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By Yimaj Baharun April 15, 2021

Number 91

In 2013, when I was nine years old, my mother and I went to Ethiopia, where my parents grew up. I was under the assumption that my mother and I were simply going to visit family, but it was not to be so.

One morning, after three or four days there, I was woken up by some clattering. When I sat up, tired and confused, I was blinded out of the blue by somebody behind me, tightly wrapping my eyes with a cloth. Without having any idea what was going on, I was naturally scared, screaming at the top of my lungs to let the world know it. I was picked up and walked out of the house, but I heard my mother’s reassuring voice telling me not to worry, so I was somewhat calmed but nevertheless bewildered.

I was cramped up in the trunk of a pickup truck with what I found out through some casual conversing were a few other boys just like me. With us in the trunk was another man who kept us from taking off our blindfolds. I found that the other boys were all just as bewildered as me. A few were from Switzerland, a few were from the U.S, two were from Australia, and then there was myself. We were in the truck for a good hour before we finally reached a destination.

When I was finally permitted to take my blindfold off, I saw a row of four huts and a large field in front of me, surrounded by a forest with no end in sight around me. We were in the middle of nowhere. Another pickup truck with some more kids was also there. We left the pickup truck and were told to strip naked by some adults who were already at the field. The pickup truck driver, who turned out to be my uncle, looked at me upon leaving the truck and nodded. In innocent confusion, all of us boys did as told. We lined up side by side in the field. Now, a man came with a branch with some leaves on it, which he tapped on all of our heads and shoulders. I later found out that this was intended to have some sort of anesthetic effect, which I most certainly did not feel. Then came a man with a funny-looking hat. On his waist was a belt carrying a sheath for a traditional dagger, and once pulled out, the dagger had two blades. I now realized what was going on, but part of me didn't want to accept this as a reality. It seemed so gruesome. We were getting circumcised.

The first kid in line grew up in Ethiopia and allowed everything to happen without a fuss. The man bent down to allow his foreskin (and everything between) to get between the two sharp blades of the dagger. The foreskin was slit and flung away thereafter. I came second. As soon as the man bent down to get me, I turned to run as swiftly as my feet could carry me. As soon as I had turned, two men, one being my uncle, came from behind, seemingly out of thin air, and grabbed me by my arms and held me up. I kicked my legs as vigorously as I could to get everyone away from me, but my guess is they were too experienced, and it was to no avail. I was circumcised.

We all subsequently went into one of the huts, where we lay for a while. We were bandaged and given sarongs. My uncle congratulated me on my purported new achievement of manhood. On the way back to Addis Ababa, I was still forced to ride in the trunk, and the bumpiness of the barely paved roads made for a bumpy ride which stung me badly on the operated area at every bump. The bandage had to come off once I showered, and I never got any bandage thereafter.

I don’t know what happened to that sarong, as I never wore it again. Instead, for the next ten days, I wore an XXL Chicago Bulls pinstripe jersey from the 1995-96 season. Number 91, Dennis Rodman. I wore nothing else, least of all underwear, which I missed very much. As a result, I could never leave the house much. I stayed at my great-aunt’s house, getting very pampered. When I did leave the house, it would be for a quick walk around the compound, which I didn’t enjoy because Raju, a distant cousin of mine, would lift the jersey to expose me. In my sleep, if my legs closed, it would wake me up immediately due to the unbearable stinging, as between my legs was essentially raw flesh. To combat this, I was given lots of khat, which didn’t really alleviate the pain as much mentally distract me from it.

When I returned to Edmonton, where I lived until 2015, my father was happy, and congratulated me. He told me of his own experience of the ceremony when he was my age, and it was quite similar to mine. The ceremony didn’t make me feel any more manly, and I don’t think I’ll send my own sons to go through the same experience. However, I do see one positive outcome from the whole ordeal.

It makes for a great story to tell.

The photograph entitled “Long Way to Go” by Wajahat Mahmood is licensed under CC BY 2.0

About the author

Hailing from Edmonton, Alberta, Yimaj Baharun is a first-year student in North-South Studies. His love for all genres of history, perhaps coupled with a history of writers in his own family, has led to a passion for writing and storytelling.

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