Saturday, June 12, 2010

Female Circumcision

I couldn't think of a thing to blog about lately, or bring myself to give up one of my free moments to do it. But tonight I've GOT to: I just got a doozy of a question.

Saffron just asked me, in a round about way, if in America we cut girls between the legs--in other words, do we perform female circumcision as many still do in Ethiopia (Studies in the linked article show that 79% of women in Saffron and Willa's region are circumcised). It's really interesting how questions I thought were previously resolved crop up out of nowhere months later. When we were in Ethiopia, I asked the orphanage doctor and also had our translator ask Saffron if she had been a victim of female circumcision. Both said no, and Saffron acted as if she had no idea what she was being asked (understandable, considering the uncomfortable nature of the question). I had the pediatrician here check for signs of it again when we got to America, and she found absolutely no signs of any trauma. Everything was pristine and intact. So, I put it out of my mind, assuming Saffron's slightly modern dad did not subscribe to such traditional tribal practices.

I haven't thought of it again, until Saffron asked me in the dark tonight as I tucked her in. That's her favorite time to ask difficult questions, and apparently she's been trying to work up the courage to ask this one for a long time. I quickly assured her that, NO!, we absolutely do not do that in America, and that will never happen to her or Willa or anyone they know. Once we put that fear to rest, she relaxed and got chatty about the topic.

She told me she'd wanted to ask me for a while, but thought it was a bad question. I assured her, again, that there are no bad questions to ask your mom (except, maybe, 'can I have more gum' for the fifth time when you've already been told 'NO' four times in a row). She said that in Ethiopia many people, including her father's relatives, believe circumcision (not her word, of course) makes children better behaved. They don't lie or disobey their parents. In fact, she said they believe doing it more makes children more obedient. One boy in her family was cut more than once. (I did explain male circumcision in America to her--not the details, but the reasons why some parents choose to do it, and how quickly and carefully it is done to save the baby pain or infection.)

Saffron believes her mother was circumcised, but doesn't know whether she believed in it for Saffron. Her dad was open to the idea, but perhaps not a firm believer in it. He took her to the 'doctor' once to have it done, but Saffron overheard the doctor's plan and escaped, screaming. Her father did not force her back.

Saffron had a friend, another little girl, who was circumcised. She told Saffron it hurt very bad every time she went to the bathroom. Saffron said she knew of this being done to children of all ages--from babies up to young girls--depending on what the parents wanted. Saffron saw a female circumcision on TV, and possibly in person (it was unclear). She saw a young girl tied down with a strap over her mouth, and several people holding her. Then she saw a 'doctor' cut between the girl's legs. Then she saw a lot of blood. She was horrified.

Willa then added that she gets very messy down there when she pees her pants (WAY too often, and when she's awake!). I was glad to see the conversation hadn't much phased or sunk in with the four-year-old.

Well, that's one more difficult subject faced. I hope Saffron will sleep better knowing she can cross that fear off her list. I'm actually not surprised it came up today. She's been in trouble a few times in the past couple days for lying to me, and cried when she got caught again today. She said she was trying to tell the truth but sometimes she just couldn't be good. I'm sure that got her thinking about how some girls she knew were cut between the legs to help them be good.

I take it as a good sign that Saffron feels more comfortable all of the time telling me things that scare her to say aloud. Right at the six-month mark she told me that she actually did steal the money from a neighbor's shack--the money she said before that she had been wrongly accused of stealing. But all the other facts, and innocence, remain the same. She said Stepmother told her to steal the money from the home where Saffron worked as a servant. Saffron was desperate to feed herself and her siblings, with whom Stepmother usually didn't share food, and did it. Stepmother's friend, who owned the home, then told Saffron's dad. He tied Saffron up and beat her harshly, so much so that even the neighbors pleaded with him to stop.

I felt it was a great show of trust for Saffron to tell me the real story. I then had to work hard for a couple of weeks to convince her that, even though we have said stealing is wrong, she had absolutely no fault in that situation. Stepmother and Dad were in the wrong. When a desperate child is compelled to do wrong by grown-ups she fears, no loving being, human or Divine, would hold her accountable. We've had that talk over and over.

You'd think theft and female circumcision would bowl me over, but those subjects have passed just fine. It's Willa's wide-awake potty regression that's proving more than a match for me.


Sovic Clan said...

I am so proud of her for having the courage to ask you about that.

I can only imagine the things that she has seen in Ethiopia! Way to handle her questions!!

Melissa said...

Which one is the most common?
Cause that's pretty brutal, like the full one, you know.
I don't think I'll ever get that question from Yuki.
You're a trooper that's for sure.
We'll be in SLC in July.
Wanna get together?

Gerritt+Laura= Meagan and Madilynn said...

Continually touched and humbled by your amazing family.

Brooke said...

You have really HEAVY late night chats at your house. I'm sure you are great at dealing with all of it by now. What courage that must have taken for her to ask. Good job Mom!

Emily said...

I have to say, the title of this post certainly got my attention! I can only imagine what you must have thought at this bedtime tuck-in conversation! You answered like a pro. It's so amazing to see her open up like that to you over such a sensitive topic, ESPECIALLY with her worries about her behavior. You are a great mom, seriously.

jayna said...

wow emily. what a trip. those little girls couldn't have asked for better parents. you are amazing to me. someday, if i'm a mama, i'm comin to you for advice.


Rachel said...

I'm so glad you handled it so well.

JenSav said...

You are amazing. How you handle such hard realities of your girls past while reassuring them about the future baffles me. What a mother you are!