The Arume Tribe- Omo Valley, Ethiopia (of the famed Disappearing Tribes)

Note: This was written the day of our visit to the Arume Village

We ate in a dry village where oilfield workers on lunch shift filed past to get injeera with tibs (chewy beef chunks with onion and Serrano).  The food was good and somehow, despite the heat, I had a savage appetite. The hot Mirinda (Fanta in other places) was tough to swallow.  It’s about 110F/ 43C. As we walked to have a buna (local coffee), the kids lined up asking for caramela, pens, birr, water, bottles, pictures, and smiles. With a word Tesfu (our driver) runs them off for one second before they come back with eyes to melt farangi (me, the foreigner). The engine roars to a start and a few  of the kids back off. The pros smile broadly, hands out with flirtatious eyes. I cant help but smile at each one of them.  “Pen” one whispers. “Birr” one says without a sound. I laugh out loud and they laugh to because, I think, they know they got right into me…

We drove onto the main road and I unrolled my window. It was like opening the oven to check on your pie. “Mr. Driver, can you find a road with no bumps” Emany said in English and then Amharic. He Tesfu and I all laughed. I had no idea when we would d=come to this village but did not care.  Everyone was in good spirits and I brought good tunes. I did not know what they were for the most part but Emany and Tesfu sang or tapped hands and feet all day .  Grass huts were in the open. Another village.  A few children chased us yelling for bottles…”bo-ta-lay!!”. The truck stopped and Emany said get out….

“Ferengi, ferengi, ferengi, ferengi!!!!”DSC01892


This was a bit of a switch from our homestay the night before in the Hamar Village. Colorful women with angry expressions appeared from all sides. Well, maybe I am getting ahead of myself. We were greeted by a woman and what appeared to be her family. She smiled and invited us for a picture.  We knew this would cost a few birr (19 birr= 1USD). Now that shouting above started with a flurry of beating feet , laughter, rainbow necklaces and breasts. Now we were surrounded by what appeared to be a large contingency and angry women and their children.  They all pointed to themselves saying “picture!”  I had to laugh.  I was done already.  This was not my scene especially after the magic of the previous night. Women yelled, well, relatively yelled, at my guide that we had taken their picture and we owed them birr. I told Emany who I photographed and walked to a smiling, sweaty women who was shading herself and her people with a dark scarf.  They all lot their smiles when Emany went to pay them looking at them money as if it was a bad tip after good service in a western restaurant. Her hand was limp like the money was not good enough.  I laughed again and Emany said “I have brought you to an expensive supermarket”.He reached in his pocket and gave her more birr. This history of paying for photos is a sore spot for Emany but I told you he is from here, he is Hamar and even if they are a different tribe, they are of the same godless land where tradition is stronger and more important than western progress.


Note:  This was written about 2 weeks after the trip ended

When I sat down to write this story I was a bit cynical and intended on being short. The reflection I had in my head is incredibly different from what came out. It was an amazing day with my friends and even though there was money involved in pictures, it’s just what has become of the world in some places. These are still real people.  They live on the Omo River.  Their tribe is very small in numbers.  They have gardens and catch fish to survive. Some big time photographers showed up and gave them big money (for local standards) for some photos and thought nothing of it. Now they all want a piece of the action. Can you blame them? Not really.  So the next time you are traveling in a developing nation and you have some notion to give children something they have never had or money to somebody for something that is not a job and is just human nature… check yourself.

Note: This is written on March 7th, 2014 as I set the date to publish May 4, 2014

None of what I thought or said really matters.


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