Porschist Magazine 51 - Ethiopia

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Magazine voor de Porschefanaat • jaargang 13 • driemaandelijks • september/oktober 2017 • 51

PANAMERA SPORT TURISMO PORSCHE IN ETHIOPIË LE FIDÈLE


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ETHIOPIA: volcanoes, depressions and lip plates text

& pictures: kathleen van bremdt - pictures: sven hoyaux

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A country where a host of angels built subterranean churches, where a whole dynasty of emperors were immediate descendants of a one-night stand between the Queen of Sheba and the biblical King Solomon, that –since the discovery of Lucy– has been thought to be the cradle of mankind, and where a Porschista skilfully manoeuvres her gorgeous Cayenne through the hectic traffic of the capital... What more reason do you need to visit a country?

'You, you, you... Birr, birr, birr'! A cute little boy calls

sting at the seams, three million humans in an area of 530

out beside us. He looks at us with big, gleaming eyes

square kilometres: it creates ample hustle and bustle! The

and holds up a grubby hand, palm facing up. We auto-

streets are chaotic and full of contrasting sights. Crummy

matically reach for our pocket. But, when we look up,

houses with a warren of overhead power lines leading

we can see other little children rushing towards us, as if

God knows where, are leaning up against modern malls

communicating with each other through sonar like little

and shiny glass office buildings. Slow-paced fuelwood car-

dolphins, to get in while the getting's good. We hand the

riers are walking between hasty business men texting on

little lad some change and continue our drive. Birr is the

their phones, shepherds stoically herd their cattle through

first word you learn when you arrive in Ethiopia. It's the

the streets as the hip kids are braving the traffic on loud

national currency and everybody's keen to ask some of

scooters. Old and young, poor and rich, traditional and

you. For information: 1 birr is about 25 eurocents. To any

modern: it all goes hand in hand in Addis.

Ethiopian, tourists are walking ATMs. That's understandable, in a country where poverty is still a major issue.

Surrounded by all this fuss, some peace and quiet is

However, there are numerous long-term projects in full

always welcome. The Hilton, arguably the best hotel in

development and the economy is on the rise, helping the

the city, is the right place for this. From the moment we

country slowly gain something of its former pride again.

set foot in this hotel, we feel like VIPs. The staff goes out of their way to make our stay as pleasant as possible. On top of that, this hotel is an icon of the city. It was officially

Addis Ababa: capital of Africa

opened by Emperor Haile Selassie in 1969. It exudes the allure of the glorious past, which could be reason

The capital of Ethiopia is the bustling centre of economic,

enough to give it a visit. What's more, time has stood still

social and political activities, and the home base of key

inside. And you may take that quite literally. Compare,

authorities such as the Organisation of African Unity. For

for example, a recent photo of the large reception hall

that reason, Addis ─as Ethiopians usually refer to it─ is also

with one from 1972. You'll find that everything still looks

called the capital of Africa. It is a typical African city, brim-

exactly the same as 45 years ago. Just see for yourself

ming with scents, colours and sounds. Addis is slowly bur-

in the photos of this article.

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Hilton in Addis Abeba in 2017

Hilton in Addis Abeba in 1972

The beautiful Holy Trinity Cathedral In a country that is said to have about 40,000 churches and monasteries, we immediately head for the church that is thought to be the most beautiful of all: the Holy Trinity Cathedral, known in Amharic as Kidist Selassie. This Orthodox Cathedral was built 80 years ago, commissioned by the then Emperor Haile Selassie (1892 - 1975). Being the visionary that he was, Haile Selassie had two massive tombs installed in the church, one for himself and one for his wife. Empress Menen could already move in in 1962, but the tomb for Selassie remained empty for a long time. This wasn't because Selassie was blessed with eternal life, on the contrary - he was allegedly suffocated with a pillow in 1975, by followers of the Marxist military regime of Mengistu. His first resting place became the mausoleum of his great-uncle, Emperor Menelik II. It wasn't until 25 years later that Haile Selassie's remains were transferred to the place he had designed for himself, with much fanfare. The beautiful Holy Trinity Cathedral 5


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Not all baptisms are alike Each year, on 19 January, the Festival of Timkat takes place in Ethiopia. Timkat is the most important holiday of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and commemorates the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. This is celebrated with exuberance. Not to miss anything, we set ourselves down at the Janmeda square, which will be the epicentre of the festivities, nice and early. Believers start to pour in from all directions, decked out in the colours of their church community. They are praying and singing, and soon the excitement starts to become palpable. The priests stride through the crowd in beautiful velvet robes and in multicoloured, gold-plated parasols. They are wearing large golden crosses around their necks, which are glistening in the sunlight.

