This is what was brought to our senses just after being caught in Caïro and just before our lock-up in Luxor. Speaking of contradictions…
SURMA… Before laying eyes on this story… A short little intro about the true meaning of a tribe: Tribal people are very distinct and self-sufficient, living of and with their land. They are not integrated into the ‘modern’ World. Most tribes have never even been exposed to the ‘modern’ World. They don't know about the existence of anything that is out of their reach. This tribe for instance had no idea the fact there is an Ocean out there… Seeing is believing. They have their own unique cultural, social and political entity which has been passed through for many generations. They have their own customs and believes, their own beauty-standards, their own religion (read living life in harmony with nature and the spirit world). You may say, they are totally different then we are. But to me they are, what we once were… In touch with nature, a part of nature, immensely grateful and respectful towards it…
That being said… Knowing this and knowing me, you can imagine how stoked I was to go on this trip. Never had I been so close to witness a lifestyle I had always dreamt of. Here’s what I saw and felt and smelled and thought...
…AND ME As soon as we arrived in the Omo Valley more and more tribal people started to appear in the lush landscape. Men with big guns herding 50 cows and 30 sheep, women carrying water and branches on their heads and kids who were just being kids. Running, screaming, playing, waving. While being tumbled around from left to right (due to a road, you can't really call a road), our guide started prepping us a little bit on what we were about to experience. I wanted to pay attention but I just couldn't... My eyes were locked on the wild beauty outside. Then, finally, we pulled up the ‘driveway’ of the mountain we'd call home for a week. Straight away our car got surrounded by a dozen of curious souls - we stepped out. Laughs and screams and a few reaching hands were coming our way. It was overwhelming. Apparently/usually when tourists visit (which happens maybe twice a year, or not even); they get into the ‘village’, snap a few pictures, have a little walk through the area and get onto their next adventure. As much as this would be a different encounter for us, it would be for them. We were planning on hanging around for the next 6 days.
While zigzagging through the cornfields and the haphazardly-placed thatched little huts, I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact how bizar it must be for them… Imagine… Random people rocking up in your backyard, sticking cameras in your face when you're just strolling through your daily habits, living the only life you know. Day in, day out. Because I didn’t want them to perceive me as a tourist I didn’t pull out my camera that first day. It was quite difficult to detain though, every single maneuver they made was a reflection of beauty beyond belief. Soft and gentle - at the same time - primal and tough.
As intrigued I was by their appearance, they were by me. And I probably forgot to mention, you might already have noticed, but a month before this trip I decided to shave my head. I figured I’d look less of a stranger, having the same haircut as they do. It worked. Until they touched it. The different texture of my millimetered hair compared to theirs got them entertained for a full hour, maybe even longer. At that exact moment their pure energy became truly palpable to me. I literally felt vibrations when some of them were rubbing my head. It was pure magic.
What we claim to call beautiful in our Western World isn’t quite the same how the Surma tribe pursues beauty. Both Surma-men and woman pierce their ears, some woman stretch their lower lip for a plate. They scar their bodies by making little cuts repetitively - isn’t it funny we invented all these cremes, lasers and all other treatments to get rid of ours :)… They also have a long history of painting themselves, using pulverized minerals they create drawings and patterns. Not only is it an expression of emotion and art, there’s also a more practical reason behind it. Different colors are used for ritual, to prevent illness, to attract the opposite sex or to relate to family members or certain animals.
Every single day I felt a stronger admiration when observing them. One time I was resting in the shade of a sculptural tree and I was watching 2 men and a woman from a distance, they were just sitting in the grass, playing with some leaves and collecting some stones. I was trying to go back in my memory and imagine that same exact situation happening in our civilized world. I couldn’t. On all my travels, I had never seen something like this, just 3 adults, being peacefully nestled down, without any entertainment… No music, no electric devices, no wine, no magazines, nothing, just sharing a word now and then. Think about it, we all work in order to make money to play... But then in the evening or in the weekends, we’re too tired to play… We sit down and watch television. You’d think we’d have crazy parties after work or orgies or whatever with all that money we make, but no, we don’t. We pay off loans and buy another car and buy this and buy that. Well… I could go on about this for a long time. But let’s get back to the day they took me down to the river. Which was the third day of our stay. Visualizing it again, I still get the shivers. Because we couldn't really communicate, there was only one thing I could do... go with their flow, my body was their canvas now. With impeccable precision and devotion they were circling around me, using stems and grass or just their fingertips to give my skin a second dimension. And just a few meters further there was Jesse, capturing the whole spectacle. Creating another circle, like a solar system.
Being almost half a year later now, I still have no words to explain what I felt while being with them. But what is most memorable to me is that, although we come from completely different places... We connected, they recognized me, they accepted me for who I was without prejudice and they gave me love.
Thank you Surma, for showing me the essence of life. You truly are forever in my heart.