Sunday, October 27, 2013

Tribal Adventures

Tribal Adventures

With fall break approaching quickly the Hubs and I decided that it was time for another “outside of Addis” adventure. We chose to travel to the southern part of Ethiopia, The Omo Valley. The only thing that I really knew about the south was that the people who wear the “lip plates” live there and that I needed to get the family on malaria meds QUICK. I swiftly discovered that there is MUCH much more to the southern people than lip plates! We visited our favorite tour company and arranged for a 6 day driving tour that would take us on an unforgettable, one of a kind adventure.

Sunday night we packed our bags and prepared as best we could for our adventure. Of course Jacob was sick. He had a double ear infection and was on antibiotics that, of course, had to be refrigerated! You may be wondering, what is the big deal? You have to remember where we are. Power is highly unreliable in Ethiopia but we decided to put the meds in a cooler and hoped for the best. James and the Hubs were also not well so I basically brought a pharmacy with me!

DAY 1 – Arbaminch – Visit the Dorze village and weekly market on the way to Arbaminch.

Our driver, Girmachew, picked us up promptly at 7am. We quickly realized that perhaps the tour company may not have been aware of how much space 2 adults, 3 children and six days of luggage for 5 people occupy. There was a spare tire in the back of the car where the back seats should have been. When we removed the tire we discovered that the back folding seats had no seat belts! Having lived in Ethiopia for six months we were annoyed by the lack of vehicle safety but not entirely surprised. We loaded the luggage into the back of the car and then we packed Brenden in the little seatbelt-less seat beside the baggage. The TV’s were hooked up in the middle seats for Jake, James and the Hubs, I folded myself into the front and we were on our way. Before you start feeling too bad for Brenden being thrown into the trunk with the luggage I want you to know that we believe in putting our children into uncomfortable dangerous situations in equal parts so James and Brenden switched seats everyday.  

The big visit for day one was the Dorze Village and market. We arrived at the market and our local guide met us at the car. The guide’s name was something that I can’t remember and couldn’t pronounce but he told me that I could call him Tim. Much better! He was a nice guy with the craziest hair that I have ever seen. It was like one huge dreadlock sticking awkwardly out to the side. He looked like a cartoon character. Like I said before he was a nice enough guy.  The Dorze Market was not a large market but it was just as chaotic as all of the other markets that we have visited in the past. 

Tim told us that if we wanted to take pictures of the market at large that it was ok but if we wanted to take pictures of individuals it would cost us about 2 birr. We were warned that we would be paying for pictures so I wasn’t too shocked by this piece of information. As we entered the market a swarm of children surrounded us in an attempt to sell trinkets, gawk, laugh or beg from “the Ferenjies”. It was challenging to hear all that the guide was saying to us through the kids begging for stuff, the old ladies grabbing at Jake and the general noise of the market. I did decide to take a picture of an old woman selling paste that was scraped from a false banana tree (ensete), left to ferment in the ground for months and will be later baked into a flat bread.  (We ate it and only the hubs thought it was weird) I felt so strange as I crouched to take her photo. The crowed gathered more closely around me watching me with as much interest as I watched the woman.  We finished our tour of the market and headed to the village. The houses of the Dorze people represent elephants (they have elephants in Ethiopia!!!! I didn’t know that.) The smoke vents were the eyes of the elephant. The houses are built tall and every so often the houses are cut at the bottom to remove the portion of the house that has been damaged by termites. Over the years the house is cut to a very small size and is used as a shed or kitchen. I know that you all want to see the pictures, so here they are.

