Damn Good Biking

Damn Good Biking
Mammath Mountain

Sunday, July 29, 2007

A Small Slice of Niger

Shortly after being placed in my village I witnessed something that was forever seared into memory and will likely never be forgotten as my baptism to traditional life. Welcome to the blog of a traditional circumcision. Warning this is a descriptive observation of my accounts.

Forget all the usual flowery intros this was tremendously painful to witness, and certainly much worse to survive. The procedure included two small boys about the age of five-ish a man with a homemade straight razor and the boy’s father and grandfather present to lend support to the younglings. The whacking was performed over a hole in the dirt to catch the blood in the least sterile environment available that being the blacksmiths shop were they make their tools and other metal goods. The round grass roofed structure is open all the way around with a fire pit and anvil like structure in the center, while the rest of the area which is about 8 feet in diameter is littered with the residues of charcoal, metal, wood shavings, animal excrement and human litter. As a former emergency room medic I appreciate sterile environments cleaning agents, local anesthetics, and precision surgical tools, in my opinion if there are surgical areas in hell, I found the sahelian variation of this surgical place. My goodness did I just call this a surgical area. Welcome to Niger.
The younglings were sitting naked on the ground paired together nervously waiting for the procedure, each certainly were completely oblivious to the excruciating painful experience awaiting them, or they would have attempted a plea of pardon or escape. Lord knows I would have.
Anxiously awaiting the procedure the boys sat in silence carefully watching as the man performing the coming of age experience sharpened his blade, rinsed it off with water and opened the jar of a jelly used to prevent infections after the laceration. Did I forget to mention washing his hands? yeah I guess he did to.
The first child was placed over the small catchment hole as the man started to separate and stretch the foreskin away from his penis as the child looked at his actions he grew more and more nervous and began weeping and resisting to move due to the constraint provided by his family by holding him down, the sobs increased, my stomach was in knots, the parents uttering reassurances then in a circular motion the razor sliced down through the foreskin the head of the penis bloodily appearing, the white fleshy subcutaneous skin left was a jagged remainder of an imperfect cut, he had to go over the area again and again while nicking off the shreds of remaining foreskin. The man then rinsed his penis off with water from a plastic jug and then with his bare hands began applying the ointment to the bloody penis. No antiseptic, nothing to quell the pain, no lollipop for visiting the doctor. (The real jip of the visit)
By this time the first boy is moved to the side his dirty cheeks muddied by the river of his tears as his wails washed out all noise surrounding the area. Prior to the second boy being moved into position he began justifiably shrieking just as loudly as the first boy. My emotions were overload in grief for the youngling’s pain, but similar to a passerby slowing down to witness the destruction from a tragic crash my attentive gaze was unable to pull away from the events transpiring. I had been in my village for a matter of maybe two weeks. Welcome to Dan Saga Nazifi. “Have you been cut in America? Pulling my collar, sweat pouring down my face my voice cracking like a pubescent teenager, “Ah yy-ee-ah, but differently”
If this sounds painful just think this is a procedure that nearly every boy experiences as a rite of passage and it gets worse. Imagine if the procedure is completely botched by these part time barbers slash medically untrained uh “professionals” it is extremely difficult to take your child to the hospital. And still the problem of traditional surgical practices gets worse.
In Niger, though not widespread, annually there are still reported female genital mutilations by UNICEF and other medical bodies working within Niger. Partially due to traditional practices, and also due partially to the nature of the young age of girls sometimes being married and expected to begin intercourse and start baring children in their early teens. Why? Maybe because the average number of children each woman has is about eight, so I guess they need an early start since the average life span is in the mid forties. (Notice it isn’t mentioned how many times the woman gives birth since not all the children live) “Surgically” preparing the young girls ability to have sex at a young age is done by enlarging their sexual parts by using a traditional razor with no use of antiseptics or local anesthesia. Many of these botched procedures leave the victim ostracized by family, abandoned by their husbands due to the young girl’s inability to have intercourse or producing children while the victim will likely suffer from a life time from fistula. As a result much of the girl/women’s lives will be spent in severe pain and constantly in necessity to attend a hospital. There is a lot of effort in this country to reduce and ultimately eliminate such barbaric practices of the female genital mutilations and there are organizations dedicated primarily to corrective surgeries for the lucky few granted surgeries
Wow, so OK not my typical adventure entry. I wanted to share my experience and remind the readers that life isn’t all fun and games with a smile here. After witnessing the circumcision and limping around for a few days I recovered and saw the little boys running around naked in the village with the same crusty jelly applied to the penis and a swarm of flies contributing their gifts to the boys recovering. But on a positive note the boys were not permanently marred and were afterwards showered with praise for their braveness and introduction into life as young boys not children.

