The Dorze tribe are a large group of people who lives in the Southern Highlands near Arba Minch. We had stayed at the Dorze Lodge on the first night of our weeklong trip to the Omo Valley and had enjoyed it immensely. I was looking forward to being back and meet a few members in the community. The day before, we had driven several hours from the Mursi tribe in Mago National Park back to Arba Minch. The roads were incredible and I still maintain that Ethiopia has some of the most stunning landscapes in the world.
False Banana, Chili Sauce and Honey oh My!
We climbed up into the mountains and went for a little walk around. Our first stop was to visit a local family and to see their home. We also got to taste some deliciously fresh kocho, a shortbread made from the enset or false banana leaves. In the southern highlands, this is a staple crop. The false banana is called that because it looks like a banana tree but it doesn’t produce any fruit. However, it does retain incredible quantities of water. Our host showed us the process to making kocho.
First, she cut a part of the leaf and used a homemade bamboo scraper to scrape the wastery flesh.
After this, the flesh is squeezed of it’s water and wrapped very well with the enset leaves and put in a hole to ferment for 20-30days. Our host already had a stash to share with us. It was very cool. It takes very little to make a filling meal and lasts a long time.
She uses a knife to break apart the hard fibers in the fermented paste she had taken out of the ground. Then she forms it into a flatbread shape and puts it on a small pan to cook.
After it is cooked, she served it to us with a side of the best chili sauce I’ve had in Ethiopia (and I’ve had a lot) and some wild, local honey.
I loved the chili sauce so much that I asked her if I could buy some from her. She was happy to make some for me and to show me how! It involved a lot of chilis and using stones to grind them together, along with ginger and some salt. So simple yet so delicious! We also bought some of the pottery that had been made by her son.
Dorze Homes and Water Capture Towers
Just a short note on the Dorze homes. They are built using the leaves from the false banana leaves (yep- those again!) and some bamboo. They are incredibly beautiful, functional and long-lasting. Some are reported to be over 90 years old! The roof is very high and built in a vaulted fashion using bamboo. You can see that there are some openings to let out the smoke too. The smoke actually helps in keeping the roof pest free and dry. There are several “rooms” inside- one is the kitchen, a small partition for where people sleep and an area for the cattle. Over time, termites eat the bottom of the structures and they are raised and cut down until they become rather too small to be a house and are used as kitchens or weaving quarters. Sustainable building or what!
The weird structure above is also built sustainably using intricate weaving techniques that the Dorze are particularly well-known for. Can you guess what it is?
It is a water capture tower. The structure basically allows for water droplets from the clouds and the mist to condense on the woven fabrics and then be collected to be used by the community. This is a traditional design- not a new fangled creation! How amazing is that? One of the wonders of the architectural world I would say.
After a short walk along some gorgeous countryside we arrived at the house of a local weaver. The Dorze are known around the country as being the best weavers. They are particularly good at making the warm, perfectly comfortable gabi- a white cotton blanket that is worn by men and women in Ethiopia They’re my favourite. As in, I have at least 8 and I love all of them. I bought some to Newfoundland last summer and everyone loved them so much that I’m hoping to start a small business selling them and giving some of the artisans in Ethiopia some extra work. They’re the best. Anyways, I was SO excited to see one being woven. I bought one (of course) directly from the source. It takes a weaver 2-3 days to make a gabi. Many of the women in the community purchase cotton from the market and spin it to sell to the weavers.
Finally, along the way, we stopped to buy some souvenirs for our family and friends (and maybe some more for us). By the roadside, they were selling lots of gorgeous handmade blankets, scarves and hats. I really enjoyed my visit with the Dorze and am already hoping we get back there very soon to hike around the mountains and visit some of the further communities in these beautiful hills.
Grilled Fish and How We Almost Didn’t Make it Home
For lunch, our driver took us to a famous restaurant in Arba Minch known for their grilled fish. We thought we had a long time before our flight and went to the airport in due time. Only to find out that our PLANE WAS ALREADY ON THE RUNWAY?!?!?! Somehow, the time for the plane had changed to over 4 hours beforehand and since we were in a no cell phone zone, we had not been contacted. Not great since the earliest flight was the next day! We decided maybe we should just drive back to Addis with our driver who was going back anyways.
Just as we were about to drive away though, the airline employees ran outside and told us to come back, the plane was coming back! We were astounded but not going to question it. So we took our bags and ran like hell. We were told to wait a little. Apparently there was a mechanical issue and the plane didn’t just come back for US… I still like to think it came back for us. Anyways, it must have been our lucky day. We got on the plane and came home to Addis earlier than planned. A win-win all around. I’m so glad that we decided to go for it and went to the Omo Valley.
I went into this trip not really knowing whether I wanted to do it. There were a lot of ethical considerations that came into play and I don’t think they are still resolved in my head. If you are genuinely curious at interacting with people, it is a trip worth considering.
1- Don’t go in a very large group. This will detract from your experience considerably.
2- Camp with the local tribes. You will be able to get beyond the initial weirdness and capitalistic/exploitative nature of the tourism that has developed in the area. Get to know people. Follow them around, make jokes.
3- Ask lots of questions. Make your guides uncomfortable. Ask them about the issues the tribes are facing. Ask them about where the money you are paying in the village is going. Ask them why the clinics are not in working order and who is going to fix it. Ask people you meet whether they think tourism is good or bad for them. Keep asking. Keep wondering.
4- Bring photos of your home. Bring photos of your home, of your country and your family with you to share with others. They are curious about you and your life too. They just aren’t privileged enough to be able to travel. Bring it to them. Answer any questions they have about your life too. Force them to ask you questions. Make it more of a two-way transaction than just clicking one shot.
5- Be Respectful. In the end, you are in someone’s home. If you go to a ceremony and they tell you that women aren’t invited somewhere, don’t go. If your view is being blocked from people just doing their thing, don’t push them so you just sit there and they are forced to accommodate you. Help them pour and give out coffee. Play with the kids.
Thanks for following along my journey!