The South Omo

Omo ValleyWe’ve continued south in the Omo valley, down near the border of Kenya. Dirt is everywhere, so much so that it’s no longer a problem. We stop changing our clothes everyday. Dinner, often made by our drivers now that we are camping, is lentil soup, boiled vegetables, with fruit for dessert. When all of the amenities are gone, it becomes easier and much more fun.

This south Omo is home to 65 of the 83 ethnic groups of the country, most of them quite small tribal societies (ranging from ~200,000 in a tribe to ~ 2000) with little change in lifestyle for hundreds of years. They are dotted across the grassy land clustered around the Omo River, fighting for access.  Fighting between the tribes is common; the government tries to sponsor treaties, but to little use. Disputes have been augmented in recent years by an abundance of AK-47’s. They’re everywhere – whenever we camp our guide, Minalu, hires a local with an AK-47 to stay awake all night to guard us. We get a little history from him – his father was a smuggler who brought them in from Kenya on donkeys, buried in grain. Made a killing!

AK47Some are pastoralists, some are farmers, all are polygamist. The primary tender for trading or spoils of war are cattle and daughters. Dowries in the 21st century consist of cattle and AK47’s. Marking and form of dress and decoration are wildly variant from tribe to tribe. This is National Geographic country where the women wear only skirts and the men paint themselves.

The region is isolated from most contact with the rest of the country or world. There is no power, no internet, no TV or radio. Lives are recorded into five ‘ages,’ and no one knows quite how old he is in years. There is virtually no education, with only 5-10% of the children of the larger, more prosperous tribes going to school. Up to ~ 40 years ago most of the people did not know that an entity called “Ethiopia” existed. It’s changed some with the advent of tourism and the NGO’s, but the impact of the people in the tribes has been small.

There is strict division between the responsibilities of women and men, and the status of women is not good at all.  Daughters are used as trade and wives are beaten ritualistically. Disfigurement practices such as the whipping of young girls by boys in ceremonies and self-scarification of girls to enhance their appeal to boys are justified as “tradition.” The grossest by far is the Mursi; the women stretch their lips with large plates. This is an odd appearance that has been recorded often in National Geographic types photos, but mostly these women walk around with the plates out, their lips just hanging in a big loop down to their chins and below. Again, it’s a “tradition,” with many conjectures as to its origin, and no move to end the practice.

Some of the tribes we meet as we camp through the area:

The Benna   We encounter the Benna at the Key Afar market between the Dorze village and Jinka. These people are beautiful – very tall, very dark and very thin. The women wear their hair in dreads coated with butter mixed with red ochre. They have elaborate dresses of goatskins and beads. Each has three or four holes for earrings; the earrings range from beaded metals to the currently popular phone cards used by teens. But the men are more striking, with faces like models, very short skirts like loincloths, beaded armbands and ankle bands. Wow.

We get our first taste here of photography in the south Omo. Every shot is a charge, negotiated by our guide. The normal cost is 5 birr (about $.25,) which is not so bad, but the negotiation and the arguments tend to consume a lot of time. Then the people are uninterested in the process, never connect with the photographer, and so just looked bored.

The Ari  Jim’s comment “f”ing depressing.” The Ari village we visit (Kooray) seems much poorer than those of other tribes we’ve seen. Little boys are pantless, wearing only some beads. It’s an agrarian society; the only man we see is a blacksmith making scythes. The huts are made from mud sealed with dung and grass roofs. Richer Ari have tin roofs.

earringThe Mursi   We camp one night in a Mursi village (Hiloha). I’ve been dreading this – actually seeing the plate-lipped women. However, I didn’t see a single one – no one seems to wear a plate. They just walk around with their lower lips flopping down. Horrible. There is some conjecture that the practice started to keep the women from being stolen by marauders (by making them so ugly.) The young girls have huge plates in their ears. Bad enough. Many organizations are trying to help the young girls reject the lip-plates. Hope it works.

The women spend most of the day grinding corn, on their knees, rubbing it between two stones. The staple food is corn mixed with milk and cow blood. The men, when they’re feeling tough, just take blood directly from the cow’s neck.

Our campsite is hot (gets to 106 F during the day), loaded with flies, mosquitoes and other buzzers, the ground covered with shit. Everyone is friendly, people keep coming up to shake hands, but we have an AK-47 armed guard for the night.

