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Eshok Mergem: The Thorn of Curse

Rough place. Rough and breathtaking. Humans, animals, plants, rocks, stones, living side by side, influencing one another. Shaping one another. Sometimes smoothly, sometimes roughly. Sometimes softly, sometimes boldly. Sometimes peacefully other times violently.

 

Baby born soft hardens in no time. Small delicate plant grows to be a tough tree. Tree with trunk so rough rubbing with stone feels sponge soft. Thorny trees with thorns of all sizes and shapes as pointy as needle; as sharp as dagger; as long as spear as thin as hair as invisible as microbe. 

 

The place is full of hazards. Injuries occur all the times. Injuries by nature; man using nature. Easy to surmise causes. Stone or thorn. Injuries caused by animals minimal. 

 

Stone hits you everywhere. Bruising and cutting your shoeless feet. Boulders knocking your knees. Sharp stones cutting your hand. Cuts everywhere in the body. 

 

Injuries by thrown stones. Stone thrown to scare a dog. Stone thrown to separate fighting cocks. Stone thrown to teach a straying goat. Stone thrown to frighten birds of prey.

 

Flying stone always lands on head. Thrown intentionally or otherwise. The head bleeds. Soft head, hard head. Hard head bleeds little. “It will be OK” is what onlookers say whether small, big or gushing cut. Head heals fast. Hard head faster.

 

Then there are injuries caused by thorns.

 

Of all the thorns, it is the thorn of curse, which the people call Ishok Mergem that scares the most. It is long, fat, pointed and poisonous. No one proved the poison. Nevertheless poisonous. Painful when soft. Dry it breaks into pieces inside the sole of your bare foot. Hardened foot. The soft but long spear like thorn tears through the flesh of the sole and forces itself out the top of the foot. Excruciating pain. Child labor pain. 

 

You feel it through your whole body. Your scrotum tightens to prevent the pain from shooting upward the brain. To no avail. The body shrinks from head to toe as the thorn tears the foot. You get dizzy like dizziness caused by venomous bite.

 

You can’t breath. You suck the pain. But it is the pain that sucked you. You remember that you are hardy even though hard to remember the first time. 

 

You ask anybody, visible, invisible. Anything tangible, intangible for help. To the Spirits, to the kids, the donkey, the stone, the boulder even to the thorn tree itself. Anybody close to help. 

 

There is always a passerby. People use the same tracks for travel. In this place less traveled tracks lead to oblivion. So people do not take them. You did the same. The people call the less traveled tracks, Aquaratch.  It means: short cut to oblivion. 

 

Those hardy people are not against this particular fruit of nature for what it sometimes does to them. Or to use its interpretation, what people do to it including stepping on it. This does not mean it had no fault. Why is it always standing with its sharp side up, not down with its harmless base at the top? But this is irrelevant since arguing with a thorn will take you nowhere. 

 

Ainika Zeitrii “Why don’t your eyes see?” is what you get from a passerby to your unfortunate situation. 
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You are in pain and for sure you will say something incoherently foolish thing. A foolish reply. The result of an indescribable incising pain. Pain that penetrates the flesh, muscle and nerves. You might incoherently argue that was not your fault for which “But the thorn doesn’t fly” is what follows for your incoherent and foolish reply. Meaning it did not come to you. It is you who came to it.

 

Of course such non sense discourses are not always said unless the person is anti Samaritan. Luckily in that place all people are Samaritans out of necessity. One day they will be the victims of the indiscriminate thorn.

 

When you are in a flesh tearing pain, you become incoherent. You become incoherent because you are occupied by the pain. Not you, occupying the pain. There are pains that occupy you. You become their space. You take their image. Images painted in dark, flash, haze, gray, all those colors of darkness. They force you to speak their language. A language a witness or passerby does not comprehend. You become an echo and a carrier of the pain. 

 

People in that place are all experts in pulling out thorns. Every one is apprenticed since childhood for that skill. Normally you take care of your thorns. But not if it is the thorn of curse and you are at present the victim. 

 

If it is your first encounter and did not cry or whine you passed the initiation. You are a recognized as a hardy man or woman. There are kids who could not wait to pass their initiation. 

