A Travellerspoint blog

Only for Men

Only for men

…our eyes had to get used to the twilight among the trees, from the bright, hot Kenyan sunlight we had stepped into the half darkness of this group of trees. At least it was cooler here. The men stared at us, white visitors didn’t seem to be so usual, in any way not if one of them was a woman. But as Andrea is not a Maasai they didn’t object. I had a look around, tried to make some sense of these half clothed, half naked men. They all looked pretty busy and Meteme, our Kenyan friend, told us why: “In Maasai tradition men don’t eat in front of their women, in no case meat! A Maasai man or warrior is a hero and can’t be seen doing “unheroic” stuff like eating and chewing…” I had to smile – so here all men met up in the forest, brought along a cow, ate meat en masse and had peace from their wifes! Just like men going into European pubs to meet with mates! We counted 5 fireplaces, over which they grilled, boiled, poached the meat and cleaned the hide, rinsed intestines and other stuff. Big pieces of meat they had just skewed on long sticks, which they stuck into the ground in an angle over the fire. Here, in the comfortable coolness of the forest it smelled like herbs and grilled meat. Slowly Andrea and I realized how hungry we were, the whole day we had walked along the Maasai Mara escarpment, had enjoyed the view over the vast Mara plains and listened to Meteme, as he talked about Maasai traditions and the healing power of different plants and trees in his homeland.
And often we had sat down and just enjoyed the view over this magnificient landscape. From up here one could see the orange-yellow savanna, dotted with acacia trees, it looked nearly like a big yellow sheet, stretched over the soft, rolling hills of the plains and the acacias like spots on it. With our binoculars we could watch herds of elephants and buffalo, which strolled peacefully over the Mara.
Andrea pulled my arm and myself back into reality – she gestured towards a meat-stick, which one of the men passed us with an inviting nod. Salt or pepper was unknown here, not even herbs on the meat. We had to eat Maasai style, which means using the big Maasai sword (a long knife, nearly like a machete) and cutting off little pieces. We were crouched on the ground, chased away the begging dogs and enjoyed real “organic” meat from the Maasai farmer. Andrea and I grinned at each other, we hadn’t expected to get into a place like this!
Our original destination was meant to be the Maasai Mara National Park, but with 40 USD per person per day too expensive. We had arrived in the area quite late and hadn’t found any campsite. A bit desperate we had asked in a catholic mission in Lolgorien for a place for our car, just for one night. That’s how we had met father Selem Po, a catholic Maasai priest, with who we got along very well from the beginning on. And as a horrible thunderstorm was approaching, he invited us to stay in his house. Well, all in all we stayed in Lolgorien for a week, Andrea and I had cooked and I often went into the forest with Meteme, cutting wood for the mission.
We learned a lot about their culture there and even on the local market people recognized us. They greeted us with “msungu, msungu”, especially the kids.
We also found out, that, to see the wild animals, one didn’t need to go into the national park. Zebras and giraffes stroll around close to the road (well, dirt track), and even buffalo, antelopes and gazelles are outside the unfenced national park.
Father Selem Po was usually busy with bible studies and preaching, he said, it was hard work to keep his “sheep” on the right track. As donations the locals didn’t pay much money, but he would receive chicken, goats and seeds instead. Again, Andrea and I smiled – another proof that we were in Africa!
But unfortunately also here the „fate of the traveler“ hit us – saying goodbye. As we still had quite a few countries ahead of us we had to bid farewell and move on towards Nairobi. In our honour Father Selempo had a goat killed and with “nyama choma” (roast goat ribs), “ugali” (mealie meal – like cooked corn flour) and good Kenyan beer we saluted our gods and tucked in. Our last night in the Mara we spent right in the middle of a huge wildebeest herd just outside the park – what an undescribable feeling to lay in the car and listen to the grunts and moo’s of them. And after an otherwise calm night an elephant bull passed us in the first light of a new, fresh morning. He was probably on his way to the next waterhole. We stretched our limbs, enjoyed this early, Kenyan morning, were happy to be alive and free

Posted by Andrene1 12:47 Archived in Kenya Tagged automotive Comments (0)

Ethiopia - between development aid and the stone age

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…

Posted by Andrene1 12:46 Comments (0)

