Expedition into Mursi-land

EtiopiaSud1063According to plan, the next morning I got up still in the dark and found my way to the bus station. As I had sort of expected, Abraham was not there and didn't show up until an hour later when I had already decided to leave by myself as soon as a bus became available. The first ride to Hana had already departed at 6, but plenty of people were still waiting for a second bus. All were workers from other regions attracted by the prospect of abundant work opportunities in this remote corner of the deep South. The government had recently opened a big sugar factory that needed many hands. A young man with a degree in economics who had worked as an accountant was going to be employed as a truck driver – the same old whatever-you-study-you-work-something-else Ethiopian rule of thumb. I got into talk with Esrael who said he wanted to go to Key Afar but was probably at the bus station to meet people. In fact he popped a request for help to finance his studies that his father was not willing to pay for – or this was his story. Time passed, but no bus to Hana was coming.

We left at half past two, after 8 hours and a half of waiting. The bus puffed up a mountain road, then cruised across a flat land with uniform vegetation: in the vast amazing panorama no sign of human presence apart from the road. The bus was stopped by a tribal man with a rifle flung across his back. We were entering a territory that was not guarded by the national police, but by indigenous people. We climbed a second mountain on a road that was partly under construction. By now we had entered the boundary of Mago national park and I was unable to locate myself on my approximate map. We drove 100 kilometres in 3 hours to get to the plain town of Hana, separated by Jinka by that immense empty scrubby wilderness. That was the hub which was attracting so many workers from all over Ethiopia. If ever there was an absurd place to develop for industry, there it was – but surely my point of view didn't take all factors into consideration.

I vernture out with a child guide into Mursi land and find the exploration to be very rewarding.

Abraham elatedly asked me how I liked the town, which he obviously considered an exciting place, although I wondered if it had a right to even being called a town. Some Bodi men passed by, sporting their typical bloated belly, a characteristic that popular myth attributes to their customary drinking of cow's blood. They were clad with only a blanket thrown over their shoulder, their nakedness showing here and there. I was shocked not out of prudishness, but for the exotic power that involved this challenge of my received conventions. We got a hotel room, and as no shower was available I negotiated two bottles of water to wash myself in a corner between the house and the fence. The heat was sweltering and remained so all through the night. There were no mosquito nets in the very place where malaria is rife year round.

We set off at dawn to reach the Mursi village. A passenger on the bus had assured us we wouldn't need to go far, as within 2 km of Hana we would find a settlement. We met a woman scooping muddy water out of a well infested with bees. She could lead us to her village if we wanted, but they were Bena. Although I had come across a Mursi family the night before and had seen my first hanging lip live, I was still desperate to see a real village.

We moved on. The sun was high enough to make the air hot and the weight I was carrying unbearable. We changed strategy: we would ask for a lift to the village. The truck that took us drove half an hour before we reached the Mursi. During this time I didn't stop cursing crazy Abraham for expecting us to walk all this way, as well as last night's man, who should have known better, who said the village only was 2 kilometres out of Hana.

EtiopiaSud1098The time I was in the Mursi village I felt my shirt constantly pulled at, my body nudged, my head brainwashed to take a photo for money or buy a souvenir. Those Mursi came across as very cunning and rather greedy, probably because their village was so close to the road and therefore of easy access by tourists. I had been warned about the risk of theft, but I got distracted in the confusion and had a flacon of insect repellent stolen. However, I had managed to round off my plans and finally find myself face to face with the incredible Mursi. The men's painted body and the women's monstrous lips were the climax of my itinerary around the peoples of South Omo. I knew I had toiled to reach this place and had needed to conquer every inch of road to attain this goal, but for this reason I was all the more satisfied with my accomplishment.