Should FGM be considered sexual abuse?

NaBloPoMo November 2013- Post 2.

This morning I was listening to radio 4 and heard that there are recommendations that female genital mutilation should be classified as sexual abuse and that medical staff would have to report it as such. This announcement filled me with frustration for several reasons:

a) It is currently very fashionable to campaign against FGM, especially in certain ‘women’s rights’ circles and here was further evidence of this fashion.
b) Does our government think that prosecuting individuals that may have been forced to make their daughters to have this procedure help with this issue?
Let us be clear, I do not agree with FGM. I do not agree with parents taking their daughters abroad to have this procedure done and am aware of the terrible physical complications that can arise from having this procedure done. However, I feel that the men and women who enable FGM to happen to their daughters are pinioned by a culture that says a woman’s virtue is defined by what is between her legs. There are much bigger issues here, and ones I feel that the criminalisation of FGM will ignore. The main issue being of being a woman living within a sexist society with little power and control. 
We already know that making something illegal, does not make it go away. I believe criminalising FGM will not help to eradicate the practice, but potentially send it further underground. As the procedure happens to girls of Middle eastern, African, Arabic and Islamic descent, we will be disproportionately punishing those parents for ‘sexual abuse’ or potentially depriving children of their parents;and also add to the myths of those cultures and their ‘barbaric practices’.
The report recommends that health workers identify girls at risk and treat them as if they were at risk of child abuse. 
Girls at risk are defined as girls born to a woman who has undergone FGM or a child who lives closely with someone who has.
This statement is very judgmental, do we judge the children of alcoholics or drug addicts that have been sober for 15 years as at risk? Should we? I disagree with the infatuation that certain individuals have with this particular issue whilst ignoring the sexual abuse, rape and violence to women and children that happens within their own communities.
FGM happens within a cultural context, just as cosmetic vaginal reshaping does. We cannot ignore the cultural context and so I believe that if the government choses to criminalise and reclassify FGM as sexual abuse then they also have a further duty to commit to education and training for representatives that work in sexual health,  and in particular with immigrant communities.
The comments below from the Guardian comments section, sum up my thoughts:
 ”Just because FGM affects mostly black or minority ethnic women does not make it the responsibility of white people to eradicate it. The fact that FGM affects mostly black or minority ethnic females is a reflection of their lack of access to education and the power of local beliefs, religion and superstitions”.
“I believe that the solution needs to be led by women within their communities, with the support of the authorities”.
I have deliberately left out arguments on human rights because I believe this is just one aspect of the issue. Yes it is a European/ American human right to prevent harm to children but to what degree can we enforce this abroad? Also this piece is about a British response to FGM within the UK or happening to British children.
What do you think?

An afternoon at the beach & the beginning of the end…

The sunsets on the Island are spectacular. Yesterday evening I sat on the pier with my new friends Alieto, Alfar and Nico (aged 8, 10 and 5 respectively) and watched the sun colour the waves golden and the sky orange, pink and violet before setting. Readying ourselves for a late one, we had a really chilled day, I went to the beach and paddled/ sat on the edge of the turquoise water. I had unfortunately given my camera to Fu for safe keeping so you will have to rely on my words for how beautiful it was. I was joined by my new friends and we managed to communicate in basic Portuguese and mostly my facial expressions. Alieto had got splinter in his foot and Alfar sharpened a piece of glass with a small stone in order to loosely cut around the splinter. Cue lots of grimacing and oohing from me. On further looking, Alieto had cuts all over his feet, I guess when you walk barefoot all the time this is common occurrence. Anyway the boys entertained my by showing me how far they could skim stones, paddling with me in the sea, and beat boxing and dancing. They have more rhythm and gymnastic ability than I have ever had and was a nice precursor to our upcoming evening. At one point they made a gift of several shells to me, then Alieto told me to eat one, I realized there was a small snail inside and demurred. Sweet of them to offer though. We walked over the pier and watched the sunset, then the boys followed/ walked me back to the hostel where I dispensed plasters and chocolate.

As partying doesn’t start until quite late here, we had several hours to chill, eat out at Sarah’s where we met several other travelers including two Oxford boys insisting that South of the River has an adequate transport system. Ach. We had capirhina’s on a gorgeous roof terrace bar then slowly walked over the bar where the partying would be. We could hear the pumping music from afar and we went into the smallish beach shack beside the sea. The music was a mixture of dance, African and Portuguese popular music and there was LOTS of shimmying and samba style dancing until the early hours, Fu impressed some of the boys a few new dance moves with his Chiny boi style. We only left because Maud had to get her chapa back to Nampula city at 4am and it was already 3.30am. Ach.

