by Jenny Makepeace

The false banana tree grown everywhere down here is of huge importance as a source of food – both the roots and the starchy compound scraped from the  leaves, which is buried and fermented for three months before being made into ‘bread’.

The fibres of the leaves are used for weaving, for thatch and the bark for rope.  The animals eat the leaves.  This remarkable tree is able to hold and store water and has been a lifesaver in times of famine.

There are coffee plantations, false banana groves and hedges around compounds. We’ve seen two bicycles in 5 hours, and some funny little triangular wooden trolleys with a wheel at the sharp end..

There are a few horses about, mostly 13.2/14 hands and all very poor, dejected, wounds and sores and frightful tack.  They use a ghastly method of tethering involving tying the neck rope to a pastern so whilst they can reach the ground to nibble, they cannot do much else.

Much enjoying A Cure For Serpents – by Alberto Denti Di Piranjo, written in the 1920’s it tells stories about the author’s life in North Africa including a spell in Harar.

Have given The Barefoot Emperor and the Chains of Heaven to Eskinder, who loved the former and said it completely altered his opinion of King Tewodros.

A bum and brain numbing, neck cracking, bone shaking 12 hours after leaving AA we have arrived at Arbaminch.

Derze village

The Dorze people who live in the Beehive, woven houses gave an interesting insight into their lives and traditions.  Their woven houses are built around a central pole, are very high and have a porch and sometimes two flaps for a tiny chink of light which together look like an elephants trunk.

Over the years these buildings shrink as termites nibble away at the bottom edges.  They are made of bamboo overlaid with the leaves of false banana.  Inside there are small chairs in the porch to rest upon whilst accustoming ones eyes to the dark.

The central space is for family living and rises to the apex, sleeping benches have shelves above wide enough for the children to sleep on.  Various foodstuffs including cheese is suspended from beams.

The animals share the hut having an area to the outside edge and help to keep the occupants warm, there is an aperture for chucking out the dung. Heaps of fodder freshly cut lies ready for the evening.  There are one or two leather bound chairs.

Dark and rather fetid.

In a compound there may be several huts of varying sizes, one for the parents and small children, another for the first married, one as a cookhouse.

A young woman was demonstrating the stripping of the banana leaf to make the ‘bread’,the greenish mush is wrapped in leaves before being buried.

Some she had dug up after its fermentation period, by now creamy colored and smelling slightly sour,  was chopped and moulded on a board prior to its cooking on an open fire in a metal skillet. The fibers left from this process are virtually unbreakable.

After about eight minutes cooking the bread is eaten either with honey or red hot chilli paste. Beer is made from bearded wheat and an 85o liquor from some other plant.

Cloth is woven into bright scarves from cotton brought in from the lowlands, the children pick out the seed before spinning by women and woven by men.

The seeds are the very devil to get out as we found out with the grandchildren on our return home with a couple of bolls of freshly picked cotton. Raku pots, both ornamental and functional are made by the women.

A couple of handsome men dressed in leopard skins holding spears did a bit of a war dance, their grins were so big it was hard to be frightened!

This particular village has guest huts for 80 birr per night and a central building for socializing – the idea of an entrepreneurial Dorze Rastafarian. It’s a pleasant environment which feels very genuine and might be fun to stay if one was young and into strong drink, quat and native experiences.

There are many contrasting ethnic groups in the Lower Omo valley, through which the Omo river rising in the highlands SW of Addis Ababa flows 1000 km to Lake Turkana, the fourth largest lake in East Africa.

A night Arbaminch

The hotel at Arbaminch could be very good, we arrived after dark and walked through a big tree shaded courtyard with masses of staff.  This is the eating area dominated by a huge fountain, which naturally is empty.

I think it must be the Tourist hotel.  Supper was standard fare, either Ethiopian or European, John had a decent fish, I had a greasy bowl of minestrone with rice rather than pasta which I didn’t eat.  No fruit salad, no anything else either.

John had a bad night, the rooms are spartan, there is a fan which is capable of being quiet but which goes into overdrive whenever one falls asleep.  its pretty hot.

A relay of priests were intoning the Christmas message with huge monotony from somewhere nearby. En route we passed the university compound from where students were walking in their hundreds towards the very distant town.

LakeTchamo is one of the seven Rift Valley volcanic lakes and home to large pods of hippos, crocodiles and pelicans, fish eagles. There are spectacular figures of  Marabou storks which look like characters out of Dickens, hunch shouldered, their feathers forming a sort of cloak, they are very ugly.

There are three lane highways being built through this part of the country, they are mainly awaiting final surfacing and it is forbidden to drive on them.  There is little evidence of progress and almost no traffic.

Detours have been bulldozed through the bush on either side, these are rough to say the least.  The government live in hope of improving communications and therefore trade if the roads are built.  We crossed several rivers where the locals are bathing.

Down to the South

At Konso,  Strawberry Fields where we stopped for lunch. All is organic, and a model of sustainability. dry compostable loos, every drop of water valued and wisely used, intensive permaculture.

Even the hand washing place is clever – a piece of pumice like soap, a 5 gallon drum of water adapted with a tap, the water then collected in a plastic sack full of some organic material to be spread on the land. We sit outside under an awning whilst the food is freshly prepared.

There are tokals here which one can stay in.  Small boys wait at the entrance with little toys they have made.  One speaks excellent English is 12 years old and has finished school with a future herding cattle. Nearly all the food is produced on site.

We stopped at Key Afar market after crossing a great plain and two mountain passes, this is a fertile area where much cotton is grown.  The tribes at the market were Tsemai, Bena, Hamer, Karo and Ari.

They can be quite distinctive in their dress and looks. Some wear skins around their waists hanging down behind, decorated with bead work or cowrie shells.

Some have gourd helmets, beaded arm bracelets, red hair, dyed with the natural earth ground fine and mixed with rancid butter.

The men might have white painted legs or faces.  Money is demanded for photographs.  There are large numbers of donkeys, some being laden,  clothes, foodstuffs.

The kids can  be pestilentious, though one was well informed and bright, he left me when he saw the Israeli group arrive, hoping for richer pickings.

Jenny’s article will continue on the next part.

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