Little Bits - and a Bit Serious

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
Something a bit distasteful and serious

Submitted: September 02, 2016

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Submitted: September 02, 2016



During our early days in Tanzania, somewhere in the backblocks south of Arusha we had become disorientated (because the maize was so tall) and so stopped to ask a farmer for directions. He knew very little English and we knew somewhat less Swahili, but he was polite and invited us into his house for a cup of tea. Mags wanted to take a photo of him, but every time she asked, he took a photo from his album and gave it to her. It turned out that instead of ‘can I take your photo’, she was saying, ‘give me a photo’. The only photos he had was of his family’s circumcision ceremonies!

My co-worker was Maasai and he told me a lot about circumcision, because African men see it as a bravery thing and the induction into manhood. We often saw youths wandering around in their black robes with white face-paint and everyone knew what was in store for those lads! But mistakes happen as I witnessed when a young guy I knew was to have a private ceremony carried out by an ‘expert, traditional’ man. The poor lad ended up in hospital because he was cut ‘in the wrong place’ and was bleeding uncontrollably! The ‘expert, traditional’ must have been a butcher!

Other tribes honour the circumcision less publicly, and my mate Mbise told me in his case he was caged beforehand and made to gorge with good food. If he didn’t eat it all he was beaten by his close friends, the theory being that food gives stamina and you need stamina to face the knife or blade. After the deed, he was again caged but not forced to eat he was just provided with ‘good food’. Once healed enough he was released and honoured as a man.

One Sunday morning I sat in the sun drinking tea with Mbise and Rashidi, who was Maasai and a night guard. It was news that there were vigilantes, if that’s the correct term, who believed that there were too many men from ‘outside’ who had not been circumcised so were ‘fouling’ the local women. The vigilantes were apparently knocking on doors, demanding to view men’s privates and if they had not been done, they would return in and month and if still not done, the vigilantes would do it on the spot! I sat and listened while the other two mulled over the matter, each giving details of horrific instances they had heard of or had witnessed.

‘Why do you Maasai still circumcise your girls?’ Mbise asked out of the blue.

As far as I was concerned, I had only once seen Maasai girls dressed in black with white face-paint and when I asked my mate, he evaded the issue because of the mounting pressure against the practice. Naively at the time, I hadn’t realised girls received such treatment.

‘Because it is good for them.’ Was Rashidi’s reply.

‘How do you mean that it is good for them?’ questioned Mbise, who’s tribal leaders had banned the practice even though it was common knowledge it was still going on.

‘Well, as girls grow, there is a time they are not thriving very well,’ explained Rashidi, ‘that is when the ceremony takes place, and from then the girls thrive.’ Perhaps he said that way because I was there. ‘Anyway,’ he continued, ‘white women don’t know everything.’ A sly reference to the people who are trying to make a difference for the girls.

‘Yes,’ confirmed Mbise, ‘you hear them talking and advising against the circumcision of girls, but they say nothing about circumcision of boys!’

Sticking to my personal rules, I did not offer an opinion but found the chat interesting considering these were run-of-the-mill village men repeating what they heard from within their own home villages. Sometimes when I spoke at seminars on environmental issues, there were other speakers with expertise in all sorts of fields, and one them spoke about Female Genital Mutilation and the whole idea of it made me squeamish. She described one way of performing the deed, ‘cut a hole in the bottom of a margarine pottle and push down until the clitoris pops through, and then they cut it off using a razor blade’!

They say that one of the reasons FGM is continued is peer pressure and I witnessed peer pressure with two Maasai girls we gave a lift to beyond Ngarenanyuki. They were excited and even a little cocky because they had burnt rings onto their cheeks, as tattoos, and applied fresh cow dung to ease the pain and to aid healing. They did it because other girls had done it yet neither would have done it alone, but together, it was an adventure for them and binding. They did not know what their mothers would say but weren’t afraid.

The peer pressure of those girls does not seem to be the same peer pressure that leads to Female Genital Mutilation. And I do have an opinion on the matter because it is serious and life changing, in a bad way, for girls and young women. There are experts who know more about the subject than I do, medically and actually – actually when it comes down to it, I hardly know shit from wild honey but I do want to support the movement against the practice.

Here’s what I reckon, and feel free to shoot me down if you disagree! In some cultures the clitoris is thought of as a latent penis, so the idea is to keep females female. Foo, by now education should have solved that and people by now should in fact be intelligent about that myth – it is not about belief, it is about tradition. There is no medical benefit, nothing (despite Rashidi) of doing the FGM thing! That’s the first fact. The next fact is the procedure causes all manner of distressing medical and physical problems, probably psychological as well!

You can bet that the idea was first promulgated by men, jealously, to keep their women in check in an attempt to stop them from wandering with other men, meanwhile the men have multiple wives and philandering natures! No doubt there is peer pressure among the men to have their women done (actually, their, signifies ownership, another excuse for harsh treatment).

There is peer pressure among mothers and grandmothers, a bit like bullying in a boy’s school, ‘It was done to me so there is no reason why it shouldn’t be done to you.’ Like sheep, nobody wants to be alone, the only one who’s daughter is not done! And then can you marry off your daughter if she has not been done?

Well that’s what I reckon! If you reach this point of the story and wonder what you can do to help, my first advice is to tell someone else about the issue, awareness is important! If you feel so motivated, donate to a charity that treats medical problems caused by FGM or even to organisations with people in the field who are making a difference. Even one girl helped is a start!


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