Thursday, March 20, 2008

Jinka - Mago - Home of the Mursi, Omo Valley, Ethiopia - Giddy Up and Tsetse Flies.

Opportunity plus instinct equals profit.
- Farangi Rule of Acquisition #9

Every man has his price.
- Farangi Rule of Acquisition #98


Adi overlooking Mago National Park...

flat tire again...

mursi girl...

Serious dudes with serious weapons.

LP women. Size matters. The bigger the LP the bigger the wedding dowry.
A very long and strange day. First, Mago National Park turned out to be a dud in terms of a safari opportunity, except for 4 elephants we spooked, and the mountain lookout over the park. From the high pass Ethiopia was just incredibly beautiful. Acacia covered ridges seemed to go on forever into the horizon.

As for the wildlife, I'm sure they were there somewhere. The brush was just too dense for spotting any animals though. We did spot leopard footprints (well, I think we did). I wasn't sure if the tsetse flies, 2 flat tires, and being stuck in the mud twice was really worth the 70 birr entrance fee and 5 AM wake up call to get here (another "business" dust up occurred with the driver, John, "forgot" the vehicular entrance fee).

Because of the tsetse fly problem (bastard flies have a really nasty bite to them - in fact, I showered everyone with blood when I slammed a particularly blood engorged tsetse fly with my hand against the ceiling of the 4X4) and an aesthetically unpleasant campsite we decided to cancel the park stay, visit the Mursi tribe in the afternoon, and then spend the night back in Jinka.

To get to the Mursi we had to drive through the park using it's treacherous road. First we got a flat then minutes after the repair job we were mired in mud. The latter took the entire crew to solve.

The Mursi actually lived outside Mago. Once out of the park, we drove past quite a few Mursi walking along the road to Jinka (2 days by foot) to the market this weekend. We'd stop once in awhile to talk to them. They'd crowd around the 4X4. Very curious folks but quite serious in demeanor at the same time. The men were tough, warrior-like, carrying AK-47's. The women were no slouches either. Most had disfigured, mangled lower lips, lacking their famous lip plates, and sporting tatoos. Did I mention they were bare breasted? Adi said that the Mursi were the most aggressive of all the tribes in Omo, sometimes fighting with neighbours for no apparent reason and always to the death.

We came to a crossroads to see a small band of Mursi men huddled at the side. This was the gate. After paying the entrance fee, a warrior type climbs into our 4X4. After a few minutes we drove into a compound that resembled a village. The moment the car comes to a stop, I swear a pack of 20 or more Mursi women, decked out with lip plates and body paint, rushed towards us, screaming "PHOTO, PHOTO..." I looked towards Adi for advice. I was kind of stunned, not sure of what to do. I just heard of violent encounters with non-compliant tourists.

Adi calmly said, "Take your time. You have choice. Pick the most beautiful..."

Funny he said that because I didn't find the women with larger protruding lip ornaments particularly attractive. Interesting, but not really attractive.

The Spanish and I then split off, each attracting a crowd of about 15 women. Shit...I'm gonna have to disappoint some people with my choices. It's like picking teams in a game of sandlot football. Someone has to be picked last. So, I chose some LP (lip-plated) ladies, some younger ones (non-LP) and even a couple gun-toting guys. Each photo would result in a demand for money. To be specific, "TWO, TWO, TWO..." Ethiopian birr. Money definitely talks. Some women would clutch my arm hoping for a photo in order to get the equivalent of a sum less than a quarter USD. I thought a fight might break out but never did. The photo session went on for about 15 minutes. I would pack up my camera only to be rushed by the women. "PHOTO, PHOTO!!!" Adi literally had to pull me from the crowd.

"Let's get out, these people are crazy..." said Adi.

We drove on. So much for learning about Mursi culture...

That night in Jinka, I couldn't help but wonder about the authenticity of the Mursi experience. That whole village thing was trumped up. Wasn't it? I've never felt so awkward in Africa. It was so bizarre.

Another weird encounter in Jinka last night. Adi was telling us about intimidation used by a local gang of thugs/guides. Apparently, they were pissed at him about hiring a discounted landcruiser. What the hell...Why do they care" How do they profit from the rental of landcruisers? The only explanation was the local big shot travel agent/hotel owner/car renter felt threatened by the lower price and hired the thugs to deliver Adi the message. As far I was concerned, the tourist trade in Ethiopia was run by the mafia.

Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, Mar 20/07
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1 comment:

Steve H. said...

Sounds like you visited a Potemkin village. Don't feel bad - Catherine the Great was fooled too.

Never forget Rule of Acquisition #48.