no pleasure for women in a land of genital mutilation

coffee monument in JimmaThis week has been amazing. I mean really. I feel so fortunate to be having this experience. And while I get frustrated some days because of the hours that the electricity and water are off, and that I haven’t had a hot shower in many days, and that there are undoubtedly cockroaches scurrying over me at night, I feel like I am doing so much good here.

The students are becoming more comfortable with me, so I’ve been able to joke around in class and have conversations with some of them outside of class. They are eager to learn and often reference my “vast experience,” when in reality most of them are just a few years younger than me. But it makes me remember how fortunate I am for my education and work experiences, and travel experience as well. A majority of the world will never have the opportunities I have, unfortunately. These students are the best of the best in Ethiopia, but many of them are just scraping by enough money to survive day to day while they study. The thinness of some of them shows this. So I feel good about the fact that I can help them pushing my bajaj out of the mudwith little things while I am here—giving comments on an interview guide, editing a proposal, sitting in on a master’s defense and offering comments. I do this with the faculty as well. Many of them, although they have been working for many years, still do not have the skill level that researchers in the developed world might have, although they are eager to learn. On Friday I invited one of my co-instructors to give a lecture in our course, even though his job is really just to observe and learn from me this time. He did really, really well, and he was beaming when I told him so.

I’ve also managed to meet all 6 Tanzanians living in this town. My researcher in Dar put me in contact with 2 of them, and they have warmly welcomed me into their homes, which is the Tanzanian way. Earlier this week they invited me for a Tanzanian dinner of ugali (stiff porridge) and meat, and last night I went to the house of another to water soccer, drink beer, and chew khat. Today 2 of them took me to church.

The church service was such a unique experience. I have been to services in South Africa and Fiji, but it never gets old seeing worship in other cultures. It was a Pentecostal church with a dirt floor and a wooden stage. When we walked in, we were quickly ushered into the front row, where there was a tall thin man in a navy suit name Isaiah that was assigned to be my translator.

For parts of the service the large congregation stood and danced, clapping and yelling and cheering and throwing their hands in the air as they praised Jesus. The pastor was on stage in a very sharp black suit, yelling into a microphone and dancing. Behind him was the choir of women in white shirts and black skirts and a few men in slacks and button down shirts. They were all singing and dancing in unison. Just next to the stage were three young men, 1 of which was playing a keyboard, the other 2 were controlling a sound system. All were dancing as well. Even small children were dancing in front of their chairs or wooden pews.

As the pastor interpreted the scripture, Isaiah would find the verses for me in his English bible and translate what the pastor was saying. Everyone would furiously write down the passage numbers so that they could reference them later, I suppose. My Tanzanian friends, although they know a little Amharic, were also struggling at times to follow. They danced and clapped as well, and I couldn’t help but join in.

After the service, I was introduced to Isaiah’s wife and baby, and then the pastor. He put his hands on my head and gave me an extra blessing and invited me to come back. It was all very sweet. I could feel eyes on me during the entire service, but it was worth it.

This afternoon I went with one of the Ethiopians to Lina’s International Hotel (not sure what makes it international, as I was the only foreigner around), whose restaurant has the best pizza in Jimma (which isn’t saying much, but it did have tomato sauce and cheese…more than I can say for other places I’ve been). It took over an hour to get my pizza, as the electricity went out in the middle of its preparation. But my friend shared his injera and tibs (meat cooked in an oily sauce), which was fortunate since I was absolutely starving. He would use the injera to wrap up the meat and feed me with his hands, which is the tradition here among friends. Injera, while delicious, just doesn’t cut it for me. I’ve been trying to get as much protein as I can, but because meat is expensive to prepare, most of my dishes are vegetarian.

Towards the end of our meal it started to downpour, and I knew it was going to be an issue. The hotel is down a dirt road that was already muddy when we arrived, and the rain made it impassable. People were sloshing through the thick mud, but there was no way I was going to get through it without taking off my shoes or falling on my ass. We called a bajaj, but he got halfway down the road before getting stuck. We managed to walk slowly to him as people from the neighborhood stood and watched me slip and squeal and laugh. I must have looked ridiculous. When we finally reached the bajaj, my friend and the driver had to push the thing out of the mud. Luckily we both came away from the whole thing with just mud-covered shoes. I’m not sure how the hotel does any business during the rainy season.

Tonight I went back to the Tanzanians’ house. The women served pilau and vegetables and bananas. I was thoroughly stuffed. They teased each other as Tanzanians like to do and laughed a lot, making me feel at ease. We talked about the lack of clean water and sanitation in Ethiopia, access to good food other than injera, and the sexual behavior of Ethiopians. Many women here undergo female circumcision or female genital mutilation (FGM), and so sexual pleasure is often nonexistent. Some men complain of an unfulfilling sexual life as a result, especially those who have watched porn and see the potential for women’s sexual pleasure.

According to the 2005 Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey, about 74% of Ethiopian girls and women have been exposed to FGM (female genital mutilation). The most common form is Type I–clitoridectomy (partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or prepuce), and most of the other girls and women have experienced Type II–excision (partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora).

I ended up explaining the differences between the different forms to the Tanzanians…a couple of the men have experience with Ethiopian women but found it disappointing because of women’s passivity and lack of a clitoris. But who can blame the women? If you remove a girl’s sexual pleasure organs before she even knows what sexual pleasure is, how can you expect anything but a lack of enthusiasm for sex? It’s nauseating, really, to think about the whole situation. Luckily I have met several men who do not condone it and are hoping that a generation of uncircumcised women is on the close horizon. It’s also nice to hear men from traditionally patriarchal societies talk about wanting their women to experience sexual pleasure and the desire to be good lovers themselves. But I know that these ideas are not ones held by a majority of men.

I really want to find out more about the whole issue, but at the same time I am almost hesitant to ask because I know it will disgust me. But it’s interesting to hear about it from the male perspective, as most of what I have read is the experience of females. I will be doing some research on it for a post on www.ScienceofRelationships.com, where I am a staff writer, so stay tuned for that if interested.

In the meantime, writing this leaves a pit in my stomach.

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