Saturday, May 1, 2010

Mursi Woman, Feather, Mago National Park, Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia, March, 2010

Five days are spent in this area, five days spent driving over mountains to reach these villages. On many days, the clouds appear just in time for the photography. During the middle of the day, the sun rules. Then in the afternoon, the clouds appear, lasting until the evening when the skies become clear once again.

This ritual remains constant during our stay here. Just when we think the sun will remain, it is covered by the clouds. One day we decide to take our chances and stay overnight in the park. We arrive in the afternoon for a day of photography with the sun intact until the early evening. We then set up the tents, get some water boiling for the corn purchased the previous day and have our short dinner.

Seated next to us is a Mursi guide with his AK-47. Even though darkness prevails, the men from the nearby tribes have very little trouble finding us. They join their fellow Mursi man and decide to hang out with us until the morning. Most of them are also armed with the same hardware. Contrary to my presumptions regarding the presence of guns, sleep is easy to come by this night, especially after a little corn.

We wake up in the morning to a glorious, blue sky. The feeling is hard to explain. We decide to hurry to the first village and begin. Upon arrival, negotiations are initiated and we quickly start. We are able to make portraits for about one hour before the clouds hide the sun.

The aggravation is easy to see on my face and the tribe wonders why we have stopped. We point to the sun hiding behind the clouds. The guide insists that the sun will reappear and, to my surprise, it does so one hour later. The angle of the sun is still more than acceptable and we continue with our portraits until all are photographed.

Almost everyone prior to our arrival warns us with respect to the Mursi Community: they are most difficult, they are forceful, they attack tourists and their trucks.

Contrary to all this talk, the Mursi Community accepts us with open arms. We sit alongside them under the trees, the continue their conversations without noticing our presence. We spent days with them. Sure, they approach me and put their lip plates in my hands, walk away and then speak prices to me with a smile. However, they also smile back when I walk over to them and place the lip plates back in their hands. At times, we speak directly with them, sharing with them our limitations. They accept them, they allow us to stay.

In the end, this is a tribe that I will visit for the rest of my life.

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