Another celebrity of Hamed Ale is Halima’s grandmother, Fatouma. She is one of the few Afar women who publicly have spoken out against female mutilation. She travelled all the way to Mekele to plea to the authorities.
Afar women are subjected to the most violent form of Female Genital Mutilation, without exception: a frightening 97% of all women area subjected to this most cruel practice. She also prevented her only surviving daughter, Ayssa, Halima’s mother, to have her front teeth broken and filed into “Vs”, another common tradition among the Afar. Very often this leads to the complete loss of the tooth or disfigured stumps.
Liza got to know the family through Halima on a previous trip and took both Heidi and Gilles along for a coffee ceremony. To invite foreigners into a hut with Afar women present is not common, but to bring a foreign man is something truly exceptional. So a male relative was checking regularly, especially if we were talking about any touchy issues.
Besides Fatouma with met Ayssa, Halima’s mother, who was pregnant with her sixth child at the age of 26. Also various other women dropped in during our visit.
Despite all these open-mindedness, the family has its strong opinions. When Liza mentioned that our cook Gibril had converted from Islam to Christianity, the women immediately suggested that he had to change his name: Gibril was indeed a Muslim name. But truly shocking to them was the idea that an Afar woman would marry a man which is not an Afar. Maybe a Tigrian would do, but a guy from the Oromo tribe, the main ethnic group in Ethiopia, would be simply unthinkable.
Halima’s sister Fatima was making pots of delicious coffee, freshly roasted. After the third cup we could feel the effect. When Liza briefly left to fetch some medication for a sick relative, we were without interpreter and an awkward silence filled the hut. Suddenly, Halima’s mother said “photo” and we jumped at this rare opportunity to make photos of Afar women in their very home. The photos taken, as well as the short videos, turned into a major highlight for the whole family and a reason for long discussions and long laughter.
Before we left, we asked Halima’s mother if there is anything she really would like to have. The answer was touching – a garden with flowers, like the ones she has seen in Mekele.