Ethiopia - Days 10 & 11 Turmi
Paradise Lodge where we spent last night was supposed to be one of the highlights of our Ethiopian hotel experiences but we missed its charm. The rooms are built as stone replicas of the round tukul huts that are the usual form of housing in rural Ethiopia and are built on the edge of a highland looking across a wide, forested valley floor to the Bridge of God. This is a mountainous spur of land separating two rift valley lakes, both of which can bee seen from the hotel's rooms stretching far to the left and right of God's Bridge.
Room was small, mosquitoes were biting and there was no support frame for the mosquito net so it draped over our faces and feet all night so that any self-respecting mosquito could use it as a feeding grid, poking through the net's mesh and into its waiting banquet, us. View was pretty spectacular but we're driving 300+ kilometres a day over very bad roads, getting up early to start our drives and arriving between 5 and 6, ready for bed. Things need to be pretty spectacular to make a dent in our dulled senses.
Leaving Paradise we drove towards Turmi, our destination for the night stopping in mid-afternoon to attend the Dimeka Market, a weekly market in a small town whose name escapes me, possibly Dimeka! It is attended by the Hamar and Bona peoples and is much like the Lalibela market that we attended in the North except that everyone is in tribal dress. Another important difference is the distribution of labour, whereas in the Northern part of the country everyone, aided by donkeys, seems to share the hard work of carrying stuff, in the Omo River region where we are spending the rest of our time in Ethiopia, the men do not carry anything except their little portable stools and a critical fashion accessory, an AK47. It was made very plain to me when I asked a local market guide why the women carried everything, he said that the men's responsibilities are for their flocks of sheep and goats and that they do not carry anything, although they do seem to carry a very large load of masculine self-worth and general superiority.
Additionally, in the North donkeys are a part of every household and between the shared labour amongst genders and ages and the work of the long-suffering little beasts of burden, stuff gets moved around. In the South, in the Omo River valley, it's too hot for donkeys to survive so everything is moved by people and that means by the women. So it's normal to see women strapped to massive amounts of wood or large plastic jugs of water and walking many kilometres with their loads while the men sit in the shade, chatting with their mates, watching their flocks and the rest of the world go by.
Lots of photo ops at the market but in addition to their sense of privilege, the men actively do not like their photos taken and leave such menial chores to the women who charge for photos and so use it as an addition to their family income. Not a fan of these guys and while I'm sure any first year Anthropology student could give me chapter and verse supporting the utility of the social model, doesn't work for me and frankly I think that the only thing between these guys continued free ride and the women's tossing them out on their collective ears is the presence of all those AK47's. In fact, the men's dress, at least among the Bona people, is a brightly-coloured, skin-tight little kilt that extends only to the top of their thighs, a tight sleeveless top, usually black, a beaded head band and the fashion-forward Kalashnikov. They also run to little round pink plastic mirrors that they check frequently and carry tucked in their headbands and little hair clips that they constantly adjust. It's my belief that if they landed in a New York leather bar they would be greeted like old friends.
One of the very good things that came out of our market visit was a rumour that Eskadar tracked down, that a bull-jumping contest was being held that afternoon at a family compound in the hills about 15k away and if we could get there and would pay the family for our attendance, we would be welcome to come. It was a very hot afternoon and Eskadar had some doubts since 15k can turn into 50k and we would be driving on a broken track not a road. V was very keen however so we picked up a local to guide us and headed out.
Bull-jumping is the ceremony and the trial that a young male 18 or 19 years old must undergo in order to be accepted into adulthood and therefore be allowed to marry. There are parts of the process that we were very hesitant about particularly a step in the proceedings when some of the young women are beaten with sufficient force that they carry enlarged scars on their backs which are evident on many of the women in the markets that we have attended. I'd love the help of my helpful first-year Anthropology student here since when I asked what the rationale for the beating was, I was told that it was a way for the women to show their pride and love for the young man undergoing the bull-jumping trial. I'm pretty sure that rationale was never one that the women decided on.
The trial itself consists of a number of bulls, 6 or 8, being rounded up and somehow being made to stand side by side in a row while the young guy leaps up on the back of the first bull then runs across their backs using them as stepping stones while trying not to fall under their hooves. He must do this 6 times, 3 times in each direction and if he is successful he is considered to have entered adulthood and be an eligible bachelor.
A very big deal for the family, First Communion or Bar Mitzvah, and large amounts of money is spent on feeding and entertaining and family comes for miles around. We arrived after a lot of the various ceremonies had already taken place, including the beating of the young women which we were happy to have missed but the main event was still to come. In the lead up to the bull-jumping there was singing and dancing by the women and a series of conclaves in the family compound during which elders worked out when the next bull-jumping event would take place and which involved a complex series of rites with sticks and various objects. As we discovered when we visited some other tribes, bull-jumping is a wide=spread ceremony throughout the Omo River region but the Hamar people have individual rites paid for and hosted by a family for their son while other tribes treat it as a community exercise with all eligible young men jumping in a large joint exercise which takes place every two years. Failure to make the jump, couldn't the pun, means that a young man brings shame on the family and essentially lives in their basement and cannot marry. He can try a second time but failure then condemns him to wearing his bath robe for days on end, never washing or shaving and playing video games for days at a stretch.
Finally as the day was fading into twilight the bulls, about 8 or 10 of them were herded into a circle made up of all the assembled crowd of family and friends. A number of family volunteers tried to get them to line up but they were young and very skittish, surrounded by noisy people who were yelling and singing and crowding in on them. A number of them kept breaking loose and charging the crowd who broke away and took cover while volunteers tried to catch them and get them back in line; an Omo River version of Pamplona. Finally, by dint of someone holding their horns on one end and someone else pulling their tail with all their strength on the other end 6 or 7 of them were lined up while the loose ones charged around for general effect. Suddenly the young man who had been patiently waiting while the melee went on, held by one of successful friends who kept talking quietly to him, he gathered himself, leapt up on top of the nearest bull and began to run across them like leaping from stone to stone while crossing a stream. He managed the crossing 5 times and just as he reached the last bull on his 6'th run he fell but was caught and congratulated, having passed his trial.
A race for cars and a long and extremely bumpy 90 minute drive to our hotel in the dark.