Turquoise seems to be a favorite color in Ethiopia, at least for house choice. But even though our morning view was of the rather gloomish looking police station, the hospitality of the local guys more than colored our brief stay in Turmi.
Gadi, the policeman who offered us to camp for the night at the station, was one of the first to stop by our “home on wheels” in the morning to check on our well-being. He informed us that we lucked to come on the market day, a day generally once or twice a week in major Omo Valley towns that brought local tribes to sell their goods. Some tribes would travel for up to two days each way to make it to the market. Considering that different towns had different weekdays designated for their own events, and the schedule seemed to be iffy for the other places to be passed, we sure weren’t going to miss out on what was described as a colorful event.
To kill time before the noon start, Gadi provided a brief tour around the 150 sq meter towncenter area, followed by a cool escape in the shades of a local “tea lounge.”
As the clock approached market time, more and more Hamer tribe members have set their coffee and tobacco selling spots in the town center. It was certainly an unusual scene, almost like a shooting for a movie, where all the cast members were gathered in one area and allowed to take five before the cameras would start rolling. The women were mostly dressed in animal skins, and wore jewelry out of sea shells and plastic beads. This is not to imply that their outwear was “simple.” In fact, it was anything but that. The hanging edges of the skins were often embroided with more beads and thick leather stitching, while the jewelry carried significance of marriage, status, as well as accessorizing.
They were definitely a subject to be viewed. And they knew it too. At any hint of a picture taking they would reach out for the photographer to pay their dues, and if one refused to, their strong dissatisfaction would become clear. Gadi, well aware of the payment requirements quickly gestured for me to shoot more discreetly, or even better, to hand the camera to him if there was a particular scene I wanted to capture. I must admit, it worked a lot better for him to take snap shots with my point-and-shoot than with me framing pictures with an SLR; plus I was able to sneak into a few of the shots myself without getting (probably) cursed at in yet another language. And yes, every tribe has its own language, but yet every tribe member still requested the same currency – not a smile, not a tasty treat, but “birr” (Ethiopian money).
Some of the unique items at the market included the wooden-pillow chairs that local man could often be found carrying around town. The biggest attraction for the town citizens, however, seemed to be a pile of the second-hand clothing assumingly sold for cheap.
After the stroll the market stroll, or rather the tribe viewing, we were in yet for another surprise with the local mead tasting – Chach. We were explained it to be a brew of honey and wine, with some spices and fruits added, somewhat resembling beer in taste, but because the drink was locally prepared and never manufactured, the official alcohol content was not known. In reality, the drink really did prove to be a rather pleasant relief from the afternoon’s rising heat. The environment was rather relaxed as well – the room was accessible from the inner yard of a house, with no furniture but the three benches and a table. My favorite accent was the USA food aid boxes that now served as a firm ceiling for the establishment.
By early afternoon Wilma was ready to get on the road and continue her introduction to the Ethiopian roads. Not wanting to keep her waiting, we exchanged our friendly goodbyes with the policeman and other members of the hospitality crew. Off to Arba Minch we rolled, onto the road to more of the Omo Valley tribes and Ethiopian hospitality.