Posted July 16, 2013 by Rahul Aggarwal

As is becoming commonplace in this part of the world, I once again woke up to sublime views of the lake. I couldn’t enjoy the scenery for too long, as we had to start the drive to Jinka. On the way, the plan was to stop in Key Afar where it was market day. Driving in the south felt even more off-the-beaten-track than in the north, which always seemed more crowded than the south. I had read up about some of the tribes here, and it wasn’t long until we started to pass people in their tribal attire. The countryside was dotted with thatched huts, cattle and goats grazing nearby. Occasionally we’d hit a traffic jam, but instead of other vehicles there would be cattle and goats blocking the road, some of them sporting magnificent horns. Imagine seeing that on the M25!

I chatted to Kofi and he told me about his experiences of driving foreigners around his country and how he would have to placate some clients who were expecting accommodation and sanitation facilities similar to what they were used to back home. If one is coming to this part of the world, and especially the south, then there are no creature comforts. However, the daily insight into local life and interaction with Ethiopians themselves more than makes up for it.

After a while, we reached the village of Key Afar, home to the Banna tribe. Today was market day, which is usually held once or twice a week. Market days are very important in these communities as people jostle for positions to sell their produce. Everything from grain and livestock to tribal jewellery and clothes are sold. In addition, these occasions are a chance for people to socialise. I watched on as one guy tried to catch the eye of a Banna girl by flirting with his eyes (no different from a Friday night back home then!), to which she responded with a cursory glance and then a smile … and I soon noticed that this was quite common. It is not uncommon for men and women (or boys and girls) to meet their life partners at these market days too.

The Banna people wear very vibrant colours and I noticed some guys wearing feathers in their hair. My guide explained that this usually indicates they have killed some animal and is seen as a sign of bravery. Many girls and women also had red/brown hair which had been knotted together. Apparently they use the soil to create this effect. Once applied the hair remains like this and never needs to be washed. Lots of women were also sporting interesting headgear made from the colabus fruit. This served two purposes – one as decoration, and the other as protection from the rain. Women from the tribe are typically naked from the waist upwards and wear necklaces and other jewellery as decoration. Some women wore a metal ring around their neck, which indicated they were married. If a woman wore 3 rings for example, it would mean her husband had three wives, and is something they are very proud of, as it also signifies the wealth and status of her husband. The number of wives a man may have depends on the number of cattle he owns.

This seemed a world away from the markets I had seen in the north of country, showing just how diverse and complex this country truly is.

This blog is part of an Off-The-Beaten-Track Travel Diary. Click on the link below to navigate through this journey.


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