Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My Big Trip come to an end :-((( But then another adventure begins...

The end of my Big Trip: bit earlier than planned, bit unexpected but it's good to be going home...
So the end of my Big Trip came somewhat sooner and more unexpectedly that I ever anticipated... When I showed up at the border between Botswana and Namibia in mid March, an otherwise lovely immigration officer informed me that with a Polish passport I could not obtain a Namibian visa on the border. Hmmm all the visa research I've done before departure and all the advice I was given from the overlanding company organizing my trip said that yes I needed a visa but I could easily get it on the border. Well, evidently not on this particular border... The officer was polite but very firm. He couldn't let me in, he couldn't issue my visa, no he wouldn't do it for a "special fee", if I wanted a visa I would have to go all the way to a Namibia embassy in Botswana or Zambia. Well, by the time I would get it and catch up with my friends again in the middle of nowhere in Namibia, it'd be days if not weeks and they would be almost down to South Africa ending their journey. So I made an executive decision to say "no" to Namibia this time and to fly home to reunite with friends and family couple weeks earlier than originally planned. And once I made that decision the joy really hit me: I'll see my beloved Cute Dutchman in just couple of days! I'll have more time with my family including the adorable 6 month old nephew I haven't even met yet, I'll have more precious time with Me amongs the luxuries of life I have not experienced for a long time such as hot water, bubble baths, clean clothes, soft bed instead of a tent crawling with little ants (I could not get rid of them in Botswana!), Cute Dutchman right next to me... I am so excited to be going back home! Namibia is not going anywhere, I'll surely visit it one day soon. And I feel ready to embark on a brand new adventure in my life called "re-entering the real world, the rest of my life and seeing what happens"... 

Uncertainty and a life lesson how to deal with it
At an emotional, personal level I cannot quite believe my Big Trip is almost over. I have been dreaming about it for years and planning it for months. It feels like yesterday that I gathered the courage to leave the office and board that flight to China and now it's time to go home??? Bugger... I yet again fell in love with Africa all over again. A piece of my heart is left behind here every single time I visit. I love its sounds at night, it pinks and oranges in the sky at dusk and dawn, its tribal village people content in their basic existence and totally oblivious to the concept of the outside world, unpolluted by the silly worries and stresses of our abundant Western ways with our little irrelevant Western life problems... 
Now I find myself so very excited about what lies ahead, even though - funnily enough - I actually don't really know what lies ahead. A realization hit me recently that my Big Trip has been an invaluable life lesson in dealing with uncerainty. Few years ago my old self would be freaking out at the thought of not knowing what her life will look life in 6, 12, 18 months. Right now I have no bloody idea to put it frankly. In my relationship I have no clue whether a year from now I will be living in the same country, let alone the same house with the Cute Dutchman. At work I have no clue whether a year from now I'll still be doing the same thing for the same employer or completely different thing for a dofferent organization and where in the world the job will take me next. But I feel so amazingly grateful for all these various opportunities and options my life offers me and I welcome every single one of them with open eyes, arms and heart. Whatever happens, happens. Bring it on, life! I wanted my Big Trip to be an exercise in dealing with uncertainty and the Universe blessed me with plenty of opportunities to practice...

I return home after 8 months on the road:
- more accepting
- emotionally calmer
- less feverishly pursuing and striving
- more tolerant and open to people with views/experiences different than mine
- trusting that Universe will deliver what I want if I'm clear what I want
- believing that everything happens for a reason, even if I don't quite know what it is at the time
- facing inwards instead of outwards 
- gratuful, oh so very grateful for what I've been blessed with
- more present in the Now and Here
- chosing to be kind over being right
- chosing to stop comparison thinking from running my life
- taking responsibility (no matter how much I protest, I am totally responsible for everything that happens to me in my life)
- not judgmental about the ways of others (if I judge, it says more about me that it says about them)
- still so very much in love - with Life, the world, and yes the Cute Dutchman :-)

Eastern + Southern Africa - how I met someone who changed my views on passion forever

Tanzania (including the glorious Zanzibar), Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe - on my previous African travels I've never had the privilege and opportunity to visit these corners on the continent and let me tell you, it's been absolutely amazing. 

