If you were to ask me why I travel, the answer would be at once simple and complex. If the answer required one word, it would be people. Of all the places I have ever chosen to visit, it has primarily been to meet the people, experience their culture and learn whatever I can about them. This learning has a higher purpose too. In experiencing different cultures, they teach me about patience, genuine curiosity and tolerance. I learn there are so many more ways to do things and to live than my middle class Australian upbringing would have me believe.
When we moved to Ethiopia I didn’t know of the diversity of the people and cultures within this country. I have since travelled to many parts of Ethiopia and spent time with people from different tribes. However, it is the tribes of the Southern Peoples Nation that inspired my curiosity the most. Tribes like the Mursi (lip plates), Hamer and Banna (bull jumping), Desinech (semi-nomadic) and Karo (body painting). As mostly pagan and traditional, for the many tribes that inhabit the south west region of Ethiopia, time has stood still. But modernity is forcing itself on them in the name of progress. Activities such as traditional stick fighting is now outlawed while oil exploration booms.
Here is a small selection of some of my images from the Omo Valley region. I chose the images that best illustrate the visual story I am telling, not my best images (those are included in a different story to the one I am telling here today).
One of my most memorable experiences was in a Karo village overlooking the Omo River. We camped overnight in this village, with spectacular views. But my time with the Karo people will forever stay with me. They were as curious about me as I was about them. They wanted to play every game we showed them. When given a camera, like me, they could not put it back down. They were so generous with their time, curiosity, patience and space.
The soul quenching part of my time in the Omo Valley was the human interaction. The people who live here, live very different lives to me. They reminded me again of the important things in life – friendship, community and living simply.
A note to those who want to go: Please, please take all of your patience with you. If you do, you will be rewarded. Although these tribes are used to tourists constantly driving in and out in large 4wd’s, your time and patience will provide you with great personal experiences and memories. In other words, spend some time, don’t make it a flying visit. Bring questions, honesty and time. Bring games (such as hop scotch, soccer and frisbee), not chocolate and sweets (unless you plan to live with them indefinitely as a dentist). Provide lasting memories, not tooth cavities. Stay overnight, or at least half a day.
If you want to avoid the faranji frenzy ask to spend some time looking around the village first, this will calm most of the people down and they will return to whatever they were doing before you showed up. You will get a more genuine idea of life. If you are a photographer, this will also allow you to scout potential subjects and backgrounds.
Remember, you don’t need spoken language to communicate. Share a bit of yourself, as you ask them to share something of themselves through your questions and/or images.