I still have in my eyes the colors and in my ears the sounds but above all in my nose the smell of almost a month of Ethiopia, when I’m jotting down some notes on the plane bringing me back to Italy from Addis Ababa. It has been an extensive stay in a wonderful country, very widespread from North to South at the point that it seemed to me to have done many different trips in such a long time frame. It hasn’t been an easy journey, though. Several health problems have been arisen, maybe due to our fault or mistakes such as to not properly wash our hands before eating or trying to eat as locals do at the local markets forgetting that we didn’t have the same antibodies and immune activity as the locals have. But, after all, nothing really bad that some drugs couldn’t deal successfully with. We keep the memories of a country with nice and kind people, deeply plunged into a concept of religion that we may not have any longer in our hectic life. This was very evident in the North, in Lalibela, during the Timkat, the Orthodox Epiphany celebrated on the day that the Gregorian calendar calls January 19. The celebration of this feast features blessing of water and solemn processions with the sacred “tabot”. A priest carries this to a body of water where it stays overnight, with the “Metsehafe Qeddassie” celebrated in the early morning. Later in the morning, the water is blessed to the accompaniment of the reading of the four Gospel accounts of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan and the people are sprinkled with and go into the water. The “tabot” returns in procession to the church that same day. We had the chance to see the Lalibela rock churchs before the event, empty and mystic, as well as the following days, packed with believers. We went to Dancalia, one of the most arid desert in the world, hundreds of meters below the sea level and well known for its infamous hot temperatures. We had the chance, though, to experience a different situation altogether, with an unusual cold weather and cloudy sky which returned to us as an awkward situation altogether. And finally the southern Ethiopia, the Omo Valley, cradle of the mankind. The Valley is one of the most culturally diverse places in the world, with around 200,000 indigenous people living there. The Omo River empties into the unique Lake Turkana in Kenya, the world’s largest alkaline lake, as well as the world’s largest permanent desert lake. The Lower Valley of the Omo is internationally recognized and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Sites, possessing of “outstanding universal value”. But the valley and its inhabitants are now in jeopardy, as a land grab of “twice the size of France” is swallowing up indigenous areas and developing them into sugar, cotton and biofuel plantations. Further, dams are being installed on major water sources, in what is said to be a violation of Ethiopian law, and in total disregard for the rights of Ethiopia’s Indigenous Peoples. Some critics reports on the potential damage to the indigenous people: “For many tribes in the Omo Valley, the loss of their land means the loss of their culture. Cattle herding is not just a source of income, it defines people’s lives. There is great cultural value placed on the animals. The Bodi are known to sing poems to their favorite cattle. There are many rituals involving the livestock, such as the Hamer tribe’s coming of age ceremony whereby young men must jump across a line of 10 to 30 bulls. I was fortunate enough to witness some of the local tribes that still populate the area. Unfortunately I don’t think that what I saw it will stay for long yet. My fear is that, given all these dramatic changes in the region, those people, those tribes, won’t be there for long in the future. Asphalt roads are replacing the gravel roads that now you can drive only with a good four wheels drive vehicle. And those dirt roads in some way, are a sort of last defense for those tribes. Once it will be easy to get to them, it will be even easier for them to loose their identity in favor of the easier western way of life brought by us, the tourists.
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