Thursday, July 3, 2014

Spring Break Recap Part 2 - Ethiopia

For the second week of spring break, I went on a trip with Escape Travels to the Omo Valley in Ethiopia. This was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity and it was absolutely amazing! I am so thankful I had the opportunity to go to Africa. I'm going to give the day-by-day highlights with many pictures! Words really can't even explain some of the things I saw so hopefully the pictures will help!

Day 1 - Our flight to Addis Ababa left from the Dubai airport so we had a very earl start. The Dubai airport was a disaster and many of us almost missed the flight even though we arrived 2.5 hours early. After sitting on the runway for over an hour, we were finally on the way to Ethiopia. When we landed in Addis, many people's bags did not make it. This was a huge hassle but luckily I had carried on my backpack so I had everything I needed. After doing everything possible to make sure the bags were sent on the next flight, we left the airport to go to our hotel which was in downtown Addis. Now let me tell you... the traffic in Addis is like nothing I have ever seen before. It was complete madness! Getting to the hotel alive was such a relief. For dinner that night, we went to a local restaurant for traditional Ethiopian food and live music and dance shows. It was such a great way to experience the culture right from the first day!

Day 2 - The journey really begins with a 12 hour drive to the town o Arba Minch! Luckily there were many stops along the way (both the visit villages and to use the bathroom on the side of the road - ew). Once we got about 30 minutes outside the city, the fun really began with the "cattle and people dodging" game. There would literally be hundreds of cows, sheep, and goats just walking up the road to go to market. And if you hit any of the cattle, you have to go get the village elder to negotiate a price for it. Crazy! Luckily, we didn't hit any cattle. People on the other hand... just kidding! But we were very lucky we didn't hit anyone or anything because they seem to not even notice the cars and kids just play in the road! Our main stop of the day was to the Dorze village market. We got to see their local market, interact with the locals, and play with some of the kids. There was a LOT of playing with kids during this week! After that, a friend of our group leader took us to see his house, called a Tkul. It was really cool to see how people from the village lived every single day.

Day 3 - Our first adventure of the day was a safari! We drove down to the giant nearby lake and hopped in some metal boats and took off to look for animals. We saw hippos right away but they were so hard to photograph because they kept going under the water! We went into a little cove area where there were tons and tons of crocodiles. There were also lots of birds and other animals too. 

Once the boats made it across the lake (took about 1 hour), we started our walking hike to see the zebras. We came up over a hill and saw so many zebras, and some were really close too! It was crazy to see them in their natural habitat. 

After walking for a couple hours and seeing many more zebras and gazelle, we got back in the boat to head back across the lake. This time, we were racing a giant storm! Our lovely boat, which was completely made of metal, made me very nervous as the thunder and lightning got closer and closer. We made it just in time and quickly got out of the boats and back into the cars. Our next stop was a village nearby that was on top of a mountain. The kids in the village were so adorable and sang and danced with us. It was so fun and they were so welcoming to us in their village.

Day 4 - Another long drive! On this day, we drove 6 hours to finally reach the Omo Valley. Our first stop was a Konso market that had lots of spices, cattle, t-shirts, and other random items. After leaving the market, we got word of a Bull Jumping Ceremony for the Bena tribe in a town called Turmi. We arrived and it was very awkward at first! We had guides with us that spoke with the family and negotiated the price for us to stay and watch. Our "entry fee" was supposed to include unlimited pictures (normally you pay each person individually for their picture if you want to take one). However, some of the family members had a little too much to drink and were not cooperative with us. It was a little crazy for a while, especially since men were walking around the border of the small village with large guns. Everything got sorted and the Bull Jumping Ceremony began! The ceremony is to symbolize a boy becoming a man and being able to choose his wife. The boy gets painted and then has to jump over the backs of about 15 bulls naked... back and forth about 20 times. It was really neat to witness such a traditional ceremony! After all was done and we left, we ran into a huge rainstorm and had to take a detour to avoid a raging river. When we made it to our lodge in Turmi, we were all exhausted and ready for a good sleep.

Day 5 -  Next tribe: Hamer tribe! This tribe is one of the more famous tribes in the Omo Valley. We spent a couple hours visiting with this tribe and taking pictures. They did not want to negotiate a "group price" for pictures so we had to pay each person individually to take their picture. It is funny how they price different people in the tribe. For example, a baby, child, woman, man, and elder all have different prices. One thing thing that really shocked me with the Hamer tribe was their superstition about babies. A child can be declared "Mingi" if they grow their top teeth before their bottom teeth. If a child does this, they are considered cursed and are placed in a bush outside the village to die. We were all completely devastated to hear that this happens but also learned that there are special orphanages and volunteers in the Omo Valley that listen for rumors of Mingi babies and go find them and save them. They are also working with tribal elders to send the babies directly to the orphanage rather than kill them if they are Mingi. 

After our visit (and having girls try to trade shirts with me...) we headed to the Hamer weekly market where we were immediately surrounded by kids! They followed us the whole time. One thing the kids will yell is "Highland! Highland!" When they say this, they want your empty water bottle! At the market, I bought a traditional painted gourd and many other people bought traditional items to bring home.

Day 6 - I was really sick this day but it was our most exciting day of the trip - the Mursi Tribe visit. This is the tribe that is in National Geographic for having the giant lip plates. To be honest, it was a little bit of a scary experience. When we drove up, all the man had giant rifles and the woman and kids were constantly pulling at our arms, shirts, and money. They surrounded us and made me feel very overwhelmed! Luckily, our drivers stepped in and back everyone up and tried to talk to them. We learned a ton about the Mursi tribe during out visit.When a girl turns 15, they cut her bottom lip and begin stretching it by putting different size lip plates in. The Mursi are considered to be the most "alien" tribe in the Omo Valley. It doesn't sound like there is much interaction between them and other tribes and they seem to stay to themselves. They make a living by cattle herding and farming. Aside from the time with the tribe, I slept most of the day since I was so sick. At least I was able to make it to see the Mursi people!

Day 7 - Our first stop of the day was the Omo Valley museum. It was a great cultural experience and I was able to learn a ton about the Omo Valley, the tribes, and the traditions and daily life. The part of the museum that struck me most was where we learned about Women's roles in their culture. I don't want to go into too much detail but I will share a little of what I learned. When a man wants to marry a woman, there is normally a price negotiated by the families based on the status of each family. Then once married, many times, a man will not speak to his wife until she has given him a child.There were also printed interviews from women of different tribes about their role in the family, as a wife, and in the village. After the museum, we had the opportunity to visit a local school, meet the principal, and see a few classes. The younger kids go to school in the morning while older kids go in the afternoon. Each kids had one notebook to write in and there were a few desks in each classroom. It was truly amazing to see the learning that was taking place in this overcrowded school with  no resources. Many people from our group had brought school supplies to donate to the school. The principal was so appreciative and said he would be handing the supplies out to the most needy children. One of the things that was the most inspiring to me was the high school age kids that went to school every day and had dreams of going on to college and becoming teachers, doctors, etc. They asked us to write our names and emails down so they could talk to us later on. 

Our last stop of the day was a local market with food and crafts. It was a great place to pick up a few more gifts and souvenirs to bring back to the UAE!

Day 8 and 9 - These days were pretty uneventful, as we spent much of it driving 12+ hours back to Addis and then flying back to the UAE!

I know this post is incredibly long but I hope you enjoyed it and learned about Ethiopia and the Omo Valley!

I'm leaving in a few days for my summer travels: Munich, Amsterdam, Prague, Venice, Florence, Rome, and Costa Rica! Hopefully I'll have some good pictures to post on the blog!


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