February 13th, 2006 10:06 EST
Allie's Big Sister... ( female genital mutilation )
Jennifer knew the truth almost before her mother finished speaking.
“Oh, Allie went with your gran”, Rose Ngugi said.
Jennifer’s heart went cold with dread. All she could think in her heart was that her sister was now in danger. How could they do this to little Allie?
Rose fixed Jennifer with a look that warned her to stay out of the matter. Jennifer knew that her mother would never listen to her pleas. She left the kitchen and went to the living room where her father sat watching TV, as if the most horrible thing was not about to happen to his daughter.
Jennifer wondered what had happened this time. Was it the same thing that had happened to her five years ago? Jenny was convinced that both her parents had been aware of what was to happen when her grandmother had taken her away back then. She had never been able to forgive them for the pain and suffering she had endured since then.
With silent revulsion, Jenny walked to her room. As she packed a few things into her backpack, she wondered at the primitiveness of the tradition. Both of Jenny’s parents were educated to a reasonable degree. Yet they gave in to the pressure of a small group of a clan that had once upheld the tradition in times now ancient.
In the living room, Anthony Ngugi sat in silence, staring at the TV and not seeing a thing on the screen. His daughter hated him. If only she knew…
Jennifer was young, only seventeen. She was small in size, which had made it easier for them five years ago. Since then, Jennifer had grown. She was still small for her age. But what she lacked in size she more than made up for in courage and intelligence.
Anthony knew that Jenny would try to rescue her little sister. But they had foreseen that, too. He could almost swear that the look on his wife’s face was smug as their daughter emerged from her room dressed up to go out with her bag.
“Where are you going?”, her mother asked sweetly.
Jenny’s look was one of hatred, but she managed to smile back with acid sweetness, “I told you I would be staying with friends this weekend.”
“Oh, yes you did.” Rose had stopped asking her daughter for details about her whereabouts a long time past. The antagonism between them just would not allow friendly communication.
As the door closed in the wake of their daughter’s exit, Rose let out a low laugh. “She is just like you, Tony.”
And he thought ‘I hope to God that she is not a coward like I am.’
Jenny was not a coward. But she was not a fool either. She knew she was hopelessly outnumbered in this one. Mother and grandmother were not alone in this one. They had the support of an entire branch of a Kikuyu clan.
Most of the Kikuyu had discarded the more primitive and harmful traditions. But some mini-clans within the Kikuyu still held on to the traditions they chose to keep. Jenny didn’t understand why they threw away the really good traditions and kept one that only resulted in untold suffering to such young children.
At the bus stop, Jenny considered her options. They were limited, mainly because she didn’t even know where her sister was and she was sure grandmother would have been careful this time.
It was five O’clock in the evening. Jenny had been taken away on the same day. Jenny realized that she had less than twelve hours to find her sister. Early the next morning it would be all over for little Allie if her sister couldn’t get to her.
Jenny knew that she could call the police. They would probably go to question her parents for information. That would warn grandmother. She would probably find a way to hide, and then the police couldn’t rescue Allie.
It might work out though, Jenny thought, but would the cops get to Allie in time?
Jenny thought she could try and find out Allie’s whereabouts then perhaps try and get help from one of her teachers who was very involved in advocating children’s rights.
A public minivan stopped at the bus stop. From the sign at the front, Jenny could tell it was headed in the direction of the village where her grandmother lived. Jenny hesitated but then realized that she needed a point to start at. She was glad that today she had made a few shillings plaiting hair in the housing estate they lived in. That meant she ad the traveling fare and a little extra.
So she boarded the van. All through the ride, Jenny prayed hard. She was not very religious but for some reason she knew she would need God’s intervention and she asked for it with terrified humility.
As she alighted at the village stop, Jenny wondered what she would do next. A thread of fear laced her heart. As she turned to take the dusty path to her grandparents’ house, Jenny felt as if a star had twinkled upon her. She prayed that it was part of God’s answer to her prayers.
There not very far from her stood her grandmother. And in tow, a trusting unsuspecting little Allie. They were probably taking her to the excision site now, to join the other young unsuspecting victims.
Jenny ducked behind a kiosk as her grandmother and sister walked towards her. Grandmother was busy talking to a woman who was wearing a shawl over her head. Jenny was so busy trying to figure out a way to get her little sister away from her grandmother that she almost didn’t notice who the woman was.
They were right next to her, when Jenny heard the familiar voice and she froze in complete horror as the woman said in rapid Kikuyu.
“I have to do everything I can to earn money, mother. But I will never abandon our customs. This custom represents a rite of passage. For a child to become truly feminine. A true woman. It is shameful for a woman to be uncircumcised.”
It was ultimate betrayal for Jennifer. She moved with lightning speed and grabbed her little sister, crossing the road before any of the women could react and jumping into the nearest minivan.
As the van pulled away, Jenny saw her grandmother and the children’s rights activist running after them.
And Allie held on to Jenny in confusion.
Jenny felt tears sting her eyes.
Allie would be safe, somehow.
She hadn’t clearly formulated what she would do when she first set out to look for her little sister. But now sitting in the mini-van she considered the options she had. She was very untrusting of the police. She knew things had changed in the police ranks since the days of open corruption and police brutality, but she couldn’t risk something going wrong and her little sister ending up in their parents’ hands again.
All along at the back of her mind she had been thinking of a girls' shelter that had been in media reports recently. The woman who had established and now ran the shelter had recently won a humanitarian award for her work in protecting girls from female genital mutilation and early marriage.
There was only one problem. Allie and Jenny lived miles and miles away from the shelter, which was situated deep in the Kajiado district of maasailand. Jenny had visited the shelter once on a school trip. She knew just how far it was. But at this point she would travel a thousand miles to protect her baby sister.
Mentally, Jenny calculated the money she had and realized that it was just enough to get her and little Allie to the main town nearest to the shelter. With resolve, she made her decision then.
Allie was obviously perturbed by the goings on and her older sister’s obvious distress. Jenny sighed softly, hugging her sister close.
“I’ll explain later.” And she did explain while waiting in line at the bus terminus for buses going to Kajiado. Allie listened with wide-eyed horror as Jenny tried to explain what had been about to her in the kindest terms possible.
“You won’t let them hurt me, will you?”, Allie asked in hushed tones. Jenny’s eyes filled with tears at the trusting expression in her sister’s eyes.
“I’ll die before I let them”, Jenny announced, determination flashing in her eyes.
Deborah saw the same expression in the older girl’s face when she finally arrived at the shelter in the dead of the night, carrying her exhausted and fast asleep 11 year old sister on her back. Two hours later after hearing the girls' story, helping them wash up, feeding them and putting them to sleep in her own private quarters, Deborah sat down with tears in her eyes and looked heavenward in silent prayer.
As she went back to her own bed, Deborah thanked God for girls and women with Jenny’s strength and courage. The world surely needed them. Allie sure had needed her big sister.