Testimony from a 25 year old Cameroon woman
"I was circumcised at the age of nine. My mother told me that they were taking me down to the sacred woods to perform a certain ceremony, and afterwards I would become a real woman. As an innocent child, and young girl I was taken away and when I came back I was never to be the same again.
Once we entered the so-called sacred bush, I was taken into a very dark room in a hut and undressed. I was blindfolded and stripped naked. There was dancing and drinking outside and all was festive. There was nothing that could indicate to me that I was going to live a nightmare that would change my life forever and haunt me. I was made to lie on my back, strong women held my legs tight. One woman sat on my chest in a bid to prevent my upper body from moving. A piece of cloth was forced in my mouth to stop me screaming and the operation began.
I could not put up any fight .The pain was excruciating and unbearable. I was badly cut and lost a lot of blood. All those who took part in the operation were half-drunk with alcohol and seemed to be in a trance or in another world where only spirits could dare. Others were dancing and singing, while I was being mutilated with a knife that would have been used on many other girls of my age.
After the operation, no one helped me. I was abandoned in my pain and anguish and told to walk . I was dazed from the pain. Some herbs were crushed and the liquid from them put on my wound .I wanted to urinate, and it turned out to be another experience. The urine would spread over the wound and would cause fresh pain all over again. At such moments I tried not to urinate for fear of the terrible pain. I had nightmares and still have them today. I was not given any anesthetic in the operation to reduce my pain, nor any antibiotics to fight against infection. Afterwards, I hemorrhaged and became anemic. This was attributed to witchcraft. I suffered for a long time from acute vaginal infections. I was branded a witch who had refused to accept the will of the "gods" or been rejected by them. I was an outcast even in my own home. My brothers and older sisters all made me become estranged and my mom suggested that I undergo a cleansing ceremony to appease the "gods" and ask them for forgiveness. I ran away from home with the help of a neighbour and went to live in Mamfe with the her sister-in-law "
Waris Dirie, Somalia
One evening when I was about five, my mother said to me, "Your father ran into the gypsy woman. She should be here any day now."
The night before my circumcision, the family made a special fuss over me and I got extra food at dinner. Mama told me not to drink too much water or milk. I lay awake with excitement, until suddenly she was standing over me, motioning. The sky was still dark. I grabbed my little blanket and sleepily stumbled along after her.
We walked out into the brush. "We'll wait here," Mama said, and we sat on the cold ground. The day was growing lighter; soon I heard the click-click of the gypsy woman's sandals. Then, without my seeing her approach, she was right beside me.
"Sit over there." She motioned toward a flat rock. There was no conversation. She was strictly business.
Mama positioned me on the rock. She sat behind me and pulled my head against her chest, her legs straddling my body. I circled my arms around her thighs. She placed a piece of root from an old tree between my teeth. "Bite on this."
Mama leaned over and whispered, "Try to be a good girl, baby. Be brave for Mama, and it'll go fast."
I peered between my legs and saw the gypsy. The old woman looked at me sternly, a dead look in her eyes, then foraged through an old carpet-bag. She reached inside with her long fingers and fished out a broken razor blade. I saw dried blood on the jagged edge. She spit on it and wiped it on her dress. While she was scrubbing, my world went dark as Mama tied a blindfold over my eyes.
The next thing I felt was my flesh being cut away. I heard the blade sawing back and forth through my skin. The feeling was indescribable. I didn't move, telling myself the more I did, the longer the torture would take. Unfortunately, my legs began to quiver and shake uncontrollably of their own accord, and I prayed, Please, God, let it be over quickly. Soon it was, because I passed out.
When I woke up, my blindfold was off and I saw the gypsy woman had piled a stack of thorns from an acacia tree next to her. She used these to puncture holes in my skin, then poked a strong white thread through the holes to sew me up leaving a tiny hole the diameter of a matchstick, through which urine and menstrual blood could dribble. My legs were completely numb, but the pain between them was so intense that I wished I would die.
