In between three meetings yesterday, I decided to drop off two films on female genital cutting to IWS yesterday, films I had borrowed to show my women in Islam class.  One of them is set in my native Kenya, and the clip that bothers me is when a tribal elder stands up and talks about how fgc is part of native custom and must be retained as a form of identity of being Gikuyu.  And then there are older women instructing younger women in Gikuyu culture, and fgc is clearly an expectation, even though the young women/girls are ostensibly given a choice.  The tyranny of tradition! It is what gives us an identity, a sense of rootedness, of belonging, of “my tribe” so to speak, my people, my customs, the ways in which “we” think, and how “we” do things.  As one so cut off from my own community, and so filled with loneliness sometimes, when I have no one with whom to speak my native languages, signal and receive all those minute bodily gestures, I appreciate the sense of belonging and community I once had, the long leaving of which began when I left Calgary for McGill. Now it is like going to church only at Easter or Christmas, this dipping back into community life when I visit home.  So yes, I understand tradition, and our way of being, but fgc, no matter how hard I try to teach through it in class, to me it is still a fundamental act of violence and attempt to curb and contain female sexuality.  The merit of both films is that they show a plucky young girl who is helped to take her case to court so that young girls don’t have to undergo the procedure if they wish not to (and how does one truly give a young girl a choice?); a health worker from within the community who tries sensitively to educate; men and women who talk about the procedure and what its physiological, emotional, and mental effects can be.

So I returned the films, and as I was crossing the deserted at this time of year courtyard in front of the Motley, I caught a splendid, delicate burst of color in the courtyard fountain.  I’m not sure what it is called out here, but I know it as a lotus flower.  The lotus–pankaj–is significant to me and many others, as that which has its feet (roots) in the mud and reaches out to the sky, an analogy found in Sanskrit texts for humans who are also rooted in clay and yet reach for the sun.

So I pulled out my iphone with its camera function, and positioned myself to take a picture of this ethereal burst of yellow amidst green, and had just finished taking my picture when this woman, who looked like she would always have a pound cake and a good cup of tea at the ready for anyone who happened to drop in, and who also appeared just out of nowhere, asked me if I worked there.  Thinking she might be looking for something, I said I didn’t work at Scripps, but did at the Colleges, and could I help her with anything?  She pulled out an officious voice and told me that taking pictures was not allowed for reasons of insurance and liability.  All I could muster to say was what a lovely flower that was and I was just taking a picture for my own personal enjoyment.  She muttered something and strode off.

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