A normal work day on the road...
I was going to check on a project that's been running for a few months. The kids had been on the road doing their qsqesa, stopping at a number of towns covering most of the country. Soon after I arrived and settled into my dingy hotel room, the group leader (the oldest among them) informed me that they have been having problems; Konjit, one of the girls, kept getting sick.
I asked if it was anything serious -- did she need to go back home for treatment? After much reluctance he told me the nature of the illness was not medically treatable, and that she had been seized by a buda in one of the towns popular for its abundance of such spirits. My first reaction was to laugh. Sure, I've heard enough stories of people bebuda ena beseitan yeteyazu. But although I find some of the stories amazing and amusing, I never really believed them or gave them much thought. Now do I have to deal with this as part of this job?
I asked him for some details and was told it had started a few days ago. Once they found out what the problem was, it must have been the day before I arrived, they had taken her to Tsebel in the morning. The buda, bless him, had agreed to leave her. But they were going to take her to the church again tomorrow morning just to be on the safe side. He assured me, though, that she would be fine and there was no need to worry or send her back to Addis.
I said, "Fine. Just call me when you get back and we'll get to work." Since I only had a couple of days, I wanted to spend as much time as possible watching them at work and assessing how effective our project was out in the real world.
Next day started ordinarily enough. We had breakfast and packed into the land cruiser and headed out to town. Other than myself, there were 4 group members, a nurse, the supervisor and the driver. The first stop was eventless. On the way to our second stop I look back to see Konjit resting her head on a box next to her seat and looking worn out. Trying to encourage and lift their morale a bit, I suggested we stop for some cold drinks and rest since it was late morning and the heat was becoming unbearable.
Some Ambo and Mirinda in the shade did us all some good, and we went off to our next stop, a busy marketplace. While we were momentarily stopped, and looking for the right spot to park, I looked to the backseat again and saw both Assefa and Konjit were not in the car -- the rest of the gang were looking very grim. So I asked where they had gone and what was wrong. They tried to make light of things and said he took her out because she needed some air.
Now I started to worry, I got out of the car and found her sitting under a tree with her head in her hands and Assefa ordering people around to bring this and that. The next two hours were something straight out of the twilight zone:
A bottle full of Tsebel was brought from the car and they tried to pour it on her head while she screamed, kicked her arms and legs and tried to run, even with several people holding her down. The way she was resisting and struggling against the restraining hands, you would think they were setting her on fire, not pouring water on her. Our little circle was attracting a crowd of people sucking their teeth "mTs! mTs!" and throwing out suggestions of what to do.
My suggestion was to get out of the market and go somewhere quiet to figure out our next step. The group suggested we go straight to church and get him while he's still out. Who? The buda. I found out then that, in the last few days of attacks and attempts to exorcise, they had learned his name was Eskias - he had even told them "yet indayat'na endeyazat." He had claimed he had fought with five other budas to get her because he was taken by her charm, and that he would leave her if they would just give him a little more time.
The ride to the church was filled with a somber mood. Lemlem took out a small prayer book (one of them Lisane Mariam or Dirsane Mikael ones) and started reading out loud. Tekalign (the nurse), a man of science and not a religious man as far as I knew, also started going "Besmeab Wolde Menfes Qidus, Besmeab Wolde Menfes Qidus" over and over again...I guess because those were the only prayer words he could remember. The rest of us were mostly quiet.
I was confused. I didn't know what to think. A car full of grown people scared shitless of some buda, some of them trying to pray it away as we sped to church. It was absurdly comical. Konjit was resting her head on the box again and had gone to sleep...or seemed like it.
Suddenly she awoke, sat up straight and asked "TeNahu ende? Yet nen?" and looked down at her wet t-shirt. touching it and looking puzzled. "Besbishalehu! Keyet meTa?'. No one answered her. She continued to touch her face and hair, looking at her friends' faces for some explanation. She looked helpless. Lemlem whispered some things to her (words of comfort, I guess) and she went quiet after awhile.
But only for awhile. When we arrived at the church she started screaming and menferageT again, desperate not to go inside. She became more talkative..."Mn'ale bt'tewuN?! Eleqatalehu alku eko! Tnsh gizE sTuN." He must have seen our faces, so he adjusted, "Eshi tnsh deqiqa?' and then went into a whole lot of other nonsense that I can't remember now. Again they had to force her inside the compound and restrain her until the qEs was sent for and arrived. Since this was not a normal hour of Tsebel meTemekia, it took awhile for him to come. During the wait she had to be held to sit down and wait. She (or should I say he?) kept talking...
...sometimes pleading, "EnEko laTefat ich'lalehu. S'lemwedat new enji!"
...sometimes threatening, "Kas'chegerachihuN demo siiiiiiiT new'madergat!"
...then wheedling, "Lemn tnnnnnsh gizE bchachn'n at'tewun'm? Eleqatalehu'ko!"
She went limp and quiet once the priest came and took her in the Tsebel room and dunked her under the faucet. She didn't resist much then. And she had that helpless, confused look when she came out. I got closer and asked the qEs how she was. He said that it was nothing and that she'd be fine. "YhE eko dekamaw new. Tnsh ezih btqoi yileqatal' (I could almost hear Eskias's voice, "Tnnnsh gizE sTuN.")
As an after-thought he added, "Bcha stweTu begebachbet ber atawTuat. BezaNaw ber hidu." Intrigued, I asked him why -- he didn't answer me. But later I learned that it was because Eskias may be waiting by the gate, since he couldn't really stay in the church.
Wey gud! LEba'na polis kebuda ga!