Rainy Season

Greeting Wayfaring readers,
Truly it has been far too long since my last entry, for that I am sorry, but my excuse. Its farm’n season! This glorious appearing of the rains are wholesomely welcome, and after living in the sahel now through three different season I can say that by far this is my favorite time of the year. Niger is completely unrecognizable from its former self and the place that continuously intrigues me and challenges me, now has forever charmed its way into my heart.
Rainy season is my favorite part of the journey so far, the incredible transition of Niger’s’ landscape and culture is a place that I never would have believed to exist if you told me a month ago it would look as it does today. Contrasting the rolling seas of green fields, trees, and people hurryingly finishing their work one observes the most vibrant sky painted in vibrant hues of reds, purples, blues, and multiple shades in between to create the most masterful palate of color that this humble wanderer has never seen matched in his worldly travels or even seen attempted to be replicated from even the most gifted of artists.
Trekking through the bush for hours on an ox cart last week my village chief and I shared a remarkable experience of witnessing a storm rolling in behind us. As the winds blew, the crops waved, and the presence of a powerful storm flexed its strength all around us it reminded me on how much myself and the 12 million Nigeriens depend on the 400mm of annual precipitation. As we kept traveling on, laughing, talking, and experiencing the gifts that this wonderful planet provides us, my sweet corn crop was on the verge of devastation, and thirty trees in my house ready to be planted are desperately waiting for this rain, myself, a nursing child ready to receive the gift of life. In Niger the rain means everything.
The majority of my time has been spent working in my field, hanging out, playing mandolin and cursing every storm over the last two weeks that have literally blown over Dan Saga without a drop of rain or either broke north or south prior to our last downspout…everyone is getting rain, why don’t we? There are many theories about rain, each can be described by nice haughty words that describe the processes of nature, which I will not bore the reader with the convoluted jargon but I assure you it is all pointless. For I, Nazifi, volunteer of Dan Saga has demystified the processes of nature and now fully understand the theory as of why we are no longer receiving rain.
My theory, I did it, I asked for to much from Allah. Two weeks ago while working at the farmers field school my friend Ali was holding a calculator to his ear engaged in a very important heated conversation with his imaginary friend, so naturally I asked; “Hey is that Allah?” Ali said “Yes”, then I said “Then tell Allah Nazifi says WE WANT RAIN!”. As the token white, non muslim, wanderer I didn’t really stop to think how well this joke would play out to my twenty Muslim African farmers before saying it, but it did. So much so I think Allah even was amused by my boldness of such a demand because in the afternoon while playing my mandolin a few km out in the bush we received one hell of a sahelian toad choker (heavy rain in ozarkian slang). Oblivious with the surrounding world as I usually am while playing the mandolin (mishka) the skies opened and while trapped under a tree I was drenched and freezing from the 30 degree temperature drop in twenty minutes. 103-73, according to my watch.
Stranded and freezing under my favorite tree I could not help but warm myself to the thought that Wow when I speak, Allah listens! Never asked Allah for anything before but one for one, he’s not too bad of a deity. I can really warm up to this guy. Heck, and to think I was still holding out all these years for the miraculous delivery of that sweet bike I have been praying for since I was 10 from my Christian deity. Pshhh! Thanks God.
Then as my nature is, my mind began a wandering and I started thinking about what do we really know about the “christian god?”. Sure we have the testament to his legacy in the bible in everything, but what do we really know about this cosmic author? I know back in America Fox News and friends constantly barrage us with the whole idea that Allah is all meany pants and all, and demands absolute submission blah,blah,blah, but doesn’t the Christian one also. If Allah is so bad then why did he tell us his name, nay in fact all 99 of them? All I know about how to my address diety is to call him God. Seems kind of impersonal doesn’t it?
Maybe the only thing I know about him was that he had a really cool son but look what we did to him. Well you know the story. Jesus is a cool name but is still being ostracized by us, his own followers in the bible. Want proof? My proof, Jesus is gaffed out like a kid with a huge embarrassing physical attribute he doesn’t get to be in the stoic black ink, no, he is there plain as day to be pointed out and gaffed at in his silly red ink. Seriously I like him, when are we going to lay off Jesus?
Does god not want to let us down? Really I would still love him if his name is something really bad like Clarence, or his dad named him something like Sue to toughen him up. Who knows? Why don’t we know his name? Was our originator picked on at the deity playground or something by the other gods? So when he took over and had a universe of his own he decided to just go by the name GOD. I bet Lord Gannesh was a real bully on the playground with his eight arms and all. I usually root for the underdog but seriously how could you pick Clarence over Gannesh for the all time great games such as red rover, dodge ball, tether ball, wow eight arms. He would be unbeatable.

Regularly I listen to the radio shows here and the only ones in English tend to be the Christian hellfire and brimstone ministries from the US. It seems like the Christians are trying to win over believers in an all out our god can beat up your god playground fight for devotion. Seriously, both religions talk extensively about peace and heck many of the characters based in the bible are key characters in the Koran to. Dog Gammit most the people here have similar names to us folk being named such as the likes of Ibrihim (Abraham) Issa (jesus) Mariama (Mary), you get my point.

Well this is my confessional via blogosphere to Allah and god (Clarence or whatever) that I didn’t ask out of arrogance and though I do appreciate that really magnificent toad choker, I haven’t had the gall to demand any more. I don’t ever want to seem pushy but really if you could spare some my sweet corn could use it, and my trees need to be planted. And I am not dwelling on it, but is it possible for that bike, remember I liked the hot pink one. Thanks.