Read about the first part of Omo Valley Explorer Part 1 here
It’s Hamer time! Sorry, I couldn’t resist. After a long drive from Arba Minch, we arrived and set up at our campsite in the main village of Turmi. Soon after having picked up a local guide, we made out way to a village not very far away. I was quite surprised how close the village was actually.
The Hamer are one of the largest tribes living in the Omo Valley. They are semi-nomadic pastoralists. The women are characteristed by the ochre earth that they mix into their hair and form short braids.
This visit was also our first foray into visiting villages. When we got there, there were basically no men as they had left to graze with their cattle. The women scurried and hurried to get ready, stopping whatever it is they were doing. They surrounded us and demanded we take their photos. It was a very strange experience as I am used to going to villages all the time (I mean, I work in agriculture and with farmers) and have never had this experience. We ducked into a house to take some time to interact with someone- anyone- before having to choose our photography people. It so happened that the house we ducked into also had some of the loveliest and most curious kids ever. The little boy was especially amazed at my nose pin and kept trying to pull it out and laughing whenever I wrinkled up my face.
The mother made us some Hamer coffee- they use only the external husk of the coffee cherry rather than the bean itself. It tasted more like tea than coffee. Many of the tribes we interacted with drank coffee in this way. I keep wondering how this happened given that they have been there so long. Maybe they didn’t investigate the beans further or maybe the husks were comparatively cheaper and better to drink and to trade with the beans for necessities? I’m not sure! Either way, we drank some rather weak coffee out of a calabash inside this home and it was a lovely experience bonding with them.
Getting out into the village, we chatted with some of the other women. They were very insistent on us taking their photo (and paying them). They weren’t particularly interested in chatting. This made me rather sad. That said, what else would you do if rich tourists came day after day and made you stop your productive work and ask to take photos of you? I didn’t blame them! In the end, their image belongs to them and it is a way of bringing in much needed money.
The light wasn’t great so we left a little bit early. I was also pretty overwhelmed to be honest! On our way out, I noticed that there had been a previous clinic that was not in use anymore, that the slides were all rusty and that the old school had been replaced by a completely new school with a different set of new swings.
This really made me reflect on “development”. The village is still poor- people live in thatched roofs and houses. But for decades now, development projects have been coming trying to improve the lives of the people. But maintenance is never what is done, rather new things are brought in and built. And then the funding runs out and the cycle begins again. But the Hamer are resilient people and despite aid agencies fickleness, they continue to thrive in their traditions, language and culture. Again, this was difficult in some ways because as I was leaving, the women all wanted t-shirts and bras. They seemed tired of living in poverty and wanting to escape. And yet, the image they portray is also their source of livelihood. It was a heart-breaking assessment. I wasn’t sure if I was making things better or worst.
We took another turn and went to another village where the villagers were quite funny and friendly. I think being further away from the road (and at least one experience down) helped ease the tension a little bit. We joked while waiting for the sun to come out from the clouds and finally managed to capture some real personality. The Hamer are so incredibly poised and beautiful. It was a privilege to capture them on camera.
Continue reading about Omo Valley Explorer Part 3: Crossing the Omo River