Going in blind

When I landed in Addis Ababa I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know that much about the country besides from its political unrest and it being a holy land for Rastafarians. My friend Charlie had arranged transport so I could meet him in the Omo Valley but besides that I didn’t have a local address (which the customs officers didn’t like) nor a local phone number for who was picking me up.

It's a truck thing

After a long wait at the airport for my luggage, a friendly taxi driver picked me up and we proceeded to the truck that would taking me further. A short hour later I met my truck driver who was pulling a 14 hour shift to drive his load of cabbage to Arba Minch. Besides “take 5”, or pound it, he didn’t speak English at all which promised to be an interesting ride. Fortunately the bus boy, who is supposed to help the driver, feed him Mira or Chat and hand him sniffing tobacco did, so he was my only point of some kind of information. “Why do you drive at night instead of during the day?”, I asked. He replied with a confident “Yes”. Perfect.
The trip was long and cumbersome and sitting in the middle of the two transporters without a headrest meant it was nearly impossible to sleep. In between dosing off and waking up to the sound of them hitting the tires with a stick to check we didn’t have a puncture I barely got any rest. At one point around 3 am, they stopped to ask another truck driver something. I asked what it was about, he said that the mountains we were going through were dangerous. “The mountains or people?” I enquired, “People” he replied.

"Do not blame God for having created the tiger, but thank Him for not giving it wings."

— Ethiopian proverb

Flat Tire

Sure enough 1 hour later we had a flat tire. As they scrambled to replace it with the spare, I saw them nervously looking around and I could feel the tension in the air. Thankfully two other trucks stopped to help and we were on our way in no time. As dawn approached, we needed petrol, which apparently wasn’t that easy to find. After driving through a town searching, they parked the truck and told me I could sleep spread out on all seats. An hour later I was suddenly awakened by a policeman who was shouting at me, probably asking why the truck was blocking the road. With the drivers nowhere to be seen I replied, “Im from Uganda, English” and he eventually called his colleague to help. I was immediately conscious of the fact that Ethiopia had never been colonized (excluding the Italian years) and as a result, in contrast to other East African countries, held much more weight to their own language.
After fixing the tire the guys got back in the truck and we finally reached a city called Arbaminch, where I switched into a Toyota Land Cruiser for 6 more hours.

"A good conversation is better than a good bed."

— Ethiopian proverb

Omo Valley

The Omo valley feels like a trip through space and time. The vastly impressive mountains are part of the great rift valley and divide Ethiopia from Kenya. The defiantly traditionalist agro-pastoralists who inhabit the region share a similar lifestyle as their nomadic ancestors.
By now, a large part of these tribes have been ruined by tourism. The Kara tribe, from which the Karamojong in North-East Uganda migrated hundreds of years ago is the best example. The tribe we visited lived in a beautiful bend of the Omo River and had been conditioned that tourists will pay 5 birr for a photo. Don’t get me wrong, it’s only fair that faranji or foreigners give back to the community in some way, but in this particular village, children and adults alike had been trained to strike the poses tourists like. As we walked through the village with a guide, kids would climb in tree’s, mother’s would randomly start grinding something and men would shout, “picture picture five birr!”

Omo Valley Ethiopia by Yuri Yabi on elephantgrass.nl

Fortunately not all tribes in the Omo Valley are ruined. One night we camped on the compound of Jinja, a mother of nine who was part of the Banna tribe. There we experienced heart warming interaction with her and her kids as we showed her pictures of Europe and video’s we had made of other tribes in her region she had never seen. Her enthusiasm and hospitality will stay with us forever.

"This world was not created piecemeal. Africa was born no later and no earlier than any other geographical area on this globe. Africans, no more and no less than other men, possess all human attributes, talents and deficiencies, virtues and faults."

— Haile Selassie

Do it right

A trip to the Omo Valley is a once in a lifetime experience that every Africa enthusiast should make. But with once in a lifetime, I mean once. The highly commercial nature of most tribes made many experiences seem less genuine. The guide in the Kara village for example told me that the tribe usually only paints themselves for ceremonies, but due to tourism has started doing it all year round to make some money. Nonetheless there are numerous things you can do in the Omo Valley that will blow your mind. If you’re thinking about making the trip, trust my homie Charlie’s Travels to set you up with the raw Omo experience.