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Posts Tagged ‘Ethiopia’

“How did you get up here?” I asked her. The lady replied, “They carried me.” As we continued our travels around Ethiopia, she was in the same places as we were, Lalibela, the Omo Valley and Addis Abba. 13-2I began speaking with her and learned this lady travels all over the world just like we do.pic7

But this lady travels in a wheelchair. Soon we became friends and I started asking how she makes it because I might need to know one day myself. And while we discussed all of her tips and ideas, I thought how many other people would like to know how she does it so successfully.

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Even the cattle were wondering how she made it to many countries around the world HANDICAPPED.

Following is her story and photos of her various trips around the world to Austria, Japan, Mongolia, Namibia, Norway, Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia, China, Myanmar, Antarctica, Trans Siberian Express, Argentina, Bermuda and more.pic6

By Cynthia Henry

“Physically handicapped,” “disabled,” “physically challenged,” “differently abled”….. I have yet to find any term that feels comfortable for a life-changing condition that no one expects.  But, I no longer need to!  Thanks to Journeys International and API Tours of Indonesia (JI’s overseas operator), Focus Tours and more, I now use “World Traveler!”  What a thrill to return from two and a half weeks in Indonesia and say, “What a grand trip—and it was do-able!”pic1

Were there challenges? Well, sure.  Did they work out?  Yes, with the help of my traveling companions, Molly and Carolynne, and the operators, drivers, guides, boatmen and local people of Journeys/API and Focus Tours.  Were the challenges overwhelming?  NO!  Could I do every single activity that Molly and Carolynne did?  I never planned to and did sit out some, but was thrilled and amazed at what everyone made possible!pic5

I had done much traveling over the years and planned to continue as I eased into retirement in 2003.  I got in four overseas trips until… March 2005.  Who was to know that I would then topple off an exercise ball and suffer a spinal cord injury? As I lay paralyzed in rehab, thoughts of going to such remote places flowed out of my head while I instead worked on feeding myself a cheese sandwich. 

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Does this look handicapped accessible? It is if you have several strong wonderful men helping you in every way.

Well, movement came back.  I eventually returned home, learned how to live from a wheelchair and soon “graduated” to a walker.  I continue to use the walker and always will; I take a wheelchair on trips, which I use as a walker when not being pushed.   I can go up and down steps, either with a railing or with support from two companions and someone hauling the wheelchair up.    I am slow, awkward and have a variety of physical issues, but…I can also travel around the world! 

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My wheelchair was welcomed in all countries I visited and so was I. We both were treated with a “can do” attitude and they figured out every way to make the trip an enjoyable experience.

After I began experimenting with shorter and then longer excursions and finding out I could fly (get down the aisle and use the bathroom), a major life goal, I began thinking of the possibility of travel outside the country.  Since then, I have been on several overseas trips!  Five of my trips have been with Journeys International, that company rep providing the warmest and most hopeful and helpful response to my tentative query of  “….uh….what do you think?  Here’s what I can do.”   Pat’s response, in essence, were six magic words, “Our guides will get you up.”  And, they did!

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Stairs were no problem. Several men just picked me up in my wheelchair and carried me right up the stairs perfectly. But many times I was able to climb a few stairs using handrails and a helper.

JI’s philosophy is that people with special needs have rights—the right to travel, the right to have “inaccessible” places made accessible, the freedom to go places they may have thought impossible… They then provide the support of so many staff to make this happen.  Each JI agent has been wonderful in working with me.  They assure me this will work and take every step necessary to see that it does.  Many thanks to them!