Beyond Darfur

sunny 40 °C

Beyond Darfur

…I lean back in my chair and try to watch the whole scene in front of my eyes with some distance. And I have to start smiling, because somehow it just seems absurd. With a big grin in her face Andrea holds a foot into my face and happily I find out that it is her own – full of henna. It is exactly this event which somehow seems weird and “strange” to us. Chief Mohammed Rahal Mohammed Rahal (yes, indeed 2x) had especially for Andrea , spoken out an invitation on behalf of his women. She was invited to take part in a coffee ceremony and henna painting. And hence we sit here – already 3 hours and there will be at least 2 more. The women of the Kadugli tribe are apparently very happy to try out their henna art on white skin. And Andrea’s hands are not enough for them – they took the legs as well. And so now she has black flowers and patterns on arms and legs. The women around us (yes, I was the only man sitting among them) giggle and chat – unfortunately we don’t understand much, they speak either Arabic or Rotana. Fatima, the only English speaking tribeswoman, has a lot to translate, she explains us that every bride-to-be in Sudan would have such henna patterns painted on her body, or mainly on hands, lower arms, feet and lower legs. And suddenly she has a “brilliant” idea. In Sudan, not only the bride gets a henna, but also the groom – and so it is my turn! I wouldn’t have it on hands and feet, but the fingertips of the left hand. Inside my head, I frown – how would that look, a man with a henna??? And I am a little shy as well, being the only man present amidst a group of laughing, singing and chit-chatting women. This makes the whole situation even more unreal.

To get to Kadugli, into the Nuba Mountains, had been, just like a lot on our trip, been a series of coincidences and chances we took. Had we not met Abdel Salam and Taha in Khartoum, we would have never come here. Though we had read about the Nuba Mountains in our guidebook and were interested in the South of Sudan, but sometimes it needs the extra little piece of luck . Taha’s sister, Ihsan, lives in El Obeid, halfway to Kadugli and his friend, Hafiz, lives in Kadugli. So for us the decision was made – we wanted to have a look there. But unfortunately, in Sudan, nothing works without travel permits, but we could apply and get them within 24 hours – and even for free! So very excited we had left Khartoum and were on our way into the Southern Kordofan – what would expect us there?

The landscape South of Khartoum is, apart from the banks oft he Blue and White Nile, quite barren and arid. There are seemingly endless, savanna-like plains, in between some quite clean looking straw-hut villages and nearly no traffic. When approaching El Obeid, we saw the first baobab trees rising out of the burning heat. They looked like giant trees which had been planted upside down by someone. Just before sunset we reached El Obeid, and were happy to find out that Ihsan, Taha’s sister, spoke English. What one hast o get used to when travelling in this part of the world is being stared at by nearly everyone, nearly all the time. On the way to El Obeid we hadn’t seen one single white person. Ihsan, her husband Maki and their 2 sons Ismail and Ibrahim were very hospitable, seemingly happy about our visit and we communicated with hand, foot and English, talked about Sudan and our travel through Africa. Of course, after dinner and baobab juice (tabaldi) we were not „allowed“ to drive on but stayed over for a night. In the evening we had another power cut and sat talking by candlelight.

The next morning Ihsan had already been up from 5 o’clock onwards, doing her prayers and cooking and baking. For breakfast we had a nice breakfast with fried, spicy liver, „foul“ (sudanese beans), fresh cakes and jebennah – coffee with spice. Wow! We were absolutely amazed! The guidebook just talks about falafel and beans, but what we have eaten up to now was a lot more diverse and delicious – we are really wondering, where the guidebook people have eaten!
We bid farewell to Ihsan and her family and continued the last 350 km to Kadugli. In the beginning we were happy about the tarmac roa, but soon had to realize that it was deteriorating into a quite bumpy dirt road. Often we would look for a track next to the actual road because it was easier on our suspension. Bulldust was another big challenge, creeping into the car through the tiniest of holes, making breathing quite hard at times. Driving to Kadugli took us nearly the whole day, so we finally arrived at the outskirts of town in the early evening and just pitched our camp somewhere in the bush not far from the airport. We had read a lot about the security situation in Sudan, but once being here, it all seems a little different, except for the Darfur of course.
The next morning we passed another checkpoint, then we met up with Hafiz, Taha’s friend and officer of the Sudanese army. He spoke little English and introduced us to Jabir, a 23 year young man who works as information officer for the SPLA/M (Sudanese People’s Liberation Army/Movement) and who was willing to guide us through Kadugli and surroundings. From the beginning on we liked him. In general we must say that we really liked the Sudanese people, especially down here in the South. They are friendly, generous and obviously happy to have visitors, because not many travelers make their way into this piece of land. We had heard that Southern Sudanese people are the “blackest” on the continent and we must agree with this. They have very fine features, are really “crow-black” and one more tribal feature down here are scars and tattoos. Different tribes have different scars, like dots across the forehead or cuts on the cheeks.
We have to thank Jabir Tutu of the „Kadja“ – tribe a lot, through him we were able to learn a lot about the people of the Nuba Mountains. We met a lot of different people in and around Kadugli. What we can’t forget to say though is, that it was obvious that the Nuba Mountains had seen a 22 year long civil war, which only ended in 2005. And even now, it seems more like a cease-fire and not a real peace. In these 8-9 days that we spent here in Kadugli, we would often sit in one of the street cafes and talked –as far as possible- with people around us. Well, the “cafes” are not much more than a coffee woman with a little cart full of glasses containing herbs, coffee and tea, next to her she would have a little charcoal grill (kanoon) for boiling water, around her in a circle some plastic chairs and that’s it – the “café”. People use this sort of hospitality anytime during the day. Often we came there in the evening, sitting in nearly complete darkness (electricity in Kadugli is as unreliable as rain), some faces only lit by mobile phones and even then we could only see the white teeth and eyes. And very often we would meet living “victims” of the war – often young men with injuries, a lot of them mentally. They lost their mind in the war and are now sitting in the cafess, seemingly crazy and telling their confusing stories to everyone who would listen (or not). It is sad – but despite all this we admire their will to live, to rebuild, to hope and believe!

