Near a Mursi village, Ethiopia, in the most inexpensive hotel in the whole trip.
The South of Ethiopia is populated by tribes which, even living close to each other, are completely different. They have only one thing in common: they charge tourists two birrs per photo. Although it is only 15 cents of a euro, the system create so much pressure on the photographer that you have to think twice before taking each picture. Particularly when the “burnt faces” learn to count the pictures taken, counting the clicks that they hear.
The pressure is not only for the visitors, but also for the models. The chiefs of the different tribes, practicing their prehistoric oligopoly, have agreed to one price per picture, therefore, to be able to be the “chosen ones”, the candidates can only compete showing off to be noticed. And Lord, they try. When you enter one of those villages, you are suddenly surrounded by the Erbore, the Dorze, or Tsamays pulling your arms so hard that it gets really scary; especially with the Mursi tribe, famous for measuring the women’s beauty by the size of the plates hanging from their lips.
The ticket to enter a Mursi village costs 13 Euros, and the daily takings are used to buy rifles. These weapons are very popular in this country in spite of the government’s efforts to collect and destroy them. However, it is worse in Kenya. In the local newspaper we saw an ad from the government requesting the voluntary submission of PAMs. (Portable Antiaerial Missile), any terrorists’ dream. A PAM is a missile launched with a bazooka over you shoulder, able to turn a Boeing upside-down. It is thought that there are still hundreds of those around Africa, in the hands of civilians, of course. As if we were dealing with a pellet or BB gun.
Going back to the people photo safari, the money that you pay for one picture doesn’t go to the “common box”, but everybody keep their profit. In order to do that, they form a line while the camera-equipped tourists take their time to make up their minds. All this sounds comical, but next to you there is an armed security guard from the National Park, hitting anybody trying to convince you that they are the most photogenic in the village scratching or pulling your hair. The fact that women have their breasts out doesn’t help either to make you feel relaxed and comfortable during the “casting“, especially when half of them are teenagers whose nipples are starting to show like two weird bumps. The feeling cannot be much different that when you are peeping through the keyhole of a girls locker room, knowing that you can choose the one you want as long as you pay 2 birrs, of course. The worst part is when you already made up your mind, pointed at the chosen one, and the security guard grabs her arm, and pulls her roughly so that you can take a picture with her. We don’t know the method that was used centuries ago to choose slaves, but I don’t think it was much different. Fifteen cents of a euro might be worth a lot in this land so that they allow other people to treat them like that…
The Tsamays, however, are funnier. Men have a rather girly look, with tight t-shirts and miniskirts shorter than the ones seen in a porn movie. They always carry a stool with them, just in case they want to sit down or take a nap. In spite of their girly look, they are as sexist as the other tribes. Their women, as usual, are the ones doing all the work. In exchange, they get nothing, not even a bloody stool. They sit on the floor so that they don’t forget they are worthless.
With the Hamer tribe we were lucky, after giving some bills away, and we were “invited” to one of their huts and have some coffee. It started as a typical organized tour scenario and it ended up as the most surreal part of the trip. Unlike we expected, the person asking all the questions was the woman of the house, as if she was the tourist and we were the indigenous. We were having fun until she asked, outraged, how Belen could be with Pedro is she was so much younger than him. While we were trying to find a logical answer for her world, she took the coffee left from our bowls and poured it back into the main pot. Still staring at us, she stirred and served another bowl that she offered to his husband’s second wife. So, our age difference is scandalous, but sharing coffee, bed and husband with another woman is normal?!? The funny thing is that traditions says that the first wives are the ones choosing the second wives for their husbands. Do they choose an uglier one to be the prettier, or a prettier one to have their husband’s pleased? Do they select their best friend to have good company or someone they don’t know so that jealousy doesn’t break their friendship? This is what I call quite a casting and not Big Brother’s!