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Festival of Timkat

One by one, the most important church leaders take place on the podium. Obscured by a flaming red cloth, the tabot, a model of the Ark of the Covenant, is borne on the head of the patriarch. After the Church Father has immersed the sacred cross into the water and baptised the surrounding bystanders, it is time to liven things up with music and dance. The boys move their prayer sticks in synchrony, the girls are singing and ringing their sistras to the rhythm of the many drums. The celebration reaches its climax when the high priest signals it is time for the 'collective baptism'. The other priests shower the crowd with water from garden hoses from all sides, and the crowd bursts out in joy, delirious with excitement.

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Ethiopia as an independent misfit While the African continent was being divided into pieces like a birthday cake by colonial powers and their unquenchable thirst for conquest, Ethiopia managed to remain the only independent country in Africa. Although Italy has attempted to take the country twice, they have never really succeeded. The first time they were overwhelmingly defeated by the army of Emperor Menelik II, and during the second attempt, it was the British that threw a spanner in the works. The five years that Mussolini was able to keep the country in his clutches, are regarded by the Ethiopians as a period of occupation, not of colonisation. Because of that enduring independence – according to historical sources, Ethiopia as a country dates back as far as the tenth century BC – the country has been able to develop itself in an autonomous, liberated way. Consequently, ancient peoples have managed to maintain their traditions in their authentic form. Primitive tribes like the Ari, the Mursi, the Konso and the Hamar are living proof.

On our way to the arid North From Addis, we fly to Mekele, in the very north-eastern part of Ethiopia. Mekele is our starting point for a three-day expedition to the inhospitable Afar Triangle. That morning, we take a long shower, as it will be the last one we have for the next three days. Our jeeps are ready to go. One is stuffed with our supplies for the road: from food and drinking water to cooking utensils and sleeping mats. The other will take us and the guide. From Mekele, we drive to Dodom, a distance of hardly 80 kilometres, but which takes us over 6 hours. When we start to drive, the road is well paved and we are gliding through a sweeping landscape with the occasional olive tree or acacia bush. But as we progress, the road becomes increasingly rough until there is no longer any road to drive on. Agonisingly slow, the jeeps bounce around over rocks and pointy lava stones. We are truly getting to know the full potential of our 4x4s. It is late in the afternoon when we arrive in Dodom, a deserted Afar village that serves as a base camp for anyone who wishes to go to the Erta Ale volcano, incidentally the goal of our drive today.

Not for wimps The soldiers who will escort us are already at their stations. We are thirty kilometres from Eritrea and here, we are in a dangerous area. For considerable time now, the two arch enemies are at odds again. Eritrea claims this border region and doesn't want Ethiopia to make money off it through tourism. The Eritrean rebels consider attacks on tourists a completely legitimate way of getting their point across. In 2007, twelve tourists were kidnapped and released after ransom was paid. 2012 was much bloodier: five travellers were murdered by Eritrean rebels. Since then, armed escort is mandatory. When the sun has lost most of its power, we start the 8.5 km long climb to the top of the volcano. This is also where we will spend our night

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Erta Ale

Erta Ale: playing with fire From the edge of the crater lake, we glance curiously at the boiling lava mass. A sea of red hot magma undulates underneath us. The Erta Ale is hell, purgatory, inferno. It's the place where Lucifer, Mephistopheles and Satan come to play and swing hot chunks of lava into the sky with devilish pleasure. The Erta Ale is lethal, it howls and growls and holds us in its treacherous, hypnotic grip. Do you know the feeling when you're standing at the edge of a ravine and a little voice whispers: 'How about it pal, are we going to jump?' That same diabolical appeal draws you to the caldera. Just to be sure, we take a few steps back. It's very necessary anyway, because the heat on our faces becomes unbearable. But man, what a truly singular natural spectacle! This is raw, primal energy. Ethiopia has other volcanoes, but the Erta Ale is the most active. Its last large eruption was in 2005. Thousands of people in the region had to flee. The shield volcano is one of only six volcanoes in the world with a lava lake at the summit. At the crack of dawn, we say goodbye to the fiery mountain and make our way back down, to continue our expedition.

