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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Africa (03/05/09)

TITLE: Rite of Passage
By Catrina Bradley


The following article contains material that may be offensive to some readers. Please proceed with caution and discernment.


The searing pain tearing away the core of my body is just a memory now. Pain where I had previously experimented with pleasure. Pain beyond anything I could have imagined. I had expected great pain of course; I have taken part in many ceremonies and witnessed many of my friends from the buulo being made into women. I was excited and proud that my time had finally come. Father had chosen a mate for me, so we could delay no longer.

I promised myself I would brave, but to my shame I remember trembling in fear and then screaming when the dhaliye’s knife bit into me. I am glad for the strong arms of the women who held me down or I may have caused the dhaliye’s knife to cut too deeply. I am glad my friends were there to sing and pray over me.

I must have passed out during the cutting. The next thing I remember is the panic when I awoke and thought I was paralyzed. Crying out to mamma. Mamma rushing to my bedside to comfort and reassure me. Reminding me that it was just the bindings tying my legs together so I would heal completely.

I remember her sad, pitying eyes not daring to look into my own eyes, belying her gentle words that reminded me of the benefits of the procedure. How I would be more desirable to my future husband this way. How it is the way of the Somali. How she herself had been improved in the same way. How all honorable women are improved this way. Of course I knew all of these things. I wonder if Mamma was reminding herself more than me.

I remember my friend Fatima visiting and whispering warnings to me. How when her husband sought marital favors from her, she cried out in pain when he forced his manhood through the new barriers to her body. How she tore and bled. I kept her confession a secret from Mamma. I was afraid Fatima would not be allowed to visit me anymore.

My bindings have long been removed and the scabs have turned to scars. I am free to go about the buulo, but I am afraid to run anymore. I am afraid I will undo the dhaliye’s work. But that is as it should be. I am a woman now. Women do not run and play. Women take care of husbands and have children.

When I touch myself there now, it is like touching my plastic dolly between her legs. When I touch myself there now, I do not feel pleasure anymore. It is like touching my knee or my arm. I guess this is what a woman is supposed to feel. My woman’s body is much different there than my girl’s body was. I cannot imagine a man would prefer this to the warm, supple, softness of my girlhood. Being a woman, I guess I do not know what a man would want.

I have been inspected, and my future husband is assured that I am still intact, still a virgin. He has agreed to pay my father my brideprice. Tomorrow, I will meet Kanaan.


buulo - village
dhaliye - midwife


Author’s note: Female castration has been practiced for centuries in Africa, and currently occurs in an estimated 28 African countries. The estimated proportion of African women who have undergone female circumcision varies from 5% of women in Uganda, to 98% in Djibouti and Somalia. In recent years, laws have been passed in many of these countries banning the practice, but no arrests have been made. While this custom may seem repugnant to those of western cultures, it is widely accepted as the norm in the regions where it is practiced.


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Lynda Schultz 03/12/09
The depth to your MC is a tribute to your excellent writing skills. It was as though you had gone through this terrible ritual yourself. Well done.
Sonya Leigh03/13/09
Oh, I am repulsed and thrilled at the same time. Thrilled, because I want to thank you heartily for writing on this horrible practice (no matter how accepted it may be).

I saw it live on Sixty Minutes, years ago, and I was truly traumatized by it. Is there no limit to the selfish imagination of mankind, I wonder? Very well and bravely written.
Gregory Kane03/13/09
I think the foreword was very appropriate in view of the very intimate material presented.
Yet excellent writing. Is it my imagination or are stories on Africa darker and more brutal than for those of other parts of the world?
I thank God that in this part of Africa where we live and work, female cicrumcision is not practised. Yet we have our fair share of other horrors.
Well done - although somehow that doesn't quite seem the right expression!
Sheri Gordon03/13/09
Wow...excellent writing. Your MC's voice was so real. I have heard of this ritual previously, but your writing really brought it to life.
Mona Purvis03/14/09
Heavy, difficult and necessary writing. I thought about this topic, but could not handle it. Superbly done. Thank you, i know it was heart-rending.
Verna Cole Mitchell 03/14/09
You presented a clear view of how this abhorrent practice is considered normal in Africa. Though very, very sad, your story is well written.
Joanne Sher 03/16/09
Oh my. SO disturbing, but incredibly written. Made my stomach turn, but made me ache for these women. Masterful.
Chely Roach03/16/09
This was appropriately heart wrenching and disturbing. I am proud of you for finding a prudent way to approach this subject, and I pray it opens the eyes of those who are unaware of this ritual or its widespread practice. Very well written!
Karlene Jacobsen03/16/09
Honestly? I never knew women could be castrated. That is disturbing in itself. The horror and the pain that must be involved ripped through my being.

