Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ethiopia: Baboons in the Bale Mountains, Day 2, Saturday

I saw baboons! Three times!

Ayano and I left camp some time between 8:30 - 9:00 a.m. to take a walk in the forest. Beforehand, he made us coffee and an excellent shiro tegamino that we ate with bread we'd brought with us. Shiro, made with dried, powdered chickpeas, is mixed with tomatoes, onions, spices, and water. There are different consistencies, from very thin to the very, very thick version we had for breakfast. It's quite delicious.

For a little while, a colleague was present, as well. The two walked ahead of me, chatting. I looked over to the my left and saw a movement. Looking more closely, I saw that a baboon had walked out from behind a tree and was now looking at me. He paused, motionless, for a few moments, then retreated in the opposite direction with some of his companions. Extremely exciting.

We walked across a pasture, and I reminded Ayano about the story I'd told him of cattle's antipathy toward my mother. I said, "Thank goodness my mother isn't here. See all those cattle over there? They'd be running toward us right now. And not to say hello."

Presently, we entered the forest. My, it was like a fairy tale wood with giant junipers, the lights and shadows, the rutted thoroughfares that supported pedestrians, livestock, and troops of baboons. It surprised me how active the area was with farmers passing through, some barefoot, some shod. Oromo farmers, men and women, rode through on horseback.

It was easy to imagine the same scenes centuries ago.

While Ayano and I sat by a sheltering tree (he in the sun and me in the shade), we swapped stories about our respective death and marriage customs. The day before, I had learned Ayano's father had had several wives, resulting in about 40 children, three of whom were Ayano's full siblings. Thirty-two years old, Ayano is married with two sons, ages 6 and 2. His parents' marital arrangement was typical of the traditional Oromo culture. Ayano's mother is Muslim; his father was Christian. There will be only one simultaneous marriage for Ayano, based primarily on his and his wife's religious belief (a Protestant denomination), which prohibits multiple spouses.

Again, I saw a troop of baboons walking through the woods. A couple of juvenile baboons stepped onto a low branch and looked at me. I waved.

I was sorry to leave the forest, but eventually we had to, and thus returned to camp.

We had a late lunch, again shiro, but this time with freshly made "country bread" made by the hut keeper wife. Very flat and thin like a tortilla, but heavy, it is comprised of barley and wheat grain. It has a dense, whole-grain flavor.

In late afternoon, a French couple, on their honeymoon, joined our camp, along with their guide, Ismael. About the same time, Umar the guard (again with his gun) arrived for the night.

The previous night, Ayano had asked Umar about the gun. Umar wasn't even sure it worked anymore. I don't know if Ayano ever received a satisfying answer as to why Umar brought the gun. Normally, he said, a guard would bring a large stick. (The sticks -- or canes -- are ubiquitous in the Ethiopian countryside. You see men walking with the sticks across the top of their shoulders, with their hands hooked over the top of the stick on either side of their shoulders. A man might use a stick for animal herding, for hiking, or for defense from or attack of a human or animal threat.)

Ayano explained the consequences of shooting a person with a gun, even (perhaps) in self defense. If Umar, for example, were to shoot and kill Ayano, he would not only go to prison, but his clan would have to give Ayano's clan 100 cows, a huge payment. Thus, not only is the individual held to account for his actions, but his entire clan. So, truly, Ayano felt very surprised that Umar would have brought a gun.

After our respective dinners, by a fire in the dining hut, all of us talked about things Ethiopian, French, and American -- immigration, opportunities for economic advancement, cultural impingements by and from ourselves and others, and the universal tradition of making fun of our neighbors, such as Missourians' jokes about people from Arkansas, northern and southern French people mocking each others' accents, and Ethiopians making fun of each other's ethnic origins.

Eventually, the French couple and I retired to our beds, leaving Ayano, Ismael, and Umar to continue talking by the fire.

Before I entered my tent, I looked up at the sky; I could see the Milky Way.


Geoff Reed said...

What a well written passage. Their death penalty is pretty impressive.

What a different world! I like your reference to the "universal tradition of making fun of our neighbors".

Mzuri said...

Thanks, Geoff. It's so nice to revisit an experience when a reader comments on it. One of the values of keeping a blog - like the hand-written journals of old, only with photos and videos embedded.