June 11, 2011

Goodbye-ing

This is actually being posted after I am home. I wrote it while in the Gam, but I didn't have the heart to admit to the World Wide Web that I was leaving. So here it is, after about a week of electricity and family time, with some tears on the side.

There are few things worse than goodbyes. They encompass a spectrum from saying goodbye to someone on their deathbed to a goodbye until tomorrow or even a few hours. Goodbyes occur between friends and enemies alike; one says “see you later” and the other “see you never” with some variations in between.
 A particular pet peeve of mine is the repeat-offender. With two weeks left this has already occurred. The awful, “O you are leaving so soon! I may not see you (explanation inserted here: I’m going upcountry, I have a wedding to attend, classes are over now, etc.). “Then of course the next day you are invited over to a friend’s house for lunch, and the very person who you bid farewell too for fear you would never meet again is actually that person’s cousin and just stopped in for a visit. Let the series of goodbyes occur again.  Repeat, Repeat, Repeat.
After not being at the beach for over a month (GASP) because I was doing work (GASP AGAIN) I looked forward to a week or two of leisure time. Time with Club Toubob, shopping, stocking up on my Vitamin D via sunlight, eating mangos in mass quantities, taking pictures and some alternate activities in between, but little did I know that Goodbye-ing is a sport, which includes lots of time and energy (very little of which appears to be spent at the beach).
Goodbye-ing involves hanging out with friends that I might not see for a very long time, and buying stuff for those I will see soon. Goodbye-ish involves last bits of “culture” that I may not have absorbed yet (like going to a massive circumcision party). It involves getting clothes made from the awesome African fabrics I have collected, while giving away my America clothes so there is enough room in my suitcase.
Two weeks of:
A. Domada –Rice dish with peanut sauce
B. Salamallekum- Peace Be With you (Used as Hello)
 C. Nescafe- gross, but effective, instant coffee. The only kind of coffee available
 D. EnShallah- If God Wills It.
 E. Gully-Gullies –public transport at its best, after hitchhiking
F. Being the only white person for miles
G. Doing, learning, or meeting someone new everyday
H. Ndanka Ndanka- It will be done when it is done
I. Beach PLEASE!

Two Weeks till:
A.Mac and Cheese
 B.Hellos
 C.Starbucks
 D. Not being deemed a lesser human for being a woman (ish)
 E.my car
 F.being anonymous
G.  Malaria or parasites are not a concern
H. Power-consistently
I. My family and friends              

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.