Ethiopia – between development aid and the medieval
…from Sudan on we went on our way through Ethiopia – we had planned to cross right through the middle, Addis Abeba and then through to the Southern part around the Omo Valley, from where on we wanted to cross into Kenya. The whole country lies nestled in between high mountain ranges, and for us it was a welcome change from the heat and dust of Sudan. Typically African lifestyles we were already familiar with from Sudan, and also here in Ethiopia it wasn’t much different. A bad, corrugated gravel road led us through straw hut settlements towards the Simian Mountains National Park. Our first night we stayed about 100 km behind the border, camping in the bush not too far away from a little village. We were left alone, which was very surprising, normally it takes not even 10 seconds and we were surrounded by the chitter-chattering of the kids.
The Simian Mountains were spectacular. We drove up till 4200m altitude – our Bumblebee coughed and smoked, the air up here seemed really to be thinner! (We felt it as well, when walking faster one easily got exhausted!) The views over the surrounding mountain ranges were breathtaking, in the distance we could see cloud-framed peaks and green-brown hills. Up here live 2 endemic species, the Walia Ibex (some sort of huge mountain goat with big, curved horns) and the gelada baboon, which had a lion’s mane and a pink heart on the chest. We watched one of these big families for quite a while, shot nice photos. The whole way we had a guide with us, and as we had only 2 seats in the car he had to be squeezed in between us, his Kalachnikov tucked somewhere under the seat. He hadn’t been that excited about that but wanted the money.
The Simian Mountains were our first experience with Ethiopia, and they pleased us. But honestly, what we liked less were the “herds” of begging children, who were constantly running behind the car and even threw stones when they got frustrated enough – our car got spit at, kicked and numerous things thrown at. (including a school book!) It went on our nerves! It was funny though, to see, how a white man is apparently a guarantee for money and help! Even a woman 3x Rene’s size asked for money, she was hungry, she claimed! Or a sheperd with 100 cows! Ethiopia is definitely not as poor as described in the media! Of course, living standards are far below ours in Europe, but it is not only a question of poverty but also of culture and mentality.
Everywhere we went we saw signs: “Sponsored by the EU”, “Built by UN” or similar, and still the ordinary farmer goes to plow his field merely using a medieval plowshare and 1 or 2 oxen. In general one could say, that the tools here have a very “prehistoric” character. And that, of course, is a big difference, even compared to North African countries!
In Addis Abeba we had only stopped for some bureaucratic errands and to update our website, which didn’t really work out with a 34k dial-up modem connection! From Addis we had planned to visit the Erta Ale volcanoes in the Danakil Depression, but soon had to realize that it would cost us a fortune to pay permits, guides and other costs. So we changed our minds and instead of the Danakil we had decided to drive eastwards, towards the Somalian border and have a look at Harer, an ancient, muslimic town. We wanted to go there for 2 reasons: first we wanted to get a bit off the beaten track and secondly we wanted to enjoy the landscape on the way, we had heard that it changes from the typical mountainous vegetation to a more savanna-like area, drier with more acacia trees. Harer is a fascinating little town, encircled by old city walls, inside a labyrinth of narrow lanes, steps and mud buildings. Its main attraction, though, are hyenas who come into town. History has it that these spotted hyenas came into town looking for food, when there was a big famine a few hundred years ago. They are said to have stolen children and livestock as well. That’s why the inhabitants started feeding them porridge to keep them at bay. So, after coming from a very nice little Ethiopian restaurant, where we had our share of injera with different hot to superhot goat “stir fries”, we wanted to see the hyenas. Luckily enough, at the police station just around the corner from our hotel, we found police officers feeding approx 18 hyenas – putting little pieces of meat on a stick and having their fun with these beasts. They are huge enough animals! The police officers could convince Andrea to give feeding a go as well – first she was shy but then did it. Respect!
From Harer on we went on our way back to Addis, now we had the most interesting part of Ethiopia in front of us – the Omo valley and ist traditional tribes, one of the most colourful regions of Africa. Our way led us through Arba Minch and the Nechisar National Park, where we saw zebras for the first time, till Jinka. Along this way we noticed the locals’ clothing becoming more sparse and jewellery becoming more. We came in the right time – in Jinka would be market day the following morning. Early we arrived – this market was a huge mix of just about everything – metal products, typical “made in china” rubbish, beadwork, homemade spirit, shoes from old tyres, huge piles of 2nd hand clothing or seeds or vegetables or or or or…it was highly interesting. For 1 USD we bought 1 litre of corn spirit (no, we didn’t get blind), then some diverse veggies, but most of all we were delighted about the many photos we could take, we met Tsamay, Mursi, Hamar and many more. From Jinka onwards the villages or settlements got smaller and smaller, we just followed a small track and Rene suddenly noticed that maybe we didn’t have enough diesel! Just by coincidence we met 2 white and 2 black people in a Landcruiser, they accompanied us till the next village and found us some diesel there. They were 2 future anthropologists and 2 men of the Hamar tribe. In a little local “pub” we enjoyed a cold beer and chatted with them. The 2 Hamar men invited us to stay in their village overnight. A short while later we found ourselves sitting around a big campfire, in the middle of a traditional Hamar village, drank coffee from huge calbashes (kind of pumpkin) and listened to the guttural sounds of the Hamar dialect. (This village was the starting point of the anthropologist Ivo Strecker, who came here first time in the 80’s to do research).
The next morning we moved on, in Turmi we would have another market waiting for us. Rene was lucky, he could swop an old axe for a spearhead and Andrea received a beaded bracelet from a little boy as a gift. We took a lot of photos and sucked up the atmosphere – the sun burning down on us, we were surrounded by hundreds of tribespeople, they didn’t know “normal” clothes, constantly someone would pull on our shirt to ask for a photo. It was a really nice market, except one “souvenir” section everything was traditional and for locals – seeds, veggies, goats and things like that. The head full of exotic experiences we left Turmi to drive towards Omorate, from where we wanted to cross into Kenya. Omorate is at the shores of the Omo river, it is a godforsaken town, dusty and dry, here one finds mostly thin Dasanech people. Here we only went to get our exit stamps, then we followed sandy roads, dry riverbeds and acacia-covered drylands towards Lake Turkana in Kenya…