You Can't Get This Off, Let Alone Touch It
Sep. 18th 2004
After an early morning start we headed further south towards the Kenyan border and the river Omo. Our destination was the Dasanech people. The road was a gravel track flanked by large termite funnels. The air was hot and the journey was quite dull. Occasional glimpses could be caught of birds or dik-diks.

After an hour and half of driving we reached a police check point. These seem to be very common. Normally they involve a small hut and a piece of rope tied across the road at waist height. Most of the time a driver would signal his approach by honking his horn and the policeman would just lower the rope to the ground. Firew warned us that this was a different check point, the police here have an over inflated sense of importance because of the proximity to Kenya. We knew that it was possible to cross the border relatively easy because Ray had done it previously. Although acting completely disinterested the policeman completed his duty of taking our resident's ids and glanced at the letter Firew had from the tourist minister before we could proceed into the dusty town.

On one side of the Omo was a town, Omorate, much like any other in the area it seemed. Huts were made of wood and high wooden fences surrounded compounds. The huts were large and closer to houses, not the squat tribal dwellings you might expect. This was the 'western' part of town. People wore little other than the usual ferenj watching expression. The cars pulled into the police yard where they would be safe and Firew took us to the river side. Here we received a lot of attention especially from young, naked boys, probably about twelve or thirteen years old. One came up to me to do a little dance and announced that his name was Michael Jackson. I called him Gertrude and he seemed happy with this. Due to to his habit of cupping his hand around his winkie (assuming he was hiding it), Rob called him Genitalia.

The Dasanech village proper was on the other side of the river. Firew was now bargaining and commanding to get us a boat. A shallow flat bottomed aluminium boat was brought close to the edge and we stepped in uncertainly. Joining us in the boat were some new Ethiopian teachers going to their placement. This seemed a rough deal to say the least.

The Omo is wide and fast moving, the water was a brown colour but didn't seem too dirty. The children who had been trying to get our attention earlier had now dived in the river and were swimming along side the boat or to the other side. This was a new trick because to be honest I thought that Ethiopians melted in water based on the hydrophobia I had seen previously.

Once we reached the other side and jumped onto the steep bank we were lead to the village. The area was extremely dusty and our feet sunk into the soft ground. Close to the village some of the people were sitting under the shade of a large tree. Nearly all of the people here were women. In a bit of a role reversal, the men are expected to go out and work while the women stay within the village.

The huts, the village, and even the people seemed to be a bit lacking. It felt like it was the arse end of nowhere. The kind of place you would not wish on anyone. This had to be the Slough of Ethiopia. My thoughts turned to the new teachers again and I wondered what the government had told them about this place. It was clear that they were not from close to the village, and were not as well prepared for the dust as us.

Two young girls had decided that I was the best bet for money and repeatedly asked for a photo for about fifteen minutes. I didn't mind them too much and I was used to people holding my hand. The others found it very funny that they just wouldn't leave me alone. Even given the attention of these two young girls the people had not been too pushy. Like many of the people, the girls had created their own decoration from things such as film canisters and watch straps. Metal watch straps seemed to be a popular feature of necklaces of many of the tribes we saw.

The same boat took us back across the river. Instead of using oars, large sticks were used. The current was very strong and the pilot seemed to have miscalculated. Although he had taken the boat a long way up the river against the flow. We still overshot the place that we boarded by a large margin. One of the teachers was going back across the river. She was very, very scared by the boat and flinched each time she felt any water on her.

We returned to the campsite around lunch time and then headed out to Dimeka, a large Hamer town. This was quite possibly my favourite people place of the whole trip. As said previously, we liked the Hamer people they were friendly, independent and possessed a visible sense of humour. At Dimeka the the regular market was running and those who wanted to buy things were in bargaining mood.

Hamer women braid their hair and colour it with ochre. They have tunics of leather that may or may not cover their breasts. They nearly always have items made of cowry shells. In Dimeka the colour blue seemed to be very important and much of the jewellry featured mostly blue and red. Other distinctive features include large metal armbands that they rub together when dancing and neck bands to indicate marriage. Some of these have what looks like a handle protruding from the front.

In the town we were free to take general photos but individual people had individual prices. This made getting natural photos very difficult. Rob was a bit of an expert at disappearing and taking some fantastic shots. Meanwhile Jackie was out bargaining, buying, and trading. The traders were friendly and open to honest bargaining. They started high but it didn't seem that us ferenji were being treated very differently. Even when there was an argument about how many things were bought we were able to settle it ourselves and the Hamer woman who said that we had four rather than three apologised afterwards. We liked the Hamer.

A bloke thought that he had caught Rob taking his photo and demanded payment. With the help of Firew and a local policeman we could should him it was a general photo - this was an unexpected benefit of using digital cameras.

Close to the market, myself, Alison and Terri had a nice, relaxed conversation with two Hamer women. There was no pressure, the Amharic was working well on both sides. They were interested in us as much as them. It was a nice atmosphere. Things were relaxed enough that Rob and Daniel had gone off in search of a Tej bet (bar for a local drink). An attempt was made to find somewhere to fill up some highland bottles but we were out of luck. Firew tried many samples but found none that were worth buying.

Jackie was on top buying form and left the market with a permanent souvenir - a Hamer arm band, hammered into place. This was to be joined by more later. She bought other odds and ends to show her students once she starts teaching again. On their own it's almost impossible to guess what the neck bands are used for.