You were right in saying this is not for the squeamish. I don't consider myself so, but was shaken by this.

Thank you for your masterful, sensitive approach to this matter.
Pamela Kliewer03/16/09
Oh, this has leaves me with tears in my eyes and my stomach roiling. You did an excellent job writing this... my heart aches for women that have had to go through this and still do... stealing something so precious, created by the God of the universe...
Connie Dixon03/16/09
I've heard of this horrendous mutilation but I can't imagine it having any positive purpose. Good job in tackling a difficult subject.
Norma-Anne Hough03/17/09
You were very brave to tackle such an intimate subject. Well done on something so sad and awful.
Gerald Shuler 03/17/09
You have done a great job with this subject. It was written with a true compassion for the women who must endure this horrid mutilation.

The only very minor red ink I could offer is that nearly every paragraph starts with "I". VERY minor compared to the power you have put in this entry. In fact, I'll probably receive more negative comments about how minor that is than you will get for your wonderful writing.

Well done.
Ruth Ann Moore03/17/09
Incredible writing. I was left feeling very sad and frightened for those women. I'm sure your story will stay with me for a long time.
Jan Ackerson 03/17/09
Outstanding writing, and heartbreaking, and still you made me care deeply for this dear woman.
Suzanne R03/18/09
Wise to have that warning!

Everyone else has said it all ... eye opening, sobering, thought-provoking ... well done.

You said on the hints page that you wanted constructive criticism so I offer this thought simply as a thought - don't know if it is right or not. Most (not quite all) paragraphs begin with 'I', which makes sense because the MC is telling her own story. I wonder, though, if it could be improved yet further but just using 'It was...' or something sometime.

Like I said, this isn't a real criticism ... just a thought because you asked for it to be read with a critical eye and feedback given. Truly, you've tackled a very difficult subject and done it well - good on you.
Christina Banks 03/18/09
I had heard of this horrible practice, but you really brought it to life. I was shaken and reminded again to pray. Thank you for this powerful story! Well done!!!
Benjamin Graber03/18/09
This is so sad! It is horrible that some societies in Africa still practice this.
This is very well written - great job presenting it in a way that is real, but not more graphic than it needs to be...
Joy Faire Stewart03/18/09
I'm in awe of your writing skill! To handle such a difficult, heartbreaking subject with sensitivity is truly a gift. This story will remain with me for sometime.
Diana Dart 03/18/09
Well done Cat, excellent handling of a difficult topic. Very clipped, almost clinical writing.
Eliza Evans 03/18/09
Very brave, bold writing. Fantastic in fact. Really well done about a really barbaric practice.:(

My red ink would be for the second last paragraph. Plastic doll - would she have a plastic doll? With her being from a rural tribal-type village this word stuck out.

Would she have a doll at all? I wouldn't think so at marrying age. I could be wrong.

I stumbled over "I cannot imagine a man would prefer this to the the warm, supple, softness of my girlhood." which I did not think was in keeping with her 'young girl' voice.

I was confused as to how old she is.

She is getting married.. (Well that can be as young as 12.) She has a dolly. She talks about the suppleness of her girlhood. They don't all fit together into the same voice in my mind.

That's just my opinion.

Maybe it would have been good to say outright how old she is "I am in my fifteenth year .." or whatever.

Also, would the correct term not be "circumcision" instead of castration? Castration means to render impotent / unable to reproduce.

Rite of Passage is a very good title.

Love your writing. :)
Loren T. Lowery03/18/09
Difficult to read, but powerful in its delivery. Very few could have handled this subject as well as you have. It informs with an empathetic, almost clinical voice without being needlessly provocative.
Henry Clemmons03/18/09
I love a well researched piece that is presented with the same passion as it was researched with. Bold enough to keep my interest and well written enough to impress my senses.
Joanney Uthe03/18/09
Wow, that was powerful writing. What an awful ordeal to have to go through. I agree with the comment that you wrote it as if you had experienced it yourself.
Karlene Jacobsen03/19/09
I'd like to be one of the first to congratulate you on placing 3rd for masters and overall! Even with all you saw that was flawed; this is an amazingly written piece.
Carol Slider 03/19/09
Oh, how horrible... yet so incredibly well written! I ached for this poor young girl, and all those who have to go through this. Congratulations!
Sharon Kane03/19/09
I know you debated whether or not to submit this. Thank you for having the courage. You were wise to include the warning, but the challenge would have been very much the poorer this week without this entry. The longer I live in Africa the more feminist I become. I'm not proud of that, but knowing how women are abused wholesale all over this continent makes my blood boil. We are not supposed to ignore evil but to expose it. Well done for doing so.
Laury Hubrich 08/19/09
Wow. I'm sure this was hard to write. Thank you for researching and sharing this with us.