You Can't Touch This
Sep. 17th 2004
We set off from Arba Minch for our journey into Omo proper. About half hour's drive away we found some baboons by the side of the road. These baboons were quite brave and would take food from your hand. I held onto the bit of banana I gave and the baboon was quite willing to actually touch my fingers.

A further twenty minutes and the landscape changed abruptly to what looked like some kind of marshland. Three metre high platforms could be seen in the fields for people to sit on as they protected their crops presumably from birds. In one part of the marshland something caught our attention. There was a bush shaped like a T-Rex. If it had been a hap-hazard look-a-likey then we would have put it down to chance but it was such a good T-Rex shape that we were confused and discussed for a good five minutes whether it was really chance or a habesha with a sense of humour.

The land continued to change becoming drier as we put more distance between us and Arba Minch. In the trees, hay could be seen drying. Firew stopped the cars in front of a tree with many bee hives hung from its branches. These hives belonged to the Zey Zey tribe. The hives are made from hollowed out logs and vary between about 1m and 2m in length. As we got out and had a look we could hear the honey guide bird. Tradition has it that the honey guide bird will lead you to either honey or a lion. If you follow its calls until you reach honey you are supposed to reward it with food. That explains the deal that it has with humans. I'm more worried about its other deal, the one with lions. What do the lions give it for bringing them food? Firew backed this story up by saying that he has actually had a honey guide led him to a lion. Lions are rare but they can occasionally be found.

With the drive came more changes to the scenery, the soil became redder and the vegetation started to disappear until it seemed that only acacia, small cacti and thin, sickly bushes remained. However, what remained was quite common, it would not be fair to say that it was barren or a desert.

We broke our journey at Konso, a place that we were to return to later. We stopped off at the Idget hotel (your choice on how to pronounce it) before we continued with a journey down to a restaurant along the road to Turmi. Firew told us that we would be able to get the best tegamino here. He wasn't wrong. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, the enjera was good quality and the tegamino itself was excellent. The large lumps of raw garlic were the only worry but it was so good. It's a bit far to go though for a Sunday lunch.

The territory around us was now mostly flat although mountains could be seen in the distance. Approaching lorries threw up tall tails of dust in their wakes. Any air coming in through the windows was hot and did little to cool you down. On the plains, dust devils were being spontaneously created and then disappearing as quickly as they had appeared. The only animals to be seen were occasional birds or pairs of startled dik-diks darting away.

We stopped off at Arbore for our first 'tribe' visit. This was the first time we paid to take photos of people. This was an odd experience in itself and raises moral questions about whether taking photos was the right thing to do. By paying for photos and invading the villages we were changing their way of life. Given ten years I can easily believe that the Arbore village will be completely different. The price for photos was one birr per person in the photo. There was some low grade hassle. Mostly people grabbing you and saying "photo" because they wanted to be photgraphed. I was surprised to find one person who could speak tigrinian, mostly they spoke amharic and presumably a local language as well. In a pattern that repeated itself many times, after paying them their birr, they would never look happy, and pretty soon be back to saying "photo" repeatedly. It was quite tiring.

After leaving Arbore we were quickly into Hamer territory. Unfortunately I managed to get MC Hammer "You can't touch this" into my head where it stayed for pretty much the whole time in Hamer land, the only exception being Groove Armada's "ass shaking". Of course, the people are nothing like MC hammer. If you have a Bradt guide then you will see a young Hamer woman on the cover (we met her later but she didn't have her child with her).

Our destination was a small campsite run by Hamer people. It was close to a small town called Turmi. It is interesting to see what kind of collection of huts counts as a town. Turmi is important for trade though. As we approached Turmi we saw two Hamer women walking along the road. The cars pulled over and one of the women ran off. She seemed to either be mad or drunk. Her friend was persuaded to pose for some photos. The scenery was dramatic but uniform in its colour save bright splashes of pink from a tree with pink flowers (Daniel suggested that it was Frangipani). These trees made only a small part of the landscape though, the rest being dusty acacia trees and thorny bushes.

The camp site was nice and we pitched up our tents under some trees (i'm sure that there is something bad about being under trees but I can't remember whether it is just in storms). Instead of hassle we were greeted with smiles and polite requests to do our washing. Hamer women and men were at the camp site hoping to sell their goods but they went home as supper time approached. The camp site was a real haven. Firew assured us that things would be safe here and that's the impression we had, no worries about leaving cameras and money in the tents. Because it was so hot, we only pitched up the inner part of the tent, leaving the flysheet nearby in case of rain.

I sat on a log at the edge of the campsite, overlooking a dry riverbed in front of me and some hill scrub to my right, while writing notes for the diary entries. Small wild dogs appeared from the scrub followed by three young Hamer women. The dogs, although not trained, seemed to behave well around humans. Maybe they were domesticated but I just couldn't tell. More women followed and the group walked up the sandy river bed by the side of the site.

The campsites other attractions were a long drop toilet including what Rob and I thought was a stick onto which you could hang, a shower fed from a barrel of water, and some very noisy insects. I think that they would be called cicadas but they were incredibly noisy screeching in the trees above us. Sometimes they would all stop at the same time and then one by one start again. Fortunately, after darkness the whining stopped. By the way, the stick was part of a more elaborate arrangement. On the end of the stick was a bit of wood cut to the right shape to cover the hole of the long drop. Another feature of the toilet was its open plan nature on three of its sides. Doing VSO is certainly liberating.

We walked into town to get some soft drinks (laslasas). Ali had picked up a little friend at the camp site. He seemed interested in practising his English and just being with Ferenji. He was a sweet kid and wasn't pushing for anything. Also, apart from the flip-flops on his feet, he was butt naked. Starkers. In his birthday suit. Completely nuddy. Well he didn't have a problem so nor did we. Nearby we could hear a honey guide whistling to us. It has a peculiarly human like song.

In addition to the pink flowers, a striking plant was a cactus plant that had a light and dark green chequerboard pattern on it. I hadn't noticed until we were up close to it. At the town of Turmi, we met up with John and Eliza whom we had seen previously in Arba Minch. They had managed to grab a lift from a pickup. They seemed quite happy to find their own way. I'm sure that they will have some great stories by the time that they have finished their journey. John was looking a little pink because he was in the back of the pickup trying to protect any exposed skin from the sun and dry, hot air.

Our walk back was very relaxed under gentle moonlight and quiet surroundings.