In Freetown, Sierra Leone, Kadidiatu Suma was taunted for being a “burka” – uncut (1). Although she coped with harassment, her paternal grandmother arranged to have her ‘circumcised’ by force. After two failed attempts at plastic surgery, Suma considered suicide, convinced that her womanhood had been lost forever. She had yet to hear of Pierre Foldes.
Awarded the 2006 Prix France Télévision (2), Hubert Prolongeau’s enthralling book about the pioneer urologist who restores the clitoris had actually been called “Victory over Excision. Pierre Foldes, the surgeon who gives hope to mutilated women.” The wording came from patients themselves (3). As Foldes assures us, “Reconstructive surgery is born of sympathetic listening.” In his office, sufferers surmount more than mere embarrassment. They name their loss.
“Of course, it’s hard to say, ‘I’ve been excised and that’s why I’m here’. But to manage it [means] crossing a threshold. They’ve endured extreme violence that must be expressed. Why? To conquer shame, to understand that something thought to be good is bad, and to escape fear of others’ censure. … Giving birth to the word is the primary pain. I can’t do it for them. Afterwards, we can talk, but not until then. This consultation links before — denial, with afterward — recovery.”
As Mahoua Kone, a satisfied patient, tells it, once realizing that her “best part” had been snatched, she sought the physician who wrought “miracles by restoring smiles.” Although for months after the operation earlier trauma impeded enjoyment, she persisted in working it out, “happy because [Foldes] returned what had been seized.” Now she could exclaim, “I am intact!” (4)
This excerpt from my Afterword to the forthcoming volume suggests how Foldes’ patients sustain the book’s core; surrounding text is like flesh to the apple, juicy, bitter, nourishing, but dependent on the sinew and seed at its heart. Or, as Foldes understands it: “Female sexual mutilation has continued for millennia because taboo consigned it to an enclave with other crimes insufficiently denounced, like rape and slavery.” (5) Devastation has been the sour fruit of silence. But women are now revealing what they had long suppressed — their wish to heal.
1 Mette Knudsen, dir. The Secret Pain. DVD. Denmark: Angelfilms, 2006.
2 In the category „essay.” This prestigious award recognizes books promising strong public interest.
3 At that time over 1000, today that number has more than tripled, to 3500. Foldes has also trained a “handful of physicians” to perform the procedure (Helen Bömelburg, “Endlich Frau!” STERN. 28/7 July 2011, 85-89. p. 87.)
4 Marie-Noel Arras. Entière ou la Réparation de l’excision. Paris: Éditions Chevres-feuilles étoilées, 2008. All translations mine. Quotations in this paragraph from pages 27; 41-42; 43; 44; 31. Regarding the hard-to-name female genitalia, consider “First wash up as far as possible, then wash down as far as possible. Then wash possible.” Alice Walker, relating her mother’s bathing instructions (1988, 58) qtd in Jane Caputi. “Cunctipotence: Elemental Female Potency.” Voices of Trivia http://www.triviavoices.net/archives/issue4/caputi.html Accessed 26 June 2011.
5 Pierre Foldes, „Préface” in Arras, 16.