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Not depressing, but a highlight

seem insignificant, but they cause many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. However, all that underground rumble

We are now truly in the middle of the Afar Triangle, or

is also the cause of the most spectacular and fascinating

Danakil Depression, the hottest and most arid place on

landscape on earth: the geothermal area of Dallol.

the planet, or as the locals call it: 'the gates of hell'. For information: in geology, a depression is a land-form that

This is the only volcano that is more than a hundred feet

is lower than the surrounding area. In the Afar Triangle,

below sea level, but not underwater. Due to the volcanic

three tectonic plates come together: the Nubian, Somali

activity, boiling hot water reaches the surface and forms

and Arabic Plate. At a rate of 1 to 2 centimetres a year,

the most bizarre deposits. Jagged salt crystals, stran-

they are slowly moving apart. Those few centimetres may

gely rippled lumps of basalt and honeycomb-shaped water

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bodies make for an outlandish and magnificent landscape.

The day is over, and we head to Ahmed Ale, a small ham-

The contact between groundwater, magma, sulphur and

let where many salt workers spend the night. The camp

salt causes unnaturally bright colours: orange brown, neon

consists of a few shabby huts, made of crooked sticks with

yellow and poison green. To increase the surrealistic vibe,

jute bags and torn sails over top, which must create the

hissing gases rise from countless geysers. As the nasty

illusion that there is a roof. Facilities, or anything remotely

smells of sulphur are having us gasp for air, we very care-

resembling that, are missing. When we have to do our busi-

fully look where we place our feet. The surface is so thin,

ness, we must find somewhere in the field, like everyone

that the lava flows right underneath our feet. When we leave

else. There are no trees or bushes to hide behind. What

the area, we notice that the soles of our hiking shoes have

there are, however, are curious Afar, because a white bum

come loose. The glue just simply melted.

is always an attraction.

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After a not so great night, we wake up at the crack of dawn. Immediately, our eyes are wide open, because from our camp beds we can see a long procession of dromedaries come our way. Grab the cameras, quickly! There are hundreds of them, maybe thousands, all neatly behind each other in an endless row. Their riders are keeping the animals in line. Imperturbable and at a steady pace they float by, these ships of the desert. This magical moment gives us goose bumps. Yet another highlight presents itself: Lake Assal, a crater lake with an impressive salt concentration of 35%. This is truly the lowest point in Africa: 155 metres below sea level. As soon as we step outside the car, our sweat glands hit overdrive. It's only ten in the morning, and the temperature is already up to 45 degrees. The air is so low in oxygen, that every movement becomes an endeavour. But it's worth it. The landscape is poetically beautiful: nothing but shimmering heat and a glistening salt rock, and in between, a fragile silver horizon in the distance. We walk across the vast plain and spread our arms. All alone in no man's land: what an incredible experience!

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Although, no man's land? That is not true. This remote area is the home of the Afar, a nomadic tribe that has lived here for thousands of years. The Afar don't have the best reputation. They are combative and solitary, but when we see the harsh conditions they have to spend their days in, we understand their outlook on life. Their main source of income is salt mining. Here, is where we find the enormous dromedary convoys of this morning again. The Afar chop salt plates with simple hammers and pickaxes from the salt crust and use those same primitive tools to turn them into squares of 50 by 50 centimetres. Seeing them work squatting down, unprotected in the blistering sun, their dark and stringy bodies devoid of any fat, their hands and feet burned from the brine and their faces marked from the hard labour, we can only bow in respect for this strong tribe. Anyone who can make a living in these barren conditions is truly a survivor. As the men are slaving away, the dromedaries and donkeys are quietly standing around, snoozing. They are resting while they can, because they know what's coming. At the end of the day, the salt squares are hoisted onto the backs of the animals - on average 20 per animal, corresponding to a load of 100 kilogrammes. Fully loaded, they start the long journey into the inhabited world. It will take them six days to reach Mekele, where the white gold of the desert is processed and traded.

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Interview with a stylish Porschista There are of course many female Porsche drivers, but in our search for a local Porsche driver we kept only finding men somehow. We were only able to find one female Porschist, in Ulanbaatar of all places. We are therefore very pleased to meet a Porschista for the second time. Her name is Asteway Dinkneh, but her friends and family call her Tati. We from Porschist were allowed to call her Tati right away too.

