A cut below
Some time back after a game of squash, my boy and I went back into the changing rooms of this club to take a shower and ran into an army of stark naked guys. Rugby chaps in their post-training bravado; heckling, swearing, jabbering, boisterous and self entitled, gladiators in their bags of muscles, 2% body fat and testosterone dripping down their backs. Â A âsausage-fest.â Very few guys â with exception of rugby guys â can pull off the whole walk-around-buck-naked-in-the-changing-room thing. Golfers canât even attempt it, not with their handicap.
Anyway, look, Iâm straight, but I think I may have looked. I shouldnât have, but I did. And because of this I saw a chap who was uncircumcised and I remember Stephen Spielberg shouting in my head, âCut!â
I assumed he was Luo because traditionally we donât circumcise. My forefathers felt that we needed that foreskin, perhaps to make the dong look longer and slightly more intimidating/impressive to the females. Hell, maybe luo fishermen used it to attract fish at night. Or perhaps they saw the male anatomy as a sword that had to be kept in its sheath to retain its lethality. Who am I to say?
But this worked great for everybody because the men only courted girls from the neighbouring Bomas. And those girls knew nothing but foreskin. But then things evolved; they sent their sons to schools in the city, to the university. By the way, when your son went to Uni back in the 60âs you had to say it in full: âOchieng has qualified to join the UNIVERSITY to study electrical engineering.â Now with the parallel program they just call it Uni.
Anyway, their sons got an education and settled in the city because they wanted their sons to get better opportunities. But the city wasnât anything like the village. It was a smorgasbord of diverse cultures and people. In the housing estates these guysâ sons met other sons and daughters from different parts of the country and got socialised in the different ways of life. And when they hit puberty and started chasing tail they quickly realised that actually having a foreskin was a big deal – and not in a flattering way. Suddenly it was âunpopular.â You can only imagine the cross-cultural conundrum this presented to these young Luo men.
Enter my friend who I will only call Ochang* for purposes of retaining anonymity. Ochang got circumcised last Thursday at age, wait for it, 31. (Can I have a 31-gun salute up in here?) Ochang to me is the face of how a foreskin brings out the deepest cultural peculiarities âin this ourâ Nairobi.
Like Ochang, the average Luo guy will more often that not find himself meeting a girl from the GEMA community. For every ten women this guy meets eight are from those sides of the hills. But on that side of the hills a foreskin is frowned upon.
Ochang met this Embu chic (apparently Embuans and Kikuyus are so different! But si they all love warus?) who really got to like him and him her. Drinks like this, lunches like this, dinner like this and she finds herself in his pad with Ochang rubbing his hands together like a goat buyer in Migori. Only that night nothing happened â apparently after heavy petting she opted to cuddle. (Roll eyes). The second time nothing happened. And the third. And fourth. And fifth. That story started to look like waiting for kamwana to visit Kondele. Â Â Confused, he reached out to me and asked what I thought was wrong and because I wasnât privy to his circumcision status or even thought it was the issue, I asked; âI hate to have this conversation but if we are to be honest would you say it could be because of your size?â
Anyway, he confronted her a few weeks later and she came out and said she couldnât bring herself to shag him because he wasnât circumcised. (You see why I recommend a lights-off policy?).
He was like The hell!? Yeah, she said, I just canât. Why? He moaned, will you lose your 20/20 vision if you slept with me? (OK, this part I have âaddedâ.).
Anyway, she wanted him to get circumcised or nothing would happen. He was adamant. To punish him she kept insisting on cuddling. Finally he said, fuck it, kwani! So they broke up but a month later they were back together and he thought maybe she had read The Secret and had found peace and understanding, but nothing, she was even more adamant.
âAii, lenga that mama,â I told him, âkwani she has what?â
Then he Whatsapped me a picture of her and I said, âOK, maybe you should cut it, itâs not like you need your foreskin for balance.â
âNo, she has to accept me for who I am,â he insisted.
âShe is,â I said, âwhat she is rejecting is your foreskin, boss have it snipped, it takes like 40mins, we will be having whisky even before the surgeon has removed his surgical gloves.â
She is trying to change who I am, he whined. I asked him if a foreskin was really who he was. Can you whistle with it when you are in the shower? No, really, can you whistle Coldplayâs âClocks,â with it, Ochang? A foreskin is not who you are, baba. You are more than skin and you arenât any less of a luo with or without it. But if this is about holding the torch of our forefathers then why donât you also remove six of your lower teeth while at it like they did? Heâs a stubborn guy and I honestly didnât think he would be bullied into doing it, least of all, by her.
