She Walks In Beauty
She walks in Beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
If only it were always so.
I remember 5. Do you? I remember starting school, getting a new baby brother. I remember conquering my rubix cube and trying to 'walk the dog' with my yoyo. I remember my first barbie doll and skipping with my friends. I had ringlets and big blue eyes and trusted the world.
WARNING: The following may (should) be hard to read. I understand if you can't, but I urge you to try. It's important. It's so easy to ignore, certainly it's distasteful, and difficult. And oh, so sad.
Ever read a passage in a book that leaves you reeling? Even though you know it's coming. Even though you are aware of what's about to happen, and what it means, you are left literally shaking and sick to your stomach. Nervous and drained and disillusioned, all over again.
That's how I'm feeling right now. Was having a fabulous day. Sam's having a nap that has lasted so far an entire HOUR!!!! So I curl up to read my latest book, Infidel. Of course, I've read a bit about Ayaan Hirsi Ali before. I have read of her and respected her, and this is one of those books I keep meaning to settle down with. So finally, this week I am.
Except, I feel sick. I knew it was coming. It's clear, even on the back cover (just in case we didn't know it was coming) that she went through this. But reading it. Knowing these words are real, relaying a horrific, terrifying experience is so hard to do. But couple that with the fact that she is tellign this part of thes tory through the eyes of a 5 year old little girl reduced me to sobs.
How in the $#@$! hell do we let this still happen? How are there little girls, still being held down by the women they trust, and subjected to this brutality.
In Somalia, like many countries across Africa and the Middle East, little girls are made "pure" by having their genitals cut out. There is no other way to describe this procedure, which typically occurs around the age of five. After the child's clitoris and labia are carved out, scraped off, or in more compassionate areas, merely cut or pricked, the whole area is often sewn up, so that a thick band of tissue forms a chastity belt made of the girl's own scarred flesh. A small hole is carefully situated to permit a thin flow of pee. Only great force can tear the scar tissue wider, for sex.
I was next. Grandma swung her hand from side to side and said "Once this long kintir is removed, you and your sister weill be pure". From Grandma's words and gestures I gathered that this hideous kintir, my clitoris, would one ay grow so long that it would swing sideways between my legs. She caught hold of me and gripped my upper body in the same position as she had put Mahad. Two other women held my legs apart. The man, who was probably an itinerant traditional circumciser from the blacksmith clan, picked up a pair of scissors. Wih the other hand, he caught hold of the place between my legs and started tewaking it, like Grandma milking a goat. "There it is, there is the kintir" one of the women said.
Then the scissors went dwon between my legs and the man cut off my inner labia and clitoris. I heard it, like a butcher snipping the fat off a piece of meat. A piercing pain shot up between my legs, indescribable, and I howled. Then came the sewing; the long, blunt needle clumsily pushed into my bleeding outer labia, my loud and anguished protests. Grandma's words of comfort and encouragement. "It's just this once in your life, Ayaan. be brave, he's almost finished". When the sewing was finished, the man cut the thread off with his teeth.
That is all I can recall of it.
But I do remember Haweya's bloodcurdling howls. Though she was the youngest - she was four, I five and Mahad six - Haweya must have struggled much more than Mahad and I did, or perhaps the women were exhausted after fighting us, and slipped, becuase the man made some bad cuts on Haweya's thighs. She carried tehs cars of them her whole life.
I must have fallen asleep, for it wasn't until much lter that day that I realised that my legs had been tied together, to prevent me from moving to facilitate the formation of a scar. It was dark and my bladder was bursting, but it hurt too much to pee. The sharp pain was still there, and my legs were covered in blood. I was sweating and shivering. It wasn't until the next day that my Grandma could persuade me to pee even a little. By then, everything hurt. When I just lay still the pain throbbed miserably, but when I urinated the flash of pain was as sharp as when I had been cut.
It took about two weeks for us to recover. Grandma tended to us constantly, suddenly gentle and affectionate. She responded to each anguished howl or whimper, even in the night. After every tortured urination, she washed our wounds carefully and with warm water and dabbed them with purple liquid. Then she tied our legs again and reminded us to stay completely still or we would tear, and then the man would have to be called again to sew us back up.
After a week, the man came and inspected us. He thought that Mahad and I were doign well but said Haweya needed to be resewn. She had torn her wound while urinating and struggling with Grandma. We heard it happening; it was agony for her. The entire procedure was torture for us, but undoubtedly the one who suffered the most was Haweya.
Mayhad was already upand about, quite healed when the man returned to remove the thraed he had used to sew me shut. This was again very painful. He used a pair of tweezers to dig out the threads, tugging on them sharply. Again, Grandma and two other women held me down. But after that, even though I had a thick, bumpy scar between my legs that hurt if I moved too much, at least my legs didn't have to be tied together anymore and I no longer had to lie down without moving all day.
It took Haweya another week to reach the stage of thread removal, and four women had to hold her down. I was in the room when this happened. I will never forget the panic in her face and voice as she screamed with everything in her and tried to keep her legs closed.
Haweya was never the same afterward. She became ill with a fever for several weks and lost a lot of weight. She had horrible nightmares and during the day began stomping off to be alone. My once cheerful, playful little sister changed. Sometimes she just stared vacantly at nothing for hours. We all started wetting our beds after the circumcision. In Mahad's case, it lasted a long time.
It's hard to read, isn't it? In fact, it is one of the main reasons I'd put off this book. I knew it would be in there. She is such a huge opponent of the practice (also of male circumcision, which her brother Mahad underwent at the age of 6), so how could it not be in there? And in reality, this probably is fairly sterile. There are no pictures. We don't have to watch it. Simply read a fairly quick recount.
Any yet. Here I am. Sickened. Outraged. And ashamed. Ashamed that this still happens, and somehow, noone has figured out a way to stop it.
I'm not hear to preach. I don't want to make this political. But Oh please, don't let us forget those girls. Don't let us forget this happens to girls as young as Alexander. It's just so easy to forget about it, half a world away. But they don't get to forget. Ever.
We should never forget the importance of what we're doing here. We're raising the next generation. We're teaching them. We instil them with morals and values and a sense of right and wrong. We instill them with the courage and fortitude to take on the world and make it better.
And we have a responsibility to start the process for them. At the very least, to remember.
Tell me about things you've read that have had a similar effect on you? It doesn't have to be political, or involve human rights or religion. Just what have you read that has left you raw and shattered? Made you face something you'd perhaps tried not to dwell on.