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Beer and Biryani :: The Travelling Adventures of Matt & Donna  
Tsumi Tribesmen on the Isuzu Truck
OCTOBER 25, 2007

A Pagan Market

We awoke fresh and bright at the Goh Hotel after a good nights sleep, unfortunately it was a cold bucket shower again as the water situation in town had not improved. After yesterdays debacle we had high hopes for the day ahead, a real pagan market in Key Afer, as well as covering some serious kilometres to get down south to Turmi for the Bull Jumping ceremony.

Barely having unpacked from the previous day getting the backpacks into travelling shape took only a few short minutes, then it was down to the unnamed restaurant for a quick feed of eggs and bread - today was a fasting day (as is every Wednesday and Friday). Regardless the food here is always washed down with some delicious coffee (albeit tiny servings of espresso shots) and spicy tea.

By 8:30 we were on the road - at least the road side. Meeting up with Yutakka we were waiting again by the side of the road for onward transport. We knew of at least one bus heading towards Key Afer for the market that day so had high hopes of some comfortable km's.

We only had a short 20 minute wait before a bus pulled into the compound across the street, thankfully a local lad had been watching over us and advised us to get our heiney's into gear and get on board before it filled. Getting to the side of the bus was utter madness. People were swarming over the vehicle loading and unloading gear from the roof. I threw our packs up to a load boy and joined the throng at the side door. Other passengers were climbing in through the drivers door, those unfortunate enough to be inside were scrambling to get out before being crushed.

It's days like this I thank my lucky stars I wear steel capped boots. With a bit of elbow power I managed to get to the door and pushing women and children out of the way get into the isle. After around five minutes of shoving I had secured some space on the back seat. Ten minutes later I was joined by Yutakka and Donna who managed to squeeze into the rear seats with some generous passengers.

Moyale Bus Services - She's got a long way ahead of her Moyale Bus Services - She's got a long way ahead of her

Like I have stated in previous posts - in Ethiopia if your standing and the traffic catch you - your off. While we all managed to get a little bum on seat - others were not so fortunate. Five minutes down the road the Traffic jumped on board and unceremoniously discarded anyone not seated.

After clearing the township there was little chance of further traffic being involved and so the rules relaxed a little. From Jinka to Key Afer was around two hours and we slowly filled the isle with wandering tribesman en-route to the weekly market.

By the time we arrived in Key Afer the bus was filled with men and women carrying their wooden pillows, a small parcel of trade goods, and dressed pretty much in a small coloured kilt and jewellery. There was the distinct smell of animal in the air.

The bus dropped off most of the passengers and while we were standing there waiting for our bags to be removed from the top - it just drove off. We were forced to abandon our conversations with the locals and set off in pursuit of the bus. Jumping back on board the bus trundled a further 5km's down the road, did a u-turn and then came back into town - all for no apparent reason. Finally we managed to get our bags down from the roof and get them stowed in a local restaurant for the afternoon.

The Market
The Key Afer market was supposed to be one of the largest markets in the region. While there are many smaller daily markets - the big weekly event attracts tribesman from all around the region to trade their various goods. At this market we were treated to three different tribal groups in attendance, the Ari, The Tsumi and the Bana peoples.

After coming through some pretty big regional centres on market days we were a little disappointed with the sheer size of the market - the colour and spectacle however was unmatched. Unlike many rural markets - this was not touristy at all. The villagers came and set up their little stalls selling their goods to the other tribesman.

All the color of a village market

On arrival we were a little early and managed to get around the complete market without having to push through the crowds that would form later in the day. The market looked completely chaotic, however in reality was a tightly organised affair with each tribe setting up in a different area, and different areas forming around different products. For honey you had a multitude of options available and at the end of the day you could pack your purchases into your calabash, seal it with dung and be gone knowing you got a real bargain.

In order to make sense of the madness we enlisted (involuntarily) the services of two local street kids. They had excellent English and were all two willing to provide detailed information on the different tribes, which women were first and which were second wives. Who was who and what was what.

We had lunch in the restaurant where they were kind enough to store our bags, and as the afternoon started to fade away the villagers started to head home. Those who had made a few dollars were able to travel in style on the back of an Isuzu, on more than one occasion while we were sitting their sipping a cold beer the trucks came out packed literally to the gun wales.

