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RITE OF PASSAGE
The searing pain tearing away the core of my body is just a memory now. Pain where I had previously experimented with pleasure. Pain beyond anything I could have imagined. I had expected great pain of course; I have taken part in many ceremonies and witnessed many of my friends from the buulo being made into women. I was excited and proud that my time had finally come. Father had chosen a mate for me, so we could delay no longer.
I promised myself I would brave, but to my shame I remember trembling in fear and then screaming when the dhaliye’s knife bit into me. I am glad for the strong arms of the women who held me down or I may have caused the dhaliye’s knife to cut too deeply. I am glad my friends were there to sing and pray over me.
I must have passed out during the cutting. The next thing I remember is the panic when I awoke and thought I was paralyzed. Crying out to mamma. Mamma rushing to my bedside to comfort and reassure me. Reminding me that it was just the bindings tying my legs together so I would heal completely.
I remember her sad, pitying eyes not daring to look into my own eyes, belying her gentle words that reminded me of the benefits of the procedure. How I would be more desirable to my future husband this way. How it is the way of the Somali. How she herself had been improved in the same way. How all honorable women are improved this way. Of course I knew all of these things. I wonder if Mamma was reminding herself more than me.
I remember my friend Fatima visiting and whispering warnings to me. How when her husband sought marital favors from her, she cried out in pain when he forced his manhood through the new barriers to her body. How she tore and bled. I kept her confession a secret from Mamma. I was afraid Fatima would not be allowed to visit me anymore.
My bindings have long been removed and the scabs have turned to scars. I am free to go about the buulo, but I am afraid to run anymore. I am afraid I will undo the dhaliye’s work. But that is as it should be. I am a woman now. Women do not run and play. Women take care of husbands and have children.
When I touch myself there now, it is like touching my plastic dolly between her legs. When I touch myself there now, I do not feel pleasure anymore. It is like touching my knee or my arm. I guess this is what a woman is supposed to feel. My woman’s body is much different there than my girl’s body was. I cannot imagine a man would prefer this to the warm, supple, softness of my girlhood. Being a woman, I guess I do not know what a man would want.
I have been inspected, and my future husband is assured that I am still intact, still a virgin. He has agreed to pay my father my brideprice. Tomorrow, I will meet Kanaan.
buulo - village
dhaliye - midwife
Author’s note: Female castration has been practiced for centuries in Africa, and currently occurs in an estimated 28 African countries. The estimated proportion of African women who have undergone female circumcision varies from 5% of women in Uganda, to 98% in Djibouti and Somalia. In recent years, laws have been passed in many of these countries banning the practice, but no arrests have been made. While this custom may seem repugnant to those of western cultures, it is widely accepted as the norm in the regions where it is practiced.
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