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    Posted March 25, 2014 by
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Travel photo of the day

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    Postcards from the Omo Valley


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     Julee Khoo said, "Ethiopia is not exactly high up on the list of places that most people want to travel to and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that we hear so little about the country."

    Khoo hopes to inspire others to explore the region that is rich with color, culture and tribal tradition through her images. She captured these photos during a trip to Omo Valley where she connected with ancient Omo tribes firsthand.

    Photo 1 was selected as CNN's Travel Photo of the Day for August 21, 2014.
    - taliaday, CNN iReport producer

    The Omo River Valley region in south west Ethiopia is home to 15 ethnic groups with a combined population of about 200,000 tribal people. Some of the tribes are semi-nomadic and pretty much all are agro pastoralists. Here, livestock are extremely important not only as a food source but also as status symbols; often presented as part of marriage dowries.

    The Omo Valley people have such a remote way of life, it was often hard for me to comprehend how they actually survive! I was constantly reminded of all the modern conveniences I take for granted. Their shelter is in the form of mud homes - often sided with either twigs or leaves. How do these hold up in rainy season, I wondered? There is no electricity or running water in the villages, forget cars or any other form of motorized vehicle.

    They don’t have any form of written language and often used crude means (e.g., notches on a pole or knots on a rope) to record major time periods; it was not unusual for any of them to not know how old they were.

    In the larger villages, located closer to *towns*, villagers have access to very basic medical facilities and children are able to attend school. Otherwise, medicine is whatever homeopathic cure is their tribal practice and children are hard at work along with their elders.

    I marveled at what these people have to do on a daily basis - to just live! The region of the Omo Valley is harsh region to call home – when dry season hits, the land is so parched, growing crops is out of the question. The markets were evidence of this where grains which could be stored for long periods of time were more commonly available than any leafy green thing; occasionally, there were root vegetables for sale. For the tribes who survive as pastoralists, dry season brings on additional challenges as water sources disappear which means that livestock have to be taken long distances to graze and drink. The lack of available water also means that the people have to walk long distances to carry water back to their homes for their own use.

    Meeting basic living needs require a lot of effort. For example, wood has to be chopped down and hauled back for fuel. In some cases, where wood is not available, animal dung is collected. Laundry and bathing is done in streams, as might (or might not) be possible.

    Their centuries old cultural practices often challenged my own beliefs – scarification, female circumcision and whipping of women are accepted norms in several of the tribes. Polygamy is also a common practice.

    On the other hand, their strong sense of community was one I envied – each village is like a small family where children play at ease, the elderly are cared for and anyone in need can be assured that there will be a helping hand.

    I also admired them for their attention to beauty in an environment that is so seemingly inhospitable. The Dasenech women, with their bottlecap headdresses, made me smile – I appreciate their ability to recycle objects that others would trash. The Hamar women with their goatskin outfits, mudcaked hair and jewelry were indeed visions of beauty. The Mursi women with their lip plates, challenged my ideals of what is beautiful and what is not – I decided they were scary pretty. The Mursi men, with their mud painted bodies always caught my eye.

    In the eyes of many, that the tribes will vanish in the not so distant future – they will be displaced by the massive Gilgel Gibe III Dam; controversial project that will more than double electrical output in Ethiopia but supposedly, less than two percent of the rural population will have access to the grid.

    Visiting the Omo Valley is not the easiest thing to do, for so many different reasons, but as much as what I experienced shocked my senses, there was much to be admired. I highly recommend it as a trip for the adventure traveler!
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