The morning was sullen and reticent as if calamity was looming. It had precipitated a little more last night hence the effects mirrored on this particular morning. A soufflé of heavy clouds thick as they were hovered above. They appeared to be shifting from place to place and sometimes they seemed still and motionless. Were my eyes playing tricks on me? It didn’t matter since clouds move anyway. The sun feeble as it was attempted to shine and enliven the morning. It tried with every last bit of its breath to penetrate the now thicker clouds but sought the easy way out- it gave up. Personally I didn’t like that for the mere reason that whenever the sun was defeated in battle, there resulted a lot of soup where animals, humans and plants drunk to their fill and soaked in it. Roads became lakes and commuters basically swam to and from work. Changing the weights was unimaginable so I let it be. Nobody could really alter what the Lord of all mankind had resolved. I remained to pray. A roost of birds that were noisily feeding on a hill of beans stopped chirping yet the rain hadn’t started showering us with its countless blessings again. A cauldron of crows set themselves in groups, it was getting cold. Why didn’t I realize that? The wind got stronger by the minute, how was this day going to be? This was strange in this coastal town of Sanawa where the sun was the norm and the rain was the ogre people ran away from every so often.
‘Holy nuts,’ I shouted wildly in the shower as the streams of cold water rushed down my body. The water was chilling cold. I remained frozen trembling and thinking whether or not to go ahead and complete the difficult task or just wind up with a ‘passport’ for the day. ‘Maji ukiyavulia nguo ni sharti uyaoge,’ this was a Swahili saying literally translated as: if you take off your clothes to take a bath you have to do it. I doused myself quickly while lamenting simultaneously. Getting out of the shower, I put on my clothes just to feel warm and yeah that felt good. I stepped out to head to ‘work.’ To complete an undertaking. One that could see a lot of children remember me the wrong way. I was going to be the devil that day. A succession of thoughts of knives, scissors, and injections went through my head many at a time and I could not hold onto any one in particular. I was in a world of screams, imaginary screams. Screams of young souls being tortured.
‘Dereva bwaga hapo Mewa,’ the makanga shouted. Makanga was the street name for tout, I didn’t know how the name originated but it sounded to fit. How would I know anyway especially in this era where we are always chasing the future with big phones in our hands and ear buds plugged in. The past to this generation, the history and all the legendary stories were just mere writings in books. I climbed down hastily and walked towards Mewa hospital. Looking at my watch I glanced to check time and, yeah it was exactly eight o’clock, ‘I guess am not Kenyan then.’ I silently sighed.
Studying the surrounding carefully I met a lot of varying, contrasting faces. They were as different as chalk and cheese, just like a mall with every single different cloth present. As different as they were they all were the same as concerns them being human except for what their faces spoke. There were three lots. There was the smiling faction-these were young ladies and gentlemen in their teens and early twenties. They were volunteers from FMY. These were present to help the doctors ‘torture’ the young ones. The second lot comprised of young children aged between a few months old and twelve years. These were the ones to be ‘tortured’ and I thought to myself. ‘It is going to be fun!’
The last lot which was characteristically unique was comprised of three white guys. Two men and a lady. Unique was the fact that they could not communicate in English. This was unexpected to many since Kenyans obviously take it that any white person should speak English. Better yet was how they spoke, outlandish and as fast as anyone not hearing anything. They were Turks. One of them: who seemed the oldest of the three was a little over fifty, with grey neatly combed hair, average height and placid eyes. A sign of years of experience as a doctor. The other man, Rahman was a bit younger, dark haired and energetic. Iconic was the lady accompanying them, she was of average height, slim and with sturdy legs. She had razor-sharp eagle eyes looking over a pointed nose. She seemed to be the most working of the three. She spoke extra fast always giving instructions here and there. Her name was Hulya.
‘Hussein nerede?’ She called out. Many among the volunteers looked at her as if she was someone from the moon. ‘Where are you? Come we have to start in time so we finish early!’ To many of us volunteers it was just a circumcision program but to the initiates it was pure torture though voluntary. Two rooms were set aside and allocated two beds meaning each scream will be coupled. I dived deep into my conscious to concentrate on cleaning the cutting equipment and try to prevent the baby ringtones from hurting my eardrums. As experienced as they were, the doctors felt a little nervous at first. ‘That’s called parental effect,’ my devil from inside whispered to me. That didn’t work for me. How would I know anyway having only come closest to marriage by telling a girl hi?
One by one these small lambs or cubs should I say were led to the ‘slaughterhouse.’ Some walked majestically not knowing what really awaited them on the other end of the river. ‘Aletler sadece sen,’ Hulya reiterated once again. Her language-Turkish was fun. I translated the sentence directly in my mind-equipment only you. ‘Crazy,’ I told my devil while smiling. She had antecedently taught me how to clean the equipment. Did I just prove myself that I can wash these things, I mean tools! Tools for chopping meat. If you asked my mother she’d tell you it was experience from years of washing utensils. I just had to be perfect. I had to keep a smooth flow of equipment between the two rooms. ‘Niletee prescription Yusuf,’ one doctor Zain called out. I stood up reluctantly holding the backside of my waist. You know what that means-yeah, washing utensils. Moving through the corridor I came across a girl, arms folded. Her name was Asha and she was the usher at this program.