Tanzania - Serengeti and Ngorongoro National Parks
I’ve been fortunate to visit most of the big national parks in Southern Africa but Tanzania offered one of the best game viewing experiences I’ve ever done. Not only do you get the Big Five and many other amazing animals lazing around in their natural habitat but also it’s all surrounded by dramatic, beautiful landscape: flat savannah of Serengeti and crater dramatics of Ngorongoro (which is sometimes called the Garden of Eden, which quite accurately describes the atmosphere and the serenity of the place). The animal encounters I was fortunate to witness in these national parks were impressive: I saw a lion making love to his lioness, I saw a cheetah just about to start his deadly chase after an antelope, I saw 4 lions hunting an antelope (poor antelope, everybody wants to eat them for dinner), I saw 2 big elephants fighting with each other so that their trunks were completely twisted and you couldn’t tell which trunk is whose, I saw 2 giraffes also fighting with each other twisting their long necks so that you couldn’t tell which neck was whose neck was whose. The additional fun of my Serengeti experience was couple days when I had opportunity to camp right in the middle of the  national park, where the campsite gets visited at night by lions and hyenas. I must say I’ve never required special training what to do if you have to leave your tent to go to the toilet at night! In case you’re wondering: the trick is to never ever turn off your flashlight because if you have it on, the animal’s eyes will reflect, you’ll see them and you’ll be able (hopefully!) to slowly back away to your tent (don’t turn your back at them, walk backwards with flashlight directed at the animal’s eyes). If your light is off, you won’t see anything but the animal will certainly see you and may attack. Before you leave your tent at night, flash the light around and if you see a lion or a hyena, best to stay in your tent. I decided to play it safe – decided not to leave my tent under any circumstances at night while in the Serengeti and kept an empty plastic container in my tent in case my bladder gets desperately full J

Aaahhhh, this finally felt like I was on a real beach vacation. It was blissful couple days on Nwungwi Beach of no dirty, dusty, smelly, waterless, shower-less overlanding. Instead it was sleeping in a simple but beautiful beach hut, with mosquito net over the bed giving it this special romantic African look, with white sand and blue ocean just steps outside the hut, with every cocktail imaginable available at the beach bar, with sea food grilled to perfection just hours after it was fished out of the water, with breathtaking sunsets, and finally with amazing coral reef scuba diving. Swimming in the warm ocean at sunset, just as the sky turns a million shades of pink is a travel memory forever engrained in my mind and soul. Stonetown was also lovely with its beautiful narrow stone alleys, carved doors, fish and meat bazaar, old slave market with its brutal inhumane history... No wonder the entire town is UNESCO protected as a designated World Heritage Site. Sundowner cocktails at Africa House overlooking the ocean and the local boys practicing their sports and acrobatics on the lawn outside makes for a lovely “chillaxed” evening. And last but not least – the SPICES! A visit to the local spice farm was so much fun! What an unbelievable eye opening experience to the abundance of smells, colors and tastes that we could and should be including in our cooking. I have had vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, lemongrass etc before but never ever of the quality and strength that here on the beautiful island of Zanzibar. I now completely understand why so many travellers say the same thing every time Zanzibar is mentioned: “Aaah! Paradise!”. It is very true…