Today it doesn’t feel real that we are going to be heading back home so soon. I had a last minute skirt around the streets around the hostel and took some photos. I’ve taken hardly any photos here despite it being so lovely. We had a 6am start this morning to get back to Nampula where we will overnight then we are flying back to Nairobi where it all began. ACHHHHH. Definitely not ready to come home. Currently sitting on the terrace at Ruby’s Nampula with church singing in the background whilst Fu teaches Chipo how to play baow.

Double Whammy- Malawi & Mozambique

Beautiful Malawi

21st Aug 2013 (from diary)

Butterfly space hostel

We have been here for 2 days and I have not wrote a word. We arrived on Sunday night exhausted from our epic journey overland from Tanzania. A journey that included early morning rising, dalla dalla’s, walking, an epic 4 hour cab journey and a 19 hour train journey. Ach.

Malawi is very beautiful; the landscape varies from being very lush; the rubber plantations and groves of banana trees invoking India. It has dramatic up and downs as you are driving across the country and of course the Lake is the cherry on the cake. The lake is a shimmering expanse that stretches as far as the eye can see. I have seen more sunrises and sunsets than I care to mention and there have been some pretty spectacular orange and pink ones which I have attempted to photograph and one day I will upload!

On Monday I woke up at 6.30am and headed out for breakfast which is a communal affair here at Butterfly Space. We grabbed our swimming gear and headed to the private ‘beach’ and honestly I have never seen such clear water. I was sitting in the water and could see fish swimming around my body and at one point was nibbled one! The water was so clear that I finally put my face in the water and had a good look at some very pretty turquoise fish. We spent the morning at the lake and headed into Nkhata bay town which was very busy as it was market day. Cue lots of sardines and tomatoes being sold side by side. The next day the lake was incredibly rough, it resembled the sea with large waves, completely different to the clear glass of the day before.  Butterfly space where we are staying is a right hippie place, shitting into compost toilets that are open above the waist,  cold water showers made out of rock that look over the lake, communal breakfasts and inclusive community project. Toilet was up a small rocky slope- not a fan myself, luckily we were encouraged to water the trees. Owners very nice and friendly.

Ruby’s Terrace

Bom dia Mozambique!

29th August 2013

After a horrific journey from Malawi to Mozambique, which involved my card not working in several atm’s and not being to cross the border we had chosen. We ended up in the small town of Mangochi in Malawi and were helped by a very nice civil servant Josiah who found us somewhere cheap to stay and most usefully, an ATM that worked! (Fu lost his wallet & card in the cab coming into Malawi). We ended up on yet another coach that didn’t leave until packed to the rafters, this one had people standing in the aisles as well as the usual rice/ luggage etc. We were introduced this day to bicycle taxi’s- just picture fu and I with our massive rucksacks on the back of these bicycles. Getting over the border was very hard because there was no taxi’s or buses contrary to other borders we had crossed, our two options was a van with the driver being told off for the amount of beer bottles on the car floor or a massive haulage truck. Massive haulage truck it was! Comedy night ensused, we rented someone’s hotel room from them for four and a half hours and finally got on the train from Cuamba to Nampula.

Window shopping takes on new meaning in Africa, at every stop people rush to the train with fruit, veg, snacks, chickens, fried food and the others in the compartment rush to buy these via the one window. We found that the bread in Mozambique is excellent and enjoyed ourselves buying various snacks. (I was enjoying Fu’s ridiculous Portuguese accent).

So onto Mozambique itself. Well we both love it so far despite not being to speak the language. People are friendly and the landscape beautiful. We are now on Ilha de Mozambique which is the definition of decaying grandeur. Many of the Portuguese mansions and elaborate buildings have crumbled in places; however people continue to live in the shells of past houses. We went on a bicycle tour yesterday- those of you that know my cycling technique can imagine the stopping, starting and general hilarity of me trying to cycle over bumps and not career into playing children, women carrying babies on their hips and boys staring at the foreigner on the local bicycle. At one point a girl came up behind me and pushed me along! Achhhhhhh. Lol.

Today Fu went to Goa Island, a beautiful desert island with a lighthouse that is only accessible for several hours a day. I spent the day enjoying the beautiful coast and having a guided tour of the museum and museum of sacred art. The latter delivered entirely in Portuguese. Thank goodness for a Catholic upbringing and some basic Spanish! The Island is how I thought Zanzibar would be, and it is both lively and incredibly serene depending on where you are. We are hoping to party hard Latin style over the weekend and then Fu can practice his chat up line ‘Hola minina, tu es muy bonita’ (Hey girl, you are very beautiful). Of course I will not being doing anything of the sort lol. Small note on where we are staying- Ruby’s is gorgeous- beautiful white med style terrace with cerise bougainvillea and lovely rooms. Loving it.

