Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mursi Man, Earrings, Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia, March, 2010

He walks over from under a tree for his portrait, along with the rest of the men. The sun is behind me to the left, we have two hours of light left before we need to start back on the road to the motel. The trouble with the truck forces us to leave the engine running, the noise becoming a part of the background by now.

One by one, the men take their turns. Some of them smile, some of them refrain from doing so. A few bring their rifles, a few others brandish their swords. They have seen me before in the form of other photographers and appear quite comfortable.

During my day with this Mursi Community, tourists come and go. They get out of their air-conditioned vehicles for the standard dozen or so photographs, haggling over the price a few portraits that in the end are less than the bottle of water in their other hand. The lack of courtesy shown surprises me very little for the most part, for these tourists barely look my way as well. They remind me of others from their Society that walk past me in the airports, in the streets, in the coffee shops; barely lifting their heads from the bright screens to notice my presence then either.

One man approaches me however. He is this group's tour guide. He has seen enough and walks away for a break from the excess. He notices me and starts a conversation. He is quite friendly, telling me about his work as a tour guide and the number of visits to Ethiopia before this present one.

He then asks me about my ethnicity, about my history. His face turns to curiosity when he learns of my Lebanese descent and time spent in Lebanon during the Civil War. He inquires as to the exact location of my family. When he learns the answer, he smiles slightly and tells me that he has been to that city.

Knowing his background as an Israeli, my guess is that his time in Lebanon was under the occupation of my country by his nation. He confirms this and tells me of his time in the armed forces during the Egyptian conflict as well. His face is transformed at this time, he tells me of one difference between the two conflicts: during the Egyptian affair, if a missile missed its target it might have struck the natural landscape behind that target... but during the invasion of Lebanon, if a missile missed its primary target it might have struck the urban landscape behind that target, quite possibly a civilian series of casualties.

At that moment, he says something completely unexpected, that he has never had respect for his government's decision to invade Lebanon and to engage forces within the population in such a manner. He extends his hand as a sign and we shake hands in the middle of a foreign nation. Here is a man that might have pointed a rifle at my family in Lebanon, telling me of his sorrow for the act, and then sharing his humanity with me years after the incident.

All the while the women from this village are walking around and trying to sell their crafts to the people under his guidance, pieces ranging from woven baskets to clay lip plates. We talk for a few minutes more until his tourists are finished with their snapshots. We bid each other farewell and he returns to a home on the other side of a border from my family.

It is on this day that the portrait above is made, hours after the conversation with the former Israeli soldier.