Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mursi Man & Cane, Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia, March, 2012

During my time in Ethiopia, I visited a dozen communities. Each experience had its own feeling, its individual flavor. We only had three weeks to accomplish these visits and so set a limit as to time spent with each, at least until I met the Mursi Community of the Lower Omo Valley.

After one session I knew we would stay put for the next five or so days. In order to photograph them we needed to stay in a nearby town, about one and a half hours away through rough, mountainous terrain. Because we needed to photograph as the light appeared and disappeared, this made it most difficult for our driver. The road up and down the mountain was barely a road, just a path actually. On either side of the mountain were dangerous slopes, easily engaged in pure darkness.

The Mursi live in a national park, and thus are quite remote from any possible accommodations. We arrived one day early because we were seeking a local hospital to take care of my health. Seven days prior to our arrival I had been unable to eat anything substantial, and anything that did go down came back up quickly. I lost perhaps a dozen pounds in less than six days, but continued to work because the energy of the place was irresistible. 

When we arrived to the small town, we visited the local hospital. There were many people already gathered for the attention of one physician, people with issues ranging from broken limbs to pregnancies to infections. I felt quite awkward being there for something so superficial, but knew that I needed this man's help. For the past few days tremors crept in whenever I moved a muscle, and this scared me very much. Every time I would try to stretch out in the truck my muscles would seize, every time I would move in bed while sleeping cramps would set in.

When my time came the doctor and his team saw me without prejudice. In perfect English he went on to explain how he was going to diagnose my ailment. He asked question after question, alleviated my concerns and then made a diagnosis based on his interview. He provided me with two prescriptions to be filled in the pharmacy next door. When we attempted to pay for his services, the doctor refused payment in the kindest of ways and included me in the social contract of the region. My visit alone with this gentle man gave me a sense of peace, and the medicine (for the price of one cup of tea) cured me in one evening. The very next day I was able to eat, and do all else associated with normal bodily functions. Sleep was finally available to me.

So we arrived to this community reinvigorated, and worked from sunrise to sunset. In between we would drive to a secluded spot and have our meals, and chat amongst ourselves. One night we were allowed to sleep near their homes, and thus were given rest between driving back and forth. During this night we set up our tents, and made a dish that included spaghetti and corn. We thought we were alone, but then found ourselves in the company of these good people as they arrived to our campsite with their machine guns in hand. Rather than being alarmed we felt safe, and slept through the night looking forward to the next day. 

While my time in Ethiopia was overall the most difficult photographic experience of my life, it was also amongst the most fulfilling in light of the images made. I do look forward to one day revisiting these communities and being more familiar with their customs, lending a more authentic feeling to our communications. 

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Halim Ina Photography