By Maureen Magak, YWCA of Kenya
One morning two little girls were compelled to tell their story maybe by something deep inside them that was curiously dying to know if all the women in the world had the same fate as theirs.The two girls who were at the tender ages of 11 and 9 years old had come for holiday in Mombasa. My sisters and I grew a lot closer to the them because they were adorable, charming and hardworking. Little did we know that behind their charming faces lie tones of unanswered questions and fear of known as well as unknown. Those two girls let’s call them Jane (11yrs old) and Liz (9 yrs old) came from Kisii community where Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is still widely practiced.
I was doing dishes and Jane, sitting beside me, popped a question that sent me into a wild imagination and I felt my blood vessels constrict. I remained motionless and expressionless so as not to expose my shock on little Jane. I was lost in thoughts when she loudly repeated her question,”Have you been circumcised ?” I sat down and explained to her calmly that in my Luo community we did not go through FGM. The shock on her face was vivid at the imagination that there were young girls and women out there who do not go through the cut. Her next question was, “would you like me to tell you how it was? Liz and I were circumcised 7 months ago.”
I was quiet just nodded slowly. I had heard FGM stories told repeatedly, I had studied all the methods involved, but never had I come across a little girl brave enough to tell her story. I drew closer to her and listened carefully.
She told me how her aunt (Liz’s mother) took her and Liz out one night and told them that they were going to a special place with very nice people who were going to give them soda and biscuits. Soda and biscuits to a little village child is like ice cream, candy and chocolate to a little city child. Therefore the girls were very excited at the thought of being taken to a party full of those goodies.
When they arrived at the so called special place with “very nice people ” they were received by three old women. Liz was always a quick learner, she quickly assessed the weird surrounding; one paraffin lamp illuminating the dark room, three serious looking grandmas, variety of blades and her mother’s sudden loss of smile. Her conclusion was that it was time for their circumcision. She fled scared. She ran barefoot in the dark into the nearest house to seek for protection against the horrifying cut.
Poor Jane, she was too late to act. The old women pinned her down and the horrible unimaginable began. She told me that it was the most painful experience imaginable for her. She could see everything through her pain, all her nerves sent searing pain signals that she had to endure due to helplessness. She screamed for help but was sternly warned against it or else her punishment would be worse. When the cut was over, she was rewarded with a 500ml bottle of soda and 5 pieces of biscuits, just as promised. At this point in her story, she looked down and smiled and told me that since she loved soda so much, she smiled that day amidst the excruciating pain.
Liz who had sought for safety was astonished when she realized that the woman of the “safe house” had betrayed her trust and told on her. She couldn’t outrun her captors, they grabbed her firmly heading towards the old women’s hut where she would face the dreaded knife. She told me how she fought with all her strength hoping to break loose and this time, run as far as possible but not into anyone’s house again. She was surely a strong fighter, it took several hands to pin her down and hold her legs apart firmly in order to give way for her genitalia to be mutilated. She lashed and cursed at them during the act and when it was over ,she too was rewarded with a bottle of soda and biscuits. She never smiled. Anger and pain that filled her consumed her thoughts. In that short time, she had undergone series of betrayal that left her with lots of unanswered questions. Until today she feels very insecure at night.
Jane admired Liz’s energy to fight back. She wondered why the government leaders, men and women in the society allow such dehumanizing practice to continue. At her tender age of 11 years old, Jane swore that when she grows up she would like to fight the vice of FGM, that no girl should go through such pain. Her regret was that the young and weak were preyed at due to their defencelessness and nobody to turn to for safety.
As the little girls recounted their story, I was in tears only that they could not see them because I had a large bowl of water to wash my face with an excuse that it was too hot outside.