Let’s just start right off with something less than usually publically appropriate. My friend here told me that the reason that Rwandese women are not bodily shy, though they are intensely modest (they are different) is because of their mothers and a particular cultural traditional practice that, while falling out of fashion, is still prevalent enough: giant clitorises.
It used to be, my friend told me which has been corroborated elsewhere, that mothers would begin with their very young girls just at puberty, and tug on their “sex” to make it bigger and longer. Later on, so I have been told, girls now, in addition to the everyday exercise of tugging on it, they also use “medicine” to make it bigger. I don’t know what that means. Are they using some Harry Potter engorgement spell-like lotion? Are they taking testosterone and growing them?
Anyway, my friend tells me that men often think that without a large clitoris and labia minor that you are not really a woman. How different this is from the USA. The purpose of this stretching and enlargement, apart from aesthetics, is to INCREASE sexual pleasure for women and men are taught foreplay with regard to women’s genitals as a result. It looks like some cultures get it right. If you want to make a woman pregnant, studies show that she needs to climax and this causes the cervix to dip down during orgasm’s contractions and it pulls in more semen. Thus, unprotected sex that results in a woman’s orgasm is more likely to result in pregnancy.
If you want to read a tad more about these practices, the best place to start with something you know nothing about is always Wikipedia, so here it is:
Part of this article, and my further research has shown, that all studies categorize this practice as “modification” and not “mutilation” as it has no ill effects on women unless she is lied to about the benefits. With one exception, my friend says. You should make it X long and not Z long, and she uses her finger to show me. She says her mother and other women told her this measurement, because any longer and it can obstruct birthing and the doctor may be forced to mutilate you in the process to get the baby out.
I told her that all cultures have some practice like this. She says that she thought I would be shocked at this Rwandan cultural practice. I told her no. and she says, see, but you still think it's funny. But you don’t think it's bad because you are very smart. Anyway, I told her about the extraordinarily ubiquitous practice, in the USA, of decreasing the amount of body hair on women including on their sex. She thought this was odd until I told her of the various methods of doing so. Then she thought it will downright silly. She said, HOW EXPENSIVE! I agreed. She said, how much time to spend! I agreed. She said, yes but it's not natural! I agreed but told her also that labia and clitoral stretching is also not natural. She is forced to agree. But then she tells me, when you remove hair then you have problems with spots. She means pimples and blemishes and in grown hairs. I agree. She says, HOW HORRIBLE! I agree again.
OK, now that this is out of the way, more on a more general note:
This is totally crazy. I have repeatedly received emails from an email address listed as coming from Saul Garlick and an organization called Think Impact. Maybe some of you sociologists out there have also received one for travel to developing countries to do various kinds of work. Anyway, staying at the house with us now is a woman who is almost 10 years younger than me who is a freaking co-owner of this company with whom I have previously considered employment. It really, really is a small world.
Here is the website for what they do:
More on Rwandan culture and family: people here often refer to various other people as brother and sister and mother and etc. But they are not related. Before and after the genocide it is common here to “adopt” people into your family.
People here drink each other’s blood to seal “family” which is oh so important, especially after the genocide. They are “blood” to one another. Lest you think this is another story of dark skinned weird and exotic cannibalism, I did just this sort of thing growing up with my dark skinned compatriots in elementary school and junior high even. You think that tribe means something here? It's the same in the USA. The thing is, a rose does not smell as sweet if you call it something “different”. The whole concept of Orientalism. I reference here again that article on the Nacirema. The way you describe things, if you already think they are “different” or “exotic” makes a difference.
Someone I know here recently told me their story about the genocide. A good friend you will remember. She was only about 9 or so when it happened. Her father never came home again. She said that she couldn’t even trust her closest friends that weren’t family after that. That she went through a long period of crisis and trauma where she couldn’t even be around men who were wielding the normal implements of life in Rwanda (a machete, a garden hose, a knife, a stick (there are many special “sticks” used for various things here that were also used as murder weapons during the genocide) etc.). It was painful to try to imagine the common utensils of life suddenly being forever linked with, not just death, but, the death of a loved one and the threatened death of yourself. My friend now has many of members of her “family” and this includes a great love for muzungus in whose hands you can trust most implements, she says.
I am still trying to get around to posting more photos, but the rainy season has started to really live up to its name and internet is even harder to come by – thought the rain is exciting and the temperature completely comfortable. It's night time now and I am wearing a sweater at the equator!