We spent the night in a hotel called The Swaynes Hotel. This hotel was…. adequate, it had beds and mosquito nets. I can’t say that I was comfortable but it was a place to spend the night. Shortly before bed the Hubs decided to tell me about the GIANT spider that he found in his room next door. “It was as big as my palm!” WHY!!??? Why would you do that to someone? Needless to say I dreamt all night about “arachnis - deathicus”. I woke tired and entirely unrested. Luckily the shower was hot even if there was no shower curtain and I got water all over the bathroom. We ate a quick breakfast and loaded the luggage and James into the back of the car and headed out.
Painted House

Lady selling fermented paste from Ensete (false banana tree pulp)

Dorze house (looks like an elephant)

Making the Ensete pulp 

Ensete scraper

Fermenting Ensete pulp

Dorze Warriors

Weaver's loom

Traditional Dorze colors and pattern

Arbaminch rush hour

Human Scarecrows

Day 2 Turmi – Visit Hamar and Benna tribes weekly market. PM visit to Hamar villages.

Our first stop was in Turmi. We ate some lunch at a local restaurant where Jake was once again the main attraction. People LOVE him. He ignores them. After lunch our next guide met us (I can not remember his name). This guide didn’t really do much. I seriously wondered what exactly he was getting paid for. We walked to the market, which was a joke. Most of the products being sold were not being sold to the local people but were marketed to us tourists! …figurines, jewelry stuff like that. I paid a few of the more outlandish looking people for pictures but we didn’t stay long. We headed back to the car as it began to rain. We checked in at the hotel, The Buska Lodge. We found out that there was to be a Hamar Tribe bull jumping ceremony in about an hour. As the rain poured around us we decided that we couldn’t miss the opportunity to attend this very interesting ceremony. We unloaded the car and headed back into town to pick up another guide and headed out into the wilderness where the ceremony was to be held. We drove FOR-EV-ER! Our driver was getting upset, we were behind schedule, and the place was further than the local guide had said.  Eventually we made it. We had to walk the last half-mile or so to the ceremony site. Oh My Goodness! I have never in my life seen anything like this before!

The ceremony is held when a man wants to take his first wife (yes, they have more than one). In order to show his MANLY-ness the groom must run across the backs of many (about 10-20) cows that are lined up side by side. Oh and he runs over the cows naked! The craziest part of this ceremony is not what the man does but what the women do.  For hours before the man runs over the cows, the women are whipped. The women aren’t sad and crying they are happy and allow themselves to be hit with thin switches by the men of the village. They do this to show their support to the groom in his quest for MANLY-ness. It was loud and crazy and tribal, it is the sort of thing that I NEVER EVER thought that I would see outside of the National Geographic Channel. Jake was, of course, a sensation and many people wanted to touch and kiss him. We stayed for hours waiting for the main event. When the man did eventually run on the cows, he was laughed at by the women who had spent the last several hours being whipped because he fell off so many times!  After the ceremony was over our driver rounded us up and quickly steered us away from the ceremony site. He was almost running and kept looking over his shoulder and pushing us along. I seriously felt like we were running away! Maybe the next part of the ceremony involved ferenjie sacrifice.

The lodge was nice, nicer than the last place. The food was good and hot and the bed was soft enough! I passed out cold along with my roommates, Brenden and Jake.
Termite Mound

Hamer Market

Hamer woman

Hamer Man (see the seat in his left hand)


Cow Runner on top of the cows

Termite Mound

Termite eating bird

Hamer beauty queen

Day 3 -  Jinka

We spent most of the day in the car driving. We visited a museum where we learned some interesting facts about life in the various tribes. For instance when you beat one wife more than the other wife the men in the village will beat you. So the take home massage is “beat your wives equally.” WOW!

The Hotel (I use this word loosely) was called the Eco Omo Lodge. This place looked like a summer camp. We stayed in tents! Very expensive tents.  The tents had running water and wood floors but it was still a tent! The food was ok but TOO expensive! The food was a buffet and it was alright but not worth 20 bucks a person! They had Ethiopian food and pasta with sauce, some rice and meat and vegetables. I decided that I was going to have some pasta. I took some spaghetti and put it on my plate. Next to the pasta was a jar of green pesto. YUM!  I love pesto! So I plopped a large amount onto my pasta and walked back to the table to eat. I excitedly stirred the pesto into the pasta then swirled a large amount of pasta onto my fork and took a big delicious bite! As I chewed, I began to feel my mouth and throat burn. Then my lips started burning, oh my! I swallowed the pesto pasta and took a large drink.  I then looked at the Hubs and said “Wow, this Pesto is SO spicy!” He began laughing at me, then he said between gasps of laughter (and comments about blondes) that there was no pesto at the buffet and that what I ate was Ethiopian chili sauce! No wonder my mouth on fire! The kids and the Hubs are still laughing about my pesto!

