Konso…town of the “present” culture and the “yes” culture. By “present culture” I mean that everyone lives in the present, with no consideration for the future – so when you arrive at a hotel or restaurant, you are treated like shit and no one thinks about whether or not you will come back. There are enough people who visit this town that they can treat you however they like and not worry about your return custom, because they know someone new will show up tomorrow, needing a room or a place to eat. It’s extremely short sighted and infuriating for the customers!
By “yes culture”, I mean that whenever you ask a question, the answer will always be “yes”. This goes for the entire of the South of Ethiopia, actually: “Do you have coke cola?” “Yes.” “Can I have two coke colas, please.” “Yes.” Half an hour passes and no cokes appear. “Where are the cokes?” “Yes.” (They never had coke!)
I’m not a rude person; when I’m in someone else’s country, I respect them and their ways and I try hard to give my best go at their language. Sadly, this is somewhat lost on the people in Konso. So if you plan to visit, take a sense of humour (otherwise you will cry) and a mountain of patience. The people are not stupid, but they act stupid if you ask them to fix the window in your room because it is smashed. When they tell you that the room comes with a shower, toilet, sink and mosquito nets, don’t expect any of it to be in working order, and don’t expect anything to get fixed. And don’t expect to get a discount because nothing works, even though they are selling you these broken amenities in the price of the room (which is more expensive than somewhere luxurious in Arba Minch – but there are only six or so places to stay in Konso so competition is not high, hence no one has to try!) I’m not a rude person, I try really hard to conform to their ways and to fit in…but the people here were mean, mean, mean. They look at you mean, and they do mean things to you. Then they go out the back and laugh at you with their co-workers!! Mrow 😦
But (some) people aside, Konso is a beautiful place. This is probably the only reason anyone comes – it certainly isn’t for the service or for the luxurious rooms (can you say cockroaches, anyone?!) Konso is known mainly for the Konso people/tribe, and its proximity to other unique nearby tribes such as the Mursi, Ari and Banna tribes. The Konso people are a fascinating bunch with intriguing funeral/death ceremonies and living arrangements. They inhabit an isolated and somewhat barren region of basalt hills – an extension of the Southern highlands, flanked to the east by the semi-desert Borena low-lands and to the west by the Lower Omo Valley. They are Cushitic speaking people and are known along with their unique culture, for their water and soil conservation through terracing. They have adopted a defensive style of building with villages on hilltops, protected by fortifications around them. They undertake handicrafts such as iron working, weaving, pottery tannery and basket making. Karat, the administrative centre of Konso, complete with a tourist information centre, is roughly 670km south of Addis Ababa and 90km south of Arba Minch. It’s at an altitude of 1650m above sea level. We wanted to visit some of the tribes but when we arrive the tourist centre informed us that we needed a vehicle, a guide, money for an entry fee and more money to give to the tribes once we arrived and extra money for photos. They demanded money for everything! It was tourism on steroids! I’ll go back next time with Tim. He wants to hire a car as he’s not game like me to take the public transport.
Traditional huts in the process of being built. They start from the bottom by laying out this circle and compacting the ground, then the hut is built outwards from the centre – usually a big strong piece of wood – often a tree trunk which stands in the middle
A Konso home. The outline is made from wood – usually eucalyps and the finishing is comprised of a mixture of clay and grass
The hotels and pensions in Konso are extremely underwhelming. If you visit, just remember that you are in the third world. If I’d had the choice I would not have stayed in any of them. But we were sans vehicle, so we were trapped. I slept in my clothes as I dared not take anything off to get into pyjamas and I dared not touch the sheets with my bare skin! The mosquito nets had either holes or were too small to be of any use and we were given a large seemingly filthy bucket of cold water, as the shower was broken. This is considered an acceptable replacement and the standard, even though they are charging you for the shower! But just smile and carry on. You pay less fo
r a room that is easily ten times as luxurious in Arba Minch, but hey, you’re in Konso, what can you do?
