#7 Ethiopia, Feb. 18, 2011

Dear Everybody,

What fun my trip out into the villages was! We stopped for coffee at Weyto (always good in Ethiopia) and then went to the market at Dimeka, which was really interesting. On the way, the driver, Sami, bought chat, which he chewed as he drove. Chuchu said it was not at all strong, which depends on exactly where it is grown. He said this was only a mild stimulant. I watched Sami’s driving carefully, but he seemed competent and careful. Maybe the chat would help him stay awake—it was very warm and I began to get sleepy!

The Lower Omo Valley people (many different tribes) wear their traditional clothes, apparently not just for the tourists, either! My guide, Chuchu, said they always dress like this.

The Dimeka market was just an open field with a few trees and there was not a huge amount for sale but it was very colorful. There were souvenirs but there was also salt, onions, the red powder for hair dressing and things that the locals were buying, too.

They did ask for two birr when I took a photo of just one or two individuals and posed them, but when I took candid shots of groups or even individuals, they didn’t ask for money.

I had been saving up my one-birr notes, and so had enough!

The two tribes represented here were the Hamer (red-colored hair) and the Banna.

After the market, we went to the town of Turmi, the center of the Hamer tribe. There I stayed overnight in the Tourist Hotel, not exactly 5-star, but it did in a pinch. The waiter was so surly that it was not fun to eat there. I was overcharged, too, and had to ask him repeatedly for the change.

The next morning (no water, as expected) I made do and had only tea for breakfast. We left, carrying a full load of passengers as two old Austrian geezers with their young Ethiopian girlfriends wanted a ride back to Konso. I charged them some money, but I think Chuchu managed to skim off some more. Then when we left, another couple appeared in the van. Well, so be it.

The first village was of the Hamer tribe, who were very photogenic (for two birr each picture) and the children, especially, wanted to be photographed and were quite aggressive about it. It was lots of fun to see the villagers dressed in their customary way, wearing goatskins, many beads and bangles, fancy hairstyles, etc. but the economic disparity is too great for it to be totally satisfying. I suspect that the locals, the guides and the tourists all feel somewhat exploited. How to fix this??? I don’t know.

As we drove long distances from place to place, it was fun to spot some exotic birds—I stopped the car to take some photos. Then we saw a huge babboon walking along the clearing—what a specimen!

The next village of Arbore had a combination of three tribes—Hamer, Buni and Konso.
It was quite spread out, but very neat and totally in synch with the environment.

Chuchu said they each have their own language, but they also use a common language. He grew up in a Konso village so his mother tongue is Konso; he learned English and Amharic (the national language) in school.

We drove back to Weyto where we stopped for lunch. Chuchu and I sat next to a Polish couple who commented that Chuchu’s tee shirt had the name of a Polish football team on it! Then the young woman turned to me and said, “Aren’t you the lady that has been writing on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree about your trip to Ethiopia?” They had been following my emails posted on the Lonely Planet website and said they found it very ‘inspiring.’ They recognized me by the small picture (avitar) that appears next to my posts.

Then we had the inevitable flat tire. While it was being changed, we happened to stop just at a village with Waga. These are small totems that were put on special people’s graves to honor them. Most of them have been stolen, but this village had collected about 18 of them and put them all together for safekeeping and also to charge the tourists to photograph them.

Late in the day we visited Chuchu’s home village. His cousin was making beer from maize (corn) and sorghum as the family runs sort of a pub. This village was very large with a population of 2600, with several walls around the town moving ever outward as the town grew.

Chuchu’s father was a schoolteacher in this village but now teaches at the high school. Chuchu lives in the town of Konso, kind of the center for all the Konso clans. He told me that there was a mixture of Muslim and Christian (and some remaining Animists) in this village and they live in

peace.

There is so much livestock being raised around here in this semi-desert. Chuchu said that the bride-price is at least 50 cattle so everyone tries to own as many as possible. There was no grass in sight, most of the rivers and all of the streams were dry now, in the dry season, and one wonders how sustainable this way of life is here. On the highways or gravel roads, we encountered a herd of cattle and goats every couple of minutes.

I really enjoyed seeing the countryside, the wildlife, the birds and the farming terraces. However, tours (even of one) are tough for me, and it will be a while before I go on one again. This situation, though, was much better served by a tour than my trying to get around on my own.

The next morning I got a minibus going to Arba Minch, which is back toward Addis Ababa. It had the usual 22 people on board (with 12 seats) and all the windows were shut tight. It was so hot in there—the man next to me was wearing a leather jacket. I can’t understand how they can stand that! A whole bunch of people got off in one little town, which came just before we went through a police check, who apparently look to see that the minivan is not overloaded. Obviously there is a strategy as to whom they take in the beginning; many must be going to the town just before the check-point.