We will immediately start off with the big question: why Porsche? I was already fascinated by Porsche as a child. The first Porsche is saw in real life was while waiting for a traffic light in Johannesburg. I even remember the year: 2004. It was a Cayenne and I was surprised it was an SUV, because back then, I didn't know that Porsche featured this model. I was so impressed, I knew right then that this would be my car someday. In 2010, it was finally time and I bought my Cayenne, a second-generation model. What is it that you like so much about the Cayenne? I love the dynamic build of the car, the design, the reliability, and it feels pleasant to drive. My absolute favourite will always be the Porsche 911, but the roads in Ethiopia leave no other option than the Cayenne, in my opinion. For a moment, I was torn between the Cayenne S and the Cayenne Turbo, but the import tax in Ethiopia is so high (200%), that I went with the first. Where did you buy your Porsche? In South Africa? No, in Dubai. There is no Porsche dealership in Ethiopia. There is one in Kenya, but Dubai is closer to Ethiopia.

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Your Cayenne has a beautiful colour, but it's not a current hue. I'm sure there's a story behind that. Oh absolutely. The colour is aubergine by the way. I saw multiple colour options in the showroom in Dubai, but I didn't really like any of them. Because I intended to drive this car for many years, I thought it was important that the colour was completely to my liking. The salesman showed me some colour swatches, and I immediately went for this one. There's a risk to that of course, because you can hardly know what it would look like from such a tiny piece of paper, but I think my Cayenne is gorgeous and I'm very happy with it. Because the car in the colour that I chose had to be delivered all the way from Germany, I had to wait five months. But I was totally worth it. Is having maintenance done on your Porsche not an issue in Ethiopia? Not really. There is a good Volkswagen shop in Addis that I can go to for maintenance.

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Are there a lot of Porsches in Addis? No, not that many. I know of ten Cayennes driving around in the city at the moment. I'm not sure how many of the other models there are, but it's probably not a lot. Anywhere I go, my car draws all the attention. Are there speed limits in Ethiopia? No, there aren't! But traffic in the city is so hectic that you can't really go fast anyway. If you go outside of Addis however, you will find some roads where you can hit the gas a little more. On the Addis AbabaNazret Expressway, for example. This is a toll road that has recently been constructed and is perfect for pushing the engine to its maximum. Something I like to do of course. You're a successful business woman. In which sector do you work? I'm in real estate. I own a real estate company called PLUTO. We build luxury apartments and villas, especially in the residential neighbourhoods in the centre of Addis. It's a family company, my father and sisters also work here. What determines the price of real estate here in Addis? Mostly the location and the materials used. Most of the materials we use are imported, in particular from Dubai and China. You mentioned the new expressway. It was constructed by China. How did that happen? There simply isn't enough knowledge in Ethiopia about the construction of roads. We rely on Chinese construction companies because of their expertise. Of course, we mean to learn from them at the same time, so that we can eventually get started ourselves. Sometimes though, it goes a little further than simple construction, because the new railway between Addis Ababa and Djibouti was also financed by China. Doesn't that impose a risk? It certainly does, and we are very aware of that. The aim is certainly not to create a giant debt. But at the moment, it's all we have. Ethiopia is developing rapidly, but we don't have enough resources to achieve what's necessary. For that, we need to call on foreign investors, and in those instances China is always first in line. On the other hand, it is usually a barter: infrastructure for raw materials. Tomorrow is the Festival of Timkat. Is that a special day for you? Certainly, it's a celebration day for almost anyone here. There is a large parade, the whole city is a party and there is a communal baptism with holy water... you name it. As a child, I was always wet from head to toe. Back then, it was mostly a day where we could sing and dance, now I care more about the meaning of the festival. The dress I'm wearing today is typically Ethiopian and I will wear it again tomorrow. One last question: where do you go for holiday? During the summer months, I like to go to the south of France. I don't do much other travelling. I have been to the US, China and Thailand, but that was always for business purposes. I'd love to see Singapore sometime. You certainly should! Tati, thank you for this wonderful conversation.