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My traveling companions and good friends, Molly and Carolynne are always willing to travel with me and assist me

So, how did the staff on the ground make all this possible? First, the spirit of Journey’s International/API/Focus Tours was there.  I felt only support and no apprehension or dismay at the extra responsibilities that my situation meant for so many people. Every guide, driver (van or boat), hotel staff member and all others were kind, patient and helpful.Pic26.png

Bali, Indonesia had long been a goal, and so we finally booked it.  But, then, Molly called and said, “Guess what!!!  They have extensions to see the orangutans on Borneo and the Komodo dragons on Komodo Island!”  My immediate thought, was “Oh, no, extensive sitting in a van or on a boat or alongside the trail while my two friends go traipsing off on marvelous adventures.”  But, I weakly responded, “Uh, sure…take lots of pictures for me.”pic36

I generally have a “rule” of no pictures of me in the wheelchair, but the ingenuity, the creativity, the physical strength, the dedication of everyone, the incongruousness of it all—well, no choice this time around!  And, thank goodness, we did document, so that when our final guide, Yansur, asked that I do a report as a traveler with a disability, we were ready to say, “You bet!”    He hoped it would inspire more people with special needs to venture to the far corners of the globe.  I hope that will be the case.pic37

Now to my report on this specific trip, especially the parts that I had no expectations of seeing–the orangutans and the Komodo dragons…. Bali was lovely, fairly routine sightseeing , and we enjoyed the ease of driving around and staying at marvelous hotels.  Budi was our outstanding guide.  I did have to stay in the van for a few off-the-road surprises, but, am used to that.pic24 The main help provided that made a huge difference was our wonderful driver coming up with a step to make my way into the van without such massive bottom boosts.  Some vans are easier than others, and our driver throughout Bali converted this one into the “easy” category.  He and all drivers were so kind to wrestle that wheelchair in and out of the back area so I could enjoy the monkey forest near Ubud and a Rhesus monkey on my head.pic33

We flew to Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo, for our orangutan experience  Again, I did not expect to see any, except possibly swinging through the jungle trees during the boat journeys or from the boat at the get-in site, both of which actually did happen.  Pic27.png

However, while still in Bali, my hopes were raised with a message from our wonderful companies that they were confident they had a plan to make it work!!! The word “palanquin” does not often come up in my vocabulary, but the written description brought it forth.  Sure enough…oh, my…  and my dream was accomplished well beyond anything I imagined.

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Momma and Baby at eating station in Camp Leakey. Photo by Carolyn

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With my usual awkwardness and trepidation (all this isn’t emotionally stress-free), and with many hands helping many body parts, I am loaded bit by bit onto the boat, get comfy in my chair—and ponder my latest wheelchair riding in first class… rigged up with a rope loop handle attached to each of the four corners.pic34

After two hours, with a couple of orangutans along the way, we reach delightful Rimba Lodge and enough adventures for us all!  First by my just getting there…!   We begin with a nice boardwalk and board-carrying me in my wheelchair. And, off we go—some bare feet, tree roots, bumps, streams, slippery slopes…hard work, indeed!pic35

Success!   It can be handy to bring your own ringside seat for watching orangutans at a feeding station or mother and baby right in front of you.

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Dr. Birute Galdikas is the number one orangutan expert in the world and the creator of Camp Leakey. Photo by Carolyn

I had long wanted to see where Birute Galdikas, one of the three Leakey women primate researchers, did her thing, along with Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall doing theirs in Africa.  And, here I am at Camp Leakey, thanks to my “four strong men” as Erwin reassured me!pic42

On to the Komodo dragons on Rinca Island, Indonesia…another “impossible” feat to get me to these remarkable creatures..pic41

My wheelchair and a vegetable cart are loaded onto the boat. The cart was unloaded, and then fitted with a lounge chair so that I could follow the path of this prehistoric reptile waddling ahead of me. We made it to the ranger station for some fun viewing while the others trekked through the wilderness, seeing six in the wild.pic44

The four men from API Tours who met with us in the lobby of our hotel in Santur, at the end of our Indonesia journey emphasized that dealing with my specials needs, and working along with staff on the ground to solve the issues required was not a burden, but an exhilarating challenge to be creative and to work out plans for me to see the animals.a-196

And then there was Harbin, China and the world famous Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival where my wheelchair was fitted with skis that I was told to bring with me so my helper could just push me on ice around the awesomely incredible illuminated sculptures in below freezing temperature.2017-wheelchair-skis-closeup

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And then there was Antarctica where I thought I would just see it. But, no. The ship crew saw to it that I would experience and stand on THE island and even enjoy a glass of champagne to celebrate making it.cynthia-on-cont

