I liked Ephrem from the first moment I saw him. We were introduced and I was told that he would be my driver for the next three weeks. Ephrem was in his late forties, about six feet tall, with short hair, and clean shaven. He was an Amphara man. I felt good vibes.
“Ilia,” I said, holding out my hand.
“Ephrem.” He shook my hand. “Welcome to Ethiopia. Is this your first time here?”
“Yes, it is.” I looked into his eyes. “You and I will be traveling together, so if you don’t like me or don’t feel right about me, this is the time to run,” I said laughing.
“No, no, no! I think we will be fine.” He smiled and patted my shoulder.
“Great. Let’s go then.”
We left Addis Ababa at 6 am. It was Tuesday morning. Traffic was horrible.
“Do you want breakfast?” Ephrem asked me.
“No, I am still jet-lagged. I don’t feel hungry yet. But feel free to stop and eat.”
“I’m good. I don’t eat so early in the morning,” he replied.
“What’s our plan for today?”
“Today our final destination is Arba Minch. We have a hotel reservation there. We can always stop at any place you want along the way.”
We were heading southwest. The first stop was Tiay Stetae, an archaeological site recognized by the UNESCO as a world heritage site. It is a prehistoric burial site with large stone pillars that were engraved with enigmatic symbols.
“The next stop will be a place you are going to love,” Ephrem told me.
“Can you tell me more about it, please?”
“Adadi Mariam. It’s a church that was built in the 12th century. You are a Christian, aren’t you?”
That was very direct, I thought to myself. “Interesting…I’d love to see it.”
We stopped at the church and I walked around the complex. I was getting sleepy and suggested we leave the place even though I didn’t stay long enough to explore the entire site.
The jet lag hit me like a hammer, and I passed out in the car. I don’t remember how much I slept but when I woke up we were already in Arba Minch. I went straight to my room and immediately fell asleep.
Next morning Ephrem met me in the hotel lobby.
|“Did you sleep ok?” Ephrem asked me.
“Yes, I slept like a baby.”
“Are you ready to leave?”
“Yes, where are we going?”
“Today we will visit a Konso village, where the Konso people live. They have their own language. The Konso people are the oldest people not only in Ethiopia but probably in the entire world.”
On our way we picked up a local guide. The guide explained that the Konso people were governed by a council of elders. They used a unique, indigenous, democratic system called Gaada. The system regulates social, political, economic, and religious activities of the community. A leader elected under the Gaada system may remain in power for only eight years. The Gaada system was inscribed by UNESCO as an Intangible World Heritage. The social status of a man, and of some women, is defined by a generation-grading system. Although a generation-grade theoretically embraces the men of an entire region, it does not apply in every town.
I was fascinated with the landscape that lay before my eyes. The most impressive part was the Konso’s irrigation and terracing system on the mountain slopes. I enjoyed walking through the narrow streets of the Konso village. It was fun to photograph such a unique place. I noticed that the children were shy. As soon as they saw me, they would hide. I chatted with a few locals who were playing a board game in the center of the village.
After spending a few hours in the village, Ephrem and I continued our journey.