So, how is life and general wellbeing after months on the road? 
Inevitably, after months on the road, some of my beloved fellow travellers are getting tired, frustrated and starting to miss home bit too painfully. In my 7 months on the road thus far I have seen your every travelling interpersonal drama in the book: people getting drunk, people getting high, people partying all night every night to music that belongs in a London music club and not in Africa (what’s the point of travelling all the way here just to do exactly the same thing you do in your home town every weekend???), people changing bed partners more often than they change their underwear. Yes, my dear friends, when you travel with other people (especially ones you did not carefully handpick yourselves and submit to thorough psychological testing before they boarded your overlanding truck) you will get frustrated with your fellow travellers and have them being frustrated with you. And it will happen sooner rather than later. Complaining is a big theme and it’s one that I do not deal with very well. Yes, overlanding across the entire Africa is not everyone’s piece of cake and can get pretty tough. Sometimes it gets too hot, too cold, too wet (guess what, it rains heavily and your tent gets soaked if you come to Kenya in the rainy season! Dah!), too dry (guess what, this is Africa and sometimes showers are just not going to happen), too dirty, too smelly, too you –name-it… And the downside of travelling with other people is that you’ll always have someone complaining something. There are days when I feel like screaming at and punching some of those Forever Complaining. But guess what – they probably feel like screaming at and punching me sometimes too. We all have our bad days out here, it’s expected, accepted and all part of the fun. Overlanding is real life in its extra intense miniature form – just like in your real life at home you’ll have good and bad days, sometimes you’ll love life and sometimes you’ll want to go to the woods and scream your lungs out, some people you’ll meet will be complete losers complaining about everything and some will become your friends, lovers or soul mates. Sharing the travelling experience with other like-minded people is unpredictable, sometimes beyond annoying and hence great fun. The alternative would be to drive across Africa completely alone, which in addition to being dangerous for a single while female, would also lack the gratifying adventure of meeting fascinating people I would never meet at home. 

Zimbabwe - life lesson on passion
I have developed a strong, unique personal bond with Zimbabwe. It is now officially my favourite country in Africa. And not only because of the breathtaking beauty of its nature, sunsets and people. Not only because of its painfully unique history. But it's rather because of someone I met here that Zimbabwe has for me become a symbol of the importance of finding and following your true passion in life. Let me tell you the story of Andy... Andy is a professional hunter and guide in the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. His professional certifications allow him to guide in any of the Zimbabwean parks. I had the privilage and the honor to visit the Hwange and the Matapos national parks guided by Andy. I have visited many parks in many countries throughout Africa in the last several years. Technically speaking, the game drives I have done by Andy's side have not been the best game drives by a long stretch - it was the rainy season with too much green bush to spot many animals, other parks in Eastern Africa probably have more easily spottable game than Zimbabwe. But those game drives I have done with Andy will forever in my heart remain the most inspiring, fascinating, beautiful, memorable safaris I have ever done in my life thus far. And it's for one reason and one reason only - Andy's passion for what he does is utterly contegious. He knows and loves every bit of animal. bird, grass, bush and tree in his home country. If after couple hot sweaty hours of driving through the bush the big animals like elephants, lions or leopards are not showing their pretty heads out of the bush, he will get you so excited about a few animal pawprints in the dust or a pile of elephant dunk on the ground that you'll happily forget that youn really wanted to see the big game and not prints and poo. It will not matter anymore. You will feel totally at one with nature, with the sounds and smells of the bush, with the tear enducing colours of the sky at sunset. You will drink every single story Andy feeds you about his 2 years of living alone in the bush without ever seeing a white face, his survival completely dependent on what food he hunts and what water he finds. You will feel in your vains the passion he has for his profession, for his country's wildlife he is honored to show you, for years of hard sweaty dangerous work he's had to go through in order to complete his professional accrediations and to become one of the elite few. His passion for his life and his work shows in everything he does and says. It was beyond inspiring to meet someone like that. It opened my eyes to how utterly crucial it is to find and follow our true passions in life. It made me realize that if I ever have children, I will make it my most important mission in life to teach them exactly that: that life without true passion is not worth living... Thank you, Andy. Maybe one day you will take me on that 4 day walking safari in the Zimbabwean bush we talked about and we'll stand again mere metres away from 2 ton rhinos and to camp under the stars hearing the hippos sing... 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Kenya - amazing animals (not stuffed) and a fight for the rights pf Samburu women