Our experience in Mongolia was another great experience. Several times, I left the wheelchair and one time I would be surprised when I returned to it, like the time a precious Mongolian boy taking a nap or working on a game. mongolia-2009

And in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, an iguana was resting on the chair’s arm and a chameleon sat on my arm.pic23

In Myanmar/Burma, we watched an ox harvest peanut oil while walking around and around. Afterwards, we could buy it and sample it. What an experience that was.burma-2013-3

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And in Papua New Guinea, we were so fortunate to experience the Asaro Mudmen. Amazing! I am so grateful for all who made feasible these incredible experiences that I never imagined would happen.

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Watching the tango being danced in Buenos Aires, Argentina was one highlight of our trip there. Photo by Carolyn.

I encourage anyone to contact me should you have questions or need additional information. Perhaps by knowing as much as possible about my physical situation and adaptations, this will help you judge your ability to travel to “far away places with strange sounding names!” If anyone can get you there, Journeys International/API Tours, Focus Tours and others can if you ask!

Cynthia Henry     cynthiahenry819@gmail.com

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Here we are going into Camp Leakey to see those orangutans up close and personal.

 

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When I visited the wild mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda, I learned they are equipped with a chair to carry handicapped persons up the mountain to be with the gorillas. So, I hired a crew of 8-12 men to carry me up the mountain for a one-hour trek. Four men rotated every 10 minutes. The experience was unbelievable and the scenery up and back was so beautiful and interesting. With those men carrying me, we crossed a creek like it wasn’t there in Uganda. Waiting for us was a family of gorillas going about their daily life for us to enjoy. It was worth every penny and a once in a lifetime experience I will treasure always. Emmy Maseruka (emmymaseruka@gmail.com) of Afrikan Wildlife Safaris, was our guide for the entire safari and visit to the gorillas. He did an A+ job for us. Emmy will take 2 persons or more to see the gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda for 10 days for $4851.00 per person, (plus government gorilla permits in Uganda and Rwanda are separate). Carolyn

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Here I am in Lhasa, Tibet enjoying my favorite chocolate ice cream while riding in a wheelchair the entire 3 days because of my broken foot. My 2 helpers took me all over the nearly 11,500 feet high city. It was a wonderful experience.

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While sitting in a wheelchair, this beautiful lady in Saudi Arabia put henna on my hands. It was at one of the booths at an entertainment park during a special festival for the families around Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. June Landrum, my adventurous travel companion and I were honored to attend this special festival. The people were as happy to meet us as we were to meet them and we took photos of each other on our cell phones! I was in a wheelchair for this event because I could not walk for 4 hours non-stop due to my chronic arthritic back pain.

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And yes, June Landrum and I had to have an ice cream like we do in every country we visit in the world. And everyone is delicious! Of, course, we are stared at everywhere we go and we become friends with them all. This Saudi Arabia tour with Spiekermann Tours (mideastrvl.com)  was a delightful, fun experience with the incredible country and we were welcomed everywhere we went.

 

Photo Copy ©  2017 carolyntravels.com

Photos taken for Cynthia’s story were by Molly.

 

 

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The gravel road we took was unpaved and full of deep potholes and it was a lot of swerve driving to miss those potholes. Thomas Yilma, our guide from KibranTours.com, chose the route over an easier and smoother route because he wanted us to see the Elbore people who live on that route. We crossed dry creek beds one after the other until we came to one that was different.DSC_0590

What was different was nine cars parked on the other side of the wide dry river bank causing us to stop. And cattle blocked our way. Suddenly 2 men appeared at Thomas’ window and they talked in the Amharic language of Ethiopia. We had stopped 60 feet (18.28 meters) from a Bull Jumping ceremony, the Rite of Passage of the Hamer people, where a boy becomes a man and can marry. My dream had come true to attend this ceremony of the Hamer people in the Omo Valley of Ethiopia.DSC_0618

But seeing the event was not guaranteed as the event is a private Rite of Passage Ceremony among the Hamer and the date is not known publicly. But by taking the most difficult route, we had found a bull jumping ceremony by accident. And this one was just beginning.DSC_0621