My memory ends at that instant, until I opened my eyes and the woman was gone. My legs had been tied together with strips of cloth binding me from my ankles to my hips so I couldn't move. I turned my head toward the rock; it was drenched with blood as if an animal had been slaughtered there. Pieces of my flesh lay on top, drying in the sun.
Waves of heat beat down on my face, until my mother and older sister, Aman, dragged me into the shade of a bush while they finished making a shelter for me. This was the tradition; a little hut was prepared under a tree, where I would rest and recuperate alone for the next few weeks.
After hours of waiting, I was dying to relieve myself. I called my sister, who rolled me over on my side and scooped out a little hole in the sand. "Go ahead," she said.
The first drop stung as if my skin were being eaten by acid. After the gypsy sewed me up, the only opening left for urine-and later for menstrual blood-was a minuscule hole the diameter of a matchstick.
As the days dragged on and I lay in my hut, I became infected and ran a high fever. I faded in and out of consciousness. Mama brought me food and water for the next two weeks.
Lying there alone with my legs still tied, I could do nothing but wonder, why? What was it all for? At that age I didn't understand anything about sex. All I knew was that I had been butchered with my mother's permission.
I suffered as a result of my circumcision, but I was lucky. Many girls die from bleeding to death, shock, infection or tetanus. Two cousins died from infection after the procedure.
For more than 20 years Dirie suffered health probleim and side-effects from her radical circumcision. Menstruation was a long, agonising process each month, as the menstrual blood backed up in her body. Finally she got up courage to visit a London doctor who operated to make the aperture more of a normal size. Writes Dirie in Desert Flower. "Waris was a new woman. I could sit down on the toilet and pee whoosh! There's no way to explain what a new freedom that was." But the doctor could not undo the damage which had been done to her genitalia during the circumcision. In Desert Flower Dirie writes "Besides the health problems that I still struggle with, I will never know the pleasures of sex that have been denied me". "I feel incomplete, crippled and knowing that there's nothing I can do to change that is the most hopeless feeling of all".
Hawa Adan Mohamed, Somalia
Hawa Adan Mohamed was born and raised in Somalia. At the age of 8 she underwent the most radical form of mutilation practiced infibulation. Performed by her aunt in a small village, the procedure was carried out without anesthetic, using basic cutting tools and thorns. "You know in Somalia, circumcision is such a deep deep part of a girl's life. From the moment we are crawling we know about circumcision, we know that our grandmother and mother and sisters are circumcised and we look forward to it being done. Back then, no one would even dream of not being circumcised.' Hawa Adan Mohamed's struggle with mutilation was a long and brutal one suffering many of the complications of the practice and losing an older sister who died after the operation.
"I have seen girls die after being circumcised, and the harmful effects go on and on, so I do feel much anger about it all, but I have no one to be angry at. 'You see, mothers always make sure their daughters are circumcised because they believe that this is the best for them. Despite the pain, I myself agreed with the practice because I thought that was best for me. "For example if a mother doesn't get her daughter circumcised, her daughter will be an outcast, no one will marry her and everyone would think she is a prostitute so it is a very difficult situation we can't be angry at anyone, because the mothers' intentions are good."
In her early 20s Hawa Adan Mohained travelled and studied overseas where she discovered there were other women who were not circumcised, and most importantly, other Muslim women who were not. Slowly she realized "how wrong the tradition was" and committed herself to the fight against the practice.
Julie Maranya, Kenya
Julie Maranya tells the story of her circumcision with much resentment. Recollecting bits, vividly, of the day village women elders walked her to the circumciser's homestead and across a river to the maize plantations where they mutilated her, she cannot help getting angry.
That was 43 years ago when she was 7, and the vulgar circumcision song, the chants and ululations have refused to leave Maranya's mind.
"Regardless of my profuse bleeding, the women sang and ululated that I had become a wife of young-men, not boys anymore," said Maranya, now the director of the Julkei International Women and Youth Affairs, a women rights organization in Kenya. "They are still mutilating and cutting young girls, while they sing the same old songs they sang to me."