Trying & Tremendous times in Tanzania

I wrote a bloody essay on our time in Tanzania last night but then I lost it. As I know you are all agog to know what we have been up to,  here is a summary of our time in Tanzania.

We left Zanzibar a week ago to get our visas from the Mozambican embassy.  After some rigmarole, we found that the embassy was closed due to a public holiday. Given we were told to come back on Thursday at 3pm AND so had missed Eid in Zanzibar, I was a little annoyed. Cue mini hissy fit no 1.

We had to get our coach to Dodoma the following morning. Our tickets stated that we needed to be at the station for 4.30am and we would be leaving at 5am. We arrived at the bus station at 4.15am to be told that our tickets were wrong and actually would be leaving at 11am. Apparently our tickets were in Swahili time, where the day starts at 6am and finishes at 6pm. Cue mini hissy fit no 2. We were able to get an earlier coach but had to wait until 6.30am. Grumpy faces all round. We then were squashed for 6.5 hours and the walls of the coach were leaking so I was damp and squashed. Ach!

We finally arrived in Dodoma and have been having a great time in the village of Mvumi which is an hour away from Dodoma. I originally wrote lots about the arid expanse and mine and Fu’s attempts to buy food in the village but you’ll have to wait to hear it in person.  Our host Ned is lovely, as are his school assistants, Kelvin, Freddie and Sarah who are staying with us at the ‘gappy houses’.  It was Sarah’s belated birthday celebration a few days ago which was really nice. She cooked lots of food and we found out about the Tanzanian ritual of the birthday person feeding the guests the birthday cake. And yes, I have been baking in Tanzania as Ned has an oven and both cakes were a great success.

Fu has had food poisoning the last few days and is in turns wan, grumpy and hungry. He is working on the school website from home whilst I have been preparing an assembly with Sarah on Gender & Development for my last morning at the school. I have really enjoyed my time here and wish we could stay for longer. However school starts at 7.20am which means I am getting up very early indeed!When the students are not staring at my hair and general foreignness, I’ve had some cute conversations and I’d like to do some teaching and get to know them more.

What’s next? Well the plan is to overnight in Dodoma on Thursday night and get a coach to Dar Es Salaam, first thing. We hopefully then can get a train from Dar to Mbeya which is close to the border with Malawi. I am a little concerned with the time we have left and am considering flying back from Malawi to Nairobi when we are back from Mozambique. Not sure either of our budgets will hold up to this though! If any has any thoughts on the best ways to travel from Dar to Malawi & Moz, facebook me and let me know.

We are in Zanzibar!

So we left Diani and our new friends sadly and set off for Tanzania. We had to take a very long coach journey which I survived despite getting absolutely drenched crossing the Kenyan/ Tanz border and having to sit with my rucksack on my lap for 10 hours. We went with the coach company Tahmeed, never again! We want modern muzugu coaches. The coaches here stop for 10 mins max for 2 stops at Tanga and somewhere else in Tanz so I literally had time to pee and then fight my way back over everyones luggage or rice or whatever else they had stowed in the gangway. I definitely thought I was going to wet myself at one point despite not drinking any water since 7am but survived. We arrived in Dar Es Salaam, there are alot more Indians and a stronger Islamic and African feel here as not as many people speak English as in Kenya where pretty much everyone spoke good English.

We got a hotel, went out to eat some swahili food, some coconut beans, fish with spinach and some swahili spice. The next day was spent getting our visas for Mozambique which was really difficult as you needed a letter of introduction and dollars which neither of us had. An expensive cab ride later and with 10 mins to go we boarded the ferry to Zanzibar!

We arrived in Zanzibar as the sun was setting over Stone Town. Friends from Diani had told us that the party central was in the North and so we decided to head to Nwungwi. Fu negotiated for a beach bungalow, we dropped our stuff and headed out to get a drink. Of course Zanzibar is very romantic and all bars have sea side tables lit with candles and lamps so it was a candlelit meal and drink for Fu and I under the stars LOL.  Fu went to party with the locals whilst I got an early night, I hadnt banked on the crows that would screech noisily outside our room in the early hours and this morning there was a lowing cow added to the cacophony! I digress. The next morning I got up, had breakfast and wandered up the coast, the sea is a perfect turquoise and when the sun is out it is incredibly beautiful. We had a great day just lounging on the beach, I have not done nowhere near as much swimming as I would have liked, mostly because the waves are too big for me. Ach.

