I can't make sense of this and I can't stop thinking about it, so I'll just tell you what I saw. And you write it up.
We left the house at 5:30 am, and arrived at the EnToTo Mariam Tsebel at 6 am. Beyene, Tigist and me. Walked barefoot down into the gedel to where the Bahtawi exorcises demons. They say he was drawn there by a Raï he saw...a midaQua showed him the way.
The crowd was gathering.
Instructions were clear: no make-up, no nail polish, no perfume, no shoes. They didn't tell me to wear a mateb. Maybe that's why I can't get the images out of my head. Or the screams.
We got there before the Bahtawi so we witnessed the crescendo of screams from the gathered sufferers, all of them naked, when he arrived. Hell must sound like this. He wore his hair short, wore a plastic cover of some kind over his clothes.
I tried to take pictures, tried to stay focused. Tried to photograph from behind my gabi...but all I got was my foot and a few fuzzy pictures. My camera shook with the effort - I could do no more than capture a few images on film...but they are forever clear in my mind.
... a woman by herself. In her 30s. She screamed with a frightening, other-worldly voice as the holy water hit her body. "Ileqalehu! Ileqalehu!" It went on and on. As she left the site, though, I heard that voice come again, "InE'ndehon s'rayen meqeTelE ayqerm." They told me there was no guarantee you can be healed in one session. There are rooms to rent and you can stay as long as you need to. They said many have left healed after one or two weeks.
One worker would throw a jerry-can of Tsebel to the next, and the next...to finally pass it to the holy man as he sprayed it liberally over the contorted faces and bodies of those who came up...sometimes alone, sometimes in groups.
...a group of 15 in three concentric circles around the Bahtawi. Infernal screams and garbled cries from everyone, especially one young man in his 20s...he is kept back for a second round with the Bahtawi. I have never heard anything like these sounds coming from human beings - I didn't know we could sound like this. They are screaming as though they were in the most horrific pain, yet all that is touching them is the Tsebel.
...two people with handcuffs on, so tightly bound they can barely move. One looked like what you imagined the Devil to be in your nightmares. Every one of their faces changed into that terrifying mask when the Bahtawi approached...but then, none of us looked the same. None of us are the same after that day.
...then a woman, around 45, tied with a big chain. Guarded very heavily, as though she were very dangerous, though she was very peaceful. Hoist up to stand on her feet, her arms above her head after they hung the chain she was tied with on a nail high up on a tree. Sang beautifully...like Mary Armdé but more beautifully. I've never heard anyone sing like that. She would look around and megTem for the people around her.
...I could barely stand when I saw the two little boys who were also there...one held up by his father, the other restrained ...both 4-5 years old. I thought of my son, though he or any other child could not possibly sound like that. The second boy fought as fiercely as an adult. An oppressive feeling weighed my head down. Or was it that I, too, had demons to face?
Tigist began to shake and could barely walk - she wanted to leave then, and we agreed, though we had to wait for her to recover sufficiently to walk out. I couldn't feel my feet from the cold. Tigist went into the Mariam church on our way out to pray and get her bearings somewhat.
The faces. I can't describe to you their faces. I couldn't manage to take many pictures. I thought of the violation it would be of their privacy. I also thought of the anger of the people who are already fighting their restraints. Frankly, I'm not sure I was in any shape to do a decent job, anyway.
I will go back, without my camera at first, and then once I have permission from the Bahtawi and the patients, with my camera to follow a few of them as they go through the healing process.
* * *
It's not often that you see something completely beyond your own imagination, or your understanding...completely beyond your ability to digest it all at once. I thought in the past that this was all fake, but how could someone orchestrate such a scene? I asked myself how far does one's faith have to go, to believe in this...but how do you not believe?
I asked what kind of insurance there was that this wouldn't happen to me, that the exorcised demons would not find me here. Beyene smiled, being the most experienced among us in these matters. "Igziabher insurance yelew'm," he said, "imnet'h yawTah."
Maybe that's what they should put at the entrance. Imnet'h yawTah.