“Twelve years later I am still learning to live with the scars of the cut. Still fresh in my memory is that fateful day in December when it all happened.
My two cousins and I had just turned 10. Our parents booked bus tickets to Mandera barely two days after schools had closed. They said we were going north to reconnect with our roots. But they lied. Or did they?
We looked forward to our first visit to Mandera. Little did we know what lay in store for us!
Just before we departed, another cousin who had made the trip before us told us about the cutters. She was one of 10 girls whose genitals were mutilated at my grandmother’s homestead. She developed an infection which made it hard for her to pass urine. Each time she complained about the discomfort, super hot ground malmal (myrrh) was poured on her wound. It dried fast but caused her immense pain. Eventually, the pain went away, but the mental pain sticks with you for life, she told us. Poor thing, what an excruciating ordeal, we thought to ourselves without realising that the same fate would soon befall us.
Our parents had told us to have fun, and have fun is what we intended to have. They had not mentioned the cut, not even once, so we had no reason to worry.
The road trip to Mandera took two-and-a-half days, and on arrival, we were met with a grand reception. My grandmother slaughtered a goat and in the evening, took us to town where she bought each of us three deeras (kaftans). We were also showered with goodies from our relatives. Then one evening after a trip to the market, my grandmother summoned my two cousins and I. She told us we that we would be cut the next day.
She told us to clean the hori (hut) next to the cowshed, where the cutter would find us the following morning, before dusk. The party was over. Overcome by feelings of inexplicable betrayal, we threw ourselves on the ground and wailed like never before. Was this the ‘reconnection with our roots’ that we had come all the way from Nairobi for? We contemplated running away that night, but where would 10-year-olds in foreign territory run to for refuge?
Years later as an adult, I realised that Kenya had passed a law against female genital mutilation – The Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2011. That is why we had to take the long trip to Mandera under the guise of visiting our relatives during the school holidays. Our parents were in fear of arrest if they had us cut in Nairobi. Even the discrete four walls of a medical practitioner’s would have been too risky.
The benefit of doubt was now long gone, our parents had lied with no good intention.
The night was short and I dreaded daybreak. We felt helpless. Cheated. Betrayed. My grandmother forced us out of bed and ordered us to hurry up and clean the hori we had failed to tidy up the previous evening, overcome by emotion.
At 7am, a woman in her mid-seventies walked into my grandmother’s compound carrying a dirty, rugged bag.
‘I hope you are as prepared as I am,’ she chirped.
I couldn’t sit and watch this woman mutilate my womanhood. I tried to hide, but my cousins told on me. Each of us took the last bath of “childhood” before going into the hori. There were women in there to keep us in place in case we resisted. The cutter pointed at me – the tiniest. I would go first. My eyes and mouth pleaded with my grandmother, but she pulled me towards the old woman, who made me lie on the bare ground. She then motioned to my grandmother’s friends. Two would hold my legs apart and pin me to the ground until she was done.
I lay there, helpless, as the cutter moved in, and took her tools out of the dirty rugged bag – A razor blade and malmal.
In our time, the style of cutting was called firaaun – the whole clitoris was removed without anaesthesia. I felt unimaginable pain and when the cutter was done, she poured pounded malmal on my wound. She then tied my legs together with strips from an old deera.
As the women carried me to a corner, the cutter sternly warned me that it was dangerous to untie my legs before I healed. If I started walking or playing before the wound healed, the cutter would be called back to sew me up. I didn’t want to go through the kind of pain I was in again, so I would abide by the rules.
It was now my cousin’s turn. She wasn’t going to take it lying down. She put up a fight against the dedicated women assigned to hold her legs apart. Being big-bodied seemed to work to my cousin’s advantage, but not for long. At one point she freed one of her legs and used the opportunity to kick the cutter who was now sitting on a crooked stool. A slap from my grandmother pushed her into compliance. The women were called back and this last time she had to stay still or risk the razor cutting the wrong place and adding to her pain with more unwanted injuries. The cutter was done with us by 9am.
The cut was done in the morning before the sun came up because we would “feel less pain”. Again, they lied.
The three of us were put on mat outside the hut to bask in the sun, then my grandmother invited the cutter and the rest of the helpers for a cup of tea before they left.
The next three weeks were full of agony. We moved around by dragging ourselves on the ground. Sometimes our grandmother would tell us amusing stories, while other days were filled with silence and brooding. The mental trauma was too heavy to bear, and there was no one to comfort us.
NO LONGER LITTLE GIRLS
My grandmother told us that we were no longer little girls and that we should start acting like women. But how were we to act like women? We were only 10 years old!
I was the first to heal after three weeks of gruesome pain. Then we had to be taught how to walk again. My grandmother gave me clear instructions on how to walk to avoid injuring myself. Both my cousins healed two weeks later. Luckily no one developed complications.
Schools were about to open and we had to get going. This time round our parents booked flight tickets because of our condition. My grandmother made it clear that we were not to breathe a word about what had happened to a soul. We flew back to Nairobi and continued with our lives like nothing happened. I wondered if there were girls and women who talked about it.
Many years later at university, I felt embarrassed when my classmates joked about girls who were “circumcised”. If only they knew it was no laughing matter!
I had suffered physical pain, and even now, I live with emotional scars from that horrid experience. If I had had a choice, I would never have chosen to be cut, and for that, my future daughter is lucky because I will not cave in to society’s pressure to have her go through what I was forced to. Unfortunately, even now girls are still subjected to mutilation, but I hope that in my daughter’s time, this will be a thing of the past.”