Freckled with the dirt from the eroding terrain, B’dyni leaned towards the skies as her mother braided her hair. As the sun waned, The Great Omo blessed the village with an abundance of stars, canopying over their horizon. B’dyni marveled, her chocolate eyes twinkling in bliss. 

Without warning, her mother quickly tugged against her braid. B’dyni squealed, “Mei!”

Her cries were not answered as her mother’s thick fingers lathered her hair in clay. Earlier that morning, B’dyni ventured to the Omo River to gather enough clay for the village women. Her mother’s fingers stroked delicately into her daughter’s braids, sealing her hair in the thick and murky clay. 

“You musn’t yell, B’dyni,” her mother hushed, her fingers continually running through her hair, "Beauty is pain."

B’dyni frowned, crossing her arms as her mother continued to lather up her hair. 

Placed sporadically on the eastside of the Omo River was the Karo Tribe. The Karo Tribe, among many of the other indigenous tribes of Ethiopia, were distinctly known for their unique culture. Every man and woman was an artist; every single part of the body was covered in either paint or scars. The women were adorned in beaded necklaces; flower crowns often placed upon their heads. This was the same for young B’dyni, an eleven-year-old girl from the South Karo Tribe. 

As they sat outside of their hut, B’dyni stared amazed at the skies. B’dyni loved the night more than a girl ought to. Her brother, Wetedini, told her magnificent stories about the gods in the far-flung sky. B’dyni envied her older brother, who had the pleasure to learn about mythology from the elders while B’dyni had to stay at home.

Oh, if I was born as a boy!

Her mother, again, fiercely tugged against her braid. 

“Mei!” cried out the young girl, clenching her fists. 

Just as B’dyni cried aloud, the hut’s curtain opened. Rushing out of the tent was twelve-year-old Wetedini. In an instant, he shoved his little sister away to sit at the feet of his mother. B’dyni’s body fell limp onto the harsh dirt, the half of her face completely covered in dust. As she cried aloud, their mother quickly swatted Wetedini.

Crossly, their mother spat, “Do not push your sister, Wetedini!” With a gentle shove, their mother moved Wetedini from her reach. Gently, the mother held onto B’dyni. She whispered, “Come, my dear. It is time to do your painting.”

Offended, the mischievous Wetedini stuck out his tongue. He protested, “This isn’t fair, Mei!”

“Excuse me?”

Wetedini continued, “I need my painting done first! A’fiti already has her painting done and I need to get my done to…”

“To woo her?”

Wetedini’s face blushed. He stammered, but none of the words he uttered came out in a cohesive sense. His mother smirked, knowing very well of Wetedini’s awe-striking crush. It would only be a matter of time that the two would fall in love, be married, and have a family of their own.

But to B’dyni, the thought of marriage made her gag. 

“If you wanted your painting done before your sisters, you should have asked.” Firmly, the mother turned her daughter towards her. Laying beside her was a slab of stone. Crushed onto the stone were shards of clay, sprinkled with pigment of white, pink, and blue. Spitting into her hands, the mother swirled her fingers around the white clay, forming a thick paint. 

B’dyni, knowing this by heart, closed her eyes. Delicately, the mother traced her fingers onto B’dyni’s face. As it was custom with every Karo woman, their mother was a skilled artist. Her fingers lightly speckled paint across her daughter’s face. White dots consumed the daughter’s face. With her other finger, the mother traced pink flowers along her cheeks. B’dyni giggled, as she did every time. 

At last, taking the blue chalky paint, the mother stroked lines down her daughter’s arms. For a child, especially a young girl, the daily painting of the face was just for fun. Yet as she would grow older, her face painting would become more intrinsic and alluring. Once B’dyni reached the ability to paint her own face, it would be a matter of time that she would marry. 

B’dyni hoped the day would never come. There was too much to learn about rather than getting married. 

“Finished.” The mother said, as she wiped her hands clean against her dirtied loincloth. The mother gazed upon her daughter, her face lighting up. B’dyni squealed, raising up to her feet. Before her child could run off, the mother grabbed a hold of B’dyni. She carefully readjusted her child’s loincloth, covering her up. 

“Aren’t you forgetting something, B’dyni?”

B’dyni tilted her head. 

The mother reached to her other side. Tucked neatly from the daughter’s vision was a small flower crown. Copper Ethiopian roses were weaved together on an olive branch, forming a small halo. B’dyni gasped, “Mei! You didn’t need to!”

“This is your first courtship dance,” explained her mother, delicately adorning B’dyni with the flower crown. She hushed, “My mother did the same for me. You’re much too young to marry…”

B’dyni gagged.

“... But it never hurts to look your best. Perhaps L'eti or Ectchi might be eager to see you.”

B’dyni bowed and kissed her mother, taking her gracious gift with joy. But B’dyni, although she was young, knew better. Her mother was a prideful woman. She was fiercely competitive against the other Karo women. B’dyni suspected this was a plot to make the other women jealous. Yet, feeling the crown placed upon her head, B’dyni could care less.

Today, B’dyni felt like the most powerful girl on the Omo River. 

The sun waned further as B’dyni ran down the river banks. The air was still hot, flies swarming around her skin. But she could not care less. Running past the storage huts, B’dyni waved to the elders, her face swirling with pride.

Over the years, the village had changed. The unexpected amount of European visitors rose suspicion across the village. The storage huts, which once contained necessary fruits, were now home to an abundance of rifles. The villagers exchanged their spears for guns, their knives for bullets. Even B’dyni’s face carried a machine gun alongside him whenever he went hunting. 

Sitting at one of the storage huts was Unglo, the chief of the South Karo Tribe. In his arms was a MG42, which came into his possession after World War II. As B’dyni ran by, he nodded in her direction. She blushed, continuing on her way.

At last, the sun submitted underneath the grand river. B’dyni stood at the top of the hill, which sloped delicately down to the river banks. Her eyes rained on the sky. The stars, otherwise known as kačo in their language, radiantly beamed overhead. At the bottom of the river bend was the swarm of young women and men, dancing before the great bonfire. Each of them were adorned in painting and beads, swaying with one another in harmony. 

B’dyni smiled, her hands readjusting her flower crown. She couldn't wait until her friends saw her elegant crown. Her face swirled with pride, ready to join in on the celebration. 

Yet, as she looked up once more, the kačo allured her. The kačo began to twinkle, almost in synchronicity. Her mind began to swirl with the stories that Wetedini once told. Her eyes glanced down once more to the roaring, enthusiastic dance below. 

With a deep sigh, she made her fateful decision. B’dyni sat at the top of the hill, crossing her legs, and leaned towards the night. Her eyes remained on the skies.

Her love for the kačo outweighed any dance in sight.

April 26, 2020 22:31

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