15.3.12

A Samburu Woman

Cynthia Fowler

"We should run away"! Cynthia said to her cousins. "It is the only way we can avoid being cut."

Laughing, they said to her “Don't be silly, you are a coward” and continued to mock her for not wanting to go through with it. They were all looking forward to the day and could not understand why she would want to refuse. Deep down inside Cynthia knew that this practise was wrong. She had watched her aunt suffer and nearly die when she was circumcised. Deeply etched in her mind was the memory of the horrible agony she underwent. Cynthia had never seen so much blood. Her aunt was rushed to a nearby hospital as the lady who did the circumcision was old and partially blind. She had cut the wrong vein. Thankfully, she survived. Sadly, many women don't even get the opportunity to go to hospital and die either from infection or blood loss.

Fear filled Cynthia's eyes as she recalled her aunts traumatic circumcision. It was two days before her coming-of-age ritual. She did not want to be cut but tradition said that if she wanted to be a 'real' women she had to have her clitoris removed. Culture indicated that removing the male parts from their body would cleanse them. Cynthia was very young but she knew deep down inside that this injustice was not going to happen to her. The consequences were too unbearable to think about but not more unbearable than submitting to circumcision. Circumcision would be carried out with knife-like implements, scissors or razor blades as the basic surgical instruments, often used by a person that lacks surgical expertise and usually without anaesthetic.

An uncircumcised woman would be shunned by her people, rejected by men and deemed unfit for marriage. If she ever did manage to have children, the baby would be called unholy and rejected by the Samburu tribe. Some Samburu women are even forced to kill their unholy baby. Cynthia tried to block these images as she pleaded with God to deliver her from this evil.

She thought of her parents. Both her mother and father had been taken four years ago by the merciless HIV/AIDS virus. Her mother, only thirty three years old at the time, suffered a long fight with HIV/AIDS. Knowing she wasn't going to live for very long, she took Cynthia to meet her best friend Christine, whom she affectionately referred to as auntie. Her mother trusted and loved her. Perhaps she thought Christine was the only person who would rescue her from the traditions of circumcision. As Cynthia looked at her mother she saw sadness in her eyes. She was not only worried about her looming death but also the traditions that were awaiting her daughter. Her disapproval of this tradition was clear and she did nothing about other than talk and wish that her daughter would somehow escape it.

Being just fourteen years old at the time, Cynthia did not fully understand how things worked. It seemed simple to her and questioned why she should not simply move to live with Christine, leaving her free from worry about the circumcision. Sadly it was not that simple. Her dad had paid a dowry before he died, which meant that she now belonged to his family. This ensured that when her mum died that she could go and live with them. However, she was convinced that it was her mums wish that she would not be circumcised. Leaving Christine's home to go to her father's family was deeply emotional. Even though she had only met her once, she knew there was something special about her. Christine was so loving and motherly. She gave Cynthia her telephone number which became one of her most prized treasures. She knew that one day this number would be important.

It was a sad day. Her mum's funeral passed and immediately her uncle began preparing the circumcision ceremony for herself and her two cousins. Cynthia had made a definite decision though. She was not going to be a circumcised woman. Tradition said that if a girl didn't have her clitoris cut off it would grow until it reached the ground. Young girls were threatened into circumcision with stories of having this long clitoris dragging on the ground. Uncircumcised girls were shunned, called the most vile names and were declared unfit for marriage. None of this deterred Cynthia. Deep down inside she knew that her parents would approve of her decision to avoid this dreadful tribal tradition as well as what would follow shortly afterwards, a forced marriage. It was custom for girls as young as eleven to be forced into marriage and many times it was with a friend of their fathers who could be a much older man.

Morning came after a dark, fear filled night and her uncle came with a letter addressed to her from the NCCK (National Council Churches of Kenya). Cynthia was an extremely grateful recipient of a sponsorship from the NCCK that provided for her high school education. She picked up the letter and read the life changing words that stared up at her from the paper. She had an invitation for a conference in Nairobi where all the sponsored children would meet.

"Oh ignore that, you cannot make it as that is when you are going to be circumcised!" Her uncle said matter-of-factly.

Cynthia knew otherwise, this was her escape route and she knew it. She praised God and insisted that she went, saying that she would lose her sponsorship if she didn't. After some persuasion her uncle said, "It's OK, you can go as long as my son will take and bring you back."

Hurriedly, she packed a few belongings, mainly dresses. Happily she thought to herself, while praising God for His mercy, "This is it! I will never experience the knife!"

...This is not a piece of fiction but these are some facts from the life of a real person, a beautiful Samburu woman that I have had the privilege of meeting. In my recent post I mentioned how troubled I was. It was as Cynthia relayed her story to me a couple of weeks ago that I knew something had to be done. Although President Daniel Moi of Kenya issued a decree against female circumcision in December 2001, little has changed in reality. Young girls continue to undergo genital mutilation and forced marriages. Conditions in the Samburu region of Kenya are unbearable and people are dying daily for various reasons. I want to continue writing to you, King's Daughters, about what is going on in this remote part of Kenya. My hope is that together, you and I, can adopt these precious Samburu people and bring God's justice to this region.

It is God who says that we should, "Open your mouth for the speechless, In the cause of all who are appointed to die. Open your mouth, judge righteously, And plead the cause of the poor and needy." - Proverbs 31:8-9

Soon I will tell you Mark and Cynthia's story, how they met and the dream that they have for the Samburu people.