We did not know about it but the rural Hamer people knew when the Rite of Passage Ceremony would be held by using a “calendar.” The calendar was a rope with the number of knots equaling the number of days before the ceremony. Since the rural Hamer people are illiterate, the rope calendar worked perfect. Each day they untie a knot in the rope. So if it is delivered on the 10th of the month and the rope has 20 knots then the ceremony is held on the 30th at a predetermined place. The Hamer people show up ready to support the bull jumper.DSC_0635

Each of the Hamer people must bring a gift of money or a goat which can be used for the celebration or the jumper’s bride price when he marries. Ike (eye-kay) was the jumper at this ceremony and the Hamer welcome visitors and tourists because they charge a fee for attending any of their events. We paid $75 USD (1500 Ethiopian Birr) for the ceremony for 2 persons. One-third went to the guide we hired to explain everything going on and why and one-third went to each of Ike’s Father and Mother.

When we arrived at the ceremony, Maza men were sitting in a circle painting the faces of other Maza, men who had successfully bull jumped and became men. These men would help the bull jumping ceremony by holding the bulls in place, making sure Ike didn’t fall from the bulls by dropping sticks on the ground to cushion his fall, help him up to the bulls and any other help they could give. Symbols of the Hamer and other designs were painted in different colors and shapes all over the men’s heads, making for a true Hamer work of art.DSC_0633

Next to the painting circle, females members of Ike’s family, sisters and cousins, were being whipped by the family’s Maza men with switches signifying good luck for Ike. They slashed the ladies backs so hard that it sounded almost like a gunshot pop. And then blood ran from the cuts. And over and over they were whipped and their backs were becoming full of slashes with blood oozing all over their skin. And the ladies were begging for more, even though the Maza men did not want to whip the ladies.DSC_0728

But it was an honor and tradition to be beat and whipped and the ladies begged for more because they wanted to remember Ike, their life with him and to wish him good luck. And now that he was becoming a man, his life would be different. To be whipped until bleeding was the way they could remember their Ike and have honor among the Hamer. After the whipping, dirt and ash were placed on the cuts and allowed to heal. The dirt causes the skin to pucker, making the scars protrude for all to see their honor of being whipped.DSC_0680

While the whipping and painting was going on, a group of Hamer ladies was singing and dancing non-stop and paying honor to Ike with their rhythmic beats and steps. Watching all of these events were about 100 Hamer people sitting in the shade and keeping up with the beat themselves. All the family members had a job in the ceremony, from singing, cooking, dancing, painting, whipping, helping with the bulls, counseling the boy on being a man, and donating a goat for the celebration afterwards.DSC_0698

Now it was time to go to an area deeper into the bush where the Bull Jumping Ceremony was being held. So everyone left en mass and walked 3900 feet (118 meters) on the gravel road into the bush where the ceremony preparations were beginning. about 15 feet (4.57 meters) from the ceremony area sat Ike. He was 10-year-old, not 17-year-old, and was sitting on a Hamer pillow that was a 9-inch (22.66 cm) high wood seat in the shape of a “T.”DSC_0704

He looked unhappy and confused. He did not smile or even talk to me or acknowledge my greeting. He barely participated in a photo. As I held his hand, I noticed it was limp, delicate and cold. We wondered if he was into this ceremony.DSC_0715

Ike, now, was called a “ukule”, a boy about to jump the bulls. He had a goat skin over one shoulder and a cloth tied around his waist. Inserted at the waist in the cloth was a a wooden phallic symbol, called a “ukule boko”, symbolizing a boy about to become a man. His head was shaved except for a 3-inch long Mohawk stretched from the crown to the nape of his neck. Sitting next to him was a Maza family member bodyguard.DSC_0765

Now it was time for Ike to be counseled by other Maza about becoming a man and the responsibilities and duties he must follow. He was taken into the circle of men and stripped of his goat skin and cloth. He was now naked symbolizing that he came into this world naked and lived one life. Now that he was becoming a man, he is naked again to begin living his second life as a man and marriage.DSC_0788

