Ethiopia Photo diary from Omo Valley

May 4, 2017

 

The minute I saw their photos, I became obsessed with them. The obsession continued throughout the years and made me restless. It became part of my thoughts, bound to become reality soon... everything has it's own time and that time finally came...Omo…Name that was always on my mind..The most mysterious part of Ethiopia... Completely different from each other by traditions, language, behavior, appearance, these tribes are scattered across one huge valley. What they have in common is amazing sense of esthetics.
First question that aroused was -where can I get visa? I called up a friend- it appeared that he had more to say that what I expected.
-You know, Mindia, our first ambassador was just assigned in Ethiopia and I will try to arrange meeting with him for you.
And I got to meet the Ambassador.
Such a precious feeling when project is just starting and you feel all the encouragement and support from people around you.That was exactly how Ambassador VakhtangJaoshvili said good buy to me: We will meet in Adis! (Addis Ababa)

There are tons of things that need to be done for this kind of project: visas, tickets, printing, gallery space, and last but not least: finances... I got few sponsors' back and path to project fulfillment was paved. TBC Bank, LiveTime, Photo Center, Gurieli, National Museum of Georgia and Georgian Embassy in Ethiopia- They all wanted the project to come out successful and now everything depended on me.
Got call- visa arrived. My heartbeat changed for a second I went there and saw that instead of February, it said- January! When I got my passport with visa, it was already third week of January. Nothing is accidental- I guess I had to be in Georgia in February...

 

My passport travelled back and forth to Tbilisi- Ankara, but Ethiopian Embassy in Ankara just wouldn't admit and fix mistake. Time went by, no answer. Ministry of Foreign Affair really tried to fix the problem.
-You have no idea what is going on in here, but I'll try my best so you get the visa at the border- said Mr. Shako Datiashvili, our councilmen in Ethiopia. He told me about a place where I had to pick up my papers, but believe me, it's pretty hard to describe the chaotic scene of the office there. Wayward line was stretched from the building to nearby street, can't even imagine what was going on inside...Finally, after plastering them with multiple requests, I got the answer- Mindia, you can come now. I was on the plane in two days. Without the hard work of our Councilman, my Ethiopia would've been farther and farther from me.

Mursi, Ari, Tsamai, Dassanech, Karo, Dorze, Arbore, Hamer...some of the tribes that reside on this valley. It's called Omo... It was called Crossroads of cultures of different countries, south part of Ethiopia. Out of all places in Africa, Omo was always without competition for me.
Thousand thoughts were crossing my mind. How? when? where? and so on... I had to clear all the details in Adis. Everything worked out like a clockwork. I felt rush of energy and I started following my dream step by step...

-How long until you get here? -Texted the driver. Super punctual person, (not really) named Dejeen, DJ in short...
Capital is 2355m (7,725ft) above the sea level, so temperature is very Spring-like. We are going towards south, where Omo's blistering hot valley is waiting for me...8 hours to first destination, but time doesn't go conventionally while looking around and shooting new places.

 

I really like the way houses are layered across the road-you can see whole village in front of you.
Of course their main road is the only road, which makes me happy:)
It's getting hotter, climate is changing and Africa is getting closer...We are following banana plantations for few hours. Baboons are staring at us unhappily, since we are interfering with their relaxation right in the middle of the road.

 

We have to turn toChencha. Thats's where Dorsi Tribe (knitters) village is located. Huts that resemble elephant heads are hiding in palm trees, with smoky interiors and relevant aromas. At the entrance of the village situation is quite annoying and touristy: Dorsi people trying to impress with their skills, get photographed and paid in Biri.

Here is a little info about local guides: every village has a guide. You can't enter a place without them. You have to pay to village and to a guide separately, which makes sense- you do need a guide to interact with locals, but I have to say, very few of them are really helpful. They are trying to finish up with you in 15 minutes, interrupting whenever they can- during photoshoot, etc.
My first guide announced very shortly that our tour was over! :))))) He had high hopes it was finished, but I literally charged inside like a bull- to shoot of course!
-Are you tired?
-no!
-can you walk fast?
-yes, of course!
-then come with me and show me the REAL village. This facade is not interesting to me.
He was pretty sure he would get rid of me soon, so he agreed. It makes me laugh writing this, cause after 2 hours he walked panting to my driver and complained-who is this and what does he want? My driver also laughed it off, but I was really happy that I got to see the real village!

Men are really skilled knitters here. When I asked why men and not women, answer was- it's really hard to knit that way and women can't keep up with it. Just watching for few minutes how Dorsi Knitter men execute 10 intricate combinations the same time will exhaust you.

People are friendly, happy and I assumed you really don't need any kind of guidance in this place.
Not bad for the first day, but I'm not quite satisfied.. I want to work from Dusk to down, nonstop. That will make me happy.

Coming down from Chencha, I said good bye to my dear guide and headed to Arbaminch. Later I am asking my driver:
- so what time is a start tomorrow?
- around 8-9am.
-what time is the sunrise?
-around 6am.
-ok, so we leave at 7 am every day and will stay till down.
-are you a photographer? because you don't look like a regular tourist.
-yes, I'm.... meet you at 7am tomorrow!

Key Afari Market... shoes made out of tire rubber, red clay to rub into hair, oily tobacco packs, cows, goats, handmade knickknacks... noise and loud sounds in few different dialects- Tsamai, Hamer, Bena, Beshada...these tribes exchange and buy things here. And of course -guide. This time my driver warned him that it won't be too quick and he seemed understanding.

I left some parts of my camera-blitz, grif, behind, since I didn't want to get extra attention. Women from Hamar tribe get really scared.:)))) As soon as they see that someone is taking a photo, they start this high pitch screaming and hand waving. There is a belief that if your photo is taken by someone, so is the part of your soul. But, that's the word I like-But!- as soon as they hear Biri rustling they calm themselves by- Biri will cure us :)

So I pick the main subject, but look at the person next to it, this way they are less anxious. Direct your camera and you have exactly less then a second to shoot, cause she will start screaming -Biri, biri - any second. I don't care about Biri as much as I'm worried they are going to spoil my shot. This way they are more relaxed and I get one more shot in my collection. They still might start screaming, but too late- can't get that shot back! If you want special photo session, with backgrounds, outfits, etc- you have to pay, of course!

 

It seems like there is a magnifying glass installed in front of sun-it's burning mercilessly- I feel how my skin is getting tight on my face. You say sunscreen? yes, I did think about that. Thanks, but no- I also remembered that when you have a sunscreen smeared all over the face, where you have a camera touching all day long- that means your lovely Canon covered in lotion too! So I decided that better let several layers of my skin peel off then make my Canon greasy. :))
I have to say I got very useful experience at this market- I saw how different tribe members react to camera.