Human Rights

Alia speaks

Odilon_Redon_-_'Lady_of_the_Flowers',_oil_on_canvas,_c._1890-95Her voice is like glass. It has the clink and tingle of something fine and delicate. Even her hesitation before saying something she had to wring out of the past is like a muffled chime. I can tell just by listening to her, Alia is beautiful. When she was twelve, her mother took her to the local hospital in Egypt for “just a check up”. I asked her how long she had been out.

“I went with my mom around 11 in the morning and woke up at 9… it was dark outside.”

Some doctor had cut out her clitoris and she woke up ‘clean’.

No one wants to see an eyeball being sliced; no one wants to know what that would feel like. So, I wasn’t quite ready to ask her what the pain was like for her that night. Instead I want to know if she had any clue. She said that she had overheard her mother and grandmother speaking in hushed voices about “it”. Now the public service announcements on TV had taught her a thing or two about Female Genital Mutilation and she confronted her mother, terrified out of her young wits.

“Ofcourse not, we wouldn’t do that to you,” Mama had lied.

The lies parents say! For a moment, the significance and heaviness of this particular lie sank and swirled around in my mind, pretending to be a mere entanglement of truth like all other untruths. Eight years later, her parents beg her for forgiveness.

“Yes I blame them … I blame them for a lot of things.”

She doesn’t want me to think her Mom and Dad are any worse than your average misguided but well-meaning parent. Even in her rightful indictment, she has mercy on them.

“I never thought they would do it like this, not telling me.”

“Do you know why they do this to girls,” Alia asks.  I gave my researched response — to discourage women from illicit sexual intercourse, to guarantee marital fidelity. She shook her head and said, “They don’t want want us to ever feel sexual pleasure.”

I wonder what a person would be without the desire for sex. What would sex be without the desire for sex. Like the eye, don’t sexual organs allow a particular kind of perception, something that teach about the self and the world outside of the self. Years later it seems like she still wonders what causes her pain; the circumcision or the betrayal. Perhaps they are the same thing.

I try to relate to her story – in their quest to conform to society’s prescription of “good living”, my parents did loads of foolish things to themselves and to their children. And I try to relate to her parents. I remember my daughter waking me up in the middle of the night because she was worried that the storm outside would crack the roof of the building and blast our top floor apartment to wet bits of driftwood. I tell her “well, if that happens, at least we’ll all be in it together.”

My answer did nothing to assuage the fears of a five year old. Those run on a completely different track than a young adult’s anxiety over alienation and meaninglessness. But my response struck me as stupidly honest and I wondered if I should be proud of it, be proud of not lying to her. My now teenaged daughter reminds me of a lie I did tell her in kindergarten. My answer to her “what is ‘rape’” question had been “its when a man hits a woman…a lot.”

It was the truth. I simply failed to add that when a man rapes, he slams the victim repeatedly with his penis which is somewhat the size of a polish sausage or lead pipe. And when the time came, I also failed to mention the waxing and waning of the male member even as I explained the ebb and flow of the female menstrual cycle.

Parents want to inform their children preferably without shattering their psyche. And sometimes they lie. Like when my dad lied to me that the vaccination shot would simply pinch like a mosquito bite which it so did not. We lie because we want to protect our children. The father from “Life Is Beautiful” is a hero. The desire to preserve our children’s safety, physical and emotional, is instinct.

So what is it that made Alia’s parents lie to her and cause her the kind of pain that is forever? What goes against natural instinct?

That which corrupts the better angels of our nature deserves no reformation, no consideration, no saving abstraction.

If doing this robs people from believing in something then let them believe in Alia. Let them believe that someday she will leave the bloody footprints, the broken childhood of her home and make something of this world.


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Sam I Am