I have been in Kenya before but never overlanding so this time it’s been quite a different experience. Especially first couple days were interesting eye opener about how security works here. Border crossing from Ethiopia to Kenya was fast, clean and relatively civilized (apart from the fact that 2 people had expired Ethiopian visas so some “polite convincing” of the immigration officials was required). But things changed immediately after we drove through the border. We were told it wasn’t really safe to bush camp in the border area so we pitched tents in… a police compound (it felt very safe to be drinking beer and playing pool with lots of police officers). Next day we were told it wasn’t really safe to drive through the Marsabit desert without police escort so we got 2 police officers on our truck with big guns. Oh well, welcome to Kenya. We also had some other security-related travel adventures but I won’t talk about them here because my poor mommy would likely get a heart attack. I will tell her (and you) all about it when I return home safely and promise her not to venture on another Big Trip like this for awhile J

Samburu National Park and Nakuru National Park - those of you who have been on a game drive in any of the African national parks, know the feeling exactly. Oh my God, the animals!!! I have been on numerous game drives in Kenya, Botswana and South Africa before but seeing the animals in the wild again still stopped me in my tracks for a little gratitude prayer to the Higher Force. It is so amazing and overwhelming to be surrounded (literally! They come to within few meters of your car!) by elephants, giraffes, zebras, buffalos, rhinos, even some cheetahs and leopards. This time around I had proper set of big lenses on my Canon (purchased specifically for this trip) so the photos turned out great (go check them out on snapfish.co.uk, I think I have sent you all a link). We were even extremely lucky to witness a leopard killing a baby buffalo and then being chased by a very angry mommy buffalo up a tree. I truly love the African wildlife. The walls of my old flat in Richmond were decorated by the photos of the Big Five from my last trip to Kenya. Now I have a new vast collection of photos to decorate the walls of my new flat in Chiswick (you are all invited to a housewarming party in May, details will follow!). And while I was certainly not staying in the fancy expensive ($300 plus) lodges in the national parks, I went to a couple of them for lunch and a swim in their beautiful swimming pools. Sneaky overlanders J

In Samburu I also had an unusual experience of meeting some women (including their chief – Rebecca Lolosoli) from a local women-only Samburu village, which they started to escape their abusive husbands and fathers, as well as the painful cruel ritual of FGM – female genital mutilation. The village was started by Rebecca in 1990 and now has about 50 members living there. Rebecca gave us a chilling account of the Samburu culture and especially its treatment of women, which led her to start the village and a nationwide campaign for the women’s rights in the Kenyan tribes. In Samburu culture women have absolutely no rights, they are considered property of their fathers and then husbands. There’s even a saying in Samburu culture comparing a women to the top of the warrior’s spear – if it’s broken, you replace it with another one. Women cannot own land, property or livestock. Women can be killed or hurt by men and it’s not even considered a crime under Kenyan law (even if an abused woman gathers the courage to report the attack to the police, the response she gets is always “well, it’s part of your Samburu culture so it’s not a crime and we cannot intervene”). All girls at the age of 12 are subjected to female genital mutilation and married off. Immediately after the mutilation the girl has to walk – while bleeding heavily from her private parts - with her new husband to his village, often up to 40 km away. On the way she faints, sometimes dies. If she refuses to undergo the mutilation, she will be killed. If she refuses to have sex with her husband, she will be ganged raped by the village men in front of her father. As Rebecca was describing these horrifying stories (including her own story of how she had to flee to Nairobi and he hidden by some NGO friends of hers because her husband wanted to kill her and steal the land she got from the government to start the women-only village), the only question in my mind was “how can I and my friends/family back home help her cause?”. I had a long talk with her about it. Her answer was: education and fundraising. She now travels around Kenyan fundraising and spreading the word to NGOs, government, donors and individual travelers like me. Each of us could help by spreading the word further in our home countries, donating money to her cause and maybe even getting involved in related causes at home – there are numerous charities in the Western countries fighting for the improvement of women’s rights in Africa and for stopping the practice of female genital mutilation). If you’d like to learn more about Rebecca’s story and how you can help, please visit http://www.umojawomen.org/. I am also of course always more than happy to tell you more about what I have heard from her and her fellow Samburu women.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ethiopia – land of breathtaking mountains, rock hewn churches and valuable lessons in how not to do foreign aid

