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Sunday, 31 January 2016


"Wake up, wake up for prayers children," mother hurriedly pushed us out of our beds. It was dawn and we had been woken for the morning prayers. The moon shone brightly, still beautiful moon, I thought. Marsha Allah, praise Allah creator of the universe, I came out of our beehive-shaped tent, and felt the sands of the desert on my feet, so icy. The desert was nature's irony; hot and discomforting in the day and cold as the arctic at night. I had to find a place to ease my bowels. I was a bit scared of wandering alone and getting lost in this desert. That would've been quick death due to extreme heat, thirst or some wild animal attack. But I had to go alone, I loved independence and adventure besides, my other sisters were praying. I was very strong willed. That's why father was anxious to marry me off. He was quite disappointed in me and would say, "Kai Nana a good Muslim girl should always be submissive," but I defied him at every point mainly because I got the exposure I needed. I wasn't allowed to attend the university, only an Arabic school in Tukur, a nearby village but fortnightly, some white women visited our region and I got to know that they were from America working in par with the United Nations Organization. I was curious about them. I even made friends with a girl. Her name was Lysette. She gave me lots of books and a cell phone to communicate with her from time to time, this enabled me to gain access to information that I could never gain here.

You may wonder what we are doing in a desert. We are Fulbe; the Fulanis like many know us, we are not nomadic but merely came here to carry out our tradition which I knew nothing of. My friends where quite surprised because all Fulbe girls passed through this rite after their first menses. Well I didn't, I was close to 19. I wonder why I missed. Well tonight I would be present.

I found a spot close to a little bush to ease up. I quickly dug a hole with my fingers, and squat gently over it. I was relaxed, my eyes closed as I inhaled early morning desert dust. Everywhere was quiet, so still. Two minutes later, I heard footsteps. I wanted running as I had just finished, instead I lay flat on the desert sands, the two figures passed. One clearly was a man. I couldnt see the other well as it was covered with a long garment.

I got up quickly, in a bid to return to the camp, but I changed my mind. What will two people go out of camp for? Definitely not nature's call, I crawled back slowly trying to find their location. What I heard shocked me; moans from a woman who definitely was on heat while the man begged her to lower her voice. "Kishiru mana," he will interject amidst his thrusting. They both grunted like pigs. I had to see them, who could commit this folly in the bush? "Aaaaah that was so nice. Tomorrow, same time same place," the woman said sweetly and I froze where I was standing, I could swear that was my mother's voice with a strange man. I was confused, how could mother commit this crime, knowing it is punishable by death? "I see you where not cut, I can tell why you enjoyed me," the stranger answered. My mother replied him, "when I saw the horrors unleashed upon my sisters I ran away from home and I vowed that my only daughter, Nana Pullo would not suffer such fate." I then understood what the ceremony was about; female genital mutilation, I read it in books, I saw the pictures in magazines. And I began to imagine such pain that those little girls would endure this night. I had to do something, there must be a way. "No my love let's make it tonight, during the Festival of Cutting, we would be here," the man suggested. There was something about his voice, I ignored it as I felt a sharp sting on my ankle, I quickly held down my urge to scream. The snake was fast! I had to head back to camp.

"Sanjana, get me the healing calabash," I shouted to my half sister, she rushed as she saw how my leg bled. "Bring the knife and that calf rope there." She quickly tied the rope round my angle and tore my skin open, cleaning the blood with a piece of cloth. "Where have you been, you didn't show up for prayers" Sanjana inquired, she was my closest half sibling, the rest were trouble.  I told her I went to ease myself but she was not quite satisfied, I ignored her as I had to find out who that man was.

The day broke out and we carried out our usual activities. Father and the boys had taken the cattle for pasture, we the girls just helped clean the house and milk the female cows. "Nana pullo!" Mother called out, she had discovered her healing calabash had been tampered with and she hit me, "how many times do I have to leave instructions, do not touch this calabash. It contains some poisonous herbs." I began to sob to divert her attention from my ankle. This made her feel guilty a bit, as her stern features softened. "Come child, very soon I will marry you off. You give me too much worry."

The bright and merciless yellow sun gradually receded to an orange color, the festival was about to begin, the center of the camp was marked as were the young girls would dance and be presented gifts, after which they would be led to a house for the cutting.
I shivered as I imagined such pain, two hands holding you down and a knife glistening in the dark night, cutting a woman parts into pieces. I had to do something even at the risk of banishment, then I remembered my American friend Lysette surely she could help.

The young girls had been decorated with henna designs on the feet and arms, some wore nose rings and other necklaces. It was a beautiful sight that awaited a very tragic end at the cutting. After the call, I thought of how to distract the cutting, Lysette had told me to find something to divert their attention while she journeyed from the city there. Suddenly an idea came to me, but how could I expose my mother's infidelity which could lead to her death just to protect some girls from a tradition that might fail to end? I had to make another call to Lysette to explain the situation of things. She had a good strategy one that would separate us from our family forever, mother and I would be taken to live in The United States but she would resent me all her life. I had to find another way, it was getting dark and it was time for the lovers to meet, I saw mother adjust her hijab and hurriedly walked away from the camp. "Sanjana," I called out, I forgot my shoes at that spot at the little bush could you go pick it up for me?...she hesitated but said she'd go later, I shook my head and convinced her I had no other shoe to wear for the night.
"Alright I would go with Hussain." She hurried off to find our brother Hussain, they quickly ran towards the little bush. I heaved a sigh of relief as the guilt of exposing my own mother was heavy.

The festival had begun; a big bonfire was built with hay as the smoke filled the sky. The young girls were presented with calabashes and the Fulbe dance begun. "Fulani Fulani arara be," they sang and chorused, as they wriggled their bellies while the older women made ululations, all of a sudden we heard a sharp cry. As we followed the direction of the voice, we saw Hussain grabbing Mallam Yazid, I was quite shocked as he was father's cousin. Mother was already pleading, kneeling and wailing, "woyo, dan Allah...dan Allah!" The festival of cutting definitely would not hold. "Im sorry Nana, have your shoes," Sanjana said feeling guilty, I thanked her and moved to find my phone. Where was Lysette? Young men had already lighted torches with fire to set mother ablaze for adultery before the eldest man moved to stop them till further investigation was carried out.

We all retired to our tents, silence hung over ours, as father had not uttered a word concerning mother's case, we were all asked to return back to the village, the festival of cutting would hold the coming year, but for now with my little efforts I helped prevent Female Genital Mutilation. With the help of the UN through Lysette, some of the young girls were sure to escape this ugly fate. Tonight while others sobbed for mother, I slept smiling for I had averted something worse for the girl child. I preserved their colors of happiness given to them by the rainbow.

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