But last Thursday he Whatsapped me from a hospital waiting room. He was going to do it, but not for her, he said. (Of course, of course.) He was nervous, like he was going to lose his appendix. I asked him what doctor was operating and he said a ka doctor Mathenge. I must have sent a scared emoticon because he quickly asked, Â âWhy, do you know him???â
No, I donât. But of course he missed the irony of it all. I think if I was going for a surgery of that nature I would prefer a muhindi doctor, not a Luhya, Meru, Kale, Kissii, Kikuyu or Embu. I wouldnât want to be in their hands. Literally. The level of judgement in that surgery would turn the colour of a litmus paper.
I told him: âDo not let him cheat you that itâs a general anaesthesia, itâs local anaesthesia, only your member should stay numb. If you feel your forehead growing numb or you are growing dizzy, scream the hell for help!â
âBecause, if that guy puts you to sleep he will be giggling throughout the operation, and taking pictures and sending to his boys. Then you will have a group of Kuyus sitting around a table at Maxland Bar saying, âAnga Mathenge ndari kiongo kiegaâŠa ndumira mbica ingi tuma tiga uhii atahiki mani, iromania akiruthia mundu..ta maka kimwana giki kina ngâoni na mundu mugima wa miaka thate!â â
âThat doesnât sound like a compliment. By the way, I hope this shit wonât affect my sex life.â
âOther than the fact that you will last longer than your customary mind-blowing, 2-mins? Naah.â
âHahaha. You are a bitch, Biko. Acha we speak laterâŠMathenge awaits with his bushuari knife.â
Hohoho! (I really thought that butchery knife part was a classic.)
The foreskin is always that elephant in the room. Itâs one of those unspoken topics. Girls from the other side of the tracks make a fuss about it and we on this side think; such a storm in a tea cup, ladies!
A luo man meets a girl and all her girlfriends wonder if he is cut and all her male pals ask if he is a kihii. She might not even have given it much thought but after a girlâs night out, someone wants to know if the jaruo is circumcised. But she doesnât know how to ask him. Or even when to ask. So they continue to go on dates. And she laughs at his jokes and bends to his suffocating charm but she wonders: Is he? Is he not? It grows harder to ask; after all, itâs not like asking someone if they like extra toppings on their pizza.
But her damned girlfriends keep prodding and egging her: âYou got to find out, honey. You have to see it!â Goodness, are we carrying a rare archaeological specimen in our pants that have to be carbon-dated before dusk? And when she confirms that indeed you are cut, the look on her face is always that look of someone who has let out a good sneeze: Relief. I wonder what happens if they find you uncut. Do they look at their watch and say, âMy, look at the time!â and then proceed to use the window to exit? Why the hell are women so quick to run away from the foreskin, it doesnât bite, ladies!…I think.
It canât be easy to get circumcised at 31. I think it takes balls. (And thatâs not a pun.) Last evening as I wrote this I called 12 of my luo friends and relatives and asked if they had faced the knife. 30 per cent said they had, a few were thinking about it, the rest were unapologetic: âBiko, this thing here is a flawless machine the way it is,â; âIf it aint broke donât fix it,â; âA bad workman quarrels with his tool,â; âItâs formidable, my friend, If you want testimonials to confirm I can offer many.â
Luo braggadocio. The usual.
Ochang is healing nicely somewhere, watching National Geographic the whole day. (But not of animals mating). I asked what the Embu chic said when she saw him cut and he said he didnât tell her he was going to do it and when she came over on Saturday night he opened the gate for her wearing only a bandage around his member. I died.
âYou see why people say we are night-runners? Because of walking all the way to the gate with no clothes! You are a true romantic!â
I canât wait to see Ochang after he has healed. Heâs a loud guy; I bet he will be throwing that fact randomly in a conversation the first few weeks. I see him at a crowded bar, his drink has taken ages and him saying, âIf Iâm circumcised and my drink is taking this long in this bar, I wonder how long uncircumcised fellows have to wait for theirs!â
Nobody writes their circumcision status in their resume. You arenât a better father because you are circumcised any more because you arenât. There are circumcised men who make less money than uncircumcised men and vice versa. Are circumcised men better lovers than those that arenât? Well, all men are better lovers in their heads, period. At the end of the day every man choses where he wants to stand and then reconciles with that choice.
But should you choose to cut you will definitely be cleaner for it. You will be much safer for it. And you might be lighter for it by about 0.35grams. But if this is all bollocks then you can also keep your foreskin, thatâs all right, wuodâ ma because at the end of the day nobody has the right to stand between a man and his foreskin. At least not another man.
Ps. This was a very special tribute to my friend Ochang. You did a brave thing, no matter your âheadyâ reasons for doing it. Good tidings and quick recovery, baba. A bottle of Johnnie awaits when you get back on your, uhm, feet.
Side note: And, ka ichango, or ikuo (as you guys say in Ugenya), make sure ni ichul all those days nyar Embuâ no noâketi gi cuddling ka gima ine pyjama party.