The Hamer  Probably the most interesting of the tribes. This is a subsistence agro-pastoralist society. The women are responsible for food, farmland, producing honey and caring for the house and family. The men take care of the cattle. Dress is beautiful. The women wear their hair in short dreads covered with butter and red ochre like the Benna. They wear leather skins as skirts, lots of beads and earrings. They are sometimes topless but more often wear a cowl decorated with shells and beads, suitable for carrying a baby when appropriate. Their backs and arms are bare and covered with scars. Although the little boys are mostly naked they have on small belts hung with beaded loincloths.

HutIn the village of Wunarke we are invited into a hut for a coffee ceremony. Amazing. Our hostess sits in the center of a room ~ ten feet across and four feet high. She has three metal rings around her neck – one with a large protuberance meaning that she is a first wife. There is a baby in her cowl nursing, her four other children clustered around her and three others who have made their way in. She ladles coffee into large wooden bowls and gives us each some. Not bad – but it’s coffee so I can always drink it.

20130128-Ethiopia-1504When Hamer men are ready to be initiated into manhood they must undergo a test – they have to jump seven bulls – leap up and step on the backs of each one. This bull jumping is a whole day of celebration. It begins with hordes of young girls (maybe 13-18 years or so) dancing. They have bells on their legs and have coated their backs with butter and ochre until they’re dripping with it. During their dancing they are chased by men who whip them. With switches, leaving open wounds. To be honest, it seems it is the women who initiate this. The butter and ochre feature the wounds. It is thought by the girls that scars will make them more attractive to men (wonder how that rumor got started) and so they have been cutting themselves on the arm for years already, rubbing ash into those wounds. It also likely prepares them for being beaten by their husbands after marriage.

After the dancing and whipping, everyone retires back to the village for a couple hours of napping and coffee, then onto the bull yard. It’s getting late in the day. Ginny and I are quite interested in seeing how this ceremony progresses, but Jim and Maynard are only worried about losing their pictures if the sun goes too far down.

There are about 40 bulls. The man of the hour, our jumper, and his friends cull through them finding the ones most likely to stay still, then there is another half hour or so trying to ‘convince’ the other bulls to leave by grabbing their horns and marching them out. Bulls don’t take well to this sort of argument and there is one point where I am concerned that about ten of them are going to stampede right to where I am standing. Somehow organization is achieved, the jumper jumps, going over the bulls several times (maybe someone told him that we needed pictures!) Now he can go off and get his first wife and become a man.


toiletA point comes in every trip when I just can’t stand it any more; the dirt and heat, unfriendly people, bad plumbing, 10 hour drives over dusty eroded roads. I want to go home, to have a tablecloth, television, a good shower, and my own bed. It’s 95o F, altitude breathlessness is gone but mosquitoes have come. And…we have no internet virtually anywhere. So I apologize to everyone who is trying to follow this blog.

We’re in the south, in the Omo valley.  This is the real Africa! The north of Ethiopia, to which most tourists limit themselves, is an ancient Judeo-Christian country with ties to Israel and the old civilizations of the Mediterranean. The south is home to most of the 83 ethnic groups of the country, tribal societies with little change in lifestyle for hundreds of years.

We spent the first night here in a Dorze village. There are 38,000 Dorze in Africa. They take pride in the fact that they can live, make everything they need, if they have access to only bamboo, false banana (a plant that looks like banana but has no fruit,) and cotton.

DinnerThey use the meat of the false banana trunk to make a flat bread called kojo, similar to injera.  Their homes are the famous Elephant houses, constructed with a framework of bamboo, filled in with false banana leaves; the doorways lead somewhat out from the round building and the high windows look like the ears of an elephant. The floor space is ~ 1600 sq ft, enough room for both the family and their animals. Elephant houses are “repaired” every twenty years or so by replacing the leaves, and last 70-100 years.

Drinks  This particular village was very welcoming, first giving us Araki to drink with their kojo. This stuff really has a kick. It’s made from corn and hops that are pounded together then heated and distilled over a fire inside a hut. The alcohol, over 120 proof, is then flavored with garlic and anise, resulting in a drink that reminded me somewhat of ouzo – fire strong, clear, and anise tasting. You’re supposed to say “YoyoyoyoYO!” (cheers) then drink it all back. I was able to pour most of it in the dirt when no one was looking.

Coffee  After a quick break for a tour of their fabric making (in which the women spin and the men weave, since weaving is so Coffee Ceremonymuch more complicated) it was time for a coffee ceremony. Coffee is big in Ethiopia. Legend has that it was discovered centuries ago when a goatherd watched his goats become animated after eating the berries of a plant. He took the plant to a local monk who figured out how to roast them and the rest is history. Ethiopians make wonderful coffee – strong and not bitter, served in tiny cups. However, it was 6 PM, so I threw the coffee into the dirt on top of the Araki.


