Wednesday February 8 2012

What it means to undergo the cut

By Allan Chekwech

“When a whistle sounds it may be normal to any other person or may be a signal to a thing or two, but for me, the stark memories of the day I faced the knife resurface,” says Phyllis Cherop, a woman who underwent Female Genital Mutilation in 1986.

I was very anxious to go through this experience for this was the norm in society. Every man would wish to tell whoever listened about the circumcision of his daughters or wife.

I would not be allowed to attend public meetings because I was not ‘a woman’, something which subjected me to a lot of psychological torture. I felt I was missing a lot in the public fora and was being left behind in decision making.

That was not all, I always missed out on the ‘high table’. Whenever a function was held at Burkoyen parish, she would, in a group of about five agemates, ‘hide’ in a mud-and-wattle grass-thatched hut to avoid the embarrassment they would face as other women celebrated the birth of twins, circumcision or any traditional ceremony.

So, for how long would I and my peers brave the humiliation? Being mocked by every Dick, Tom and Harry that we remained girls even at 24?

Not any more, I said once 1986 set in. That year, all that I did was to prepare for the knife. I worked tirelessly to tilt the land on which cereal would be sowed to prepare local brew for the day I would be initiated into womanhood that December.

I endured every kind of mockery but was confident that December was around the corner. I felt that the time to be called a woman was drawing closer with each day.

December 20, 1986, was the day I became a ‘woman’. The eve was a busy one; 12 of us were assembled by our initiator, smeared with a white ointment and we danced throughout the night, going through several rituals until dawn.

The night was wet and cold. The whistle in my mouth was becoming colder with every minute that passed by. Any contact with my teeth tickled the slightest nerves in my body. I thought I was losing a tooth to the whistle…it was disgusting, yet we were required to dance vigorously.

If you looked into my eyes at the wee hours of the D-Day, they looked with rage and vigour to become a woman within the shortest time possible.

The event of being a woman and ending the discrimination sounded deep in my mind in every mention. I was a few hours from joining the village elders and every other little detail that came with the experience.

At exactly 6am, we went for the final rituals. Every minute my eyes were opening to womanhood I thought.

The crowd at our circumcision arena had formed when we came back. I was going to spread my legs for the “surgeon” to do her work. My heart literally ‘died’ as I made my way to the surgeon, the pain waiting for me notwithstanding.

At exactly 7:30am, I became an adult. But the pain that cut through my nerves was terrible. Here I was, a woman that I wanted to be albeit with a lot of pain and my body parts gone, she adds.

Worst thing that happened
But the experience was unbearable, some colleagues collapsed due to overbleeding and exhaustion. I was lucky I did not.

But I nursed my hope to be at the ‘table’. All that was remaining was to cure and would also mock others. Treating the wound is the worst thing that ever happened to me.

We stayed for three days before bathing. With the clot of blood on my private parts, I felt becoming a woman was a nasty experience. Each time, I cleaned myself was a nightmare that even now the experience is still vivid.

When time to pass urine came, I felt another part of the body should be opened to help me do this. It was a story to tell to generations.

My colleague, Yapsoyekwo, developed pus after one week and started emitting a terrible smell. We would feel the pain she went through as she yelled in pain most of the night.
Three weeks later I would now walk better after treating my wounds. It was a pleasure to be among the women. But the dream I had nursed from childhood was yet to come true.

So was that all? Being called a woman and attending traditional ceremonies?

At the end of January 1987, a neighbour held a thanksgiving ceremony for his circumcised sons. This was the chance I had to exercise my newly-found prestige as a woman.

We went to the function and all was fine. But apart from being allowed in the company of elders, nothing was more to that, Cherop narrates.

“So as a woman what other changes did you get?” I posed this question to her.

Nothing else. Apart from the mockery which is no more nowadays, we were not even allowed to contribute to anything. It is this time that I realised circumcision was not anything to go by.

Some girls got paralysed and their future ruined forever.

I came to realise that the practice was meant to oppress women. The act was done because men could spend longer days hunting and doing other work outside home. So it was meant to reduce the sexual libido among women, in a bid to reduce adultery.

I feel the practice is irrelevant and out of tune with the modern world. Nothing much added to my life, but instead my life was put at risk”.

Asked whether she would allow her daughters go through the same, Cherop is very quick to dismiss the talk.

“Do not even mention it, she rants. The experience is not bearable. My sons have gone through the knife but the girls will never. After all the practice has been discouraged and the girls can freely participate in decision making”.

As told to Allan Chekwech

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