Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mursi Man, Walking Stick, Mago National Park, Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia, March, 2010

So we finally decide to get out of the truck and complete this village.

We have been waiting since the morning session under the hot sun, under the shade of some short trees on the side of the road. The men of the village have been waiting beside us as well. They have been playing a game, talking and just enjoying each other's company.

So we find a spot about 50 meters from the shade of the trees. We go to call the first man and the mood is different. It seems that they have changed their minds about the negotiated price. In the morning, we photographed the children and the women for an agreed-upon price. The men now feel that their portraits are worth more. The young man above is in charge of the negotiations on behalf of the men.

The men with me begin talking once again. The conversation goes back and forth with nothing accomplished. The men grow impatient, complicated by the fact that a few of them have begun drinking the local alcoholic beverage. This worries the guides because of stories they have been told before our arrival.

As the sun begins to drop, it becomes more apparent to me that we need to move forward. With my guide's permission, I ask to speak directly to the older men, with the help of the young man above. My english is translated to Amharic by my guide and then to Mursi by the young man above, under the Surmic family of languages.

The point is simple; we agreed on a price in the morning, photographed the girls and women and now would like to do the same for the men. We feel that an agreement has value and we also feel that all are equal in our eyes. Therefore to value one person's photograph over another's portrait is inappropriate.

After hearing this, the men agree to be photographed for the same price as the women and the photography begins, to everyone's amazement. While surely naive of me, this experience reaffirms my trust in the general human experience, in a universal understanding.