All in all not my favorite hotel stay. The beds were tiny little cots and there wasn’t enough of them for everyone so Jake was in bed with me and at one point he fell out of bed and crashed onto the floor! I got NO sleep that night and 6:30am came entirely too early!
Fanta Lushes
Desert Flower (before)

Desert Bloom (after)


Guinea Fowl

Beyantu (fasting lunch) 
Summer Camp 


Bird of Prey

Guinea Fowl

Beyantu (fasting lunch) 

Day 4 – Mago National park – Konso

This was the part of the trip that I was both excited and nervous about. We were off to visit the Mursi Tribe. The lip plate people. The women of this tribe stretch their lips over very large plates. They have to pull out the four lower front teeth to accomplish this. I have heard that these people are aggressive and so I was apprehensive about our visit. Our drive through the national park was filled with wild life. We saw many beautiful birds and animals. We saw some crazy people too. One guy that served as a game and culture scout was walking down the road in some impressive underpants, turban type headgear and an AK-47.  We arrived at the Mursi Tribe and were immediately greeted by our guide who quickly explained the rules of the game. 5 birr for any photographs of anyone, Pricey! We headed into the village and the people rushed at me. They saw my camera and immediately wanted me to take their picture for 5 birr. I had to be very stern about who got into the pictures because if you weren’t they would all jump in and then they would all want money! Jake was not comfortable with this at all. I held him for much of our visit and he hid away from people anytime they tried to talk to him. One woman tried to trade me her baby for James. I had to tell her no, I would keep my own kids.

The next stop was the Mursi – Benna – Tsemai market. This market was pretty big and there were interesting people everywhere. They still wanted money for photos so I just held my camera and snapped photos with out looking in the view finder. I actually got some good shots. The Hubs entered into the age old past time of haggling with a local merchant who was selling a statue of a Hamar "first wife." I couldn’t stand around and watch so I walked through the market with Jake. It wasn’t long before we had our usual escort of begging children. I took Jake to look at a baby sheep and a boy quickly snatched the sheep by the leg and held the poor thing down for Jake to pet. Then they asked me if I wanted to buy it!

The Hubs was eventually successful at purchasing his statue, two calabash (dried and hollowed gourds used for holding milk or beer) a traditional seat and a mask all for the original price of the statue! Way to go Hubs!! We headed out of the market and back to the car and on to the next hotel.

On the way to the hotel we visited the village of the Konso people. They are an interesting culture with a very structured village. The Konso was the most organized village of all of the villages that we visited. The village is surrounded by concentric stone walls for organization and defense.  The village boys (12-18) are organized into security, fire and first aid groups and spend the night in the communal hut.  Some other interesting items include the generation trees (erected every 18 years), the victory stones (to mark victories over their enemies) and the wakas (carvings to mark the graves of heroes, tribal chiefs and their wives--by the way, you get to be a hero by killing a large beast like a lion or an enemy and bringing his genitalia back as proof!!)

The best part of this visit was Jacob. He ran all around the village and all of the children in the village ran with him. It was like a swarm of kids running at full speed all through the many twists and turns of the town. I wasn’t able to listen to the guide tell us about his culture do to my constant chasing of Jacob but what I did hear was very interesting! You can read about the Konso here.