We are leaving shortly for Stone Town and I am looking forward to more Michelle type sight seeing. There is only so much beach a girl can take lol.

My battery just died so I havent got any pics but you can imagine Fu and I here…Image

M is for Michelle in Mombasa!

So its been a while since I last posted.  I’ve been having a crazy time. We went to the Masai Mara which was AMAZING! (Blog post to follow). Now we are in Mombasa on the Kenyan coast and I am sitting in a very hot internet cafe in Port Reitz, staying with Connie, who has been feeding us LOTS of amazing kenyan food. Yesterday we had ugali and fish for lunch and then beef pilau rice with coconut cassava. Easily the best food I have eaten in Kenya so far!

We left Nairobi early friday evening and I had the beginnings of a dodgy stomach earlier on in the day.  We settled into our train- first class doncha know and were called for dinner in the restaurant cabin which was an experience! It was a little bit bumpy to say the least. Fu wasn’t well so I went to dinner alone and was sat with a lovely family. I was immediately put in charge of their young daughter who only spoke German- ACH! But the meal was fun and I enjoyed interacting with them. Unfortunately the story goes downhill from then. I became intimately acquainted with the bathroom over the next ten hours and was feeling both weak, nauseous and grumpy when we arrived into Mombasa. I will say that the ride was certainly an experience but only for those that can sleep like the dead.  We were near to the connecting carriage and the jangling noises were a bit too close for my delicate self. However, it was lovely to see the sunrise in the morning and to see village life wake up as the train wound closer to its destination.

We got a cab to Mombasa Backpackers in Nyali and were given a dorm room outside. Outside meant cane walls and a roof. Luckily it is really warm here so cold nights weren’t a problem. We spent all of sat recovering , being a bit grumpy with our various ailments and mostly drinking fluids in my case. I had an excellent nights sleep that night despite sharing our room with a load of go getting business students determined to do everything they can in mombasa in as little time as possible.

Sunday was our best day in Mombasa because we met with Hattie’s friend Sadiki, and we started to have a proper Michelle type day. We went to Fort Jesus and I took lots of pics, we went on a tour of the old town which was very lovely. I had another mare trying to get Laura Blizzard pics printed but finally got it done. We then went to pirate’s beach which is everything you think of when you think tropical beach- white sand, clear turquoise water and sun. Sadiki and I chilled on the beach while Fu and our new friend Kat went swimming and on a catamaran. I am yet to do some swimming but plan to soon when we go to Diani beach tomorrow.

Today we have been wandering around Port Reitz school, looking at their school garden and speaking to children when we can. It it is very warm here and I am eaily worn out (haha maybe that is not just the heat!).  You can see the Indian Ocean from Connie’s house and I have been sitting outside this morning looking at the beautiful blue sky and hearing reggae from her neighbours house. Its been a little bit emotional being at Connie’s house because it makes me miss Hattie but I am having a good time and hopefully my stomach will stay still for a while yet.

Next stop- Diani beach!


The Smoothness continues….

So I arrived in Nairobi and I realised that I didnt have any money for my visa. Whoops.

However, in my spirit of resourcefulness I asked some people on the plane what to do and got some money out at a cashpoint. However the cashpoint gave me shillings (Kenyan currency) and not dollars/ euros/ sterling- which are the prefered methods of paying for your visa. Ach ach ach. I got it sorted and when I got my luggage, Fu was there on the other side and he had arranged a lift and a place to stay for the night. (I have a four poster bed and an en suitse). So the smoothness continued. Excellent.

So today Fu and I have been out and about in Nairobi with new friend Yasin- we have taken lots of buses, both matatu’s (small mini buses with loud music and sometimes cramped conditions- the BACE crew will know what i mean) and other buses which are bit like American school buses. We have had a busy day, Fu got his yellow fever jab at Nairobi University Hospital for 25 whole pounds; the details and downpayment for our Masai Mara trip were sorted: 3 days, Monday to Weds coming; we went to a local dentist with Yasin and watched lots of Nigerian soaps there- Mom & me is JOKES; had lunch; and finally we got into the front seat of a matatu on the way back to the hotel for the princely sum of 38p and I had loud Congolese and reggae music blaring into my face all of our short journey. I wont be doing that again!

So the plan tomorrow is to just chill and get ourselves ready for Safari- exciting times! Here is a picture of what I hope will the Masai Mara will be like 😀