So far Key Afar had been an incredible introduction to Ethiopia’s mysterious South and our second day in town was no exception- it was market day.
Key Afar’s multi-cultural market occurs every Thursday and is a must do if you are visiting this region. People from the Banna, Hamer, and Ari tribes come from far and wide to buy and to sell, and to catch up with old friends. There is a real atmosphere of occasion in the crowds as people barter noisily and gossip over cups of hot sweet tea- and who doesn’t love a good market?
As well as the usual mounds of spices, heaps of vegetables and rows of old recycled clothes, laid out resplendently on the covered dirt were a dizzying array of beads and metal jewellery. These adornments are at the heart of each cultures traditional dress and are so beautiful, so colourful and intricate. I bought myself an arm band and had it personally fitted for me! It is these moments, the small connections that we have with people, that are so special- and make for some great photo opportunities.
One thing I haven’t discussed yet about Southern Ethiopia is the issue of photography. Simply put, you should not photograph people without their permission (as is true all over the world) and when you ask you will most often be met with ‘money!?’. When we visited the local homes this was not the case as we were invited in with our guide, but at the markets it is expected. Personally, I do not feel comfortable taking portrait style pictures of people for money, as I feel like it places a strange barrier between you and the local people. I try to only take pictures when those involved are comfortable with it and this isn’t often the case in these situations, they do not seem happy ‘posing’ for you and thus it is not a nice experience.
However, I managed to leave the market with the following incredible pictures as our two cheeky little guide’s favourite thing to do was play with our cameras! They would ask politely to borrow them and then run around the market snapping away excitedly. They got some pretty great shots…
It was, again, a really special day interacting with people and understanding a little more about the local traditions and cultures. Even a major, middle of the market downpour couldn’t dampen our spirits as we huddled into the tea tent for more language-less conversations!
Key Afar is definitely the perfect first stop for a quick dip into this fascinating and unique region and well worth making time for, even in the busiest of travel itineraries! More to come next week!
Some last words of warning would be that you will no doubt get followed by children asking you to buy them things. Although often they will simply be happy to hold your hand and walk with you a while (cue heart melting), I had one girl tug on my sleeve for half an hour asking for a school uniform, pretend to cry and then snigger at her friend. It was an odd moment and made me realise that I did not know enough about the welfare of those children to warrant stepping in with my own money. Again, I am not that knowledgeable about these things but I think that if you do want to help anyone while you are travelling it is sometimes better to do it with a well researched organisation, or even simply stay with a family and bring them thank you gifts. Generally, just do what makes you feel comfortable but always remember that you may sometimes be harbouring a begging culture. If you have any thoughts on this topic from your own travels, discuss in the comments please!