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Ethiopia, where the Blue Nile is born Ethiopia is like nowhere else on the planet, a beautiful country blessed with a peerless history, fabulous wildlife and some of Africa’s most soulful peoples. Discover outdoor adventures people with proud traditions historical wonders nature’s bounty The Belgian touroperator Footprints offers tailor made individual roundtrips to Ethiopia with private guide. Contact your local travel agent or www.footprints.be


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Lalibela: steady as a rock From the barren desert in the north-east of Ethiopia we travel to the canyon-like landscape of the Lasta mountains. The moment we get off the plane, our lungs open up and fill with the pure mountain air. Lalibela is situated at an elevation of 2,500 metres and is, as the name might suggest, beautiful. The town is blessed with spectacular vistas and with the most well-known monuments of all of Ethiopia: the twelve rock-hewn churches. The man whom we owe these monuments to is King Lalibela (11811221), who ruled over Ethiopia at the beginning of the thirteenth century - as was prophesied at his birth. His older brother, who was actually entitled to the throne, tried to change the tide in his favour by poisoning his brother, but there's no stopping a prophecy from fulfilling itself and Lalibela healed miraculously. To show his gratitude, he promised God a masterpiece: a church as replica of Jerusalem. God apparently was pleased with this idea, because right away, he sent down a host of industrious angels to offer their divine assistance for the noble project. Within twenty days, twelve churches had been completed. A feat of Olympic proportions. But it soon became apparent that God's heralds had little notion of the basic principles of architecture. Instead of starting with the foundations, building the walls and finishing with the roof, they went against all the rules and started with the roof, after which they bundled their forces to carve the churches from the hard rock bed. However splendid the legend, it was of course far from the truth. Not angels, but humans made from flesh and blood accomplished this eighth Wonder of the World, after years and years of hard labour and without any help of modern equipment. Still, King Lalibela did mastermind this epic structure, in an effort to symbolise the Holy Land with an underground church complex. That is why the churches are divided into two clusters: the northern group with seven churches represents the earthly Jerusalem, the southern group with five churches represent Heaven. The isolated Church of Saint George – technically the thirteenth church – represents the pathway between both. The Church of Saint George is by far the most famous and most photographed church in Ethiopia. The church has been carved in the shape of a flawlessly dimensioned Greek cross. Time has given the walls a beautiful patina, with shades of soft grey, mint green, salmon pink and yellow ochre. A priest just closes the heavy door. With a colourful umbrella in one hand and a Coptic cross in the other, he turns to us with a polite smile. He thanks us for the banknote we hand him.

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We haven't mentioned this yet, but we really lucked out with our guide. Destaw guides us with ceaseless enthusiasm, and has an abundance of information for us everywhere we go. He also teaches us how Ethiopians greet each other: An embrace where both parties first bring both left shoulders to one another and then both right shoulders. Destaw is deeply religious and is having the time of his life in Lalibela. All churches are connected with each other through numerous corridors, tunnels and stairs. In the interior of the churches, walls are adorned with ancient frescoes and painted canvases with depictions of saints. Priests wearing white turbans are reading centuries-old biblical manuscripts with supreme focus, worshippers are mumbling prayers and hermits have taken up residence in one of the many niches indefinitely, to dedicate themselves to the faith. Where other historical buildings often leave a pale and cold impression, the atmosphere in the churches of Lalibela is completely different. The churches are still in use, and you can really feel that. It is not only the buildings that have stood the test of time here, but also the ancient rituals and traditions that still go back to the first times of Christianity.

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And yet, there is one dissonant in this otherwise magnificent part of the world. In Lalibela, it becomes painfully obvious that being an UNESCO world heritage site is not always a blessing. To preserve the rock-hewn churches posterity, a truly hideous construction was built. A pale-yellow canvas covers a large part of the churches and rests on massive scaffolds, that stand IN the quarries of all places, so that a clear view of most buildings is obstructed. We are blown away by this much ugliness. It is as though the Atomium – our national pride, for some at least – would be placed under a dreadful wooden shelter, so that the sky and the sun can no longer play with their reflections on the steel spheres. You don't need to be an engineer or an architect to know that this could have been handled much better: a large transparent canopy, for example, carried by columns that stand far beyond the pits. "That is actually what the initial plans looked like", says Destaw. "Then why does it look like this now then?", we ask. Destaw shrugs, and we know what he means to say. Because of corruption, the poison of our time. Too many crumbs of the financial cookie got stuck to the wrong hands. That is the eternal problem in Africa: many have good intentions, but just as many take what doesn't belong to them.

