Thursday, February 7, 2013

Mursi Boy, The 23rd Roll, Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia, February 13, 2010

In the remote Lower Omo Valley of Ethiopia twelve expressions were recorded on film of a young boy from the Mursi Community. Spoken language was unavailable to us, so we exchanged expressions for words and exposed frames of film like clockwork for perhaps one minute or less. Behind me was his community, talking to him and helping him feel at ease in front of the camera. Like children everywhere the reactions are quite familiar and have proven to me the interconnectivity that binds us all regardless of cultural, religious or political differences.

With this small community I spent the majority of my three weeks in Ethiopia, and was almost unable to break free from this collaboration to pursue the next community on our short list. We stayed at a local village less than two hours away, a distance normally traveled in perhaps thirty minutes under different road conditions. The two locations were split by a mountain range that ended up being quite dangerous, and always entailed us heading in and out during times of minimal sunlight. Looking back perhaps our decisions could have been made differently. Then again I look at these twelve expressions and am glad to have made a few mistakes on the way.

While the place is remote, these communities are very familiar with the tourist industry. Their faces are plastered on the walls of the tourism offices all over the country, although most Ethiopians have themselves never visited. As a matter of fact the only Ethiopians encountered on my travels outside of those living in the area were either drivers or guides making a substantial living from tourism. On countless occasions our driver would slow down to say hello to one of his friends going in the other direction in an air-conditioned SUV carrying usually three to four passengers. Most vehicles were either for construction or for tourism, with very few carrying private Ethiopian citizens.

Our truck happened to be a beautiful, vintage Toyota Land Cruiser, without the usual conveniences. On our way into the territory we were advised to purchase all of our water and food in advance. This meant that all of the water would travel with us, heated to the outside temperatures and hot enough to make tea on most occasions. We were of course fortunate in that most in the area lacked such clean water, were unable to even purchase a single bottle and saw these bottles as wonderful storage containers for their day to day use.

On a few occasions the truck gave our driver his share of headaches, from battery problems to petrol issues. What amazed me most about this man, even though we had our share of disagreements during our three weeks, was his ability to fix almost anything with the most humble of tool kits. He was most resilient, and treated his vehicle with a gentle hand. He worked for someone else, and was paid for his time rather than anything else. Any petrol over the agreed upon amount would have to come out of his pocket. This was the source of most of the conflict, until we spoke with the boss during our time with the Mursi Community.

At the motel waiting for the next day we ended up making a call to Europe where the manager of the operation was living at the time. He was most sincere and very diplomatic, allowing us to veer off of our planned course in order to achieve our photographic work, without penalizing either the driver nor the guide. While the danger of the route still worried everyone, at least we were now free to stay as long as necessary to document the area. The above images are the result of this conversation, for they would have been impossible otherwise.

I hope to return in a year or less to do much more.
Halim Ina Photography

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