About 12 men formed a circle with Ike in the middle. They told him what it is to be a man among the Hamer people and he was expected to follow the traditions. And Ike would have to pledge that he would abide by only eating blood, milk, honey and meat until he married. He promised he would although he had many years before he would marry than older boys.DSC_0811

The bulls were being lined up side by side by the Maza men. Some bulls cooperated and others had to be pulled and shoved and lifted into place, but finally all 4 bulls were ready to be jumped. But it was normal that a ceremony had 10-12 bulls. However, Ike, being only 10-years-old, his family decided 4 bulls was enough for him to jump. And the bulls would be small as Ike was small and young.DSC_0831

So Ike began each jump of the 5 jumps with about 200 family members and tourists watching. He ran and took a flying leap up to the back of a 4-foot-bull and fell before he even reached the back of the first bull. Everyone became totally silent and shocked. So he tried again and this time a Maza man helped lift him to the top of that first bull and it was acceptable for a 10-year-old to have help. It would not be for a 17-year-old. Ike was able to jump from back to back to back of each bull successfully, landing on the ground standing up. Each bull’s back was about 2 1/2 feet apart.DSC_0830DSC_0829

Then he took a flying leap for the second try and again successfully jumped the 4 bulls again. And the third and fourth try was successful. The fifth try also was successful and Ike landed standing up and was declared a man and a Maza, a man who had completed the bull jumping ceremony. He then would pass the wooden phallic symbol, the ukule boke, to his half brother when he was ready to jump the bulls.DSC_0839

I congratulated Ike on becoming a man and he still was not smiling or happy. He had the goat skin over his shoulder again and the cloth around his waist sitting again on the Hamer “T” pillow. Finally, I was able to get him to give a thumb up signal but with no smile. He was the last to leave the ceremony area successful as a man with his bodyguard at his side.DSC_0883

If Ike had missed a bull and fell to the ground, he would have been ostracized by his family for one year. And he would be whipped and mistreated by them for embarrassing them. But he would be allowed to attempt another jump in one year.DSC_0819

Usually a 16 or 17-year-old boy jumps 10-12 bulls to become a man. But this Bull Jumping Ceremony was for a 10-year-old boy. Ike’s 17-year-old brother had died and his parents decided it was time Ike became a man. Ike’s father could marry as many women as he could afford with the bride price of buying a woman from her family with cows, and if he could afford to take care of his children and wife.DSC_0817

Cows are like money to the Hamer people and they determine a person’s wealth. Ike’s father had 3 wives and Ike’s Mother was the first wife. The first wife among the Hamer people has absolute power and authority over all wives and husband. Ike was the only living son of wife #1 and wife #2 had a 17-year-old son and wife #3 had a 17-year-old son, all ready to become a man by jumping the bulls.DSC_0841

Ike was forced to do the bull jumping ceremony now. If he didn’t, he would block his half brothers from becoming a man and marrying. He had no choice at 10 years-old. He had to become a man even though he was a boy.DSC_0127

The next day, the Wetele Ceremony was held in honor of Ike becoming a man, but Ike was not at the ceremony. He was with his Father at his Father’s home and this event was at his Mother’s home. It is not unusual for the honoree to be absent from his Wetele celebration, which means the grilled goat that is served to everyone.DSC_0185

At this ceremony, Hamer people were singing and dancing and grilling goats that were donated for the event. About 200 people were in attendance and several goats were sacrificed. Strips of meat were put on sticks around 2 bonfires to cook for 2 hours. Hamer ladies were baking bread from maize.

The wondrous smells of bread and grilling meat filled the air and all enjoyed the food, the celebration and Ike becoming a man. And soon, the ceremony will be held again for Ike’s 2 half brothers who will then become a man and eligible to marry because Ike jumped the bulls successfully.

Photo Copy © 2016 carolyntravels.com 

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When we arrived at the Mursi village, several women came to our vehicle to show us their lip plate. They were eager to show us because the Mursi people charge a fee for being photographed.