TimkatAt 4 PM a crowd of old men, some women and a bevy of small boys gathers at a church with a walled courtyard outside Hawzien in Tigray, the northern province of Ethiopia tucked in the mountains near Eritrea. It’s desert here, goats forage in the sand and birds rise and fall under intense blue sky. And it’s the drowsiest time of a hot day, when the sun and the buzzing of the insects conspire to make me want to simply go indoors, anywhere, and take a nap.

But clearly, the crowd around the church means that something is going to happen. It’s the eve of Timkat, Ethiopian Epiphany, and the people are excited. The boys circle around the few westerners, maybe ten of us, all in travel gear carrying cameras, “What is your name?” “Can I have money?” as the men and women haunch in separate groups watching the church – where nothing appears to be happening! A few minutes before 5 PM we hear drums from behind the wall, the women ululate in response and the boys’ running becomes more animated.

This continues in the same manner for a half hour or so. Festivals in Ethiopia unfold slowly, the promise of an event fighting with the boredom of nothing happening for long periods of time.  An umbrella, red, decorated with gold spangles and fringe, is sighted above the wall. The ululation increases in volume and all cameras swing in that direction. Then finally, just as the sun begins to set and the light becomes lovely, the courtyard door swings open and a procession begins.


And it’s worth the wait.  Forty young people – teens to twenties, robed in white scarves and simple vestments – parade toward us, led by two drummers who strut and gesture like drum majors. The youths sing and clap and the crowd joins in, the beat increasing a bit with each repetition.  Behind them are the priests, a snaking line of thirteen robed in mix of red, green and yellow vestments, each with umbrellas, each umbrella more magnificent than the last. And that last is truly the best. It is large and square, and it is held over what must be at least a bishop – a man with a handsome black face, a balding head, and the white beard of a prophet. He carries a large box covered with a gold cloth. We realize that this is the church’s replica of the Ark of the Covenant, the focal point of the ceremony, that will be transferred to a tent on a river a few hundred yards away, that will be guarded by the people of the village who will celebrate all night around it. Jim and Maynard run to get photos of the priests, who seem unperturbed by the attention, but who mostly just drop their umbrellas to forestall close-ups.

Not a problem, since the two groups continue to stand in that position for another 30 minutes giving our photographers plenty of time to find willing subjects and get their shots. The wait is for a similar line from another church which comes over the hill and joins our group. Then the march to the river begins, the crowd joins the official celebrants, and we walk a few hundred yards to the waiting tent.

Timkat has been celebrated in the same way at every church in Ethiopia for at least 700 years, commemorating the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist. There is always a body of water, referred to as the River Jordan during the mass held on its banks, although the water may be only a small pool constructed for the occasion. At the end of a day of celebration, the replica of the Ark is returned to its church.

Timkat is a combination of a religious aspect for a devout group of people and a chance to gather, sing and dance, and take a day off from working. Just like Christmas, just like Easter, in the West.


Laliabel_Panorama1I am weary of writing more about these buildings, because it seems to me that I shall not be believed if I write more…but I swear by God in Whose power I am, that all that is written is the truth, and there is much more than what I have written.”  Francisco Alvarez (early sixteenth century Portuguese writer.)

In the twelfth century King Lalibela of Roha was poisoned by his brother-in-law. He was taken to heaven by God where he saw a grouping of rock-hewn churches which God commanded him to recreate as a new Jerusalem in Roha. When he recovered, Lalibela did just that, excavating directly from the rock a cluster of monolithic structures.

The churches of Lalibela are set in the stunning high desert of northern Ethiopia. We visited the main eight of them in one day, climbing up to the site, then down to each church where we took off our shoes and walked around interiors that were almost one thousand years old yet still in active use, populated by Orthodox priests and pilgrims. They were all built in the three-part Orthodox arrangement. The first area is for the drummer. Drumming is central to the service: the two sides of the drum represent the old and new testament.

Jim taking pixThe drummer sways as he plays to imitate the walking of Christ carrying the cross, and inside the drum a pebble rolls back and forth as he sways, representing the casting of lots by the soldiers at the Passion. The central portion of the church is for the worshipers, and the third is the sanctuary. The frescoes, windows and paintings of each church were different, each the story of the saint for which it was named.