It was here that Lucy was discovered by archeologists. Lucy was a special species that already 3.2 billion years ago walked on 2 legs and destroyed the scientists’ previous theory that our ancestors only started walking on 2 legs after evolving larger brains. Lucy became famous and Ethiopia started being considered as “the cradle for humanity”. And then a complicated, varied and fascinated history followed of acient kingdoms and religions, Muslim and Christian wars, brutal bloody conflicts with its invadors and neighbours, insane emperors, famine. You name it and it probably featured in Ethiopia’s history... The Ethiopians of today are extremely proud people – of their language, heritage, religion, culture, calendar (in Ethiopia the calendar says it’s 7.5 years earlier than everywhere else and the clock says it’s 6 hours earlier). 3 words summarize my first impressions of the country – religion, agriculture and injera (large, pancake-like local type of sour bread, which – although it looks like an old kitchen flannel - you better learn to like and quick because it will be the basis of almost every meal you’ll have in Ethiopia). My second impression of the country was that it’s a sad but at the same time valuable lesson in how not to do foreign aid. There are overwhelmingly many children around Ethiopia – big towns and tiny villages alike – who spend their entire days chasing any foreigner they can find with an aggressively extended hand commanding “give me money, give me money”. And if this demand is not met, it’s not unheard of that stones and human number 2 (aka poop) is thrown at you or your car. I find it beyond depressing that the immediate association they have of seeing a white face is to be handed out money for nothing, that they are on the streets begging instead of being in school or at least attempting to provide some kind of service (showing the way, polishing shoes, selling something) in order to earn the money. For me it is such a “in your face” cruel reminder that handing out food or money to the communities in Africa is not the right way to do foreign aid. It’s not sustainable and it’s not aiding. It’s crippling those communities for generations. It makes them dependant on and addicted to aid. It doesn’t teach them or motivate them to actually learn a skill and use it to sustainably support themselves.

Gondar –

Royal Enclosure – entire 70,000 sq ft complex was totally restored by UNESCO and made a World Heritage Site. Most impressive and best preserved elements are Fasiladas Palace with its Indian, Portugese, Moorish and Aksumite influences, Palace of Iyasu I with its banquet hall, library and kitchen. There’s also a Turkish bath, which evidently worked wonders for those suffering from syphilis.

Fasiladas Bath – large pool (about the size of an Olympic size pool) surrounded by beautiful stone walls and snakelike tree roots used to be a swimming pool for royalty (who used inflated sheep skins as life jackets) and today is a place of religious christening rituals. Once a year it’s filled with river water, blessed by a priest, and becomes a loud riot for hundreds of people jumping in and splashing around.

Whole of Gondar has quite a bloody and brutal history including characters like a queen who slayed a king’s brother and was dangled on a rope from a tree outside the Royal Enclosure, or dead bodies of many rebels who challenged of the ruling authorities and were layed in the open to be chewed on by hyenas, or the kings who held banquets of fiesting on raw flesh while wearing their crows of emeralds and jewels.

Simien Mountains National Park – no matter what treks and routes you choose to cover in this national park, whether you will spend a day or a week here, it will leave you completely breathless. The peak go up to 4000 m so altitude with leave you speechless. Coming across groups of gelada baboons on your treks is always an adventure. Spending New Year’s Eve on top one of the mountain peaks (as I was fortunate to do) is definitely a memorable (and freezing cold!) experience. The Simien Mountains definitely rank among Africa’s best mountain ranges. The most popular camps are Cheech (about 3400 m) and Chenek (about 3700 m, has a feel of Mt Everest base camp, the place of my New Year’s Eve celebrations – if going to bed at 7 pm because it’s too cold to feel my fingers counts as celebrations). Best peak we’ve trekked to is Imet Gogo (3926 m) – wall of rock, from which you’ll get absolutely best views of the mountains. Sitting on Gogo’s top looking down on the world will definitely put you in the state of utter and complete amazement over the beauty of out planet and will make all these hours of hard trekking more than worthwhile. 

