June 11, 2011

Party for What

Coming Out Parties are something I envision in a grandiose Southern or New England social calendar, for all those who see their “traditions” slipping away from them, and maybe something else to spend money on. That is why when I was invited to one this weekend I was baffled. A time and place for meeting up was mentioned, but no details were provided. I asked about appropriate clothing I was told anything would do, or I could borrow something to wear. A bit more prying resulted in learning that I was attending Circumcision Party...for some young women.  So then I tweaked a little, by a little I mean a lot. 
            Female circumcision is practiced at a percentage uncomfortably near ninety percent. I’m not a fan, more than not being a fan I am morally and humanly opposed to it. FGM is unnecessary, dangerous and makes child birth far more difficult. It is a distasteful means of gender control, and socialization. Now with that out of the way I can say that I felt in the pit of my stomach more than a bit of guilt for wanting to go.
            I always envisioned a woman with a knife dragging a crying girl into the forest laughing as the clitoris is removed as well as the labia or worse. I was so curious as to what the hell these people were celebrating. Congrats… you just made your daughter suffer so that she can suffer more in the future. Love the logic, now please help me understand.
 Fatou, Dr. Fourshey, and I arrived in Bakau a large village on the outskirts of the Kombo Area.  There were hundreds of people, hundreds, dressed to the nines with drums dancing, singing and waving tree branches and banners. I learned that about one-hundred children, fifty boys and fifty girls, had been circumcised two weeks earlier.  Explanations abounded about how they had entered into woman and manhood (their ages range from 3 to 7) and how proud their parents were.  This coming of age ceremony had far less to do with the kids involved than their respective parents and relatives. The village throws a massive party for everyone involved; you as an adult or parent have the honor of introducing your child into society and maybe make some money and have some fun in-between. I still hate it, but now I see that there is no dragging into bushes or terror. Instead circumcision is a cultural tradition, perceived as educational and beautiful lending itself resistant to change. Why would anyone want to disturb a practice that results in festivities, maybe a reason to buy a new dress and shoes? A practice, which in Gambian society, breaches the luminal state between child and citizen. It is a practice that is viewed as beautiful and necessary for marriage. FGM , and circumcision in general , has become so intertwined and melded between the lines of culture, religion and time that life without it at this time seems impossible to those I spoke to. To remain uncircumcised means no marriage and no children. It would mean never becoming a fully fledged member of society. Having all of your sexual organs intact and undisrupted makes a woman unclean, prone to promiscuity and evil spirits.
            Even those I spoke to who were opposed or at least responsive to the facts that FGM is dangerous and unnecessary on multiple levels still have to look at their children and think do I want them to have a life? Do I want them to get married and have children? Do I want them to be accepted by my family and community? I don’t know the answer to those questions for those who need to make that decision. Which is worse? Intact clitoris, but no husband or husband and continuing a harmful practice for generations to come.  You tell me; but sometimes I think the best things for a community just might be the hardest things to change.  

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