My last year of primary school was a tumultuous one. It started with me transferring to a new school. A boarding school. A school tucked safely away in Kiserian’s shirt pocket. A school called St. Pats. My parents had decided I needed some ‘boarding school’ experience before I went to high school, which to me sounded like they telling me I was soft or something. Like there was the slightest chance that my sheltered existence of going to private day schools all my life hadn’t toughened me up. But I didn’t mind. I absolutely loved the idea of boarding school.
I had fantasized about it, being away from my parents meant no rules. What could be bad about being with your friends all the time? I mean you share rooms so you can talk all the time. Then there are the girls who are now around from morning till night time. And they sleep in a building a stone throw away from your own. (You’d have to be a mighty good stone thrower though). Not to mention that I had a friend who went to the same school a year before me.
He had fed me lies of no beatings and untold freedom in the same way Littlefinger fed lies to Cersei Lannister.
So there I was, a 14 year old boy with dreams in his eyes and a song in his heart. I was in a new environment, with new rules and a final exam ten months away that would decide my fate (Or so I believed).
St. Pats was a school of highs and lows. The food was really good. The beating was really bad. The beds were narrow and springy. Two people shared a room, which was surprisingly plush in an era where double-deckers were the norm. We sat on plastic chairs and had tables instead of desks in class, which was freeing. Kind of made you feel like a hippy.
It was a school of small numbers, except for when it came to asking for fees. We were 20 candidates in my year. 10 boys and 10 girls. This made us a tightly knit group of people. I generally liked my stay at St. Pats. Not least because the girls and boys were closer than they were at my former school. Not close enough to be committing crimes but definitely second and third base stuff (I’m not exactly sure what second and third base are as I’m a little off on my American, but it sounds innocent enough).
The year flew by quickly, what with teachers cramming notes and test papers down our throats. Soon I was staring down the barrel of the biggest examination of my life. I was gripped with terror. The thought of the year creeping to an end scared me more than I cared to say. You see the fear of K.C.P.E is bad enough but beyond that is the nightmare that comes when you go home.
It’s a ritual. A rite of passage held by my people the Ameru for hundreds of years. A procedure that apparently has the magic power of turning boys to men without all the pesky singing (get it?). Circumcision. It mostly happens when you’re just on the verge of going to high school. Just after the most hectic year of your adolescent life. Such is life for the boy child.
I knew that after finishing the last exam on Thursday, I would face the knife on Monday. My father had told me this and he’s a man of his word. If I chose not to take him at his word, however, all I had to do was look at our compound when I had gone home for the August holidays; for standing there was a house that hadn’t been there before, the house that I would occupy once I had become a man. The Ameru believe that once you have faced the knife, you are a man, and a man cannot sleep under the same roof as his mother. This man should also not enter the kitchen to cook or wash dishes. Life is finally looking up for the boy child.
The house itself is a little one. With a little living room a little bedroom and a little bathroom. It’s a cozy little thing and I have come to love it to bits.
Built on the side of the compound in between the main house and the gate, it was built with a garage next to it. My parents are the sort to kill two birds with one building. I didn’t mind having the car as my neighbour since I could always hear the folks leaving in the morning.
This house was sort of my consolation for having to lose a part of myself. If you had asked me to choose between keeping the house and my foreskin, I’m not sure I would have made the right choice.
You see it is another tradition of my people that once you have faced the knife you will stay in this house of yours for a month, learning the ways the Ameru. You will primarily eat traditional food like kithanda and matoke and you will drink plenty of fermented porridge. During this time, said initiate makes absolutely no contact with women, uncircumcised boys or men his father’s age group.
I remember how petrified I was on the morning of my ordeal. I kept replaying the stories I had heard about facing the knife. From the scary ones shared deep in the night at St. Pat’s dorms about procedures gone wrong to the straight up crazy ones in class two about having your entire member chopped off. I had barely slept a wink all night, tossing and turning in bed.
My father had found me in this restless state in the morning. He told me that this was something I had to face with a brave heart. He said it could be much worse, that unlike him I didn’t have to be woken up in the morning and rushed to the river where the senses in my lower body would be numbed by the ice cold water.
I had heard this story countless times. His own experience, however tragic, did not lessen my own. Then he told me something that calmed me. He told me a Meru proverb, which loosely translates to, ‘you cannot fear a river that you must cross.’
This made me realize that fear was a natural thing, that I wasn’t the first to face this thing. Everybody who faced it was probably scared; all my ancestors were probably shitting bricks at this point in their lives. I realized that we were all probably calmed by the same proverb. This gave me some relief. I also felt quite connected to my roots. I was about to break out into song and dance dressed in full African regalia with some strands of miraa behind my ears to bring out my eyes.
I was about to be the first 21 year old member of the Njuuri Ncheke. The chosen one. Ameru Harry Potter.
This African spirit however eluded me as soon as I walked into the doctor’s office. I felt my knees about to give way. The doctor smiled and shook my hand. He had a very firm grip. A shiver crept down my spine. He then walked me to an operation room which was very minimalist. A bed, a table and a lamp.
I felt like a captured Russian spy about to be tortured for secrets. We were followed in by a female nurse and my uncle.
The doctor asked me to undress. I gave my audience an awkward look and they didn’t budge. I shrugged and disrobed from the bottom down. My T-shirt soon followed and I was left with nothing but a vest. I proceeded to lie down on the bed and I saw the doctor put on white gloves and I knew the time was nigh.
I remember my right knee shaking from the fear. My uncle took my hand, looked at me, and the whole thing seemed so funny, him holding me like I’m about to give birth. Although, technically you could say I was giving birth –to a man.
I feel the sharp concentrated pain as the first syringe pierces my phallus.
I could scream, but I hold my tongue. I close my eyes and try to think of anything else but the pain. It has barely gone away when I feel the shock of yet another syringe. A single tear escapes my left eye. The third syringe feels a lot less painful, however, and after this I feel nothing. My eyes are still closed and I’m determined to keep them that way. Meanwhile I feel the weirdest sensation down there.
I hazard a quick look and I’m revolted by what I see. I feel like I should spare you the gory details of the surgical removal of my foreskin. So the doc cuts off the entire thing and shows it to me proudly like it’s game meat and then throws it into a bag provided by the nurse.
The stitching happened quickly. I sat there on that bed looking at my new penis and I could hardly believe it. The bed now had a big wet spot of blood. I was handed some napkins to wipe myself, and I did so with my ever attentive audience looking on. I remember thinking that the worst of it must surely be done now, oh how wrong I was.
I quickly put on my loose fitting pants, commando, and was walked to the car by my uncle. I didn’t have the luxury of being admitted to a hospital like most boys were. I was in that hospital for about an hour and I was home half an hour later. The journey was one I’d rather forget since my anesthesia wore off halfway through and the road was bumpy.
I was then marched into my new home while my uncle made sure that all women and uncircumcised boys were out of sight.
That was on the 17th of November 2010. I stayed in that house for a full month, eating less than savory food and being lectured by old men. Of course it made me a better man and all, and there was a party when I finally got out, during which I was given a lot of money.
But since that cold night I have lived in this little house. The watcher on the wall, the shield that guards the realms of men. Now, 7 years later I look to abandon my post with the night’s watch.
My parents and I have agreed that it is time I left. I am a man now. Therefore this is a river I must cross. If the old men taught me anything, it is that men should be independent. I need to put my laziness aside. It is time I moved out. I guess this is goodbye, castle black…