Flapping Lips
Sep. 21st 2004
We headed out of the campsite in the cars to go into Mago national park for a bit of animal watching. We didn't see many animals in Mago, although we were really keeping a look out for the lion. We were all distracted by the constant attention of tsetse flies. I don't know if these can be found everywhere in Ethiopia but we were certainly having a tsetse fly massacre in each car. My image of tsetse fly was of quite a small thing. They're not. They're big and not too discrete when they bite. They are responsible for sleeping sickness which only really affects the animals but you still don't want to get bitten. They're also very tough. You can hit them with you fist against the door but they seem to survive sometimes. It was a real dilemma on opening the windows. The more open they were, the more flies would come in, yet we were still in wet stuff from the previous night. The car was steaming up and we were missing our chance to see animals. Animals other than tsetse flies.

We didn't see anything really new in terms of animals but we didn't expect much else to be honest. Unlike a french car that was seen in the park that wanted a return of the entrance fee if they did not get to see lion, giraffe or zebra. The guards in the park were laughing about this.

We headed back to the campsite, ate breakfast, and played with the baboons for a bit. Then we headed out while it was raining to a Mursi village. The Mursi people practice self mutilation and are famous for large plates that women wear in their lips. Once the girl is old enough, the bottom lip is cut and then, over time, progressively larger plates are used to stretch the lip further and further. We arrived at the village in sunshine but it was clear that there was going to be hassle.

The village itself was very small and Firew thought it was not a real village where most people lived. There certainly were not enough huts for the people present. Another ferenj was already present taking photos. That suited us fine because that would serve as a bit of a distraction for us especially if he couldn't speak Amharic.

I had teased Ali previously that we might see them on their day off - a day without lip plates. We found out that most of them don't wear the lip plate continually. The big flapping lip I had predicted for Ali's annoyance was clearly visible.

The hassle at the village was relentless and the people asking for photos even did not speak Amharic or chose to pretend that they didn't understand. Some gentle wristlocks normally did the trick for the ones that were just too pushy or clingy.

Most of the people seemed to make jewellery from whatever they could find or had got from tourists. It was a very unusual mix, more so than the Karo or Dasenech. Like the Hammer people they considered scars to be beautiful. One girl had open cuts and welts where she was creating a pattern on her torso. The pink of flesh underneath was a horrible contrast to the dark brown skin. In order to get the scars the size they want, they will use something to cause infection.

Many people were busy buying things. Rob had managed to get six lip plates all the same size as a set of coasters. It can certainly be used as a talking point but a bit difficult to replace if they get broken. Terri and I were busy not buying something. A Mursi woman was trying to sell us a lip plate. The usual trick is to thrust it toward you and then not accept it when you try to give it back. The correct response in this situation is to put it at their feet and I had become well practiced at this and doing my best 'try that again rubber lips' expression. Of course, if you know it's coming and you can make it clear enough you hold your hands in such a way that they can't use them and move your pockets or anything else out of the way. Terri had made it clear that she didn't want the lip plate but the woman still tried thrusting it at her. Terri didn't accept it and the plate fell to the floor. Mass hysterics and screaming followed and presumably demands for payment. The plate was chipped but we think it was already chipped anyway. The point was we weren't paying and this could be fun. After much putting at the feet she called over to an elder man who came over to us. Unfortunately for him he did speak some Amharic and could see that he was going to get nowhere with us. He decided it wasn't worth the effort and went back to sitting under the tree to let the woman's dramatics continue. We've seen far too much drama while being in Ethiopia. I think it will have made all VSOs much more cynical. We were just about to leave so we got into the cars. I took the door closest to her and Terri took the door furthest away. Rather than move, she tried giving the plate to me again. She passed it in through the window. Teriku, the driver, was laughing, the cars were ready to go. I got out quickly and put it at her feet again. She then passed it through the open window again and Teriku just said to leave it inside. So I did. It stayed on the floor in the back of the car. As we drove off I treated her to a little bit of cultural exchange although I am sure she wouldn't understand a V sign. Infact, she was probably getting the next lip plate out to foist off onto someone and writing this one off to some bastard ferenjis. Terri still has the lip plate. I really couldn't see what I would want to use it for or where I would put it.

The final destination for today was Jinka. After leaving the highlands of the Mursi tribes the scenery once again became very green. We had been out of what I would call fertile land for several days now. We all noticed the change in colours. Large papaya and coffee trees could be seen in small plantations. The overwhelming colour was green.

The other noticable thing about Jinka is that it has an airstrip. It is a grass strip in the middle of town. It is in use twice a week and is supposed to be quite a sight to see people chasing the animals off with the approach of an aeroplane.