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And they made sure they had the money before photos could be taken. With the money in her hand, one lady proceeded to show us her famous lower lip and how far she could pull it down and how wide she could stretch it. They collect money from the tourists for photos for their income.DSC_0120And next, it was show time. She took the terra cotta lip plate from her hand up to her lip, stretched it wide and down to open it into a circle.DSC_0121 And then in 2 seconds she just slipped the disc into that circle and there was an iconic Mursi lady with the lip plate extended from her mouth. When the lip is cut for extension, the 2 middle lower teeth are also removed to accommodate the clay lip plate, also call a labret. And she then was considered beautiful and strong by the Mursi tribe members.

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We met this beautiful lady on the road to the Mursi village and she showed us her long lip loop, long ear loops, body scars and metal bracelets.

 At age 14-16, the Mursi girl’s Mother or family friend cuts a small hole in the her lower lip and inserts a small stick. Then, larger and larger plugs/discs are inserted to stretch the lip until the large disc plate can be inserted after several months. Ladies with the largest disc in her lip gets the biggest bride price for her family when she marries because the husband-to-be must give many of his cattle to her father for the marriage to occur. The lip plate is the Rite of Passage event from a girl to a woman who is ready for marriage. This has been the custom of the Mursi for hundreds of years. Each lady makes her own lip plate out of clay or wood and decorates it with geometric patterns and colors and then seals it with her breast milk. And if it breaks, she just makes another one.

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The Mursi are also known as the Most Fascinating tribe in the world because of their unique headdresses, are one of 2 or 3 tribes that wear lip plates, the stick fighting ceremony by the males which is ritualized violence because the one standing or alive at the end of the fight has the right to marry. Also they are fascinating because of their bartering and sharing goods with other tribes, and finally, the Mursi speak Nilo-Saharan a language spoken in their immediate area and many cannot read or write.

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Besides the lip plate, also called  a labret, the Mursi ladies are famous for their headdresses. The Mursi people are know as the most fascinating tribe in the world.

Just as soon as the Mursi lady had shown us her lip plate, our Mursi guide told us we have to get back in the vehicle. We did, but didn’t know why but did say the Mursi ladies would not negotiate a reasonable price for photos because they were drunk. We rode and rode into the bush on a dirt road full of large and small mud puddles with it splashing all over our vehicle as we sped up the site.

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A beautiful Mursi lady without her lip plate because meeting with their King was a private ceremony and they only wear the plate in public. Their scars show how they are strong, are adults and can stand the pain of childbirth.

We then walked and walked through the muddy water and cow manure to a site where hundreds of Mursi people had congregated. Our Mursi guide wanted us to see a special celebration the Mursi attend once a year. This was a private Mursi celebration and they only wear their lip plates in public. We were allowed to attend if we again paid another fee. We paid it and we were the only outsiders at the important yearly ceremony. But first, we had to shoulder greet the village chief.DSC_0149

 

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The King’s bodyguards.

When we first saw him, he was visiting with the village chief underneath a shade tree. Hundreds of cows were everywhere in the bush, grouped together by their owners. The day was super hot and muggy after all the rain.

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The leaders of each of the 9 Mursi tribes gather to watch the prediction proceedings.

 

All the rain, mud and cow manure didn’t bother the 200 plus people gathered at this annual 4-day Blessing of the Cows by King Bitongay.  Nine clans of the Mursi people in the Omo Valley of Ethiopia each sacrificed a cow this day. This was an honor event for the Mursi because a cow is a treasured member of the family like a child.

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King Bitongay points out his reading.

 The village chiefs from the clans were sitting and squatting in a circle intently watching the King’s every move as he pointed out lines and meanings of the lines. Every move he made and every word he said meant the future of each Mursi clan for one year.

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Another cow’s entrails arrive for the King to interpret for the coming year.

Now that each clan had sacrificed a cow in honor of their King, the entrails of each cow was brought to the King and chiefs one at a time and laid out in the middle of their circle. Then, the King would read the entrails, looking at and studying every turn, bulge, indention, color, shape and size of the entrails of that one cow. By this method, he could determine the future of that clan. A bad or good reading would be the final prediction. When he finished reading the entrails of one clan’s cow, then another cow’s entrails were delivered for its determinations until all 9 had been read.

