Since the day I begun traveling, I dreamed that one day I will visit the lower Omo valley. The reason was none other than the amazing series of photos from the Mursi tribe that I saw in a french photography magazine. The lip plates, the body painting, the local customs and beliefs left me in awe.
The trip was in my bucket list for decades and finally I decided it was time to do it. It is a hectic year but when I decided I needed a week’s break, the Omo valley came up naturally. I did not have time for much planning, so I left everything up to Solomon, a local tour operator that I was refereed to by a friend in Addis Ababa. He came back with a classic itinerary that I negotiated briefly and two weeks later I was landing in Addis Ababa, after the necessary visit in Kampala and Nairobi for business.
The plan was to drive overland from Addis Ababa to Arba Minch through the Great Rift Valley, visit the Dorze and Konso people, then move south to the lower Omo valley to visit several different tribes: Hamer, Bana, Ari, Daasanach, Karo and the famous Mursi. Then return to Arba Minch for a boat ride to see the crocs of lake Chamo and finally return by plane to Addis to tour the city.
For two weeks before the trip, I was worried about what I will encounter. Articles and photos around the web, screamed human zoo. Staged photos, pay-per-click culture, difficulty to communicate with the tribe members. What’s the point, I was thinking. After consulting with a couple of friends that visited there some years ago, I decided to make the most out of it. No, I did not have the time to spend days with each tribe and sleep in a tent in their village. For sure, I did not have time to find the best local guides to offer a good introduction and share reliable facts about their way of life. But I did not see any time in the foreseeable future that I will manage to organize this trip the way I wanted. So be it.
What happened is that I was not disappointed at all. The trip served well is purpose, that is to expose me to the exotic cultures and make me realize the difficulties they have to endure in their day to day life. Why they refuse to change and integrate and whether one should support the initiatives for cultural conservation vs those for modernization and improved living conditions.
It can definitely be a human zoo experience, but it does not have to. By showing genuine interest and some empathy, the peoples of the Omo valley become open, friendly and avoid treating you as a walking ATM.
Here is complete list of the travelogues from this trip. Start reading here or click on any link to read the relevant post.