There is really no reason to come to Jinka, other than using it as a spring board for visiting the Mursi – about which more later. Jinka is even more insignificant than Jijiga was, much more insignificant, in fact. Jinka does have an airstrip, apparently there are even occasional flights, but they will need to clear the cattle off first. Jinka has a few basic hotels, basic food, a small, very basic market, and a smatter of very basic, dusty streets. And it has an annoyingly large number of young men, members of the local guide association, who hang around at the hotels, and besiege you as soon as you get outside. And then get annoyingly rude and insulting if you decline their services – not very becoming, not a very good advertisement for this town.
But it is a nice enough drive to Jinka, first through hilly Konso country, then down to Weyto and into what the local people call the Weyto desert, indeed a pretty dry stretch of land, although still nothing compared to what was dry in the north and the east of this country. I think it is mostly the heat, what makes people refer to desert in this case, and hot it is! (claims of high 30o’s, low 40o’s C – given how dry it is, this could well be true).
This part – we are now getting into the South Omo Valley proper – is in fact very sparsely populated. But whatever population there is, is, true to reputation, quite spectacular. Few Western T-shirts, few real trousers, however shabby. No, mostly tribal garb: Hamar and Bena people with short, tight loin cloths for men, and animal skin skirts for the women, who will also occasionally wear a gourd on their head. Men have intricately constructed hair dos, women mostly brown-coloured rasta-type hair. All are brightly decorated, with bracelets on upper and lower arms, body covers with cowry shells or with colourful beads – this is quite different from your usual development country used clothing collection. The first impression, especially seeing the men, is fearsome, and I suppose that it what it was meant to be, the original reason for the tribal outfit. But then, when we make eye contact, and we smile, they smile too, and they are actually quite nice people, the air of invincibility quickly melts.
In between Weyto and Jinka is the town – village, perhaps – of Key Afar, which is famous for its Thursday market. So we, and with us all the other tourists in the entire South Omo Valley region, it seems, congregated at the market, which is really a sad affair, from a market perspective. In terms of goods, like vegetables, or chicken, eggs, pulses etc, there is very little on offer, and in very small quantities. The main commodity seems to be tourist knacks, crudely carved wooden sculptures, beads and other decorative objects – the same we had seen on the people we passed on the way –, and pots and gourds. The few things we do like are so outrageously expensive that we quickly abandon the negotiation process – and then we get the same reaction as from some of the would-be guides in Jinka. The basic concept of commerce, supply and demand, hasn’t penetrated here yet, and us not wanting to buy against asking price is interpreted as white exploitation of blacks. Really! The idea that us paying the asking price would be black exploitation of whites, no, that doesn’t catch on.
But we have been in this country for a while now, and nothing surprises us anymore.
next: the Mursi