South Omo Valley

15 Aug

Last week my friend Keith came to visit me in Ethiopia. I have made many friends here, and luckily enough a few of them have tourism companies. So, my friend George arranged an amazing 5-day tour of Omo Valley for us through his company, Exciting Ethiopia Tours.

Keith arrived mid-day Tuesday, and we had a relaxing afternoon. We went to a favourite local restaurant of mine where Keith had his first taste of Ethiopian food, and we also went to a Kaldi’s (the Ethiopian equivalent of Starbucks… except it’s way better because the coffee here just can’t be beat).

Wednesday morning we went to the National Museum where we saw Lucy, the skeleton of an early human ancestor. Lucy was part of the paleontology exhibit. The other displays were an ethnography exhibit, an exhibit of historical and archaeological findings from Ethiopian history and a modern art exhibit.  Wednesday evening we traveled to Hawassa and spent the night there.

We were up bright and early Thursday morning to drive all the way to Keifer to visit the market there. Along the way, we stopped to get our first view of Omo Valley.

First view of Omo Valley

First view of Omo Valley

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Looking over the beautiful Omo Valley

There were people from the Bana, Ari and Hamer tribes all selling goods in the markets, and it was our first look at some of the traditional clothing of the Omo Valley tribes.

Market in Keifer

Market in Keifer

Keifer is also George’s hometown, and he arranged for me to meet his family. So after visiting the market, Keith and I took a short walk to his family’s house. They were extremely welcoming, served us coffee, and offered us khat! Khat (pronounced chat) is a bitter leaf that is very popular in East Africa for the mild stimulating effect it gives when you chew it. It was certainly very bitter, and I did feel a little more energized from it, but that could also have been the coffee. I don’t think I had enough of it to really feel the effects.

We left Keifer in the early evening and continued to Jinka where we spent the night. Friday morning we went to visit a Mursi tribe. The Mursi are a famous tribe in Ethiopia, known for the practice of women stretching the lips and ears. They are truly beautiful, although the experience of visiting them seems very inauthentic. Because the Mursi tribes have become very popular for tourists, they have learned how to capitalize on this. They ask for 5 birr for every picture taken, and are very, very pushy. It was impossible to take two steps without somebody grabbing your arm, pointing at your camera and saying “photo, photo, photo!” It is rather unsettling, and brings up many questions, especially from a development point of view. Of course the people should benefit from the tourism, but I felt like I did not really learn much about their culture. It also brings up the question of whether they are only keeping their traditions for the sole sake of tourism. My favourite part of visiting this village was when we sat down with the Chief and a few of the others in the shade and taught them how to say my name. The chief offered us water and only asked if we wanted to take a picture when we left.

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Girl from the Mursi tribe

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Mursi woman grinding sorghum. You can see that her lips are stretched, but she is not currently wearing her lip plate.

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Man from the Mursi tribe

Friday afternoon was a definite change of pace. We went to an Ari community that had a community-based tourism program where you hired a local guide for a tour. We had the chance to walk around, and see community members going about their routines. We saw a woman making clay dishes (some are used in the household and most are sold at the market), a family making injera (I got to pour some and made a horribly unround injera), a blacksmith (making a knife to sell at the market) and traditional alchohol brewing.

Ari woman making a clay dish.

Ari woman making a clay dish.

After leaving the Ari village, we walked around Jinka, guided by one of my friends. Jinka is his hometown and luckily for us, he was actually there! We had a quick tour and saw the local market before having dinner.

Saturday we started to make our way north again, stopping at another market before arriving at Arba Minch for the night. Sunday we arrived in Addis, and unfortunately it was time for me to say goodbye to Keith.

All in all, it was an AMAZING trip, and it was so wonderful to see more of Ethiopia. I truly loved Botswana, but its beauty took time to learn and to appreciate; Ethiopia’s beauty just stares you right in the face. The landscapes with all of the mountains are so amazing, but they are nothing compared to the diversity and rich cultures you find here. I can safely say that I am in love with this country, and I am really looking forward to the coming months!

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4 Responses to “South Omo Valley”

  1. Sue Hansford August 19, 2013 at 9:54 pm #

    Hey Kyla, so wonderful to see your pics and update. How neat that your friend came by for a visit. Ethiopia sounds fantastic, so glad to hear you love it! We miss you, but are very happy you are exploring, learning, and having fun.

    Love Sue, Paul and girls

  2. Cass August 19, 2013 at 7:06 am #

    So glad that you and Keith had such a great trip! Sounds incredible. I went to a couple small villages in India, where everyone seemed to be following us and yelling “photo! Photo!” as well – definitely had the exact same concerns as you. Super unsettling.

    • kylamckee August 27, 2013 at 7:26 am #

      Yeah it is definitely unsettling! It definitely makes you think about how tourism could be used effectively in development. The community-based program in Ari that I mentioned was a lot closer to what I would prefer to see!

  3. marnie rice August 16, 2013 at 1:54 pm #

    Kyla- Oh, wow– Sounds fabulous! I’m very envious. So glad you’re taking advantage of all the great opportunitues.
    Love
    Aunt Marnie

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