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To finish our visit to Lalibela, Destaw takes us to the Yemrehana Krestos Church. The church is a true gem. It's moderate in size and stands under a large overhanging rock, away from the eye. This style of this church is completely different from the other rock-hewn churches. Rows of dark brown wooden beams alternate with rows of white plastered stone. From a distance, the outside looks somewhat like a disproportionate tiramisu. Square windows, decorated with cross-like shapes, give the building a unique look. We can walk around the whole church, even though the backside – where the daylight can't reach – is pitch black. With the flash lights on our phones, we shine a light on the basalt walls. Walking around, we suddenly encounter the remains of hundreds of monks and pilgrims who got stuck in their prayers just a tad too long. This display is a little too sinister for our taste, and we decide to make our way back out.

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Visiting the tribes in the Omo Valley We fly to Arba Minch, a city south of Addis Ababa which is also called 'The Gate to the South'. According to Ethiopians, Ethiopia pretty much ends at Arba Minch. Any further south is where only 'savages' live, and economically it is meaningless too. The region is therefore not on the government's priority list, which is clear from the pitiful state of the roads. Tezera, our friendly driver with impressive Rastafarian dreadlocks, is the adventurous type and drives us with complete contempt of safety over the miserable road filled with potholes and treacherous rocks. The goal of this death-defying race is the remote Omo Valley, close to the border with South Sudan, where most tribes live. As we drive deeper into the Rift Valley, a surprisingly beautiful landscape unfolds in front of our eyes, with vast savannahs and mountains on the horizon. Here and there we see camels nibble on some acacia trees. A herd of thin cows lazily make their way through the red dust, and on the fields farmers are ploughing the dry soil, aided by oxen pulling primitive wooden equipment. It's like visiting Bokrijk, but then in Africa.

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Suddenly, two elaborately painted young boys appear, joyfully hopping around on selfmade stilts. "They belong to the Benna tribe", Destaw explains. It means that we have arrived in that 'other world' of Ethiopia.

Don't mess around with a Mursi One of the most iconic tribes from the Omo Valley are the Mursi. No matter how many times you've seen them on National Geographic, nothing can prepare you for an encounter with them. The Mursi have jet black skin, their bodies are angular and they smell like the soil that is caked to their calves and feet. The coarse cloths they have half-heartedly wrapped around themselves still leave little to the imagination. Nipples are readily available for hungry babies. When we get out of the jeep, the tribe members look at us with grumpy, almost hostile faces. Needless to say, we are quite intimidated. It's not for nothing that the Mursi tribe has a reputation for belligerence. Many tribe members walk around with AK-47s, which don't go unused. Instinctively, we take a step back as the group approaches us. Before we realise, they are all over us, unabashedly. The women are pinching our arms, ruffle our hair and continuously spit on the ground. We try to create an arm-length of distance, but for the Mursi that is not an option. Their hands even disappear underneath our shirts, to places we really don't want them to be. Meanwhile, we stare at the huge clay disks that adorn the lower lips of the Mursi women. There are many theories as to why the women wear these lip plates. The size of the plate might determine the size of the dowry, or it might have been introduced to scare off the slave traders. The Mursi themselves reject all these theories, and instead claim that the lip plates serve to distinguish themselves from the other tribes and to please their men. No matter what the reason, inserting a lip plate doesn't happen without a struggle. The moment a girl reaches sexual maturity, an incision is made between the lower lip and the mouth. During the next couple of years, the opening is increasingly stretched, until it's large enough to insert a small clay disk. The stretching continues, the hole growing bigger and bigger. Eventually, some women even manage to fit in a disk of 15 centimetres. That's the size of a dessert plate! On top of that, in order to create enough space, the two front lower teeth have to be pulled. And there's no anaesthesia in these parts. But the Mursi – and by extension also many other tribes in the Omo Valley – have an unusually high pain threshold. Their scarifications are a testament to this. Both men and women cut their skin with razorblades, and rub sand and ash in the wounds. This hampers the healing process, making the scar tissue thicker. We have to admit though; the patterns are intricate and made with an eye for aesthetics. On pictures, the Mursi women can always be seen with a beautifully decorated plate in their lip, but in reality, the plates are not worn as often, as they are heavy and – who would have thought – uncomfortable. The sight of a plateless lip rather unappealing. What remains is a strange piece of loose lip flesh, that reminds us of the dangly bits of a mussel. Not very attractive, to say the least.

