At a European Network Community of Practice webinar this afternoon on effective strategies against FGM in Egypt, one participant emphatically insisted on devoting not just a single day but an entire year to campaigning against the torturous custom. Considering the facts of what continues taking place, far too often performed by medical professionals for increased income, patience seemed incongruous, unjustified.
While still a child, Khady reflects on coping strategies immediately after amputation, important because imagination and therefore empathy too easily fail readers innocent of similar trauma who yet are addressed in hopes of enlisting solidarity.
Below is another excerpt from Blood Stains. A Child of Africa Reclaims Her Human Rights (Trans. Tobe Levin. UnCUT/VOICES Press, 2010). The voice, though older now, conveys that of a small child who, without pathos or self-pity, reveals a growing awareness of what she has lost. We remain in chapter 1, Salindé. The girl has just undergone clitoridectomy.
Little by little, Grandfather and the other men reappeared. I suppose they waited for the shrieks and tears to abate. I remember Grandfather’s hand on my head and a prayer lasting several minutes. But then he walked out without giving further consolation.
And I said nothing. I didn’t call for his help anymore. That was over; it wasn’t worth the trouble. Still, he lacked the expression he wore on happy days. When I think about it now, it seems that maybe he wasn’t altogether at ease. … But what could he have said? It simply wasn’t in his power to prevent those women who had undergone the exact same thing from carrying it out on us.
There wasn’t anything else to do but believe what the women told us.
“Soon, you’ll forget it. Don’t worry. You’ll walk and run just like before.”
Once the pain fades, you do indeed forget. And at the end of a very long week, that’s what happened. I didn’t realize it then, but one thing had changed in me forever. It took a long time before I could peer at the wound. Was I afraid? In any case, looking was out of line with the morality the women imparted. They teach you to clean this sex which everyone ignores beyond the most indispensable hygiene. Never, ever forget to wash, our mothers repeated, or you’ll smell bad.
Three or four weeks later, once the cousins had all returned to Dakar where each took up the thread of her normal life, one day, under the shower, I became curious to see what it was they had sliced off. There was nothing but a hardened scar that I brushed with my hand because it was still painful, and I supposed that was where they had cut. But what?
During nearly a month and a half, a throbbing pressure continued inside, like a pimple unable to emerge. But then, I stopped thinking about it entirely. I didn’t pose any questions, not even to myself. The grandmothers were right. You forget. No one alerted us to the fact that our futures as women would unfold unlike those of others.
One day a Wolof from the neighborhood stopped by our house. That very morning, two of my little cousins had been salindé, and I heard the woman exclaim:
“Oh! You, Soninké. You’re still doing it? You don’t know any better? How uncivilized! That’s downright savage!”
She was laughing when she said it, trying to make a kind of joke as we do in Africa so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings. And I paid it no mind until a dozen years later, once I began to understand that my destiny as a Soninké woman had had its origin there in that intimate amputation that cut me off forever from normal sexuality. What might have been mine at the start, an unknown bloom, would now never have a chance to flower.
And we were a whole bouquet of African women who believed that normality was simply that, to make ourselves submissive for the sole pleasure of men who had nothing else to do but pluck the young bud sheered just for them and watch it prematurely die.
In one corner of my head I am always sitting beneath the mango tree at my grandparents’ house, that spot where I was happy and physically intact. Ready to become an adolescent, then a woman, ready to love because of course I would have felt desire …
They forbade it.