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32

t r a v e l i n g

It is very clear that there is an immeasurable gap between our

culture and that of the Mursi. And yet, even here in this god-

forsaken corner of Ethiopia, the universal language of money

becomes a binding factor. The Mursi know all too well by now

that the faranjis (strangers) come see them to take pictures of

them. They don't know why, and what those pale people do with

them is also a mystery, but they have learned that they can make

a buck off of it. As soon as we pull out our professional photo-

graphy equipment, commotion unfolds. Large cameras, lots of

birr, birr. You can feel them think it. Everyone wants to be in the

photo, and we are being pulled on from all sides. Bewildered, we

look around, not knowing how to handle this. As always, Destaw

steps in as our guardian angel. With authority, he manages to

calm the situation. He gives us the time to figure out amongst

ourselves who we would like to photograph, and then negotiates

a good price. When we finish taking our pictures, we get out

of there immediately, because our choices have made us both

friends and foes, and those Kalashnikovs are not used as toys

around here.

The market as a meeting place

There are over 45 tribes living in the Omo Valley, the Mursi just

being one of them. The perfect place for getting to see the other

tribes is a local market. The market is above all a social event

and a meeting place for the various ethnic groups. Everyone is

dressed according to the traditions of their tribe, making for

an abundant spectacle of colours, artistic hairdos and exotic

body art. No boring uniformity here, instead, originality prevails.

'Those ladies with the straw skirts and colourful necklaces are

from the Ari tribe', Destaw says. 'That's the largest tribe in

region of Omo. And over there, with the honey merchant, are

some Benna women.' They look amazing in goatskin skirts, that

are decorated with little shells. Destaw points out some other tri-

bes: the Hamar, whose women braid their hair in fine dreads and

who cover themselves from head to toe with red clay; the Karo,

whose men you can recognise by their white painted bodies,

and the Konso, that stand out through the vibrant double-layered

skirts that their women wear. It's a motley troupe of people, and

we are captivated by the scene.