Aksum – riddle waiting to be solved. Did the Queen of Sheba really live here? Do they really have here the same Ark of Covenant that Moses carried down Mt Sinai? What do those famous stelae mean?  Aksum – although no longer wealthy and powerful – is still a spiritual capital of Ethiopia and many pilgrims still make it here every year for their religious celebrations.  All Ethiopians believe very passionately that the Ark of Covenant resides here. The whole town is a UNESCO Word Heritage Site and one of the best ones in Africa at that. The amazing St Mary of Zion Churches are well worth a visit and not just because the famous Ark of Covenant may or may not be stored here. But the seriousness with which the Ethiopians take the security around those Churches makes you think “there must be something really valuable inside”. Only one specially chosen guardian has access to the Ark, nobody is allowed near the chapel and foreigners are not even allowed close to the fence surrounding the building.

Lalibela  - more amazing and pictureque than any stories you may have heard or photos you may have seen. The legend has it that a poisoned man was taken by angels to heaven where he was shown a city of rock hewn churches and then ordered by God to go back to Earth, re-create what he had seen and establish a new Jerusalem. Lalibela has 11 ancient churches, carved from rock (by estimated workforce of 40,000 men who worked by daylight and claimed that Godly force continued their work during the night), and visit to each one is a memorable experience of Christianity in its most raw form. The unforgettable atmosphere is also created by the dim-lit passageways (bring a torch or run a risk of breaking a leg), hidden grottoes and crypts. I was extremely fortunate to visit Lalibela around Ethiopian Christmas time (Jan 8) and all the churches were being actively used by the local priests, white-robed pilgrims and people getting baptised. 

Rift Valley National Park – just north of a town called Shashamene are 2 of the most beautiful of the Rift Valley Lakes, Lake Abiyata and Lake Shala. Abiyata is one of the shallowest in the Rift Valley and is a soda lake. It’s home to flamingos, white pelicans, cormorants, ibises and many other species of birds. And I was fortunate enough to be bush camping on a hill overlooking both lakes! It made for one stunning sunset – and that’s despite about 50 local kids who quickly gathered around us to stare, beg and even throw one of my fellow travelers out of her hammock so they could use it J

Shashamene – this little town has quite a few unusual attractions to offer. It’s a spiritual home to a large Rastafarian community with their interesting philosophy, unique churches, and affordable marihuana for sale which of course I did not try, dear mum (although grapes and wine are illegal). Haile Selassie was a Rastafarian himself and he granted land to them in Shashamene. As a result, there are now about 100 families settled here, some of them relocated from the Caribbean to Ethiopia. There’s also a banana art gallery here, evidently the only one in the world, where a renowned Rastafarian artist who relocated here from a Caribbean island of St Vincent makes beautiful paintings, postcards etc nothing but banana plants and leaves. However, my absolute favorite attraction of Shashamene were the hot springs just outside of town. We camped across the street from the hot springs so spent the whole evening swimming and relaxing in several large swimming pools, each of different temperature but all very hot. It was bliss to feel clean and scrubbed again after days of no water or showers J

