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.