"New York", Ethiopia

Trip Start Dec 25, 2008
Trip End Mar 28, 2009

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Flag of Ethiopia  ,
Sunday, April 5, 2009

We headed down to visit the Konso people on our last full day down South - a pagan society, known for its effective agricultural methods. Though many of the Konso traditions still live on today, a better road and, thus, much greater contact with people outside the tribe has resulted in the Konso losing much of their traditional dress and body adornment over the last 10 years.

We started our day with an incredible sunrise and breakfast (unfortunately, no bula fir fir available :() with Endale, Demake, and our friend Hids - we'd met Hids in Lalibela and, just by coincidence, ended up at the same hotel in Arba Minch. We then made our way to the Konso region - about 3 hours south. Our first stop was in a village called Gesergio, also known as "New York", due to the towering sand formations resembling skyscrapers. We weren't sure if we'd be able to go, due to safety reasons, but Endale did some "reconnaissance" and felt that things were ok - apparently, "faranji frenzy" had gone to the extreme in Gesergio, and there had been instances of kids attacking cars if denied water bottles or pens. Climbing up the hill on the way to the village we only encountered a few kids throwing rocks, but the local Konso guide who was with us quickly scared them off with threats to go to their parents. (While in Gesergio, there was only a little bit of a frenzy when we were about to leave and Demake gave an elderly man some change out his window.) The terracing for which the Konso are famous and which has allowed the Konso to successfully cultivate the dry land, was visible all around. We also saw lots of people walking miles to the market, which we would visit later in the day - mostly women, carrying various products for sale on their backs - from piles of straw, to cotton, to firewood. We also saw a couple of "wagas" - wooden totems, erected for heroes upon their death (one of them also portrayed a lion, apparently slain by the hero).

After Gesergio, we went to Machekie, another Konso village nearby. Walking around the maze of orderly walkways, hemmed in by stone walls and interlocking wood fences, was amazing - set up in such a way for protection and to keep cattle from roaming. There were several compounds in the village, each for a separate clan - we visited the chief's, which included a number of thatch-roofed huts. We then headed to the Konso market - a much livelier one than the Dorze market we'd visited just a couple of days earlier and a feast of colorful, fascinating sights for the eyes. The market was huge, with sections dedicated to specific products (e.g. sections for firewood, straw, spices, goats, etc.). (Lydia was tempted to bring a baby goat home after finding out that they're only about 150 birr or $13.) Similar to our experience with the high Dorze folks, the drunk Konsos were the friendliest - many people offered us the local beer and one woman wanted to take a picture with us. I thought it was pretty funny when she asked Endale if I could e-mail it to her (And how is that going to work?, I wondered . . . Could this woman possibly have an e-mail account, much less access to a computer???) But never underestimate the reach of the internet - I promised to e-mail the pics to Endale, who will then e-mail them to some woman in the village who has an account, who will then somehow get on a computer somewhere and get the pics to the woman in the photo . . .

On our way home from the market, we visited a Derashe village, a people located just north of the Konso, and bought some roadside fruit (I think the highlight of Lydia's day). We ended up with a pile of bananas and mangos in the back of the car - as soon as you stop your car on the side or the road, tons of kids run over with bowls of fruit - you've got to buy the whole thing, which still costs next-to-nothing. Following a long, but wonderful, day on the road and with the incredibly interesting Konso people, we wound down back at our hotel. After Lydia left our hut for a minute to check on our laundry, her report back pretty much epitomized much of our trip in Ethiopia: "I have news from the village: our laundry isn't ready yet, the UN is here, and there's a sheep outside." After a lovely dinner at our hotel, we dug into some of the day's fruit "catch" and called it a night . . .

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