by Jenny Makepeace

Jinka Resort, this is the sort of place where one imagines an army of cockroaches marching across the floor whilst one sleeps.  Described in Lonely Planet as ‘plush’  – a misnomer to say the least.

The water is hot, but the lights dim or non existent. John’s dinner was inedible.  Tomato soup and bread for me which was ok;  papaya and banana.  The hotel is set in a shaded area of big trees and the rooms have verandas.

There are two groups here – 24 Isralis, 14 French, a couple of Australian women and a man on his own.

If one is behind either of these groups then service is impossible.  It took nearly an hour to get a bowl of porridge for breakfast which is making our early start a late one.  The bees come in swarms to eat the jam, but they are not aggressive and just need a decoy setting up a distance away.

mursi girlMago National Park – 2,400 sq km  amongst things prohibited “Carrying machine guns” !

We saw dik dik, kudo and guinea fowl , there are 1000 elephants, giraffe, buffalo, leopard, cheetah, baboon and 300 species of bird.

This wild and wonderful area of forest and scrub is home to the Mursi tribes. A few have cottoned on to the fact that they can extract money from tourists for photographs, these are in the minority though and many more are never seen.

They are the people of the infamous lip plates. A ghastly custom involving knocking out the bottom front teeth and slicing the lip away from the mouth until it is able to support a ceramic (or metal, I think). Plate about 4 inches in diameter.

When the plate is not in place the lower lip hangs from the corners of the mouth and twitches when they speak!  They also pattern their skin with scars made by inserting a sharp blade under the skin leaving raised lines of scar tissue.

Female circumcision is commonplace.  Headdresses vary, the most spectacular ones have buffalo horns and cowrie shell decoration.  Tight bands of beads or metal adorn their arms.

Their huts are simple straw structures, they grow no crops but live off their animals and forest products, used to be nomadic and some still may be.

We walked part of the way back, looking down into valleys and across to low hills, all part of the National Park and totally unspoilt.

A small non-tourist village was a better, if less extraordinary experience, large mango trees drip with ripe fruits.  We passed a blacksmith forging simple tools.  A small child slipped her hand into mine and came with us along the path off the main route.

A truck stopped with a young woman from a Norwegian Lutheran Mission – nurse who spent a year in Addis learning Amharic although these people have their own dialect. And she was accompanied by a local who went off to collect a pregnant women to take to a clinic.

We sat for a while in the compound of the family of the child who was holding  my hand. This sweet child, dressed in a filthy ragged dress sat on my knee whilst I played isky whiskey spider, and this little piggy with her.

Girma bought mangoes, he is very keen to support local endeavors. By the end of the trip, we began to look like a traveling fruit shop, mangoes rolling about the seats and floor of the truck, bananas and pineapples and a strange thing called a sourpuss.

We pay nearly £1 each for a mango in Britain, here they are about 3 birr – (20 to the pound) for a large plastic bowlful.

The South Omo Museum and Research Centre is situated on a hill outside the town. It is a mecca for ethnographers. Often German who come to study the culture and traditions. Women from different tribes and ages have been brought together to discuss their similarities and differences.

The graphics in the museum describe some of the contentious issues such as lashing during the bull jumping ceremony and female circumcision.

This latter is widely practiced either before marriage or after the first child.  (Had to lie down on a thoughtfully provided lionskin with headrest after reading this)!

The displays are well captioned and show clothes, tools, domestic ware etc.  A small typical hut contains a grinding stone for one to try out.

We bought a book about the female paintings – usually for decorating their huts, and read interesting and informative literature by a Mursi tribesman who disapproves of the way tourists tend to treat their people as zoo animals.

We also watched a marvelous video made over several decades by an English team in this area. We left for Turmi after a long wait for breakfast – Jews have precedent and there are 24 of them.

Jenny’s article on her great Ethiopian experience will continue on the next part. 

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