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Someone Different: UTP’s Daily Inspiration

After Marius & Marius made waves with the previous UTP team highlight (as we had no doubt they would), it’s time to shine the spotlight on yet another team member. As we continue our Someone Different blog series, we’ll be travelling from Romania all the way to Ethiopia. Here, a friendly face awaits, ready and eager to take us around his beloved country.

Shigo is one of Untravelled Paths’ most hard-working team members, his passion and ambition being an inspiration to us all. From growing up in the Omo Valley in Ethiopia to becoming a travel guide, here’s his story.

Hey Shigo, let us introduce you to our readers – tell them a little bit about yourself!

Shigo: My name is Shigigir (Shigo, for short) and I was born and grew up in the Southern part of Ethiopia. The Omo Valley is where 16 different indigenous tribal people are living together with their own unique cultures, beliefs, and traditions. I eventually left my tribe so I could get an education in the city. Long story short, this led me to guiding and finally joining Untravelled Paths, where I currently manage the local Ethiopian operations.

Out of all the entire UTP team, there’s no doubt you have the most interesting background. So let’s take a trip down memory lane and tell us what growing up in the Omo Valley was like.

Shigo: My parents are members of the Benna tribe in the Omo Valley. I am the second youngest out of four siblings.

Herding is the main activity in the Omo Valley due to the inhospitable terrain. Those living close to the river have also managed to practice agriculture. However, my family only owned sheep and goats. Since very young, I would herd our animals during the day, along with the other boys, coming back home in the evening. I say very young because I don’t really know when I was born or how old I am!

Part of what makes the Omo Valley unique is the traditions and beliefs that have been passed on for generations. They are an important part of daily life and for some of the people living here, all they’ve ever known. But you were different… What was your first encounter with the “outside world” like?

Shigo: Occasionally, my parents used to attend the weekly market at the nearby town of Key Afer, almost 17 km away from our village. The weekly market is one of the biggest in the region where the tribal groups can sell their goods. This is also a weekly social event where different tribal people meet their relatives and exchange news.

So, I used to go to this market with my parents, selling small stuff. There I saw the children who were going to school, wearing uniforms, and carrying books. Of course, I had no idea where they were going, why they were dressed like that, or what the soccer ball they were playing with was!

Even though it was a strange culture for us, I always wished I could see that back in my village. At the same time, I knew I had a responsibility to my family, so I was torn.

However, the image of the school kids stayed with me. So, when I was six or seven, I left my village and walked all the way to Key Afer. I basically ran away. There, an old lady found me and took me in. After teaching me the local language for a year and a half, she enrolled me in school, so I was able to attend at last.

What led you to choose tour guiding as your career path?

Shigo: As I mentioned before, the Key Afer market is famous, so I saw tourists for the first time here. At first, I used to follow them around after school, which was great, as I got to practice my English. I never forgot my roots either, so later on, I began making the typical jewelry of my tribe and selling it in the market.

After I graduated high school, the family who took care of me couldn’t afford for me to continue my studies, so I needed to earn my own money. As I had already taken a liking to tourists and was fascinated by the people coming here, I decided to become a tour guide.

And is that how you met James and joined Untravelled Paths? What do you remember of your first trip together?

Shigo: Yes! I would take the travellers around the surroundings and showing them the region. This is how I eventually came across James on his first trip to Ethiopia. I organized their trip around Omo Valley. I remember the Bull Jumping ceremony – the rite of passage for young boys – which we attended. It’s full of dancing and singing and a fascinating display of our culture. However, I didn’t realise at the time that the experience would be a huge cultural shock for an outsider. I was suddenly worried it might have scared them off and they would forget about all the great memories they made on the trip that far! Thankfully, that was all in my head and they fully enjoyed the ceremony.

After some time, James contacted me again, with a proposition to join Untravelled Paths. I gladly said yes, and here I am, almost five years later.

What was the most memorable moment from a trip?

Shigo: The research trip I had with James and Marius G was unforgettable. Before that, I have never been outside of the southern Omo Valley. Then, I discovered all the resources my country has. I did not know that my country was so rich in history, landscapes, natural and cultural diversity. I now love my country even more, I am proud, happy and I never imagine leaving my beautiful Ethiopia for whatever reason, unless it’s for travelling.

Meeting Marius was also memorable. I have never met anyone with a more sociable personality. We attended the Bull Jumping ceremony again. In the middle of the ceremony, I found Marius surrounded by a group of young Maza (the young men the ceremony is for). Usually, these young Mazas are isolated from other people, and they sit separately when in public. Yet here they were all around Marius, laughing at whatever jokes he was making. I can’t figure out what magic Marius used to break all the rules!

What do you feel when you look back to where you come from and what you achieved thus far?

Shigo: I am grateful for the family who took me in when I first arrived in Key Afer. They fed and clothed me, and gave me a chance to get an education. Meeting James was also among the very few occasions that changed my life direction in an unimaginable way. He sponsored me to take an English course to improve my language, as well as driving lessons. Not to brag, but I got my driver’s license before him! This helped me move to the capital, Addis Ababa, to do the work I love.

My parents, on the other hand, tend to disagree. Whenever I meet them, they keep telling me that I have a poor life because I do not have cattle or wives. Well, I cannot judge or say that they are wrong because they have their own different perspectives on what is a good life. Regardless, I cannot express how lucky I am to have gone through all of this and meet everyone who helped me to reach where I am now.

Very humble! I would say it was also your determination, curiosity, and hard work that helped you get here. Lastly, what do you enjoy the most about being a tour guide?

Shigo: To be honest, being a tour guide was the only career I could find at the beginning. But I learned so much since. This is the only job that can fit all my desires and wishes I had since my childhood. Since I was a kid, I always wanted to experience something different. I have never been anywhere out of Ethiopia yet, but through the people I met being a tour guide, I have discovered different cultures and beliefs.

Some of our colleagues wanted to share a few words with you…

Marius G: I am so lucky to have met Shigo. He is charismatic and knowledgeable, and it was enriching to get to know him. He also made me feel very safe on my trip to Ethiopia.

James: Shigo is the perfect host and a pleasure to work with. He’s honest, humble, hard-working, eager to learn and all this is accompanied by the most epic laugh that never fails to put a smile of the faces of those who meet him.

And our guests:

Our guide Shigo, who was with us from start to finish was brilliant, he became family over the 16 days we spent together. We were blown away on Day 2 from the Hyena Feeding Experience in Harar. Then we went to the Danakil and were blown away there. Dallol is like nothing we’ve seen before! Then we went to visit the Gheralta rock churches and our minds were blown once again! Each place we went, the landscape changed so dramatically.

Joanne M.

Of course, if you want to catch Shigo on one of our experiences, check our our Ethiopia trips!

Written by Oana Moldovan, Untravelled Paths