Because early mornings in Fiche are crisp, we’d chosen a spot in the sun by the back fence of the garden to interview Zerefenesh about her herbal remedies.
We stood on the hill, introducing ourselves, with the land and the road out of town behind us. But as we began, we quickly lost our voices to the painfully loud, metal-grating-stone sounds of a semi-trailer that had lost its brakes; hurling down the hill, smashing through the front fence of the garden and flipping over onto the terraces just metres away. Its load of rough granite was thrown far, the upturned cabin – crushed, and the front tyres, still spinning, were in flames.
We were helpless to know what to do other than to stop the children near us from going any closer. People came running from town and across the farmland around us to help; throwing earth and water and branches on the truck and trying to help the passengers out. No one was killed; all three crawled from the window and, amazingly, the worst injury was the driver’s broken arm.
It seemed the whole of Fiche was there within seconds. We heard later that the reason people arrived so quickly, including the police, was because the truck had been on its horn from the top of the steep hill above the town, all the way down the main street as a warning. Our patch of land is the first point where the road flattens out before dipping further into the valley – the driver must have chosen his spot to crash. They’d been traveling hundreds of kilometres with the granite from Sudan, through the night along this one road into Ethiopia. It was Saturday, and a complete miracle that despite all the villagers, tuk-tuks, donkeys and goats headed to market that morning – nothing, and nobody, was hit.
“I cannot believe this is the second time this has happened,” says Lakew. ‘There must be a curse!’
We’re told the truck will be cleared away within a week, so we’ve decided that on our next visit we’ll hold a ceremony to bless the site.
In shock, and in no mood to continue with our interviews, we decided to join Zerefenesh and others who’d started moving off to go to the markets. Lakew “cannot suffer this market business,” so Dr. Tesfay would show us there and help with translations.
In the crowded, dusty main place we found herbs and spices galore, raw cotton, legumes, incense, fruit and clay pots sold mostly by women. Local green coffee beans of varying colours and prices were laid out in small piles on tarpaulins, on the ground.
We paid two little boys from the group who were following us, to find a plastic bag so we could buy fennel and lemongrass for tea. We bought Nug black seed, tourcinia (thyme) and kebercho roots because we were curious; they’re traditionally smoked to keep nightmares at bay. We found eggs and papaya for tomorrow’s breakfast, Lizzie gathered a new list of things she’d never heard of to research – and we made our way back through the crowds to collapse with a cup of fresh herbal tea at the Fiche hotel.