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It is very clear that there is an immeasurable gap between our culture and that of the Mursi. And yet, even here in this godforsaken corner of Ethiopia, the universal language of money becomes a binding factor. The Mursi know all too well by now that the faranjis (strangers) come see them to take pictures of them. They don't know why, and what those pale people do with them is also a mystery, but they have learned that they can make a buck off of it. As soon as we pull out our professional photography equipment, commotion unfolds. Large cameras, lots of birr, birr. You can feel them think it. Everyone wants to be in the photo, and we are being pulled on from all sides. Bewildered, we look around, not knowing how to handle this. As always, Destaw steps in as our guardian angel. With authority, he manages to calm the situation. He gives us the time to figure out amongst ourselves who we would like to photograph, and then negotiates a good price. When we finish taking our pictures, we get out of there immediately, because our choices have made us both friends and foes, and those Kalashnikovs are not used as toys around here.

The market as a meeting place There are over 45 tribes living in the Omo Valley, the Mursi just being one of them. The perfect place for getting to see the other tribes is a local market. The market is above all a social event and a meeting place for the various ethnic groups. Everyone is dressed according to the traditions of their tribe, making for an abundant spectacle of colours, artistic hairdos and exotic body art. No boring uniformity here, instead, originality prevails. 'Those ladies with the straw skirts and colourful necklaces are from the Ari tribe', Destaw says. 'That's the largest tribe in region of Omo. And over there, with the honey merchant, are some Benna women.' They look amazing in goatskin skirts, that are decorated with little shells. Destaw points out some other tribes: the Hamar, whose women braid their hair in fine dreads and who cover themselves from head to toe with red clay; the Karo, whose men you can recognise by their white painted bodies, and the Konso, that stand out through the vibrant double-layered skirts that their women wear. It's a motley troupe of people, and we are captivated by the scene.

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An experience that left us wanting more Meeting the tribes of the South was the last part of our journey. Ethiopia has been a true revelation: endlessly captivating from start to finish. This country managed to surprise us every step of the way. The spectacular landscapes, the unique history and the cultural riches, the infinitely diverse population: we can't get enough of it. Ethiopia is the country where Africa and the Judeo-Christian world meet, where tribes live completely unaware of modern technology and where travelling is a voyage of discovery through centuries of history. One thing we learned: in Ethiopia, everything is different from anywhere else in the world. And for this reason alone, this country is a fantastic travel destination. Adi Dairo Adigrat Inda Silase

Wik'ro Abiy Adi Mek'ele Maych'ew

Gonder

Korem Sek'ot'a

Azezo

K'obo

Lalibela

Weldiya

Werota Bahir Dar Dese

Mot'a Bure

Bati

Debre Werk'

Debre Mark'os Debra Sina Erer-Gota

Ethiopia

Mendi

Addis Ababa Nek'emte

Dire Dawa Jijiga Harar

Debre Zeyit Giyon

Dembi Dolo

Nazret

Metu

Mechara

Mek'i

Gore

Asela

Agaro Jima Awasa Mizan Teferi

Dila Arba Minch'

Area: 1.104.300

km2

Werder Goba

Sodo

Practical information

Shashemene Wendo

Imi

Kibre Mengist

Negele Yabelo Kelem

Inwoneraantal: 102 MIO

Dolo Odo

Capital: Addis Abeba Government: Republic Official language: Amharic Currency: Birr Climate: In Ethiopia, the climate varies with altitude, going from the hot and arid climate of the lowlands, to the cool climate of the plateau. Lying just north of the Equator, the country experiences little variation in temperature throughout the year. Travel documents: Members of the European Area only need a valid identity card or passport. No visa required. Time zone: Time Difference is 2 hours during wintertime and 1 hour during summertime. With special thanks to: Destaw, our amazing guide, who made our journey all the more enjoyable. Nadou, who got us into contact with the 'Porschista' in Addis Ababa. (We can recommend visiting her Ethiopian restaurant Gojo in Antwerp.) Asteway Getachew Dinkneh (Tati), our gorgeous Porschista in Addis Tariku W/Aregay, general manager of Yama Ethiopia Tours Martine Verschoren, director passenger Brussels of Ethiopian Airlines Bisrat Tedla, area manager of Ethiopian Airlines Claus Steiner, general manager of Hilton Addis Ababa

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