To Turmi - Day 5 of 10 - Omo Valley trip

Trip Start Jun 24, 2005
Trip End Nov 01, 2005

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Friday, October 7, 2005

In the morning about 5 baboons hang around camp waiting for us to leave so they can scavenge our trash. During breakfast about 4 white tailed monkeys entertain us by leaping from tree to tree.

Today's drive is on a very remote sandy road through the park so Fuad convoys with another 4X4 (one with two Spanish tourists and their driver) in case either car gets stuck.
Fuad has asked around and knows there will be a total of 10 cars taking the same route today. These guys really know what they are doing.

We drive about 3-4 hours to the villages of the Karo people.

It is noticeable that during most of this drive we don't see a single person or domestic animal. Previously no matter how remote we felt, we see the occasional person walking or tending animals. It could be the Park has been very effective at keeping the people and their domestic animals out. Or it could be we are in a seriously remote and desolate place?

We reach the Omo River, which has created this remote valley, the goal of our trip. We drive along beside the Omo which is about half a kilometer wide and with muddy brown water.

Under some shade trees I see an old woman and three kids eating yellow fruit. I ask for a taste. Hoping these people are less business-oriented than the Mursi I don't ask 'how much' when asking to take a photo.   I'm expecting to pay the normal rate: 2 Birr for the lady and one Birr for each child. I snap a picture of the woman and 2 children then ask the lady if 4 Birr is OK (pointing individually to indicate it's for all of them). She says yes. I give her 4. Then she explains by motioning that these are not her kids and she's keeping the 4 Birr. OK so I'll give each kid an additional one Birr. No, they want 2 Birr per child. I offer one Birr each three times. They refuse. Fine, I walk away. They follow, of course, and after some walking they ask only 1 Birr per child. I make them walk all the way to the car and just before we leave give them their 1 Birr each. So much for meeting a kindly granny and her sweet grandkids. 

So I finally realize at this point that every interaction with the natives --every single one-- is going to be a negotiated pay-per-view experience. Fine, I adjust my expectations accordingly.

We stop at the main village of the Karo people, high above a scenic bend in the Omo River. The expected mob greeting occurs. I bypass them as best I can. Far below a person poles a lone boat on the river; another picture postcard view of tranquility... wow.
I pick two cute kids (three to four years old) nearby for a photo. We agree one Birr each (normal union rate for children under 15 for an on-location shoot of less than ten minutes). I line up the photo and just before I snap they shout, "2-2-2". We had already agreed one and I'm not going to be extorted. I look for other children. As I look, these two relent and again agree one Birr each. I line up the photo and they do it again "2-2-2". I find two other honest children, snap their picture and pay them one Birr each.

I truly think many of the "images of normal life" we are seeing as we walk through the village are posed photo opportunities ( two girls side by side making flour; lady laughing joyfully with baby at entrance to her hut, etc.). But this is OK... it is honest modelling work, no different to Hollywood or Disneyland. Much better than the mass greetings when we arrive at some villages (ie pushiest one gets the photo gig) and desperate frenzied pleas when we leave.

We drive on for a few hours to our first village of the Hamar people. As we drive up about ten women and children are singing and dancing in a line (great way for them to ensure a car doesn't just drive by). This is the best visit yet because my issue of who-to-give-the-gifts-to is solved..... there is a school and we meet the teacher. We give him the pens and soaps to give to people as he sees fit. 

An old woman appears walking into town with her firewood, sorghum and milk. I agree to 2 Birr for photo and take it without an incident! Yay, I'm making progress.

The school is a "modern" mud brick building that is unusable (missing windows and some walls etc.... Not sure why).

We drive on to Turmi, an interesting town because both "regular" people and Hamar people live there, creating an unusual social dynamic. We stayed at a commercial campsite with about 30 other gringos. Campground is all hard dirt but the cold showers and flush toilets are clean! First night, no electricity/lights. Oh well, we camped without them last night. Garry is suffering a bit of heat exhaustion so he mixes and drinks a rehydration drink and goes straight to sleep at 6:00 PM.
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