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Word Travels - Behind the Scenes in Southern Ethiopia by Robin Esrock
Behind the Scenes in Southern Ethiopia
by Robin Esrock / Published February 26 2008

Road Trip BluesI was watching this episode with a friend, and as we followed the Land Cruiser making its way further and further south, more into the "middle of nowhere" then I think any of us at the time realized, he asks me how long it took to fly back to Addis Ababa?   Fly?   I wish.   After three hard days of driving on roads as smooth as Britney Spear's acting career, we reached our destination, the Mursi, spent a day with the tribe, and turned the car around and drove three days back. On the same roads, through the same towns.   These are the things people will do in order to see Africa, and the amazing people who live in it.  

We certainly were not alone.  That you can see by the tourists who pulled up at the Mursi tribe, and others you can't who we met along the way in towns like Jinka and Arba Minch.  I don't think anyone was quite prepared for the Mursi experience, and off camera we chatted with tourists from Italy, France and Poland, all sharing our fascination and desire to interact, and our horror at the reality when we did.

I'm proud of this episode.  It really highlights that we are more than just another travel show, because as working journalists, we are more than just television hosts.  For our articles, we describe the experience, for better or worse, and when you see those kids turn on Julia after she took out some money, or that cute Mursi kid trying to unzip my pocket and remove the contents therein, that's as real as it gets.   A couple scenes didn't make the cut that were even more intense, and yet as always, there's other scenes that take your breath away, illustrating  the beauty and allure of Africa to the modern traveller.  

We drove in two Land Cruisers, with Mulukin our unflappable guide, as well as a cook who somehow made every meal worth looking forward to.   When we camped in the bush, it was only about 27km from the Mursi tribe, and yet the bulldozed dirt road was so bad it took almost 3 hours to get there.   It was scorchingly hot and dusty, and having negotiated in the chief's hut the previous day, the tribe were more curious than anything.  Once other tourists arrived, well, you see the result.     I really wanted to write a story that showed all aspects of the experience, but in a way that everyone wins.   It was, after all, an unforgettable journey, but maybe with a few tips, travellers can go in more prepared.   The "Human Zoo" comment is admittedly harsh, but that's what I personally felt.   Then I played soccer, and jumped around with the kids, Gonzo with the Konso, and for a little while, things seemed exactly as they should be.

Finally, when we look at those lip plates, those horns hanging from heads and white patterns of body paint, it's easy to shake our heads in disbelief at the strange customs that indigenous tribes follow around the world.  The day after visiting the Mursi was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish year, in which Jews around the world fast for about 27 hours, with no food or water.   As the Land Cruiser made its way back slowly towards civilization, I sat in the back, starving myself, pondering how we all come from different tribes, and our own customs are just as strange as the Mursi's appear to us.  

For my full Ethiopia Report, visit my website:

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