It was a difficult day. We were all still in the grip of jet lag, out of breath from the altitude climbing, and in pain from sore feet, Maynard, Jim and Ginny struggled to find enough light to take photos of the beautiful priests and enough distance to capture the church exteriors, often adopting creative positioning. Maynard’s patience with churches is limited at best, and he began to pine for some baskets he had seen on the drive into town. We had a challenge to keep him to the program, but he found his reward the next day as we left town to fly to Axum. He saw his basket shop and bought a beautiful multi-colored treasure for Ginny to carry for the next twenty days.

Addis Ababa, though only nine degrees north of the equator, is cool and sunny and meant to be our ‘resting place’ before we hit the mountain monasteries of the north and the bull-jumping and lip-plated Mursis of the south. We have only one day here, and our guide, the very young and very adorable Jermias, has set up an easy day of museums and churches. Instead we opt for the market.

The market of any city is the place to see the most activity, and the biggest mix of people.  Addis’s Mercato is huge – and a notorious home for pickpockets. Jermias arranges for two armed men in uniform (I don’t think they are quite police) to go with us as we prowl. It’s chaotic and confusing, street after street of little tin structures. One whole street is dedicated to shoes, one to women’s underwear and a whole block to spices.  By far the most interesting area is one corner consisting of several blocks that sells recycled goods.recycle

Now, we do recycle in the US. That means separating paper, plastic and metal from the rest of our trash and putting it in a blue box every week. What happens to it? Who knows? A truck takes it and we feel a bit smug that we have not just thrown something away.

In Addis, they are serious. The captains of the local recycling industry collect everything from everywhere, dismantle into components, and make something different that is sold into another generation of usefulness. The breadth of items is daunting: best to list a few.

  • Coffee Roasters. Some of the best coffee in the world is grown here and Ethiopians drink it strong. The beans are sold raw then roasted over charcoal just before brewing, often in elaborate coffee ceremonies. The double-funnel shaped roasters are sold in many sizes. Large roasters are made from used satellite dishes, and smaller ones to be used in homes from old cans. The labels are often just left on; I saw one marked “Strong Adhesive,” and one still labeled “Roach Killer!”
  • Sandals. From old tires, of course! This was the work of a whole street. The tires come in by ‘hand,’ either rolled two at a time, or carried in a variety of arrangements. For example, I saw one man with a tire over each shoulder and two stacked around his neck. It wasn’t at all clear if or how he saw where he was walking.  The treads are stripped off, the sandal cut into shape, and then sliced around the edge to insert the straps which are colorful nylon ribbons from some other source. Then the edges are nailed together.
  • Laptop Computers. From old laptops. The components are ‘harvested’ and then reassembled into working computers.
  • Saddles from animal skins, used wood and used sponges
  • Drums from oilcans, book covers from animal skins, dipsticks from old cans of perfume, freeweights made from old gears mounted on a rod, funnels that still say ‘insecticide,’ and so on. Everything is collected, often purchased from villages for a few birr (nickels) and then repurposed.

In the midst of the afternoon was a call to Islam prayer. Ethiopia is 45% Muslim and 51% Christian. Although people of both religions appear quite devout, there seems little animosity compared to other countries we have visited. Jermias just walked us through the men at prayer, and a couple of them even moved the edges of their mats aside to make it easier for us to pass. That would never have happened in Iran!!


I think. Travel clothes limp from years of use, buckets of DEET for the fleas and mosquitoes of Africa, power bars for a break from Injera, all lie in piles around our duffels. Jim’s cameras, lenses, and tripods weigh too much – is it possible he will make me leave my shampoo to get in an extra lens? I have only my notebook and pen as we go in search of the Ark of the Covenant, the palace of the Queen of Sheba, the Rift Valley, and Missing Hospital, home of Marion and Shiva Stone.

I will update the blog every few days. Hope you enjoy reading it!

We have been able to spend five days visiting a number of villages and markets in the northern mountains, far away from any sort of modern conveniences. Our guide, Cao, is from a town on the Chinese border who knows the area well, and can speak some of the local languages. He makes us breakfast and lunch every day, using bread and Laughing Cow cheese that he brought from the south, local eggs, local greens and hacked chicken, and noodles and rice. We eat on little tables tucked onto open porches on the street.

