Standing on the bumper of our truck, this portrait is made. This is the most distant of the villages we visit during our time near the national park. Once again, according to all accounts our work will be difficult.
Contrary to the best intentions of our advisors however, we are met with smiles and body adornments for sale. Sure we need to negotiate our photography; then again all of the tribes in this region of Ethiopia ask for the same courtesy.
Since we are limited with time and with funding, we decide to select the ones most interested in the photography. We begin with the children and work our way to the adults. On this day, the market nearby is closed and so only the people from this village are present. Yesterday, many more were present due to the fact that tourists were sure to visit before and after the market.
On this day, everyone decides to take a seat behind us to the left and wait for their turn. They are very patient, knowing that we are limited in what we can do. Every now and then, a woman will walk up with a small child; but for the most part the hour or so on this late afternoon is calm and orderly.
This is most important because the clouds are moving in and we still need time to set up our tents. Every few minutes or so, we look behind us at the sun and continue with the photography.
Every few portraits, a small cloud appears and we wait until it passes. Now and then, a few men decide to cut in line. These are men with rifles and other weapons and, even though everyone around me tells me that the rifles are rarely used, it makes sense to allow them their minute in front of the camera.
We then return to the girls and then the women. There is one girl missing though. Yesterday she was there, when the market was open. She followed me everywhere, asked for nothing and just wanted to satisfy her curiosity. My friend kept smiling, telling me that we have found the star of this village. She never once spoke a word, only smiled. In a land and among people very different on the surface from me, here was this little girl that treated me like her big brother.
Today she is missing. We look for her without success. We acknowledge our loss and finish our afternoon, hoping that she'll be present next year. Like all previous times in different nations, there are faces that keep me coming back. Her face is etched in my mind.