‘Is it painful,’ she asked, ‘coz those sounds…I don’t know but I think it is.’ ‘Are you worried Asha?’ I queried curiously. I don’t know I just feel it’s painful she said wearily. She was a smart girl, average height plump and wore hijab. I guess all girls here today wore hijab. Soft and calm as she was she barely kept the parents outside calm and relaxed, talking to them a little so they forget about the plight of their children inside the room.
‘Here sir,’ I accorded the prescriptions to doctor Zain. He was a soft spoken kindhearted, tall and somehow handsome man in his mid-thirties. He had a brown face sloping flat and short dark hair. ‘Laailaha illa llah laa ilaha illa llah, daktari wachaa waniuwaa,’ a deep petrified eerie voice cut through the room. ‘Why are you crying?’ asked the doctor, ‘naumiaaa,’- I’m hurting, the boy; a dark colored and energetic twelve-year old replied amid screams. ‘And where were you when others of your kind were being circumcised?’ ‘I was just at home doing my stupid things.’ the whimsical response elicited a period of laughter among everyone present. Most of those holding the boy down were girls, all covered up some singing sweet songs to soothe those seemingly in pain while the rest looked on with terrified faces, faces of blood. I think they thought the doctor would cut the whole thing off.
‘No touch, contamination, this only open doctor need. Tamam mi?’ Hulya sounded again this time using my favorite broken English. She rumbled some Turkish words and the response only came as ‘tamam.’ She gave the girl a tremulous smile. Mejumaa literally understood nothing and the only Turkish she could master was tamam.
Standing out was a girl, possibly twenty two or twenty three, slightly tall with a slim stature though she looked pudgy in her dress. She had an alluring cute face, her color, not as dark but somehow chocolate. One could see from how she smiled that she led a simple satisfying life. She had a charming mesmerizing voice, one that could bemuse anyone easily. She almost had me forget about the torturing instruments. Her name was Fatmey. She calmly held down the initiates, sometimes effortlessly comforting them with songs and simple words. It seemed for a moment like every child was used to her. Maybe she had a charm with children. A sign of a good parent to be. ‘No, don’t do that,’ doctor Said directed, instructing one of the girls not to hold a boy who was too restless by the neck lest he choke.
Moving on to the adjacent room things were not that way different. It was the usual picture, beds in the middle of the room with the doctor on one side and nurses on the other. In one corner was a bottle of antiseptic which I would occasionally use to sterilize the equipment. The process was easy but demanding. First I had to scrub them clean with a brush and water, then place in thirty percent saline water-aqua sodium chloride. Doing this repetitively reminded me of one: Fredrick Taylor with his famous principal that division of labor emboldens efficiency and development of skills since repetition is the mother of all experience. Away with that, standing tall was a lamp facing down directly above where the surgery would take place. Everything was made to be in order as we say, medicine has no room for errors.
Suddenly a sharp cry cut through the room, ‘niwacheee, niwachee,’ ‘no baba, we haven’t even started yet,’ said the doctor. The child, a six year old looked as terrified as an orphan deer. ‘Pole baba, tunamaliza.’ One girl who gave the impression of being more active than the rest assured him. She was a little bit short, chunky and brown. She was lively and fond of children. Her name was Ummi. Now that’s the thing with Arabic names. They have a way of forcing characteristics. The way she would cuddle and handle children, one would conveniently take her for a young mother. Bless her, Lord. She helped a lot, especially with the under one-year olds.
The cries went on throughout the day as we were busy torturing the young souls, the moment the adhaan for Asr went, I relented and decided to take a rest. I peeped over and saw Hussein again and decided to let him handle my ‘business’ while I was gone.
‘Man, I gotta pray, would you watch out for me?’ ‘Yeah, go on.’
‘That’s the spirit.’
For a while we did exchange and I fulfilled my duty to my creator. That felt nice. ‘I need some help here please,’ said the doctor the moment I came back. Looking over I met a pair of very young innocent eyes looking at me as if beseeching for mercy. It looked like we were killing an angel. Looking around I saw another hijabi lady and I simply called out, ‘sister, would you mind helping over there please?’
‘Sure,’ she answered.
‘Great,’ I murmured as I realized her cue for compliance.
Her name was Dalal. I remembered how I had perturbed her earlier with weird questions. Questions she seemed averse to answer, maybe she thought I was just another scumbag. ‘No, I wouldn’t be so low as to vex you,’ I told her even before she asked. Refusing to tell me her name, I posed a question-thirty cows in a field, twenty ate chicken how many didn’t? Seeing as it was if she did fail she would give me the low down about her. Of course she didn’t get it right blessed be the British accent I used where ate and eight are all the same. Dalal looked more of a soft spoken introvert-an Arab in her early twenties. I could only get to witness her eyes and the nose ridge which I mastered quite well so I could differentiate between her and other hijabis. One wouldn’t know a thing about her without carefully examining her. Unlike me, her blinking seemed involuntary each one taken with no specific time in between. She had glistening bright eyes with the right one seemingly smaller of the two but which was quite acute. In Contrast, she would turn faster to the left than to the right, this was just as fascinating as it was ridiculous.
