The breakfast at the Turmi Lodge was minimal. I am sure it had to do with the fact that we were the only guests, but still it was a major disappointment. I settled for some coffee, some juice and what were allegedly french toasts. We drove some 40km west, through Acacia forest and bush that looked like the Serengeti forests. There is a limited amount of wildlife here, except from avians, as the animals were chased away by the human presence. After an hour we arrived in Korcho, a 400 strong village of the Karo tribe overlooking the Omo river.
The village was indifferent, with rather basic thatched huts, but the location over the Omo river was impressive. The people were expecting us – this is always the case since you have to hire a local to guide you – so they had already prepared for the birr-for-click exchange. After visiting two or three villages, you get used to it. I learned to keep the camera away until I have established some basic level of communication to understand how they live. The pictures came later, in exchange for birrs, but at least I got them a more relaxed and even smiling. With tourists flooding in the region it becomes exceedingly difficult to interact decently with the tribes as tourists are seen as walking ATMs.
Karos is the smallest ethnic group in the lower Omo valley, numbering around 1500 individuals (2007 census) and speak, well Karo, a branch of the Hamer language. They dwell along the banks of the Omo River and rely on the river’s annual flood, practicing flood retreat cultivation. They also breed cattle and goats as any other tribe in the valley, but they are not exclusively pastoralists. It is one of the very few tribes that fish.
Karos are famous for their body painting. They use white chalk and red ochre to create complex designs to look sexier. Body painting is not practised only by women. Men also paint their faces and bodies to look more appealing to women or more intimidating to men from neighbouring tribes. As they are closely related to Hamer, they also practice the bull jumping ceremony and stick fighting. Here is a couple of links to read more about the Karo culture: the daily mail and nomad africa.
After an hour in the village, we took the road back to Turmi, to visit the Tuesday market, a weekly gathering of the Hamers to echange goods and socialize. The people were a lot more relaxed in the marketplace than during the village visit. We were the only white people in the market and we had the opportunity to wander freely among the colorful Hamers, without much photo hustling. I was able to photograph people from a distance without being asked for money. They will only ask for money if you stick a camera in their face, which I find fair.
The marketplace is essentially an open area where vendors lay a cloth with their merchandise. More than shopping, people spend time to socialize in smaller or larger groups. Alcohol drinking, mostly made of sorghum starts in late morning and gets more intense as the the day advances.
We did some some handicraft shopping but the highlight of the visit was the local bar. A dark, half-empty wood hut where I had the coldest beer in Ethiopia. People were actually really friendly and smiling.
We returned to the lodge to enjoy one more night with the mosquitos of the valley. Again, we had to resort to the nearby Buska lodge for some decent food. This time I tries tibs, usually made from beef or goat, cut into small chunks and sautéed in butter or oil with onions, garlic, hot pepper and rosemary. I did not go for the injera, the crêpe like flatbread made of teff, as it feels like plastic to me. Ethiopian swear that good injera is delicious, but it must be the best kept secret in the country.
Next: Daasanach and Bana