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February 25th 2009, 18:00
Back at Jane’s, we sat down for a soda and a chat with Bill (but not before I’d gone to the bathroom and doused my face liberally with Dettol, there not being enough ice cream). When, in his first email to me back in London, Bill had said, “My culture is circumcision and I hope you will enjoy it,” we’d assumed there had been some sort of communication breakdown. But as we sat with him in the sitting room while he told us about his culture and traditions, we realised there hadn’t. Circumcision, he told us, is performed publicly at the age of 14-16 years old in front of a crowd of thousands of people and is only performed in even numbered years. The procedure itself takes seconds, but the pain lasts for up to a month. It’s the single most important ceremony in his tribe (he is Kikuyu, from Uganda) and they believe that a man that has not been circumcised, and not experienced the pain involved, is not a real man. Even I had crossed my legs by this point, and I didn’t dare check the look on Alex’s face.
The conversation took an even more uncomfortable turn when he told us that he believed that circumcision reduced the chances of spreading AIDS therefore they didn't need to wear condoms. We were filled with incredulous refutations. But it dawned on me that to suggest he was wrong might seem as unbelievable to him as what he was saying to us. All I could say was, “we believe that as long as there’s even the slimmest of chances of passing anything unwanted, you should always wear protection.” At which Jane came in with glasses of water and Alex and I raced to come up with a new topic of conversation.
I have since read that circumcision DOES reduce the chances of passing on the virus. Not that that's going to wash as an excuse not to wear one with me.