Last year, I spent Valentine’s day in Paris alone having a romantic day picnicking at the Eiffel Tower and reflecting on love. This year, I am once again alone, this time in the middle of the Serengeti. I spent the day collecting wildflowers and reflecting on love once again, but in a new light. It was a perfect day today, and I could not help but fall in love with life all over again. I had already started writing this piece a few days ago, and I could not help but feel a little guilt creep in as I realized I am thankful for every heartache, every lost love, and every chance I will get to love in the future.
Over the last few months, I have been able to visit the local tribes in the Serengeti. I always find it interesting to learn local customs, traditions, foods, and dive as much into the culture as possible. I have eaten local food, received tribal burns, and even drank goat’s blood. However, there is one custom that I can not rap my mind around, and I will never support.
I have heard of female circumcision happening, but I did not know it was happening just down the road from me. I began to ask questions and did some research of my own. I was able to speak with a few men about the procedure, and they were in agreement that it keeps women from misbehaving sexually. These same tribes believe in having many wives, and it is very common for them to often cheat on the wives they are already have.
Female circumcision is also know as female genital mutilation (FGM), and that is exactly what it is, mutilation. It is not just mutilation of her vagina, but of her dignity, of her womanhood. It leaves a mark classifying her as a second class citizen underserving of love, pleasure, or intimacy in this male dominated society. On man even told me it is a way of controlling a woman’s sexuality. They will not cheat. They will not leave. They are subject to their husband. I could never imagine someone telling me “You don’t deserve pleasure. You don’t deserve intimacy. You don’t deserve love.”
“There is no love in marriage,” one tribesman described to me. He told me there is no kissing for cuddling. They just call the woman over when they want to have sex, and then she goes back to her hut.
It is still traditionally carried out with a razor blade in 29 African countries. I will not go into the details of the procedure. FGM is what separates the girls from the women as it is a right of passage. Women who have not been circumcised are not desired by men and so the tradition continues. There are movements in some tribes to stop it, but studies are showing a growing number of cases, not just in Africa, but worldwide.
I was excited to visit the local Maasai tribe, and I hopped out of the truck as two girls between the ages of 12-14 decorated in traditional clothes and jewelry greeted me. One of the guides who comes from the same tribe explained to me how they should be greeted differently since one had been circumcised and the other had not. I greeted them separately. The girl who had not yet been circumcised gleamed with a youthful look in her eyes as she grabbed my hand and pulled me into the boma. Maybe I was reading too much into it, but I could tell a difference between their spirits. The girl interlocked fingers with mine and lifted my arm to see the rings and bracelets I was wearing. She took a ring off her finger and placed on mine looking at me bashfully. My heart broke in that moment. This girl with so much life and love to give will never know what it is like to be loved and cherished the way a woman is supposed to be. I interlocked fingers with her again and slid one of my bracelets from my arm onto hers before pulling her in and squeezing her tightly. I fought back tears and thanked God for every heartbreak I have experienced for they gave me an opportunity to love.