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Culture dictates

Mbale's Boys to Men

UGANDA | Thursday, 15 May 2014 | Views [1304] | Scholarship Entry

I will never forget the day that I saw a man get his foreskin cut off in the middle of a busy street.
I wasn't ready for this shit. I was tired, cold, hungry and grossly irritated. It had rained on our hides, our car had got stuck in the muddy terrain when our overly chatty guide and driver had decided to take a "short cut" through Mt. Elgon. We had to wait hours before help came, amidst fears of a pending mudslide. The last thing I needed was the mayhem blocking the only entrance to our sorry excuse of a hotel. Since I wasn't going to be accorded a hot bath, at least I should be able to get out of my mud caked clothing as soon as humanly possible.

"They have caught him," Simon the chatty suddenly reappears, breathless. "Finally!!"
I stare at him blankly, waiting for him to elaborate on this greater him we're all apparently supposed to be excited about.
"His father has been living in shame all these years. After that coward run off to the capital and refused to become a man." After another impatient stare, he adds, "Feared to face the circumcision knife!"
"Oh come on," I say as it finally dawns on me that I am about to witness a public circumcision ceremony. "It cannot be that serious!"

The man trapped in the circle of face painted, feather adorned, drum beating, chanting and dancing troupe, wearing a neatly pressed business suit is dejected and resigned. An elder wields an ancient stone age looking knife. One of the dancers pulls down his trousers as a bunch of others holds him steady. He howls as knife meets flesh, further adding to his shame. Culturally, one is not allowed to even flinch during this passage into manhood. He falls to the ground as the elder displays the foreskin as a trophy to the cheering crowd.

In this part of the country, Mbale, boys are initiated into manhood through a ritualistic public circumcision ceremony. The procedure is carried out without any anesthesia and one is supposed to stand still and not flinch through the ordeal, a sure sign of bravery. This particular man had dodged this invitation to the table of men when he escaped to the city, thus bringing shame and curses unto his family. On this unfortunate day, he had been sent by his company to his home town Mbale, for official business. His misdeeds had neither been forgotten nor forgiven and after all these years culture finally caught up with him.

Wow! Someone was definitely having a worse day than mine.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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