Maddie Wallace, a PhD student from the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries at the University of Portsmouth, wrote a monologue for Journeys Festival International which was in support of refugee and asylum seekers that took place across Portsmouth last week.
Maddie is a first year Creative Writing and Literary Theory PhD student conducting research across the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries and the School of Area Studies, History, Politics and Literature (SASHPL) faculties. She is a mother of four and trained teacher who blogs on parenting and breast cancer, and runs a freelance writing business. She was inspired to write about Female Genital Mutilation having facilitated a teaching course for women on this difficult subject in 2017. Somalia is responsible for the third highest number of refugees globally, and according to Unicef it has a 95% rate of female genital mutilation.
I woke with something pulling at my elbow. I tried to protest at the candle flickering in my eyes. A soft hand went over my mouth. Confused, I opened my eyes.
‘Come,’ whispered my sister, Nala.
She held the candle in one hand and beckoned me up from my mat. I followed her past our mother’s sleeping form, tiptoeing around her. Mother snored, my baby brother at her breast. I knew it was wrong to wake her, or to be out of bed in the dark.
Nala led me to the door. I raised my jilbab over my head and followed her. I was eager to ask questions, but too scared to wake mother. If she caught us she would beat us with sticks.
The moon was bone bright, lighting the yard. Nala blew out the candle. She took my hand, and put a finger to her lips, instructing me not to ask my questions. She always said to me, Casho! You ask so many questions. Be quiet and sweep! Then she would let me sit with her, when mother had gone to the well, and we would talk. That was when she wasn’t crying on the mat and clutching her stomach.
We left the village and went into the trees. I trod like a cat in her footsteps, feeling the thrill of being out at night with my sister and the dread of mother catching us.
‘Sshhh!’ she said, a finger on her lips again. Her eyes caught the moonlight and I saw she was scared. Very scared. Like a goat facing the knife.
I felt my stomach go tight. I wanted to stop, but Nala kept leading me on through the trees, away from our home. After several minutes she bent down, moved leaves and branches, and underneath were two bundles. She handed one to me.
‘What is it?’ I asked. ‘What are we doing?’
She placed the other bundle on her head. ‘Come, we must hurry.’
‘No, I won’t go. Mother will beat me!’
She turned to me, dropped her bundle to the floor, and took my shoulders in her hands.
‘Listen Casho, we don’t have much time. If we go back, mother will take you to the cutter tomorrow. You’ll be like me, crying with the pain. They tie you with ropes. They cut you here’ – she put her hand between my legs and I made a gasping noise – ‘and then they sew you and leave only a small hole. They tie your legs together. It hurts. So much pain you’ll want to die. And then when you are older, and the blood comes, you’ll cry and cry in pain every time the moon is new. You’ll hate mother like I do. Please, trust me, I’m your sister. We must hurry! There’s a woman, waiting to help you. She’ll take you to England.’
I shook my head, it was so confusing. ‘Nala, no! I don’t want to go! I want to stay with you and mother! We’ll be in trouble.’
She pulled me against her and hugged me. I could feel soft breasts, like mother’s, under her jilbab.
She picked up our bundles and offered one to me. I didn’t want to take it. It all felt so wrong. I didn’t understand. But I could see her eyes in the moonlight and they spoke the truth. Why would mother do this to Nala? To me? I put my bundle on my head and followed her path through the trees, as I had always followed her. My sister.