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They are asking the King to schedule the stick fighting ceremony for the tribes so they can get married.

 

While these readings were being studied, a group of 10 men, all dressed in black and carrying 2½ meter long sticks, were running back and forth over and over singing a song in their language. The men were singing about their Rite of Passage from a boy to a man and asking for their ceremony to be held soon, for the winner could then be declared a man and eligible to marry.

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Nine Mursi tribes wait for the King to read their cow’s entrails and then bless the cows for the coming year.

 

The Rite of Passage Ceremony is two 18-year-old men from different clans about the same age, height, weight and strength fighting each other with a long stick. And the winner of the match is declared a man and is eligible to marry. The fighting men have places they can and cannot hit on their opponent’s body. Delicate areas like the head, private parts, knees, ankles, elbows and wrists are protected with a cotton cloth and were not allowed to be hit. Other than these areas, they were free to hit them over and over and over until the opponent gave up or died.

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The Mursi put dirt and ash in the body scars to make them pucker. The different scars signify strength, adulthood, belonging, strength, and show they can take the pain of childbirth.

The village chief served as the referee and set the rules which the 2 fighters had to follow. He had the absolute authority and final decision in each fight. The rules could be about anything anywhere on the body, or about time or place. If it appeared that one man was beating the other man to death, or it was obvious the other man was not able to finish the fight or was down and not getting up, the chief could end the stick fight and declare the winner a man. And the winner then would get to pick a woman to marry.DSC_0190

If the loser is going to marry having lost the stick fight, he has to pay his bride’s family 40-50 cattle. On the other hand, the winner pays 20 to 30 cattle to his bride’s family. Should the loser not desire to marry, he can fight next year. And if he should win the fight one year later, he has to pay 20-30 cattle to his bride’s family and he is now a winner.

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The King Bitongay and I were happy to meet and greet each other. He had arrived from the reading of the animal entrails behind us.

A Mursi man can marry several women and are the richest tribe in the Omo Valley because they have the most cows. But the King was the richest of them all and had several thousand cows, therefore he was the King. He inherited the title from his brother who had died. And the brother inherited the title from his Father upon his death.DSC_0160

The entrails had been interrupted from each of the 9 sacrificed cows and the determinations were made for each clan’s future. A bad reading meant famine and no food for them or their cattle and diseases for them and their cattle causing a clan to alter their ways and do different things to make it through another year until the entrails are read again. A good reading would mean food for them and their animals and they could continue on for another year like they had been doing with no changes. All of the clan’s entrails readings turned out to be good and the Mursi were very happy and thankful for a good year to come.DSC_0172

In another area of the bush, the 9 sacrificed cows were being cut into small sections for all the Mursi to take home with them. One had the skin, another had a leg, another one had part of the head, shank, sirloin, chuck, ribs, brisket, round, short plate and loin until every bit of the cow was gone. Each one was happy that they sacrificed their animal to honor their King and to have food to eat. But the Mursi only eat their animals when there is a drought, weddings, famine, and special occasions because they eat mostly porridge and blood. So this was a special occasion for their King and each one was honored to have another good year.

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Each tribe’s cows circle around and around the King as he bless them all.

 

The king now was ready to bless the 1200 cows from the clans in attendance on this first day of the 4-day celebration. As he prepared a Calabasas gourd with water and ash for good luck, the cattle were circling around and around him. As a clan’s herd approached, the King would sprinkle the ash water on them until all had been blessed.

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Taking the cow’s back to the tribal village.

Then the keeper of the herd would lead them back into the bush where they would wait until it was time to go home. Herd after herd of cattle was blessed by the King.

 

Standing by the King were the hundred or more Mursi women who had been resting in the shade. They wanted to be close to their King as he blessed their cattle for another good year. So they joined him in the blessing ceremony in the center of the bush area.DSC_0307

The celebration was almost over and the Mursi could go home with their meat and begin their daily ritual of drinking their special home brew. They had refrained from drinking in honor of the King this day, but now in their huts and village, they could drink the brew until drunk. And they do this every day until the King’s Blessing of the Cow Celebration next year when they will go without drinking for half a day in honor of their King. But they were happy for the King’s prediction of another good year for the people and the animals.

