Monday, July 18, 2005

A "Slice" of Life

Sunday 17 July, 2005-07-18: Desa Kadju

What can I say? I just came back from a “cutting-edge” experience. I was invited to a ritual circumcision… and hey, how often do you get an invitation like that… especially when they tell me a hundred kids are all simultaneously going under the knife!?! Unlike in the US, Indonesians do not circumcise babies, but wait until the boy is twelve years old. This is a sort of “coming-of-age” event. The Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) is a local NGO which has always performed circumcisions as a service. I have worked with several of their staff over the course of the summer and they invited me to come along when they did some circumcisions at one of the displaced people camps.

We traveled to the village of Kadju. I had been there before doing assessments for our Cash-for-Work program and recognized the village elders. The camp was waiting for us. All their homes were destroyed and they live in wooden long-houses that are up on stilts. The have a public building which can also double as a mosque called a Meunassah. It was there where the fun begins. The village had told PMI that approximately 100 boys would “go under the knife.” When we showed up, there were only thirty. In the middle of the Meunassah, they had erected a makeshift operating room (a few old sheets hung on clothesline) and set up tables in the room. There were six teams that set up.

In some parts of Indonesia, this is quite a ceremony. The entire family dresses in traditional clothing and the boy wears a sarong and special hat that will also be worn on his wedding day. Rich families actually distribute professionally printed invitation cards very reminiscent of wedding invites. Here in the camps, most people have lost everything, but the village leaders tried to instill as much pomp as possible. This is the most important religious event in a boy’s life… quite similar to a Catholic First Communion or a protestant confirmation. There were leaders from Banda Aceh and the District Mayor as well as the subdistrict mayor. They each took turns extolling the virtues of Islam and how this was a stepping stone towards manhood. Five boys were then selected to go before the leaders. They were then symbolically blessed by various village leaders (including women). They had rice thrown on them, then they were fed a saffron rice for strength and were anointed with water for purity. One of the boys recited verses from the Koran and then the imam lead the group in joint-prayer… then the fun begin.

The five boys who participated in the ceremony also got to go first (along with another boy). They all went without fear into the enclosure. Each got undressed and lay on the tables (head to head). Tears didn’t come until they saw the needles of lidocaine. Some boys tried to get up (but were held down) while others stoically accepted their fate. One boy (boy in pink shirt in pic) never uttered a word. He clenched his teeth and tears welled in his eyes, but not one peep ever emerged from his mouth.

The surgeries went quite fast, but they were more invasive than I thought they would be. US circumcisions are usually performed without benefit of anesthesia but here they inject the base and head of the penis with several lidocaine shots. In the US our baby circumcisions are also almost bloodless. That was not the case here. I don’t know if it was because the foreskin was larger or if they did not clamp as long, but several kids had to be sewed up because of heavy bleeding.

All in all, the day was a success… but we did have one problem. The children disappeared. As I mentioned before, when we came to the village we had been told there would be one hundred boys. Seventy didn’t show up… that gave us thirty. These thirty sat through the ceremony, but when the first cries were heard from behind the sheets… several boys SHOT out of the meunassah and literally hid from their parents. Fifteen boys hid so effectively so that we had to leave before they ever showed up. We were closing up shop and just as we were getting ready to leave, three sets of parents arrived with boys in tow. After some quick preparations, these boys also underwent the knife.

I must say, the PMI did a great job. The circumcisions were performed by either doctors or paramedics. There was one paramedic, (The Circumcision-Meister) who could complete the operation with less blood in half the time of all the doctors. They asked me if I wanted to perform a circumcision myself or just take a snip… I declined. Definitely a good day… but I’m never going to look at fried calamari the same way again!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

How shocking! How can aide workers justify doing genital mutilation on unconsenting minors? If there were girls participating in the ceremony, somehow I doubt that aide workers would be assisting on their circumcisions.

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