When you are travelling off the beaten track there is no guarantee to only see the wonderful things of the world. In fact, sometimes you also have to face very sad situations like for example begging children. You shouldn't give them anything, because they supposed to go to school, but they learned that is simpler asking tourists for sweets or money instead of walking a long distance to school and study. Sometimes it breaks your heart, but that is also part of travelling, especially in Africa.
Recently I watched a German documentary (still unreleased) with the title 'Süßes Gift' (which means translated 'sweet poison'). And I read the book 'The Trouble with Africa' from Robert Calderisi. Both publications, the documentary and the book, describe the problems with foreign aid, food aid and the huge difficulties the continent of Africa still has to deal with. Like the 'forbidden gift' to the begging children, a lot of people are questioning the foreign aid and the food aid. Among others it has been argued, that as long as the people in Africa are used to getting free food aid, why should they use their own strength and help themselves? Well, maybe the connection between begging and ditching school in case of children is quite obvious, but is foreign aid really a 'sweet poison' and are all the Africans lethargic? The whole field of foreign aid is undeniable far more complicate. But as a matter of fact, foreign aid is a global business.
Historically the idea of the foreign aid started after World War II. Institutions like the World Bank and the IMF were founded in 1944. The Marshall Plan (1947) was a major program to rebuild the war-battered European economies. In the 1960s the foreign aid flourished when most of the African Countries became independent. A basic idea was to give money to undeveloped countries that they supply raw material and manufacture light products like textiles and shoes. Right from the beginning the foreign aid was a business and the donor countries expected to benefit from the process as well: Foreign aid is given as a loan and, if the development is successful, the rich countries eventually find new ready markets for their products. Since the 1960s the foreign aid was increased steadily. In 2009 roughly $35 billion of international foreign aid from the ODA countries went to sub-Saharan Africa each year.
Surma is the official Ethiopian umbrella term for three ethnic groups in South Ethiopia: the Suri people, the Mursi people and the Mekan people. Very often the name 'Surma' is used for the Suri people as well, but this is wrong, a Suri would never call himself a 'Surma'. The Suri people are semi-nomadic cattle herders and live on the west side of the Omo River in the southwestern part of Ethiopia. This area is still much undeveloped, only an unpaved road leads to the heart of the Suri settlements: Kibish.
Suri people have a cattle-centered culture, the wealth of a family is measured by the number of animals owned. Usually the animals are not eaten unless a big ceremony takes place. The animals are used for milk and blood which they both drink. Sometimes Suri warriors are preparing a mixture of cattle blood and milk for a ceremonial rite called 'cow bleeding'.
Like the Mursi people the Suri women are wearing lip plates. The girl's lower lip is cut when she reaches the age 15 or 16. The girl's lip is pierced by her mother or another woman of her settlement and a simple wooden plug is inserted. The cut is held open by the wooden plug until the wound heals. After that the plug is replaced by a bigger one. The stretching of the lip continues by inserting progressively larger plugs over a period of several months. At a diameter of about 4 cm the first lip plate made of clay can be inserted, the final diameter ranges from about 8 cm to over 20 cm. Nowadays the girls in some Surma settlements decide for themselves whether to wear a lip plate or not. However, wearing a lip plate is still an expression of social adulthood and self-esteem for a Suri woman and demonstrates respect for the men.
For the Suri people in Ethiopia it seems that everything centers around their cattle. Except of their Kalashnikovs of course. But that is another story. For a Suri the cattle is a very important status symbol. And it all starts for a boy at the age of about 14 or 15. At that time a boy gets cattle from his family, usually between 10 or 15 cows, depending on the prosperty of the parents. From now on the boy is responsible for his own cattle, and if possible he should try to increase somehow the amount of his cattle. And that for a good reason: when a young man wants to marry he has to pay for the bride, and there is only one currency: his cattle.