 

For relief you lie in your back and lift your injured foot while the Samaritan prepares the surgery. The people call the process Mnkas and the surgeon, Nekasi. No special tool is required. Just a thorn of curse. The surgeon uses thorn to take out thorn. Spade for spade. 

 

The Nekasi sits facing your injured sole and places the leg in his knees. No magnifiers in this place. But eye should be close to the action. First the Nekasi widens the entrance, where the thorn started piercing. Widening traumatized flesh widens the magnitude of pain. The pain that shot from toe to head initially starts shooting sideways from liver to kidneys. Leak is possible. Heart beat quickens. The lung gets overwhelmed because you are determined not to cry or whine. 

 

The Nekasi takes his time. He first announces the confirmation. “Yes indeed it is the thorn of curse” he will say. Then he will continue “It is 3.5 inches long and had bowed during travel”. Another misfortune. 

 

Straight traveled thorn is painful but easy to pull out. But thorn which bowed during travel is hard to pull. It might even break. That is when you need a safe hand. With your limited speech you will ask “can you do it safely?” The problem is Nekesti always say “yes” whether they can or can’t. The Nekasi then announces that he could see the base of the thorn. Good progress. Time to use nails. Long finger nails. Absolutely indispensable tool in this place. Hygiene can wait for the next millennia. 

 

“Do not move, stay rigid, I will try to grip it” says the Nekasi. You the victim do not reply. You are unable to reply. Your listening acuity has also temporarily diminished. Your ear becomes sensitive and thus selective. It receives only those words needed for survival. 

 

“If you move, it might break” he continues. Your ear will pick those words and dread fills your head. If soft thorn breaks inside your sole it splints. It becomes beyond reach. You have to wait until it comes out swimming down in infected blood and pus. 

 

But today you were lucky. The Nekasi grabs the base with his sturdy and long nails making sure the grip is tight like a vise so that it won’t recoil, then pulls the thorn out like a doctor pulls a baby. The thorn is as painful going out as getting in. A relief the size of the sky. A painful Child birth relief.

 

You did not cry, but you eyes were full of tears. You did not whine but your lung was full of air. You made it. Tears of joy. Shout of happiness. 

 

The job is completed when the surgeon tapped the opening of the wound using a hot smooth stone. Sun heated stone. Reason or purpose still unknown. Then he shows you the culprit. Disbelief. Painful disbelief. 

 

 

 

You take the thorn smeared in blood and plasma liquid, say  thank you, sit properly and you start breaking the thorn and finally you throw it making sure that same thorn will not victimize another person. 

 

 

 

The thorn of curse had other uses other than piercing through human foot. It is a fruit of nature so it should be versatile.

 

Hardy people use what is available in their surrounding. Good, bad, pretty, ugly, hard, soft, useful, harmful, painful, delightful because everything surrounding them is the fruit of nature. And then in this place they don’t have many choices. 

 

These hardy people are not against any fruit of nature. They are themselves fruits of nature. “What sometimes hurts can sometimes heal” is what they learned through hard and painful experience. “Mother Nature is never cruel, may be misunderstood” is also what they tell to one another. But these people never misunderstood nature. They are nature. There is no nature without them and their hardy surrounding. 

 

They used the Thorn of curse to mend their cloth. Thorn used as needle. The people learned that function from their tormentor. Thorn of curse is smooth, pointy, readymade, free; abundant flexible, replaceable and unafraid to penetrate without breaking into pieces though, only when not dry. When not dry users will be able to drill a hole, a needle eye, at the fattest section of the thorn that can pass and hold thick hand made thread. Again they use a thorn to drill a hole in another thorn. This is where the versatility came handy. A thorn that can cut hard sole flesh can cut itself. 

 

It can easily penetrate thick rags. Rag made out of thousand pieces of rags. Old rags. Used and reused rags. In this place nothing is discarded. Old pieces are added to old rags to make Duruto.

