No Shortage of Lip from the Mursi tribe

Published: July 20th 2019
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This morning’s visit to the Mursi tribe, the one whose women wear lip plates, was supposed to be a case of ‘leaving the best till last’, but in fact was a bit of a letdown. After yet another drive along a windy, corrugated dirt road, complete with potholes that were now filled with water after heavy overnight rain, we finally reached the Mursi village on the outskirts of the Mago National Park in just under 2 hours. It was a compact settlement comprising around three dozen grass huts, but very few people. Our guide advised that most of the men were out on cultivation jobs and children at school, so most of those we saw were older women. And of these, only one was wearing a lip plate (but not the bright shiny design you see in all the glossy brochures), while a few others obviously had taken theirs out and just had the hole in the lower lip. On the one hand, I don’t mind this as it at least allows us to witness life as it is, rather than some artificial dressing up purely for commercial purposes, but it was certainly a letdown after our previous tribe visits. I had heard from previous tourists that the attitude of the Mursi was "take my photo, give me your money, then get the hell out of here", so at least we didn't encounter any of that. I think the main item of interest was the advice that the dowry for giving your daughter in marriage was 40 head of cattle and one Kalashnikov AK47 rifle. When I asked where they were able to obtain the latter, the response was “Oh, we just go over the border a short distance away into South Sudan and swap it for a few head of cattle”! So that in a nutshell were our Omo Valley tribal visits, which have not only given a good insight into their respective cultures but into life in general in this remote region of Ethiopia.

On our return to Addis Ababa, we had a full day and two nights. We gave our original airport B&B a big miss this time and booked instead into the very grand sounding (but fairly ordinary) Churchill International Boutique Hotel in a slightly more upmarket part of town. But trust me, ‘more upmarket’ is still relative and this is an extremely poor country still, with infrastructure very basic, traffic a shambles, people everywhere and no shortage of beggars on the street wherever you go. Enough said. The only time we ventured out to any degree was to the Mercato Market, deemed as the largest open-air market in Africa. It was massive, bustling, and choking with cars and people, but I guess for the participants it was just another day at the office.

So that now completes our five week visit to East Africa. Having just completed one of the most interesting and satisfying trips that I have ever done, to five countries each with stunning scenery, fascinating cultures, and people who showed tremendous warmth and hospitality despite their lack of affluence, I can now sit back and ponder on the highlights and also reflect on some of the differences between their cultures and ours that I observed over the duration of my journey. Probably my individual highlight was the exhilaration of the whitewater rafting on the Zambezi, but each of the lemurs in Madagascar, the range of animals and birds on the safari circuit, and the various tribes of the Omo Valley in Ethiopia will stay in my memories for a long time.

One of the things I found a bit off putting was the quality of the low denomination banknotes in most of the countries visited. To call them grotty would be an understatement. They were limp, dirty and often even smelt, and as a numismatist myself, I know they would only be trailed on the banknote quality scale by either badly ripped or written all over banknotes. Interestingly, most of the higher denomination notes received from ATMs were brand new. But in countries where everyone is looking for that little gratuity, you need to carry with you a bunch of these limp, dirty smaller notes, even though you want to wash your hands every time you have handled them.

I was surprised to find that on the road most drivers were relatively cautious and considerate of others. Given many similarities between these countries and those on the Indian sub- continent, including the poor state of many roads, livestock regularly holding up traffic, and a regular streaming of pedestrians on both sides of the road, most drivers seemed to hold to a maximum of around 80kph on the open road, and when a vehicle coming in the opposite direction swerved over to avoid potholes, cows etc, they would slow down, move over or even stop, with no apparent angst. In Tanzania in particular, the country roads stipulated a 50kph limit through most villages and were riddled with police checks at most of these outlets (a revenue raiser?), who appeared to regularly pull up motorists for speeding.

But of course the biggest difference, in keeping with developing countries in all parts of the world, was the sheer number of people out and about in all locations at all hours. I doesn't matter if you are in a bustling city, a small country village, or even driving along a seemingly remote stretch of road, there will be people, be they walking, working, or in most cases, just hanging around. This of course adds to the enjoyment of the visitor as it gives the opportunity to observe a very alternative lifestyle. We were particular bemused with one observation in Addis Ababa. There was a section of the city near our hotel just teeming with people, most of them just sitting around, when suddenly there was a torrential downpour. Within minutes, there was noone to be seen. And yet within minutes of the rain ceasing, it seemed they were all back to the same old places, just hanging around ...

So that’s it for Africa folks. I hope I didn’t bore you by going overboard with the descriptions and pics of the tribes (or other parts of our travels) but there were some great memories that I was keen to keep on record for my own needs. I now have three weeks to regroup back home before Joan and I take off for our annual visit to see the grandkiddies in the US. Since this is basically a personal visit, I won’t be boring you with too many blogs, but I will post one from Bermuda where we are taking in a week's vacation.

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24th July 2019

Visiting Ethiopia
It sounds like you are having a fabulous trip. We hope to follow in your footsteps at some point.
24th July 2019

Visiting Ethiopia
Thanks guys, it was a great trip. And since I've been back, I've revisited your blog on Sabi Sand, where of course there are many similarities with my safari experiences, but of course some differences too. I've appreciated your feedback to my various blogs and enjoyed the insightful little comments. This time next week, we shall be on our flight over to your neck of the woods, but unfortunately are not going to get the chance to get down to Florida, But we will get the chance to meet up one day, somewhere, some time.

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