February 20, 2010

The Tenacity of Hope: Quodoushka Meets Massai

submitted by Amara Charles Back

Two Massai Women from a small village in Kenya attend a Quodoushka, Spiritual Sexuality Workshop in Phoenix, Arizona

While every Quodoushka that I have taught has been a remarkably healing experience, once every twenty years or so, something truly extraordinary happens…

I’ll start by explaining how two Massai women from a rural village in Kenya managed to attend a Quodoushka in Phoenix Arizona. In 2007, Annetta Luce, a friend I met during an Australian “Q,” volunteered to go to Africa to work and live with a local family. After returning to the U.S., she was later contacted by Jane, a woman from the same Kenyan village who was now in Philadelphia, seeking asylum to remain in the USA.

Jane is the mother of three children, including a 12-year old daughter, Esther. Like all women in the Massai tribe, Jane was “cut” as a child, near the same age as her own daughter and soon thereafter pledged by her father into an arranged marriage.

I must admit, I had heard about the “cut,” a primitive form of female genital mutilation. I read that it is done by women who, to this day, physically hold down the young girls, cut off their clitorises with a knife and then pour cow’s urine over the open wound. Yes, I knew of this gory insanity, but it seemed like yet another God-awful, far-away, unsolvable problem – that is, until Jane came into my living room.

I was immediately smitten by the grace of her quiet, yet formidable determination to prevent her daughter from suffering a similar fate. I was floored by her audacity to stand up against tribal elders, to rebel against the bondage and beatings, to earn the money, to overcome anything that would dare stand in the way of her love for her daughter …and her intelligence. You see, according to Massai custom, if the mother is alive, but not physically in the village, the elders may not perform the “cut.” By seeking asylum here, refusing to return to Kenya, she forestalls the process.

As I share the details of Jane’s story, I must explain that I have had but a brief glimpse of a complex situation and I make no claims to understand the nuances of Massai customs or culture. It wasn’t my idea for Jane to come to a Quodoushka – it was her idea. She told the story of her daughter at our Tigress Moon Woman’s Group heard about the Q and promptly decided she would attend with Agnes, a Massai friend living in the US who also managed to escape after being beaten for refusing as a girl, to marry a sixty year old man.

Unfortunately, their stories are not unique and escapes are rare.

Jane and Agnes Attend the Quodoushka  Workshop

There are times as a teacher when you are not sure who is teaching who.

We all inevitably fell in love with Jane and Agnes. Gradually, without pomp or proclamation in front of the group, during shy personal conversations with each of them, we realized the cultural tsunami that was occurring in our midst.

First, they tell me that if I had been seen wearing what I wore at the Q in their Massai village I would be speared. (Hey, it was just a pair of red chaps…)

As we begin, I ask Jane, “Are you nervous?”

She replies with a dead pan, flat, “No.”

Heck, I think to myself, everyone else is nervous starting a sex workshop so I ask, “Jane, why aren’t you are not nervous?”

With the same calm she replies, “I do not know what will happen.” I am quickly reminded of my suburban upbringing… With what this woman has endured, a sex workshop? Piece of cake.

This is not to say that there wasn’t a constant stream of nuclear revelations going on for both of them behind the scenes.

Both Jane and Agnes were dutifully trained into absolute modesty of dress. No legs showing, never any knees. Exposed shoulders? Cause for arrest. To witness Jane and Agnes dancing sweetly, yet openly in a roomful of people dressed in the sheer, feather garnished silky gowns they borrowed from Annetta, was a private spectacle as great as Niagara Falls pouring into the Great Lakes. By mid-workshop, Jane and Agnes were slipping into feminine finery, the likes of which they had never, never imagined enjoying. Agnes, a twenty-eight year old woman, had never seen a naked man in her life, let alone a white man.

It was only after the workshop, while talking to Agnes, that I began to more fully comprehend the enormity of sexual education that was completely missing for them. Once again, Agnes became my teacher:

“It is because the women and men have no idea of how to give each other pleasure,” she explains. “What happens in my country: the men can go and get as many wives as they want, as long as they have a cow to give, they can get another wife. A man is with a woman, she does not know anything about what he needs, and she does not even have the idea to give him pleasure. The man has no idea of pleasing a woman. It is not that we are ignorant. We do not know. We do not know about pleasure and sex. It is very confusing. A woman gives birth to children. She will love her children, but she does not love the father. Because the man knows no pleasure, he goes and gets another wife, and then another, and then another. He will find maybe 6 wives. Sooner or later one will return with AIDS, and then the family dies. It is all because no one knows any pleasure.”

“Obviously, the men are not happy with this situation?” I ask.

“Of course not,” she says. “No one is happy; no one feels any pleasure at all. People come to our village with the same programs. They talk about AIDS. They talk about condoms. They do the same things over and over but what is going on does not change. No one, no one ever talks about what we are learning here. No one talks about the pleasure or the beauty sex is supposed to be.”

“Do you mean that you have never learned to give pleasure to a man?” I ask.

“It never occurred to me that you could do that.”

“Do you pleasure your self?” I ask, further astounded.

“No,” she and Jane giggle to each other. “It doesn’t occur to us to do that.”