Photo Copy ©2016carolyntravels.com 

 

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The Mursi people greet each other by touching shoulder to shoulder.

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Thomas Yilma, our excellent guide with Ethiopian Kibran Tours (kibrantours.com) (thomasethiopian@gmail.com) showed some curious Mursi ladies their photos with the huge circles in their ears.

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The mud puddles mixed with cow manure flew all over our vehicle as we hurried to make it to the celebration in the bush.

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The beautiful Ethiopian landscape where the Mursi people live in the Omo Valley is all green from the rains and the crops are producing food for the people and cattle. Only the northeast part of Ethiopia in the desert has little rain and occasionally experiences drought and famine.

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King Bitongay greeted me with a handshake.

 

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Growing up on a dairy farm, I knew that if two or more bulls were together they were as dangerous as 2000-pound guard dogs, except with horns. Now as we rode a bus through rural Ethiopia, we noticed five Brahma bulls going around and around in a circle by the side of the road. They were walking on a 12-inch bed of sorghum stalks hand-cut from the nearby field. And these five bulls were not yoked! They were free, yet they walked together, side by side, shoulder to shoulder, their horns only inches apart.

Upon seeing this operation, we stopped our bus on our Abercrombie & Kent and Kibran Tours of Ethiopia tour and got out to watch and photograph it.

“They are trained from birth,” our guide told us, “to walk around in circles over and over with other calves. The people live with the animals 24 hours a day, so the bulls become pets and do whatever they are trained to do.”

We watched the bulls go in circles and the next thing we didn’t expect. The farmer let us try pitching the straw back into the pile with the pitchfork he was using. All was easy until the bulls made the round toward me. As they got about three feet from me, I dropped the pitchfork and took off. At this stage in my life, I didn’t want an encounter with five bulls! The bulls were making the grain separate from the stalk by smashing it.

As we proceeded down the road, we noticed two farmers on the ground scooping up grain by hand and by them were five more bulls resting beside the grain stalks they had just smashed. The farmers were sifting the seeds from the stalks and the stalks would be for the bulls and the grains for the humans. Two bulls just lay on the ground and 3 just stood while they all watched as the farmers worked.

When work was finished, they all walked together to their home and yard where they have lived since birth. And here they rest until the next day when they go around and around until all the grain is harvested.

Photo Copy ©  2016 carolyntravels.com 

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Forty-eight Karo people arrived at my birthday party by suddenly appearing from the bush using  the light of the full moon to find their way. Before the party could begin, they had to finish dressing  at the bush lodge by painting their bodies with white paint. For 30 minutes, each one applied their world famous body designs right in front of me using white rock powder and water. And what designs they made while chanting songs about love, war and life.

But that wasn’t all that these Karo people from the Omo Valley of Ethiopia had for my birthday. Soon the dancing started as the men lined up opposite each other and competed with the highest jump possible, all while chanting a rhythmic beat. First one and then another would jump between the two lines and continued jumping as high as he could until he made it to the other side.

Then it was the ladies time to perform their dances. What a treat to see the ladies do the monkey dance, the wild dog, and 5 other dances. In 3 separate lines, the ladies squatted, hopped and sounded like a monkey. Then they barked and chanted like wild dogs while scooting around in a circle. One after the other, the ladies continued their outstanding performance.

As I sat in the seat of honor next to the old chief of this Karo tribe, I noticed the young children were joining in the dancing behind their parents and  keeping up with the beat until it was their time to perform one day. And while all the dancing occurred, the older children tended the infants that couldn’t yet dance.

They even brought flowers and a birthday cake for me. The “flowers” were rose petals in a Coke bottle and the “cake” was sand and a candle in a jar.

An hour later, the 48 Karo people disappeared into the bush just as fast as they first appeared walking by the light of the full moon. I asked my guide Daniel Tesfaye of  Kibran Tours of Ethiopia, what he paid them for this outstanding party and he replied, $100 US Dollars. To me, it was priceless.

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