‘Stop spying you idiot,’ a voice shouted at me silently from deep down in my conscious.
‘Ok, ok, I heard, now stop it,’ another one answered.
‘Calm down, she’s just like any other girl, why you na quarrel naah?’ Another one chipped in.
‘Now shut up all of you,’ I found myself yelling at them.
‘Okay come on, tell me your name,’ I said as she stood up, wiping the dust off her clothes modestly.
‘Guess what man? She likes sneakers! The stubborn voice reiterated, ‘ahem ahem,’ I calmed it down and went back to washing utensils.
‘Vifaa tayari?’ Doctor Harrison called out. ‘Just a moment please.’ Doctor Harrison was a little over fifty with grey hair. It seemed the light and pride of youth had already ebbed away in him. He didn’t adorn to impress but rather he did just to cover himself. He spoke with a Giriama accent and he would often joke about cutting the whole thing off.
‘Here you go doc,’ I said placing the instruments squarely on top of what you could call a circumcision serviette-a soft large blue piece of paper that had a hole in the middle where the ‘dudu’ came out.
‘Ahsante,’ he politely replied. The process was fun to watch. First he would clean the dudu with antiseptic and lubricate the skin. He would then administer three injections to paralyze the thing. This killed extreme pain. He would then start cutting the foreskin horizontally then in circular motions after which he would use tiny needles and sutures to knit the remaining skin in place for easy healing. He would professionally apply jelly and bandage the place.
‘How many more to go?’ Doctor Said asked impatiently.
‘Six,’ Fatmey replied in her faint but chirpy voice.
‘Okay then we divide each doctor two, let’s finish.’
‘Yeah,’ she replied and then dived into singing and I kind of liked it. La la, la nahtajul maala, kay nazdada jamaala, jawharuna hunaa… She went on and on swaying a little boy in her arms lovingly. That song oh my God I loved it but the problem was that Arabic was just a language I heard. To me, the hearing and understanding of Arabic were as different as biology and economics. It didn’t matter anyway since each one of us is created unique. ‘Mwambie babu awachee!’ Another cry came out in pure Swahili, ‘awache nini?’ ‘Asishike kisu,’
‘what?’ We exploded into laughter wondering how children so young could speak like grownups in the face of danger.
‘Haya ameacha,’ Mejuma responded.
‘Usipeleke mkono hukoo, noooo,’ he continued kicking and crying. Outside the mother was pacing impatiently with a lot of concern on her face, sometimes biting her nails and some other times squatting.
‘Are you okay?’ I queried. She just smiled and pointed inside the room where her child was.
‘He’s gonna be fine, don’t worry,’ I assured her. Turning to myself I pondered over the idea of hearts of mothers being coupled with their children’s.
At exactly 6 o’clock we were done and dusted. It was over. Looking at all of us, I could read a lot from the faces present. Some had fun, some didn’t but most important was that the work was complete. A little while later we congregated together, excited like high school students about to go home after a very long tedious second term in school. A school where only cries did exist.
‘Selamun aleykum,’ started the eldest Turk of the three. His voice strong and tranquil. After introducing the rest of his friends, he continued.
‘Size te$ekkur ediyoruz…’ he went on and on all the while having the tall guy-Hussein decipher.
Then came Hulya, ‘We are really thankful to you, you did an incredible job. What we want from you and what best we could give you is dua.’
Compelling were the answers from the rest which were limited to evet and tamam. After all that, it was time for photos and all everything else for future reference. Ahem, why does every girl want to hug Hulya? Well personally I didn’t see any problem but I just had to ask myself. I guess it just felt delightful.
Alongside the likes of Fatmey and Dalal, I left for home after a day’s pile of work with only one thing on my mind; sleep. All this time the screams went by in my head like a string of beads, each one unique to a particular child. ‘It’ll taper away don’t worry,’ my loving voice deep down my conscious assured me. I set my backpack on and slowly walked home…
FMY – FOCUSED MUSLIM YOUTH-a community based organization in Mombasa
Nerede – (Turkish) where
Aletler sadece sen – (Turkish) only you to handle the equipment
Niletee – (Swahili) bring me
Hijab – Islamic dressing code
Laa ilaha illa llah – Islamic declaration of faith: there’s no god but the one God
Daktari – (Swahili) doctor
Tamam – (Arabic, Turkish, Swahili) ok
Tamam mi – (Turkish) is it ok
Baba – Swahili dad
Tunamaliza – (Swahili) we’re winding up
Adhaan – Islamic call to prayer
Asr – afternoon prayer
Giriama – one of the tribes of the Mijikenda community based at the Kenyan coast
Asishike – (Swahili) he should not hold
Kisu – (Swahili) scalpel or lancet
Babu – (Swahili) grandpa
Size te$ekkur ediyoruz – Turkish we thank you
Dua – (Arabic Turkish Swahili) prayer
Evet – (Turkish) yes