Moyale Bus Services - She's got a long way ahead of her Moyale Bus Services - She's got a long way ahead of her

After filling our bellies it was time to move on - we had a lot of ground to cover in order to get to the southern town of Turmi. Unfortunately there were no busses heading in this direction - it would be an Isuzu truck for us with two options - we could cut south in the hope of a direct truck, or detour back to Weito, a junction town with the chance of getting more transport in our direction.

As fate would have it the next empty truck to come past was heading to Weito - that dictated our direction for the afternoon and in a mad scramble we pulled our gear out of storage, paid for our beers and piled into the back of the truck before it left us stranded on the side of the road.

When we first climbed into the truck it was near empty aside from a few bags of grassy stuff in the rear of the tray - however a stopped truck attracts attention and within minutes tribal members were scaling the sides to get inside before it could pull away. The driver was not keen to take on so many passengers however dollars rule the day and before long we were motoring towards Weito with a full load. It was hard to know where to look with breasts swinging around everywhere.

Twenty minutes down the track the truck pulled over and a ten minute fight broke out as the as the load boy tried to get all the villagers to pay up. Most paid easily enough but a few put up a fight trying to get away with less than the agreed fare. In the end the dispute was solved by the load boy chucking the offending passengers gear over the side of the truck onto the ground - this caused more yelling but money changed hands and we were back on the road again.

An hour later we pulled up in the middle of nowhere at I am guessing a tree with a special branch or something to signal the truck stop. All the tribals got off and walked away into the bush. From nowhere four young girls appeared and took up the prime standing position at the front of the tray and we were off again.

3km's out of Weito the truck stopped and we were all forced to get out and walk into town. The driver was worried about the traffic police in town catching him with passengers. So there we were in the middle of the desert, walking along a gravel road in the heat of the afternoon sun with all our gear. The four girls skipping and singing along behind us having a grand old time.

Once in the town we hit the main truck stop restaurant and nearly passed out onto the seating. A few litres of water later had partially re hydrated us - enough at least to get through the afternoon.

The hours ticked by and nothing at all came through for Turmi. Relax we were told - something will come past sooner or later, it always does. We had a basic fasting dinner of pasta and tomato sauce and still nothing. Bored we were partially entertained by the slutty antics of the local hooker - plying her wares to the passing travellers.

Some respite was given to all when a fight broke out in the car park amongst the locals. Twice it was refueled breaking the monotony of the long wait. Finally at 11:30 a single truck pulled into the car park with the promise of taking us onwards to Turmi that evening. Unfortunately for us this driver was very worried about taking on some Faranji passengers - especially with a new road block at Arbore. Finally we all agreed on an extortionate price - at least we would be there tonight.

For the fee we paid, which was probably five times what the other passengers had paid, we managed to scrape out a small space on the edge of the truck - the other passengers were lying full length and were extremely unwilling to give an inch. An old lady through her bags up and one of the guys tried to move Donna to put them where she was sitting, I grabbed the bag out of his hands and tossed it off the side of the truck - if those guys had the space to be lying there, there was no way we were going to sacrifice any of our little sitting room - as it was I was perched on the edge of the rail with my legs over the side barely clinging on.

This caused the old lady to nearly go into a fit - but the other passengers just smiled and she was forced to go around the far side of the truck and squeeze in amongst those lying down. Finally everything was sorted and we hit the road - hopefully for the final leg of travels that day. From Weito the Arbore the road was excellent - smooth flat gravel - recently graded and very wide. We made excellent time and along the way were entertained by the lyrical intonations of a slightly inebriated local perched upon the roof of the truck - folk songs were the order of the day and seemed to be well received by all present.

At Arbore we were stopped by the local traffic police and while I was asked to dismount for a brief search - everything seemed to go smoothly enough. At 3am we pulled into a disturbingly quite Turmi and at the Tourist Hotel found no one around to let us in. We walked up the main drag spotting a second hotel where the night watchmen was kind enough to inform us that although he had no rooms available - a small hotel down some back streets should have a cell or two free.

With little option we traipsed on finding the Alpha hotel. Banging on the corrugated iron gate we woke the guard who, pretty much having us over a barrel charged us 50 Birr for a hot little room with two single beds sharing a common squat. The shower was charged extra at 2 birr a pop.

Still, with the promise of seeing the hamer tribe in the morning - and the possibility of the Jumping of the Bulls Ceremony as well - we were in pretty good spirits when the candle finally flickered out for the evening.

Click here to see the Key Afer Market Photo Gallery (21 photos)

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