The diversity of the tribes is amazing. Most of the country’s minority groups live here – eleven million people comprise 53 different ethnic groups that are further divided into multiple subgroups, giving Viet Nam the most complex ethnic makeup in Southeast Asia. Many of the tribes have migrated from regions of China, but some share racial characteristics with Indonesians and other island peoples.

Despite diversity of tribal origin, dress and language, their lives are similar. Most of them stay always close to home. Farms have been created primarily by swidden farming – slash and burn trees, clear and terrace the land. These mountains were once heavily forested, but over years they have been stripped then planted. Traditionally, a family carries soil up from the valley or moves every few years, as the soil depletes. The work is arduous, and everyone participates. Children are unsmiling and sober, expected to work along with their parents when they are young, and to take care of them when they become adults.

The food here is mostly vegetables: rice, corn, cabbage and greens. Every inch is planted – a couple of square feet of soil at the edge of the road will have three or four stalks of corn. In the larger terraces, two crops of rice and one of another vegetable are planted each year. Some families have a few chickens, and occasionally a pig, but malnutrition is an ever-present problem for the region.

Life is dependent on weather and luck. The houses are partially open, and usually have only a couple of low-watt bulbs to light inside, so the weather outside – cold, rain, whatever – is what the people live in. It affects the amount of food they will have, and their health. Our guide visited a friend whose wedding he had attended last year. The man had lost four water buffalo and two cows to the hoof and mouth disease that was rampant in the cold, wet winter that just ended. Without water buffalo it is impossible to farm effectively.

We brought several different gifts with us on this trip. We gave out candy for the children everywhere. The older children take it, then share it immediately with their younger siblings; different from most countries where they grab as much as possible then horde it. Balloons were a big hit. But most rewarding was the gift of reading glasses. You see no spectacles here at all, on young or old people, so we picked up a dozen pairs of inexpensive reading glasses in Hanoi. They were mostly taken by women, who continue embroidering as long as they can see, but there was one man who just kept looking at his sleeve and his watch, grinning broadly.

To Market To Market

The mountainous region of northeastern Vietnam, populated mostly by groups of Hmong, Tay and Zao who come here from China several hundred years ago, has been under dispute with China since the late ‘70’s. It has recently been opened for travel. Tourists today are mostly from China and other parts of Vietnam so it’s fairly untouched. Seeing this area is the main reason we came to Vietnam.

To get to here was a full day drive from Hanoi, a change in altitude, and a large change in wealth and amenities. Here there are guest houses, not hotels. The rooms are unheated, always chilly and damp. Bathrooms have western fixtures, but no tubs – just showers that pour onto the floor and although that works well, walking through them afterwards is pretty slippery. The beds are different from any I have ever used – like plywood, but surprisingly good to sleep on. Most interesting are the lobbies, which are a combination of garage (our van drives right up to the check-in desk and spends the night) banquet hall, bar and restaurant. All completely open and unheated.

We spend some time visiting villages and homes. In general, houses of the minority tribes are built on stilts, with animals kept underneath. This comes from a time when they needed protection from wild animals, but it also provides some safety and warmth for them today. Upstairs is the main part of the house. In very prosperous homes there is a kitchen, a television, glass in the windows, and an open sleeping area. Upstairs, under the thatched roof, is storage and more sleeping. In most of the homes there is a pit for a fire that is used for cooking, and stacks of vegetables on the main floor.

The priorities for a man of these tribes are three. First he needs to get some land and a water buffalo to farm it. Second, he takes a wife. Third, he builds a house. The house is a long process – one of the nicer ones we visited took fifteen years, during which the man found the lumber and cut it, fashioned the logs for tongue-in-groove, then assembled it with the help of other villagers.

The economy is subsistence farming with some sales at local markets. The land here is all mountainous, very steep, often very rocky. In the years that these people have been here the mountains have been stripped of their original forest, then terraced for planting. Everywhere the mountainside has been worked into flat areas, some only a foot or two wide – and soil carried up from the valley to fill it. There is not so much rice here– that is mostly at the bottom, – but many vegetables. In the worst places, between rocks and on very steep areas, are sugar cane and corn. We see people at every level working. This is winter, so most of it is in building new terraces using hand tools and bringing up soil in baskets.

Today is Tiger Day, Saturday, and we plant to go to a huge market in Minh Tan. It’s an hour drive from_our night Yen Minh, over a pass on the narrow, very windy mountain road that connects all of these villages. The drives are fascinating, scarily high with lots of passing on curves and little visibility in the fog. There’s not much point in being nervous, or in wearing a seatbelt – as Maynard points out, if we go off the edge a seatbelt will not matter.
We are hurrying to the market when suddenly Cao says “Oh no – bad luck” and then a couple of other things in Vietnamese. We can see across the valley that our road is blocked by a cement truck. Scooters are going around it but there isn’t enough room for anything larger. The driver and a couple of the scooter men stand around and scratch their heads.

