Published: December 26th 2008November 22nd 2008
In 1974 in Awash Valley, a 40% complete skeleton was found of the oldest known human, believed to date back 3.2 million years. She is now widely-known as the infamous "Lucy," and holds the Amharic name "Dinkenesh" as well. Archaeologists believe humans have inhabited the Awash Valley since the beginning of the species; the area is also famous for being the place where many hominid (pre-human) remains have been found as well. Africa isn't called the Cradle of Humanity without reason. To be more precise, this said Cradle
is the area along the deep East African Rift amidst mountains, valleys, and plateaus. Historians and archaeologists believe this is the continent that all of our ancestors originated from, landing Ethiopia smack dab right in this Cradle which we all are said to have sprung from.
Lucy's home in Awash Valley is located in southwest Ethiopia, right alongside the Omo Valley where I am now. The Omo River runs entirely through south/west Ethiopia and empties in Lake Turkana on Kenya's border (otherwise the lake made famous in The Constant Gardener.) Many believe the Omo Valley has been 'something of a crossroads' for ancient tribes and ethnic groups for thousands of years. It
only makes sense that this small region of Ethiopia plays host to so many of those tribes which you read about, but never knew actually existed...
My encounter with the Mursi people was fascinating beyond belief, but little do I know that the area is populated with countless of other equally intriguing tribes. This is like Ethnic Tribesland Jackpot, and if anybody knows of another area in the world that houses as many culturally significant and curious peoples you must let me know - because I'm not sure it exists. After leaving Jinka and the tribes surrounding, we headed next towards Turmi to the south. Turmi is a run-down, nondescript village in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing here, save a couple 'hotels' and a few stands selling knick-knacks along the road. No streetlights, no businesses, no gates, no nothing. We stay here for first night we arrive in Turmi, with the intention of visiting a market taking place twice a week in a nearby village.
If you ever wander down to the Lower Omo Valley, make sure you visit some of the markets on their respective market days. These do not happen daily. Markets here bring
together multiple tribes in the area, each bringing their own goods and handicrafts, their own dialects, their own customs and dress. You see a Hamer women selling grains to a Banna man. You see the children running, mixing, playing around under the trees. And not only do they play with each other, but they will play with you. The children will find you fascinating, they will hold your hand and won't let it go. They will follow you around everywhere and will love for you to photograph them. And while I'm at it, thats another strange phenomenon here in Africa. The children love you, the foreigner, much more than the adults do, much more than children of your own country do. At first I thought it was just the fun, curious, children thing to do with foreigners, free candy, that whole angle. Actually, after some simple questioning, the explanation is both obvious but not. Children in Africa love foreigners because we love them. In even simpler terms, foreigners baby and give children, especially African children, a lot of attention. Obviously this has to do with our mental images, our impression of African children before we come, how poor and deprived
they must be. It also seems completely mandatory to take pictures of starving African children, sad, happy, and of course, with yourself looking like a Mother Teresa next to them. We pet them, we play with them, we coo at them, we give them stuff - but this is an extreme contrast to how African children are treated in their own countries by their own family.
According to a few locals I befriended, children in Africa are not seen as the same kind of blessing they are seen as in Western countries - hitting or being rougher with your child is also rather acceptable. And as I noted in Lalibela
, sometimes kids are treated with (what we Westerners see as) absolutely, horribly, abusive behavior. But, don't feel too bad, it's all normal for them and merely a different culture. Thus in comparison, African children know that kind of special treatment they will get from foreigners. And this is a conversation for another time, but many see this special treatment to have more of a detrimental effect than a positive one for reasons on many levels. I have also started seeing negative effects of the way tourists treat children, and
elderly Hamer woman
"130 years old."
after my first couple weeks in Africa no longer even bothered taking pictures of children unless they specifically begged me to. Nothing now irks me more than to see a tourist stopping random children and lining them up in poses, just before he insists on taking a picture with his arms around them (only for the photo though, shortly after the flash he'll almost throw them off his arms, while not even knowing their names.) No worries though, at least he has that mandatory photo of him and a big-bellied African child.
After a hot, sweaty day observing and walking the markets outside of Turmi, we find ourselves back in Turmi proper, 'proper' ha. The problem is that earlier in the morning, while our whole Jeep reserved another room at the little hotel we were at, Jos and I didn't re-reserve ours. We heard from our driver that there was a chance we could actually sleep in the Hamer village that night. Did we want do try it?... Does a bear shit in the woods? Unfortunately that evening we reached Turmi too late to get to the Hamer village. Jos and I were in quite a predicament - we
had no room, and the hotel was full. The one next door was full too, so was the third one down the street. We had nowhere to sleep.
No big deal, we're in Africa and we'll have to rough it. The sky is completely dark, there is no moon but thousands of stars. We find a tent and set it up in the dark, but as the locals say it is not recommended to tent outside the hotel areas in the wild, we had to set up our tent in the 'parking area' in car exhausts and the bar, in the middle of the hotel compound. Our bags don't fit in the tent so we leave them out in the open. Smart? oh well. Needless to say, Jos and I take the sleeping bag and a flashlight for a walk down a pitch-black road. We don't make it very far, (I admit I kept saying I was scared) but just far enough where silence threw a heavy blanket over all human noise. We throw down the sleeping bag right off the road, sing some songs about Africa, count the stars, and fall asleep imagining ourselves cozy in the Hamer
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