“You know, in this we are much the same,” I say. “Women and men rarelyget an education from anyone about how to be with each other. They are not taught how to respect, listen to, or communicate about their sexual needs and desires. Even with our so-called freedom here, still people fight, get divorces and cannot get along sexually because they have not learned how to communicate about their most intimate, natural sexual feelings.”

Agnes nods, “Yes. In this we are sisters. Our lives are very different, but the pain is the same pain. I see women here in this workshop feel sad because they do not understand what their men need, and I see men who are confused about how to be with their women. But they are trying to learn, and this is the difference.”

Female Genital Mutilation: The Cut

In the past, whenever I heard stories about cutting off clits, a deep cringe would sink into my own pussy. My whole lower body would wobble in disbelief as the outrage would lift to my brain and tears would swell in my heart.  So, when Jane and then Agnes wanted to know what type of sexual anatomy they were, we privately went into a room to have a look.

They were so bold – they wanted to know!

We joyfully wanted to see, to share a moment of supreme sisterhood, to behold and witness each others’ most sacred place. There is only one word I can use to describe gazing at the opening of their delicate flowers:

Beautiful.

Beautiful” is the word that kept cascading from my lips. And then “Wow. We are all so beautiful.”

In truth, I was not sure what I would see, but in that instant all my condensed presumptions collapsed.  While their clitorises were indeed gone, replaced with smooth, healed skin, everything else was entirely intact. It reminded me of seeing a circumcised man. While surely something is forever gone, what remains is certainly beautiful, functional. And still deserves and desires as much pleasure as possible. Agnes, Jane and I later laugh together, “I think people are a lot like weeds. You can try to cut them down, pull them out from cracks in the sidewalks, but we are hardy and we are going to grow some how. Our sexual energy is like this too, resilient.

Can You Feel Pleasure?

We continued our girl talk as we started to get to the things I really wanted to know.

“Do you still feel pleasure?” I ask, fascinated to understand how these women really felt. Demurely looking to the ground Jane softly, yet assuredly says, “Yes.”

We all smiled for a moment, but then there was an instinctive looking around as if to make sure no one was listening. For them, talking about what I am about to say next is utterly taboo. Apparently, an ocean or two does not stop YouTube and the Internet from getting to even the remotest village. Anything that pertains to Massai people is keenly watched by their friends and family. Nonetheless, Jane is determined to continue, “We do talk to each other about our lovers.”

If I may ask, “How are you able to feel pleasure?”

“Deep and long penetration. It is very nice.” She grins wide like every woman I know does when she remembers something good. I was happy to hear that the urgency of her sexual desire was so strong it could not be stopped and that somehow many women find a way to feel good no matter what physical or mental abuse they must endure. Still,there was something glaringly missing in the equation. I had already heard that sex with the husbands was quick and dirty, dry and dull.

“No, it is not good,” says Jane, nonetheless a mother having conceived and given birth to three children. So where then does this deep and long penetration come from? I wonder.There was no way it was coming from husbands.

Now here, I must remain somewhat vague and refrain from revealing details in order to protect their friends who remain in Africa from being punished. Thus, I must leave to your imagination how both women and men find a way feel sexual love. Both women and men are forced into marriages. They know well that where there is force, there is no loving sex. It is said that nearly all the women find lovers! They don’t import these men from other villages. It is those same men with arranged wives who also become lovers to other women in the village. How’s that for a testimony of the  human spirit and a sign that the arc of the universe bends towards justice?

The African Spirit

Westerners often think of African people as having innate sexual power, of having an almost mystical prowess. Yet look at how this strength can fall. Love, sex and these eternal dramas, these powerful and alluring cosmic forces turn and turn again. It is when these powers arc towards truth and justice, when after a life of suppression, oppression and violence, Jane and Agnes refuse to hate, and thus find their remarkable capacity to love.

A few days after the Quodoushka workshop I ask Agnes, “Are there are some men who refuse to follow the Massai traditions?”

“Yes,” she says. “There are a few, but men who refuse are also outcast. If a woman refuses she has nowhere to go, she has no money, no food, she has nothing, and no one will support her. But it does nothing to hate our elders. I can see this clearly now. I understand the way to change is with understanding and education. We cannot hate our men. We have to find a way to love them. If we do not know how to love our selves or how to love each other sexually, nothing will change. Only the same will happen.”

Then, with a great smile and a fierce benevolence Shinning in her eyes, she says, “Hope.“

“There is one thing I must say… I feel guilty having had all this for myself.Learning so much myself, about sexuality. I cannot keep it just for me. I need to return, to share this with my people. Perhaps, you will come to Africa one day?”

My hope is that the seeds being planted in both Agnes and Jane will bear fruit; that Jane’s daughter will live with her beauty fully intact; and that Agnes realizes her dream of becoming a gynecologist. (she is currently enrolled in nursing school, thanks to political asylum granted her by the U.S. government.)*

If you are touched by their courage and determination to love, and you would like to directly assist Jane in covering the expense to bring her family here, (she does not wish to split her family) or you would to help Agnes continue her studies, please contribute to a special Paypal fund we have set up for them.

* Since this article was first published, Jane and her family have received asylum in the from the Us Government and are waiting to come here. Agnes is studying to become a nurse.Any donations will be given to Agnes for her expenses, or to Jane in order to cover costs for her children to come to the US.

(c) Amara Charles 2010-2019 share only with permission of Amara Charles
Jane and Agnes Drumming

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