Robe – this is a tiny town where we stayed for couple nights on route to the Omo Valley Region. There aren’t any attractions here worth mentioning but there’s one funny travel memory I’ll forever have of this place – and I like to call it the “ghost hotel”. It’s a little hotel where we stayed since there weren’t any suitable and safe spots to camp in the area. From the outside this hotel looked actually quite civilized and nice. There were even 2 UN cars parked in front of it, so I got all excited that there’ll be luxury amenities like hot water and proper working toilets (since UN and other big NGOs are always seen staying in the best accommodations in town – you should have seen the 5 star hotel in Khartoum, Sudan where they were all staying before the Sudanese referendum! Room prices start at $400 there, presidents and celebrities stay there – and UN employees…). Inside the hotel however it was an entirely different story and the standard of amenities was so horribly appalling, I just had to laugh. Otherwise I would be crying but what’s the point of that… It was a bizarre place. Nice looking building, large clean looking rooms but nothing worked. It’s like they never quite finished building it. There was absolutely no water in the whole hotel for most of the time (except couple hours a day when there was a trickle of cold water coming from my shower). This means no water in the toiler, sink or shower. I washed with a water bottle, flushed toilet with a water bottle. All bathrooms stunk like sewage because evidently the hotel didn’t yet have a proper sewage tank system build. Soon the cockroaches arrived… And to top things up, there was no electricity either… It was indeed like a ghost hotel – it seems to be a proper hotel but no hotel facilities were really there except a bed. It was a surreal experience staying there. And let me tell you, it didn’t really help matters when at the same time Cute Dutchman was calling me from his business trip to Dubai excitedly telling me stories about how amazingly fancy the hotel room was where he was staying – stairs leading from hallway to huge living room, another set of stairs leading from the living room to huge bedroom, breathtaking shower and bubble bath, Balinese massages etc etc etc etc. And there I was – lying on my bed in the complete darkness (because no electricity), with oily dirty stinky hair (because not enough water to wash it), with zero privacy from scary creepy local men (because room door always open to get rid of sewage stink coming from the bathroom), never venturing to the bathroom without a shoe in my hand (because of cockroaches). As much as I try to be a supportive understanding girlfriend sharing the joys of my man, these couple days I really couldn’t muster enough good energy in me not to be jealous of his fancy hotel room in Dubai while I was staying in the stinkiest one in Ethiopia… Cute Dutchman with his “oh my God, I love my hotel room” stories was not my favorite person in the world at the time… But he promised he will make it up to me but taking me to some extra nice hotel somewhere for few days where I’ll get pampered beyond belief. So I forgave him J

Tribes of Omo Valley in Southern Ethiopia – there aren’t enough words to describe the overwhelming feelings of meeting the tribal people. It will forever be one of the most unforgettable travel experiences of my life. Those people live in remote parts of the Ethiopian bush, still practicing their own language, medicine, agriculture, religion and spirituality like they did for centuries, completely independent from and unaware of the rest of the world. One of my favorite tribes is Homer tribe. We were fortunate enough to obtain permission from their chief to bush camp for couple nights on their land, near one of their villages, so got to spend lots of time with them, got invited to the chief’s hut for a coffee ceremony and met his wives. Extraordinary culture. Homer women are renowned for their remarkable hairstyles called “goscha” (they rub ochre and water into their hair to make it slick and then twist it into red tresses). Homer are also famous body decoration masters. There’s a special tribal meaning to every piece of jewellery, scars or tattoos one wears (e.g. number of earrings on a woman indicates number of wives her husband has and where in the hierarchy she falls, iron rings around a woman’s neck indicate she’s married or engaged, number of scars on a woman’s body indicate her beauty status – the more scars, the more sensual she’s considered). The tribe chief was telling us some fascinating stories about Homer culture. Some of them may shock us Westerners but this is how Homer choose to live and they reject any Western forces disguised as charitable help to change them. Virgins will not find anyone to marry them in Homer culture – it’s believed that if nobody has shown sexual interest in a girl, then there’s something wrong with her and she’s not suitable marriage material. So from young age girls go into the bush with various tribe man to have sex. The more sexual partners the girl has, the more beautiful and popular she’s regarded in the village. There’s no Western education at all – men are taught to be warriors, providers and hunters, women are taught to be wives and mothers. Homer don’t believe in Western medicine: they gather all their medicine from the bush plants, all childbirth is done naturally with a help of a village midwife. Some European NGO came years ago and built a small brick building where Western nurses would come every few weeks and tribe members could get tested and treated for various diseases. Well, nobody asked Homer is they even wanted this kind of “help” – turns out they do not, building crumbled to ruin and donor money got wasted. I have seen so many examples of such completely failed and misguided NGO help throughout Africa

Other tribes we have seen are Konso (with their famous villages with narrow stone and stick alleys and beautifully constructed stone terrace fields known as ”wagas”), Karo (most endangered, famous masters of chalk body painting), Banna (with their fascinating ritual of decorating body in clay and having a village feast after killing a bull).