I’ve heard and written a lot about Lale Biwa. He and Journeys by Design and Will Jones go back a long time. One of Ethiopia’s leading English speaking guides, he provides a vital link between remote tribal communities and international travellers. His eponymously named camp, Lale’s Camp provides a comfortable base for clients visiting a delicate, fast-changing and fascinating region. Forgive me: it took a while to get the call set up, then, one day, when Lale was back from camp in the city of Jinka, it happened; the below is a summary of a WhatsApp call made over a broken internet connection, some parts lost to the background noise of trucks, children playing, and others, in translation.
SK: How did you come to work with Journeys By Design?
LB: Will Jones and I go back many years. Laughter. Many years. Having worked with my Kenyan travel partners for a number of years, which included running camps on the shores of Lake Turkana, I had a desire to bring myself and my focus back to the Omo Valley, my roots. So, I approached Will about working together on tourism projects in this area.
SK: What’s your passion, what do you like to share as a guide?
LB: In the Mursi area, where Lale’s Camp is located, there are few wild animals left. The focus is on the tribal communities. I like to make people happy, it makes me happy that people travel from far away to come to the Omo Valley. I’m grateful to be able to share how people live in the valley, to help them understand more about the Kara and the Mursi communities, and the challenges that they’re facing today.
SK: Can you tell us more about Lale’s Camp?
LB: It’s a simple camp with four tents. These small groups of respectful travellers work best for the Omo Valley. We focus on experiences where guests are able to join the community; to sit with them, chat with them. From experience, we’re learning how to manage culturally sensitive tourism practices, for example, the Hamer bull jumping which has become like a business. It’s an inauthentic experience, tourists observe, we would rather our guests participate and connect with the local people. Similarly, photography, rather than pay people individually for photos we now leave an envelope with them after our visit. This is then shared by, and with, the community.
It was such a privilege to be immersed into Lale’s world for what was an all-too-short call. I particularly enjoyed how laughter accompanied his every answer. Well-known for his charisma and smile, it’s easy to see how he’s providing a vital link between the remote tribes and international travellers. Sustainable tourism can bring about positive change, and Lale and his team are key to helping ensure that local tribes are represented and that their core traditions retained. Thank you Lale, what a pleasure!