“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.