Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Young Mursi Girl, Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia, March, 2010

After resting from the morning, we decide to move onto the next group of homes a few kilometers away. The sun is high in the sky and clouds are nowhere to be seen. The key is placed into the ignition and silence is the result.

The truck fails to start. We are in the middle of a national park with the nearest town almost a two hour drive away and on the other side of a series of mountains. A look of panic replaces one of rest on the driver's face. This is after all the company truck. Over the next hour or so, he tries everything and still fails to start the truck.

Then he decides that pushing the truck is a good idea, under the scorching sun. So we get behind the truck and push it for the next hour or so without success. Over and over again, the clutch is released and nothing happens. It is hot, dry and we are tired from the pushing. Seeing this, a few from the previous village come to help us. All of us push, the villagers without shoes, with the same result.

Just when we are about to give up, a truck appears on the horizon coming in our direction. We attempt to wave the driver down but he passes us on a one lane road at a speed dangerous enough to have killed someone. The local villagers smile and tell us that they know this man, that he is both mean and ill-mannered.

We continue pushing and finally give up, thinking that we will sleep overnight and photograph in the morning as well, a happy thought for me in effect. However, we do need to move out of this mountain range at some time and we try to come up with a solution. At that moment, another truck is seen coming our way. This time, we decide to block the road and the driver slows down. She has a few passengers with her but spares a moment to talk with us.

She tells us that she can take two of us with her and we offer the two tourists with us the option. Everyone agrees and she tells us that she will return after dropping off her passengers. With my mind at ease regarding the tourists, I grab my gear and start walking to the next village. Time is of the essence and we only have two hours before the sun disappears. We walk at a fast pace on a seemingly endless straight line. Three girls follow us and offer to help carry our gear. We accept and all of us walk the next two kilometers in silence, with the girls giggling at my clumsiness. It gives the walk a more pleasant, lighter tone.

As we arrive at the village, two trucks arrive behind us, having pulled our truck to a start with a rope. We wave goodbye to the nice stranger and the tourists and are happy to know that we will also be joining them in a few hours. We ask the driver to pull the truck up and leave it running while we photograph. At times, a few villagers stand on the bumper of the running truck to give me a better perspective. This is how her portrait is made, the young girl at the top of this entry.

The photography runs smoothly, with smiles all around. We bid farewell to the villagers, knowing that this would be our last time together this year. The sun is setting and we make our way up the mountain range. One request is made by me to the driver: 'can you kindly leave the truck in first gear during the hard climbs rather than trying to switch gears?'

We move for about one hour before, as expected, he decides to switch gears on a very steep climb. His timing is poor and the truck stalls. A sigh can be heard from all in the truck. He tries to start the truck but the engine fails to ignite. We are now in the middle of a mountain range, in the dark, up a steep hill and without a single line of communication. In short, we are stuck.

Tempers rise and word are exchanged, everyone is tired. In this moment of anxiety, he decides to attempt a start in reverse, down a steep hill. His attempt almost results in the loss of the truck as the rear of the truck slips off of the road and down the hill. He is fortunate to have prevented its loss as well as serious harm to himself.

We now stand with the truck, half on the road and half off the road. Just as we are about to call it an evening, the lights of a large construction truck become visible. We wait twenty minutes and the truck arrives at our side. We ask for a ride and he accepts to do so, with twenty or so Ethiopians already in the back of the truck.

Our driver also asks for a tow and a jump, the driver of the larger truck also agrees. For the remainder of the trip, I sit with the rest of the people in the larger truck, even as the engine of our truck starts. For some reason, sitting with complete strangers in the back of a large truck engenders a feeling of safety, of kindness. These wonderful strangers help me with my gear in my climb up and help me with my gear in my descent.

We return to the town and are happy to arrive safely. The tourists are waiting for us with smiles.