We stayed at the Konso Kanta Lodge. By far this was the best hotel we stayed in! It was beautiful and comfortable and the shower was warm and the food was good. After Jacob fell out of bed in the Eco Omo I was paranoid. Even though this bed was bigger I still woke up all night long worried that he’d roll out onto the floor.
Baboon (Badballoon as Jake says) 
Mursi Woman

Food Storage

Game Scout

Mursi woman with baby and lip plate

Jake lifting the marriage stone

Coffee berries

Konso Waka (placed on graves of heros and tribal chiefs and their wives)

Konso Waka

Mursi Girl

Mursi girl with head dress

People of Konso watching Jake lift the marriage stone

Jake petting captured baby sheep

Traditional seats and crafts 
Calabash water bowls 

Coffee pots

Day 5 – Arbaminch

This day was mostly driving. We did stop at a museum that helped to fill me in about the Konso tribe. Since I didn’t learn anything at the village except how fast Jacob can run in a heard of children. We arrived at Arbaminch in the afternoon and checked back into the Swaynes Hotel. The rooms were marginally better this time. After we unloaded the car we had a lunch of injera and Wot. After lunch we traveled to lake Chamo. Lake Chamo is a beautiful lake that is home to crocodiles and hippos. We saw hippos when we went to Lake Tana but I didn’t see any crocodiles. I was very excited to go out on the boat and see some wild crocs! We picked up our guide and headed to the water. When we got to the lake we put on some life jackets that have seen better days and we made our way the water. In order to get out to the boat we had to walk across a makeshift bridge. There was no dock just some junk lined up out to the boat. Some wood, some metal, some old pieces of boat. Surprisingly no one fell in. We piled into the boat and headed out. There were some beautiful birds on the water but I was not there to see birds! We traveled across the lake and the driver turned the engine off. He used a huge stick to quietly push us into the crocodile corner of Chamo. There were crocs EVERYWHERE! So scary! We got fairly close to these monsters and I realized that they are much bigger in real life!!! Next we headed over to see the hippos. We saw a good number of hippos but the annoying thing about hippos is that you don’t get to see too much of them since they stay under the water. Hippos can be very dangerous so we kept a pretty good distance from them.

We got back to Swaynes in the evening and relaxed a bit before heading to the restaurant for dinner. We had fish in honor of our lake excursion and it wasn’t bad. After everyone was settled into their rooms I snuck back to the lodge to put Jakes meds in the fridge, leaving Jacob with Brenden, and I also wanted to use my iPhone for the first time in months. So fun to get on Facebook and check my email! Oh the luxury! My 20 minutes of freedom did not go unpunished. As soon as I walked into the room BANG! I heard this loud smacking noise followed by loud wailing! Jake fell off the bed and hit his head on the tile floor! It was the loudest head crack I’ve heard in a long while. I ran to him and quickly scooped him up. No sooner had I picked him up then the Hubs walked in. He heard the loud crash from his room and ran over. We checked him out and determined that he had a very thick skull and that it sounded worse than it was. He calmed down pretty quickly when we mentioned cookies. After cookies, we settled in for the night!
Nile Crocodile



Hippo Fly


Terrifying Bridge

Jen and Hippo Fly

Day 6 – Addis Ababa

DRIVE DRIVE DRIVE!!!! We drove all day long! We did stop to see some water birds at a lake. The birds were the coolest, ugliest birds that I’ve ever seen! We arrived home at 6pm, tired and stiff from sitting but more enlightened than we were a week ago!  Until next time friends and family!

    Survival Tips

Take your malaria pills
Don’t get too close to hippos
Make sure you have enough beds for all kids
Bring lots of single birr notes for pictures
While driving keep your camera set for action shots
Bring bug spray!

Feeding the birds


  1. W-O-W. That's all I've got to say. You should be a National Geographic photographer. Or at least submit them to a competition or something. Ben's favorite is the guy with the AK-47. Did you really take all these pictures? You are a braver woman than I, that's for sure.

    1. Marinda, Yup really did take all of those pictures. I was a little nervous to take the AK-47 guys picture until he knocked on my window and posed for the picture! My anxiety melted away and I jumped out of the car and snapped away…for 5birr of course!

  2. Jen, this is Ben. These pics really are incredible. I showed them to everyone at work. One of the guys in my office has four daughters. He is excited to show them the cow running ritual. AK-47 + skivvies + ad hoc turban = priceless. You guys take care out there!