So how did we get to this henna ceremony? Jabir had shown us the largest tribe in Kadugli, the one, after which the town was named – “Kadugli tribe”. That’s how we got to Hadjaralmak, where we met Mohammed Rahal Mohammed Rahal (yes, twice please!) – the chief of the tribe. With him and his oldest sister we sat in the shade of a tree and talked through the whole afternoon, learning about the history of the tribe and looking at very old photos from the beginning of the 20th century in which his ancestors are pictured with British colonial commissioners. We heard a lot about the bitternes, sadness and anger of the Nuba tribes, who had lost lots of men, whose women got raped in the war and other atrocities. Mohammed Rahal looks sad and angered when telling these stories. In South Sudanese opinion the main conflict has one simple reason: Racism. Sudan is a divided country. Here, Arab and Black African mentality clash, and this carries a lot of potential conflicts. The Northern, Arabic people want the Southerners to submit, for them they are of lesser value as human beings. Of course, the Southern tribes are proud and won’t give in – and in the blink of an eye one has a civil war. To give you an overview over the tribal and Sudanese history would be enough material for another article and after centuries of fighting, who knows who did what and who is right? Mohammed Rahal had invited us to stay with them for a few months to learn more about the people of the Nuba Mountains and to take this story home to make people aware of what is really going on there. Unfortunately, we have an itinerary and follow the traveller’s fate – moving! As Mohammed Rahal had just come back from his “hadj” (pilgrimage to Mecca) he would hold a ceremony in Hadjaralmak and invited us to come along as well. We felt honoured and accepted. Of course, our friend Jabir would come with us as well, he had so often brought this area closer to us and was not a guide for us anymore, but a good friend. The ceremony itself was quite a sight. Only men, the women were cooking, and we were 7-8 people per table. A meal, like “kisra” (sorghum pancake) and “okra” sauce with goat meat was served, before someone would pass a watering can around to wash hands. Then we would all eat from the same bowl, dipping our piece of kisra into the sauce, but only with the right hand. And after we had finished our food, the women served tea. Sweat ran down our foreheads, we were lucky to be here in the Sudanese “winter”, which means only 40 degrees during the day and 30 at night! Later in the evening, just before the sun set, there were sounds of drums and the high singing of women. Trampling feet announced the arrival of a dancing group. We couldn’t believe our luck – we would witness the “Kambala”, a traditional tribal ceremonial dance. Some young men wore bulls’ horns and straw skirts, in which they danced wildly in a circle. Dust rose in the air and the low sunlight dipped the whole village into a surreal, magical light. Andrea and I looked at each other, smiled and felt absolutely happy and thankful to witness, what not many whites have ever witnessed.
Anyway, it’s that tree in Hadjaralmak that we sit under at the moment and wondrously stare at Andrea’s hands and feet and watch how the women draw little pieces of artwork on her skin.
We always have to look at each other and smile in unbelieving wonders. We are just so thankful to be able to experience such things, that we followed the right coincidences and intuitions.
But the more of these things we experience, the more it makes us sad, when we see how the politics and media do bad to the population of this country, and how overlanders and travelers just want to quickly pass Sudan in a line as straight as possible from Egypt to Ethiopia. Sudan doesn’t deserve this. We made friendships here and felt very well in the Nuba Mountains, there are virtually NO white tourists here, only UN workers, and they hide in their air-conditioned offices instead of trying to understand the people they are supposed to help. Secondly, this country is still uncorrupted by tourists, for that we are thankful.

Posted by Andrene1 12:44 Archived in Sudan Tagged automotive Comments (0)

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