Tuesday, July 15, 2014

First Story Project: I faced a drunk, agitated, gun-totting Mursi who wanted money.

Mursi warrior with the ubiquitous AK 47 and wooden stool, Omo region, Ethiopia. Note the scarification on his arm. The Ethiopian government tried to outlaw scarification as it could be a badge of honor showing how many people from another tribe he has killed.

You might have read: the Mursi tribe is the fiercest of Ethiopia’s Omo tribes. I’ve heard some tourists are afraid to visit them, or stay only for a short time. I simply wanted to confirm the myths, stories and archetypal dreams I heard from elders, shamans, chiefs, witchdoctors and storytellers on previous visits to the tribe.

On this trip I decided to stay in remote Belle Village, which had a huge picture-perfect mountain in the background.  Then came lengthy discussions—sometimes not so friendly, to negotiate a camping fee for our week’s stay for my guide, driver and me.

Mursi tribe Belle village in Mago National Park, Omo region, Ethiopia.

Everything was going great. But toward the end of our time in the village, the Mursi—men and women—started drinking village-made spirits. In the morning the would-be chief staggered over to demand I pay more, five times more than what we had agreed upon. Naturally, I smiled, told him what a great chief he was and replied, “No.”

The next night the Mursi were drinking again and making lots of noise. Not able to sleep, I worried what would happen in the morning when we were scheduled to leave. All these drunken Mursi carried loaded AK47s. And they wanted more money.

After we packed our camping gear in the morning, I told the belligerent chief that I would pay him away from the village, about 100 meters down the dusty road. I didn't want intoxicated gun-toting Mursi warriors becoming agitated for any reason. 

Frankly. I was a bit surprised that the usually arguementative chief agreed.

As I watched Andu, my guide, lead the wobbling chief down the trail away from the camp, I thought to myself, "Paying the unarmed chief alone, away from the others, is probably the best decision I've made today."

My guide Andu leads the the drunk chief alone out of the village as I had asked. I didn't want a bunch of  drunk gun-toting warriors becoming agitated when I paid the money we had agreed upon.

When I handed the money to the chief, he was too inebriated to count the the stack of dirty and torn birr notes. Having no one else, he asked my guide in the back seat to count the payment. Obviously he didn't really trust my guide either.


frankp said...

Janis so glad you made it outta there. You have pulled off some great negotiations all over the world, but I think you're close to having used up all of your 9 negotiator lives.
How did all the digital cameras/prints go over with them?

Janis said...

Frank, great to hear from you. The digital cameras I gave the Mursi was great fun and worked out very well. Check out this post: http://bit.ly/1pAgrxX
For me negotiation is working with people so everyone is happy. So if there are more than 7 billion people, I have 7 billion more chances.