In the evening we took a walk to enjoy the sunset and were incessantly harassed by children. Most were pretty cute and all they wanted was some attention and to see the photos on the digicam screen. One boy was really intrigued; every time I took a picture he would hustle to see it play back on the screen then grin his face off! Mainly out of pity for the poor kid I offered the camera to him. (Tim would have swiped at me: “You’ll NEVER get it back!”) “Do you want a turn?” His reply was “Five Birr”. As in, “You pay me Five Birr then I’ll take a picture for you.” I’m not kidding when I say that EVERYONE is out to get something to benefit them, you know.
These local kids and goat herders were interested in us and begged to have their picture taken
Chus playing with the kids
The only food you get in Konso is Ethiopian (with extra vegetable oil oozing out of it and onto the plate) or eggs. Scrambled, poached, fried or an omelette…doesn’t matter, they all end up looking the same!
In the morning we visited the tourist information centre where they directed us towards the Konso Museum and the markets. Monday in Konso is Market day – people come from all over to sell all manner of things – from cows and goats to fabric, fruit, spices, jewellery, traditional clothing and home-made nick-knacks. There are two markets, about 4km apart. We slogged the 4km up the hill in the heat took a motor bike back down the hill. Tim would have killed me for doing it; when they go downhill they don’t bother to turn the motor on (saves petrol – you use 25% more than what you use at sea level). Also, no helmets and most parts look like they are one bump or pothole away from falling off. The museum was the highlight. The keeper was a friendly old man who reeked of the traditional maize-based (I think) alcohol. He used to own the land and farm it (there were still maize crops, corn, papaya, banana and mango trees around) until last year when he gave it up for the museum. The museum was built with money from the French Government and features displays of waka, and posterboards with information about the Konso people. It was an awesome museum as far as one-room museums go. Really well presented, and heaps of interesting things to learn.
View through the trees to the top market
Konso-style bee hives. They are placed high in trees to deter thieves and because it is believed that bees like height. The insides are smeared in cow dung and covered in dry grass and they are left up in the tree and checked several times a year. The honey can be squeezed out of the combs and is sold at the markets. Hives do well in the south because of the rain which produces lots of flowers – which the bees swarm to. Thanks Chus for the photo 🙂
Before we left Konso the afternoon after arriving (one night really was enough), we stopped in at the St Mary Hotel and asked (in Amharic) for a cold coke. After asking the fourth time, it arrived – warm of course – it’s not as though they know their own word for “cold” – and shaken – so when the waiter opened it (glass bottle with metal cap), it sprayed everywhere, covering me, Chus and the table. Great. AWA.
The bus ride back to Arba Minch was entertaining. The driver was furiously chewing chat, one wheel was mostly flat and after we were about ten km out of Konso we picked up ten extra people. I did a head count and saw that there were thirty people crammed into a van that seats twelve. I could literally hear Tim ranting to me about what a stupid idea this was. But 10km out of Konso, what are you supposed to do? Get out and walk back? And get into another minibus where the same thing will happen to you again? Let’s just say it was an interesting trip and I’m not going to take mini-busses anymore. The big buses are fine – the drivers aren’t allowed to chew chat and only one person per seat is allowed. You also get a receipt and get stopped a lot by police checking to make sure everything is legal (at least by African standards). Halfway home we dumped the extras in a small village which reduced our numbers to fifteen. But by this stage the tyre was completely flat so we were stuck for an hour while they changed the tyre. No one wanted to get out and risk losing their seat for a seat on the floor so the jacks kept breaking. Eventually we managed because five locals appeared while herding their cattle and they stopped to help lift the vehicle high enough to get the old tyre off and the new one on. It was an interesting experience, but since dark was approaching, not necessarily one that I would like to repeat!
When we arrived in Arba Minch is was practically dark. We found a pastry shop (we needed the sugar to sweeten ourselves up) and met up with two locals who Ras Levi from Shashamane had put us in touch with. They helped us find a hotel for the night then took us out for dinner at Lemlem Hotel (great tibs!) and some St Georges at a couple of night clubs. The nightclubs were hilarious – full of Ethiopians dancing Ethiopian style (mostly elaborate shoulder and neck movements) to Rihanna and “Moves like Jagger”. A great way to end a long and painful day!
The view from Konso Museum. The road leads from the main village up to the top market – about 4km