By Yvonne Van Dongen |

A sickle-shaped machete is draped across his waist, a Kalashnikov slung over his back and his teeth are filed to points. The man standing in front of me is from the Afar, a tribe known for their ferocity, a tribe that has historically castrated upon capture, a tribe given to ancient enmities. And the guide wonders why I don’t want to sneakily take his photo?

“Quick. Quick,” urges Yegerem. “Don’t ask.” Exasperated. “They will only say no.”

Yegerem takes my camera, takes the photo, hands it back. Exasperated. Again.

And well he might be. But I’ve read the foreign affairs travel advice (ours, Australia’s the Brits’, Canadian, German, anywhere you like says basically don’t go, the people are fierce). I’ve already seen too many revenge towers, none of which are ancient artefacts but living records of scores to be settled. And I know that in 2012 five tourists were shot in the head by local gunmen though the who, what, why of it is still a mystery.

So, yes, the Afar have my complete respect.

Yegerem’s not burdened by such flabby concerns. He asks the Afar man to open his mouth wider and surprisingly, obligingly, the man’s smile splits into a grinning maw of filed fangs. He could be a vampire – or a crocodile.

Afar teeth are filed when young, explains Yegerem. Slowly slowly. It’s a painful business. Yegerem snaps away again with my camera. Hands it back. This will become a pattern of the trip. Fortunately he’s a good shot.

Continue reading on Sunday Star Times

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