We get close to the truck. Cao and our driver run up to it, Jim and Maynard follow with their cameras. There is about ten minutes of trying to get the truck to move, but it’s stuck across a hairpin, the drive wheels behind the cab skidding on mud on the inside and gravel on the outside. Finally the men start to pile gravel on the outside of the truck to give us more “road” to maneuver around. Ginny and I get out of the van and run ahead as the driver inches past on the out (downhill) side. And he makes it, with only one major scratching sound.

And we are off to market!

And what a market it is. Probably five hundred people in the mist and rain and mud, selling and buying everything from pregnant pigs to cell phones and flat screened TVs. I get Jim to take a picture of some of the pigs, and our driver translates for us the owner saying in wonder “Why are they taking a picture of filthy pigs?”
It’s not just a market, it’s the social event of the week. The women group and regroup into clutches talking and drinking tea. Teenagers walk around in groups, eyeing other groups of the opposite sex, then pairing up and slipping off. The men have their own way of being social, using corn liquor. By 11:30 AM when we leave many of them are blasted. They stagger and become friendly. Several walk up to Jim and ask to have their picture taken; one hugs him when he sees it on the display. The way back for most of these people to walk, purchases carried on their backs. I have no idea how the women get their husbands home.

A Bag of Coffee

On Saturday we fly to Da Nang, into the airport built by US Marines in 1965. The Center of Vietnam is filled with names I remember from the war – Da Nang, China Beach, Hue, Khe Sanh, and Tu Cung Hamlet (My Lai). Our guide, Tuan, works with many American veterans who are returning to see the country. The atmosphere is very different now. In fact the drive from Da Nang along China Beach is filled with hotels and pilings of new hotels on the South China Sea. The vision is that it will someday be a Miami Beach, magnet for Asians and Europeans who want a beach resort vacation.

There’s a lot of history here, and much of it is about Ho Chi Minh. He spent his whole life working to unite Vietnam and to free it from foreign dominance: from the French, from the US, and from the Chinese. Interestingly, immediately after WWII he opted to have the French stay in the North rather than the Chinese, saying that he would rather “smell French shit for five years than Chinese shit for the rest of his life.” It is obvious that the Vietnamese do not trust, and do not like the Chinese

Our first days are spent in Hoi An, an ancient fishing village built by Chinese and Japanese traders in the sixteenth century. Maynard was here 13 years ago, and can’t wait to see again the beautiful houses built over two hundred years ago along the three streets that make up the town – pale yellow and blue and green, with dark wood shutters and doors. And they are all still there, but now they house restaurants and shops and art galleries. The fishermen have all gone into the tourist trade or moved away. Hoi An was declared a UNESCO Heritage site in 1999, and the tourists began to come, bringing money to the local economy and changing it at the same time.

There is a wonderful local produce/fish/meat market each morning. The people selling there arrive at 4 AM using torches to light their way. It runs along the riverfront and down a couple of streets, and it’s mostly covered by plastic bags on poles – even I have to keep my head down to walk through, so it’s a real challenge for Jim.

We go before breakfast, so Ginny and I need to get coffee. The high point of Viet Nam is their coffee – it’s made very strong then mixed with sweetened condensed milk. Just fabulous. At the market we find a couple selling it by the water. We can sit down on plastic stools and have it in glasses, but we want to keep up with Jim and Maynard, so we take it “to go.” They mix a concentrate of coffee, the milk, add boiling water, then pour it all into a plastic bag, close it with a rubber band and put a straw in it. We can stroll along the market seeing the ducks and chickens and fish, watch women slice vegetables and dodge the bicycles and motorscooters, and still have our coffee. What fun. And it’s the best coffee I’ve had on the trip so far!

We have been in Vietnam for just over a week, and I am posting my first photos. Photographing people here is a challenge. First, it is very crowded. There are over eighty million people in Vietnam so there is not a lot of space. And the people do not welcome photography. I have been waved off many times. Now, I am worried about my self confidence.

We are in Hue, which is the middle of the country. Tomorrow we leave for Hanoi.

Click here to see my Vietnam pictures. I am placing a link on the blogroll on the right where you can always find the pictures.