo Valley, which is well known for a multitude of very exotic tribes.

We reached the first tribe (the Mursi) after 2 long days of driving. The Mursi are infamously aggressive and almost caused us to abort our whole Omo tour! When we reached the Mursi village about a 100 villagers surrounded our car. Many of the men had AK-47s—the various tribes in the Omo Valley still regularly fight over territory and livestock. We had hired an armed guard to come with us and protect us- but he seemed more scared than us! We could barely get out of the car and when we did the people were quite aggressive about getting money from us, as they squeezing the girls’ boobs (?) and rifled through our pockets! Fifteen minutes was all we could manage before we fled! However, we got some pretty wild pictures- the Mursi are famous for their enormous lower lip disks.

In addition to the Mursi we visited several other tribes including the Hamer, the Karo, the Galeb and the Dorze, who were all much more friendly. All of the tribes could be distinguished from each other based on things like, the kinds of decorative body scarification they used, their wild and beautiful hair dos, the kinds of jewelry they wore or their clothing. In all cases the women were typically topless, the men wore some kind of short skirt and they sometimes carried spears! Clothing was either colorful fabrics or more often, animal skins. Jewelry was very creative and depending on the tribe, often made from scraps of things such as watch bands and bullet shells. In all of the tribes villages were simple collections of huts with no plastics or metal to be seen. Each tribe built their own distinctive kind of hut. For the most part the tribes are living in a stone-age type of environment. This is the real deal!

Some of the tribes were very friendly and let us walk around their villages. One day we visited the small Dominka market, which is probably the coolest market that we’ve ever seen – completely traditional with a melting pot of different tribes bartering their goods.

In the Omo, we also visited Nechisar National Park next to the Rift Valley lakes. We saw zebras, gazelles, monkeys, baboons and a cooked lizard that we pulled out of Nori’s breakfast pastry!

Everywhere we went we experienced ‘farangi frenzy’. ‘Farangi’ is the Amharic word for ‘foreigner’. When we stopped anywhere in Ethiopia, we would often quickly draw a large crowd of people, mostly kids, who would sometimes ask for things “I Love You, Give me Pen!”, or simply gawk at us.

After the Omo, Robyn and I traveled North to the towns of Gondor and Lalibela. The north consists of the Ethiopian ‘highlands’. It’s very beautiful countryside, though dotted with broken, rusted army tanks that are a reminder of the frequent wars of the last 15 years. Gondor was the capital of Ethiopia during around the 16th century and has a number of interesting castles- it’s a trip to see medieval castle’s in Africa.

A painful 17 hour bus ride brought us to Lalibela, the main pilgrimage site for Ethiopia’s Orthodox Christians. The town, a village of 8000, is sometimes called ‘Ethiopia’s Petra’ because it has multiple churches that were hewn into the ground out of rock in the 12th century. The town’s churches are named after those in Jerusalem, additionally they have their very own Mount Sinai and River Jordan, among other places - the town serves as an alternative to making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. This being Ethiopia, the town has almost no tourists, but is packed with pilgrims. It’s an incredibly colorful place.
Another painful 2 day bus ride (why do all the buses in Ethiopia leave at 6am?) put us back in Addis Ababa where we paid our respects to 4.5 million year old Lucy (she doesn’t look bad for her age) and caught a flight back to Cairo.

The local drink is 'tej', a honey liquor. It's good stuff, although we had to pick an ant out of this batch!

Dominka market in the Omo valley. This was a fantastic small market where locals came to trade. Traders simply sat in small groups on the ground and waited for customers. This was probably the most colorful market we've ever been to.

Ethiopia has great coffee! Coffee shops always have old style italian coffee machines with a dedicated operator.

An unexpected surprise was to attend a local celebration of 'St George's Day'. At every cathedral in the country, the faithful gather to see the holy 'talbot' taken out of the inner-sanctum and circle 3 times around the cathedral.

A Mursi woman. Check out the lip disk and the scarification on her stomach.

A typical example of 'farangi' (foreigner) frenzy.

A couple from the Hamer tribe that we passed on the road. The men often carry rifles to protect themselves from other tribes. His skirt is typical of the Hamer tribe. Check out her animal skin skirt. She also has scarification on her stomach, and a nail in her lip!

Some girls from the friendly Galeb tribe. This tribe let us walk around their village. The girl on the right is using a watch band as a decoration on her headpiece.
January 12, 2004
Keir Paesel