(photo credit: Courtesy)
How do you like your crocodile meat? Not a question we're often asked, though it was nice to have a distraction from the oncoming Seder onslaught, helping us escape to a finer, more serene place like southern Ethiopia - and share some croc with the natives.
The occasion was the BBC series Tribe, being shown on Channel 8, which follows the very, very brave Bruce Parry as he made his way down the Omo Valley.
Stopping to meet with and learn about tribes, Parry provides a fascinating look into how they subsist where an ongoing drought has just about wiped out traditional herding methods. Along the way, he takes viewers on a crocodile hunt they won't soon forget.
"I want to find out what life is like in such an amazing place," says Bruce of his three-month Ethiopian trek. "To experience their culture first-hand," he clarifies. This show is certainly the chance to do that. After all, not too many of us would feel comfortable just walking into the village of the Dassanech and settling in with the toughest lady in town.
It's Parry's good fortune to be kindly looked after by the charming yet mystifying, funny but philosophical Abanesh. Adorned with beads and a proud smile, this matriarch takes him in as one of her own. "Greetings to the place from which you've come," she says upon meeting him, and a special relationship develops.
She allows Parry to stay in her hut, where drought has forced the locals to look to the scorned for help. Along the way, he lets us meet characters like Orkotch, a member of the Dias, or the looked-down-upon fisher/hunter group in the tribe, whose brave nighttime battles against the crocodiles in the nearby lake provide food for the village as well as make for fascinating viewing.
Indeed, the entire production is mesmerizing, from Parry's first canoe trip out into the lake, where he's told by Dias to "just stay quiet" as he watches hunters use hand signals and guile to harpoon crocs, to viewing the tribe's rain clan, women who sing and dance each night in the hope the drought will end.
Then there are the little things. Like Orkotch's Manchester United T-shirt and the delight the village children take in insisting they are all "10 years old!!!" But when he hikes with them to the harrowing source they must visit three times a day the humor fades to reality. Cave-ins at the water holes claim lives and the water is of questionable quality at best.
Viewers can almost feel the flies on their faces as Parry deals with them and the intense heat that sends most of the tribe inside during daytime hours. But the sheer resourcefulness of the people, able to somehow sustain themselves despite their unforgiving surroundings, is inspiring.
Parry's croc hunting was the highlight of the show. He notes with typical British understatement, "I wouldn't want to be in the water while they're harpooning crocodiles."
While his hostess is cognizant of the tribe's bleak future - the lake drying up and their need to rely on the lower class for sustenance - she remains proud and funny throughout. She tells Parry, as the tribe dances the night away to bid him farewell, "They all want to dance with you; I wish you could stay forever."
When the goodbye comes, we've learned a lot. "God decides everything," she says after Parry returns with a large crocodile he and the croc-hunters have brought back. "If he says you will kill a big crocodile, you will. If he says: 'You will eat,' you will."
Combining the incredible nature shots with the tribal insights, Parry has an incredible journey that should interest any armchair traveler. Other outings are destined to Brazil, Russia and Tanzania, which we hope will be forthcoming.
Meanwhile, while preparing to take a very difficult leave from Abanesh, Parry notes that lower Ethiopia "is a tough place to visit, but an even tougher place to live - and yet I found nothing here but hospitality and friendship. I think we've got a lot to learn from the tribes of the Omo."
Amen to that. And do all you can to catch his informative and touching series on Channel 8 - even if you don't eat crocodile.
Tribe airs on HOT's Channel 8 at various times during the week.