In Arba Minch I got the BEST hotel room at the Rift Valley Pension—roomy, very clean, including the bathroom, a TV (although only one channel) and clotheslines across the way, which I took full advantage of when I did quite a bit of laundry, since I had lots of hot water at the ready, too. After getting settled I went to look for an internet to send my #6 Ethiopia email. Surprise, the uploading took only about three minutes instead of the usual 30 – 45 minutes. I don’t quite understand how that works, but I was glad of it, especially when I heard from several of you the next day that you successfully got the pdf file.

I had a nice dinner with two big mugs of draught beer, injera with veggies and beans (bayonet) followed by coffee. Here the coffee lady had the charcoal burner going all the time, and when I ordered a cup, she brought it to me along with some smoldering charcoal with a bit of incense burning for atmosphere! I shared my table with a very friendly green little fellow!

The next morning I walked the five km to the twin town (I was staying in Shecha and the other is Sikela—it’s all Arba Minch), which was all downhill; I needed the exercise. I could see the lake from a distance, but it was very hazy, maybe because it rained the night before. I stopped off for a mango juice—it was a big mug with lime quarters provided and practically made a meal in itself! I used the internet for quite a while, then went to the bus station to see about a bus going to Addis Ababa the next morning. I bought my ticket and arranged for the taxi (tuk-tuk) to come at 4:30 AM and take me the five km to the bus station for the 5:00 bus.

I had my doubts about his actually showing up at that hour, but he gave me his cellphone number, which I called the next morning at 4:15 AM. I had to let it ring through three series of rings before he finally sleepily answered, and said he would come in five minutes. Having no faith that he would get up, I called him again in five minutes and again five minutes after that. Obviously he hadn’t gotten up, but emphasized that he would come now. So I hoisted my backpack and walked out to wake up the gate guard to let me out, who was very gracious. I explained that a tuk-tuk was coming to take me to the bus station. I called him once more, and that time he had blocked my call. Well, guess what! He didn’t come.

I moved into Plan B, having anticipated that this might happen, which was to wait for first light and walk the km to the mini-shuttle bus that starts running at 6:00. I hoped that either the Addis bus wouldn’t leave on time or that there would be a second bus. Neither turned out to be. So I moved into Plan C, which was to get a minibus to Awassa and leave the next day from there to Addis. No, there would be no more buses to Awassa today, but there was one going to Sodo. (Plan D?) I quickly consulted my guidebook and yes, that would work. They even listed a hotel in that town.

So at 8:30 we departed for Sodo, arriving at noon, when I checked into a very nice hotel, had lunch, did internet, explored the town a bit, and did laundry. (Whenever there is any water and certainly hot water, I do laundry!) The town is a bustling mountain town at the crossroads of four major roads. But getting out of town the next day was quite a challenge. I spoke to a hotel lady about getting a minibus the next morning at 8:00 to Addis Ababa, and she said that one would come to the hotel. So I went to bed and at 1:45 AM someone was knocking on my door! When I said, “What is it?” A man answered, “Car here, you come.” I told him not now, but in the morning.

The next morning the lady asked me why I didn’t come to take the minibus. Apparently she was talking in Ethiopian time and I was in ‘our’ time. So now she said that a minibus would come to the hotel at 4:00, meaning 10:00 AM. I walked around a little inquiring about the minibus situation and learned that, indeed, a minibus would make the rounds of the hotels at 10:00 so I should just wait at the hotel until then.

At 9:45 a young man came and fetched me and put me in the front passenger seat of a minibus in an alley. There were obviously other people planning to take it also. The problem was that they couldn’t find the driver. Several young men went to look for him—I had visions of them pulling him out of some bar! Eventually he came, appeared to be sober and turned out to be a careful and competent driver when we finally left at 11:10.

It looked to me like we were overloaded, but the first two checkpoints with the police seemed to go amiably. The second officer was a woman and when I asked if I could take her photo, she agreed with much laughter from the other passengers. There was more business to transact, but when we went to leave, she appeared again at my window, gave me a smart military salute, and said, “Thank you!”

The third checkpoint seemed not to go so smoothly. There apparently was a ‘paper problem,’ which took about 20 minutes for the driver and conductor to sort out. Finally we were on our way again. We stopped for a long lunch, when I had the opportunity to photograph two young women on our minibus that had wonderful hairstyles.

At 5:15 PM we arrived in Addis where I asked to be let down where I could get a minibus to the Piazza area. I walked to my same hotel, the Taitu, got settled and had a beer.

Today I shall do some more sight-seeing and try to arrange a couple of meals/meetings with friends who are presently in Addis.

Carol

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