 

Every household have Duruto. A blanket rag passed from generation to generation each one adding old rag to the older rag. Heavy, Smoky smelling blanket. It smells the same in every household. It is usually used by the oldest female members of the family and occasionally by a good woman who recently gave birth, not only as a blanket during cold nights but also during Tish: smoke sauna. 

 

The house the highlanders build is called Hudmo. Four walls build of stone and a mud ceiling supported by thick wood columns. There are two rooms inside. One large room is common to all members of the family including baby animals and one small room only for the women and the cat. The two rooms are always and in every Hudmo separated by grain silos made by the women from mixing mud and hey. It is a work of art and sweat.

 

Inside this woman’s room called Wushate, is a hole dug in the floor. Five inches in diameter and three foot deep. It is called Gubitish. They use the green stems and leaves of a particular plant called Tahses, a small but bushy and easily regenerating tree created by nature for the good woman, and burn it inside the hole. Women never take more than they need which makes the tree available through out the year.

 

They sit on a stool over the smoking hole covering them selves with the Duruoto. Wet leaves smoke long and issue wet and warm smoky vapor. The wet smoke makes the woman sweat which she believes is the best medicine for her. An elixir that heals everything physical and mental fatigue which is ample in this jagged and ragged place. The smoke is also a lasting deodorant.

 

But the Thorn of curse is most famous in its use as tattooing tool. They use thorn and soot. The thorn, thorn of curse. Scary name but useful and painful tool. The soot, fine and deep purple powder. A thorn that induces shivers and fevers even thinking of it becomes an essential tool for beauty. Beauty a product of pain. The women understood there will not be beauty without pain. No pain no gain. Of course in this case a controlled pain.

 

Hardy women are not afraid of pain. Their life is pain. Full of pain. They carry the most burdens. And they do not complain. They negotiate and compromise for everything. They negotiate with the unyielding landscape, compromise with Mother Nature, negotiate with housework, compromise with farm work, negotiate with scarcity, compromise with their stoic men, and negotiate with illness and abject poverty.

 

 

 

They cry in hiding so no one could see them. They are in constant pain but you will never see them scream. They live with no doctor or any treatment. Their strength, their ruggedness, their faith carry them out. They are more stoic than any good men. 

 

These hardy good women are beautiful. Inside and outside. Also very strong. With chiseled body. Chiseled by walk and work. They take care of themselves despite their meager resources.

 

They die for white colored dress as they are obsessed with white teeth. Nature provides cotton spin for the first, mewets Awli’e for the latter. And they keep them white, bright white in a surrounding not known for its whiteness.

 

White spots spread like moving flowers. That is what you see in the ragged plateau if you are standing at the top of a hill. Woman following another woman. Women in white dress and white teeth fetching water, heavy load in their bent back, climbing steep hills one after the other. They always go together, never alone. Women in white dress and white teeth carrying wood in their hunched backs, climbing ragged hills, one after the other. They always go together, never alone. Women in white dress with white teeth walking, working toiling. Women in white dresses with white teeth weeding in a squat. Women in white dresses with white teeth carrying baby in their backs and basket (Zenbil) in their arm one following the other trekking through the treacherous landscape.

 

The highland women were fierce preservers and protectors of their faith. And they wanted to display it in character and form. Cross Tattoo. A Cross, starkly visible and Big cross in their forehead. 

 

Cross Tattooed in forehead became a must to have. They all agreed to so it became a covenant. All the good hardy women shall have one. 

 

But many also wanted more. The women said it was optional. The most controversial was two small Cross tattoos one on each side of the temple. Small cross tattoos due to location and sensitivity.

 

Another application of soot and Thorn was tattooing the gums. Men and women did it. Tattooed gums are called Gureimale. It is so painful only those extremely beauty conscious did it.

 

The tattooing was applied to gums alternately. The end result was blackened gums superimposed over very white teeth resulting in unique and beautiful looks that enhances their generous smile, the natural product of peaceful co existence between man and his surrounding. The people also swear that it helps their teeth to strengthen and stay healthy. “a tattooed teeth can chew a bone” is what they say. 

 

A thorn can wound but can also heal and beautify.

 

You live in your surrounding. You use what your surrounding provides.

About Aklilu Zere

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