Shellac whispers

Yesterday I had a pedicure, a very good pedicure.  And I learned a lot: where to shop: for fabric, meat, groceries, the best fruit and veg stalls.  That what I paid on Tanjeh beach for a large red snapper, fresh off the fishing pirogue, was a good price; I was surprised! That it is OK to respond to ‘toubab‘: Wolof for ‘white’; with ‘netku-nuel‘ – black person.  Of the deep problems persuading female elders to stop FGM, despite the President’s Monday night announcement of the prohibition of FGM in The Gambia.  How different tribes practice FGM differently; the Fula, the traditional farming tribe, sewing up their young women to be cut open on their wedding night.  Of the celebrations and cheers for the fearless, tireless, once vilified, now vindicated, FGM campaigners. And of whispered conversations – because walls have ears.  How, that if there had been someone unknown in the salon, we would not have enjoyed such easy chatter.

Yesterday I heard a sad story about why our Saturday trip south to celebrate a community new business project has been cancelled: there have been disturbances over protecting the environment from sand mining; arrests and imprisonment.

Yesterday we met a Brit who has lived most of his life in Africa as a mercenary, now a ‘security consultant’ who would not state why he was in The Gambia. Possibly a bullet-scarred Walter Mitty, but I think not.

Yesterday the electrician was detained by paramilitary police on his way to fix the restaurant lighting.

Yesterday I was told to be careful about what I blog – a frisson of fear ran up my spine; an unusual feeling for me – a woman who considers herself ‘brave’, except around reptiles, and rarely thinks about issues of personal safety.

Last night I slept uneasily: more to do with re-calibrating my understanding of myself than anything else.  As a teenager I dreamed of being a heroine; thinking I could have been an Odette if born a generation earlier – even parachuting to see if I had the ‘cojones’!

This morning I realise how easy it is for me to be ‘brave’ in Britain: to find the courage to tell my truth.  Blessings upon blessings to every journalist, blogger, and person who posts on social media at considerable risk to themselves in order to speak their truth in less liberal countries.


Ladies who lunch.

Today I was invited to lunch, a ‘ladies lunch’; normally this would not be ‘my thing’, but I knew the topic was a little different from what I consider the usual: bitching and moaning about husbands/men; it was FGM.

Mandy, chef proprietor of an art cafe that Chris and I haunt regularly for its cool vibe, air con and ginger cooler, had invited me to join her and Bomzy, who works at the US Embassy.  It was a lunch of good food, great company and mind-blowing conversation.

FGM in The Gambia was a ‘right of passage: both adolescent males and females were circumcised in a ritual as part of their transition into adulthood.  Some speculate that this was a remnant of an Ancient Egyptian or Nubian practice where the clitoris was considered male and needed to be excised from the female body.  In later times, religion has been cited as the raison d’etre; in Sierra Leone it is a Christian tribe who promulgate it; in The Gambia some use Islam to justify the practice whilst other Imams say there is no such instruction in the Qu’ran or Hadiz and that the prophet’s daughter was never cut.

According to doctors, 80% of women in The Gambia have undergone FGM, a practice on women BY women.  Increasingly men are speaking out against the practice – it is not something they want for their wives or daughters.  Indeed an Imam at a recent conference on the subject spoke with tears streaming down his face about how his precious daughter was cut against his wishes when he was travelling out of the country. Nowadays, young couples who do not wish to have their daughters mutilated have to keep a watchful eye on their babies and toddlers against an auntie or grandmother secreting the child away: for no other reason than custom.

Women seldom talk about FGM; of their pain, sickness, side effects and least of all – their frustrated sexual passions.  Infidelity in marriage by women is common; promiscuity rife, with high levels of STIs; there is speculation that this could be women desperately seeking the satisfaction they crave through trying yet another partner; unwilling to accept that this is denied them surgically.

In a society with tremendous social capital, where family and neighbours support each other, malodorous older women are tragically outcast.