Women’s Group and Circumcision Ceremony

The two biggest happenings around here (besides a marvelous potluck Thanksgiving dinner with traditional foods) are with the women’s group I plan to sponsor, and a scheduled circumcision.

The women’s group is exciting. Last week they invited me to a meeting to discuss their plans. Their name is Naretisho Women’s Group and they seem very organized. They took me to see their aloes, and they’ve collected and are raising 370 of them. They’ve got a fence built around them for protection. About 16 of their 25 or so members came to meet with me, which is really pretty good given all the constraints to getting there (kids and animals to watch, looking for food, walking a long distance). They also pulled together 5,000 Kenyan shillings as their contribution to the project. That’s about $65, which is large given that these people are collecting famine relief and live on a couple dollars a day.

We also talked about their expectations for how much money they will make and they were very pragmatic. They said of course they’d like to make a lot of money, but they know this is a first attempt and they’ll be happy even if it only yields a little pocket money.

Now the hitch is that the consultant they know about only wants to come train them if I hire him for 3 days of training (they only need one day) and if I buy $300 worth of supplies from him. Total cost would be $650 dollars. That’s not really in my ballpark, and more to the point, it’s not quite what the women need. So I’ve got another person to get in touch with at a local NGO, and if that fails I’ll try to negotiate with Mr.Six-fity.

If you are interested in making a small loan or donation to the women’s group, please let me know.


Regarding the circumcision, the ceremony will be for 3 boys and a girl in the same family, all of them in early adolescence. The female circumcision — or genital mutilation depending on how you feel about it — is illegal in Kenya. I was originally asked to help hold down the girl during the procedure, which is considered an honor. I declined partly because I don’t want the moral responsibility to the girl. If I helped hold her, I would be considered her godmother. Also, it would be a sort of approval of the procedure. I was also afraid I might faint, or that I could be held legally responsible if something were to go wrong with the procedure.

One of the boys in the family is mentally impaired, and his parents have elected to have his procedure done at the local clinic rather than at home as is usual. I think this is very smart of them, since the procedure as done at home is partly a test of fortitude and this boy can’t be expected to show the same amount as his siblings. It seems to me a reasonable compromise: he will be initiated the same days as his brothers, and in the same celebration, but his surgery will be done more quickly and professionally, and hopefully with less pain.

I had originally planned to spend tonight near the home where the ceremony will be performed early tomorrow morning. However, after discussion with some others here, they felt I ought not to. There is a lot of drinking involved in the celebrations, and possibly other substances, and there are strong undercurrents of sexuality and conquest in the rite of passage. In brief, there was some concern that I could be raped in my tent during the night. Needless to say, I decided not to take the risk.

And on that rather scary note, I am headed back to my river camp for a few days. The everyday and the surreal are so mixed together here.

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