A Rite of Passage
a rite of passage
a sidney snoeck photo
When I was growing up in the Philippines, summer was something to look forward to. It was a time of unbridled fun and laughter. It was a time to get away from books and school, to romp and play in the rice paddies, to jump naked from the rails of the bridge into the river 20 feet down below. But there was one summer I welcomed with dread. It was the summer of my circumcision.
I guess I was 10 or 11 then when my cousins stopped by the house to announce that they had decided to go for it that morning. They asked me to join them. Of course, I said, with a slight quiver in my voice.
We walked in subdued silence to a place by the river where our courage would be tested. Under the shade of a tree, we saw an old man patiently sharpening a razor. A few kids were already milling around him when we arrived. We joined the group and waited for the ritual to begin.
Beside the old man was a wooden contraption that looked like an anvil. It was at the tip of this contraption where the foreskin was separated from the glans, stretched, and cut.
After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, the old man gave the boys guava leaves to chew and directed them to form a line. He motioned to the biggest boys to go first on the line, supposedly to set them as models of courage for the other boys. But it wasn’t meant to be in our batch. One of the big boys ran away bottomless when his turn came. Another fainted at the sight of blood, and two bawled out in pain when they were cut. My cousins did better than these models of courage. They faced the old man and his razor like true men.
After the cut was made, the old man told each one to spit on his genital. The saliva mixed with guava leaves was to disinfect and cause the wound to heal faster. Afterwards, he told the newly circumcised to dip himself in the cold water of the river to constrict the blood vessels and stop the blood letting.
When my turn came, I was at the point of fainting. I had seen so much blood in a day. To my relief, the old man told me I wasn’t ready. He found that my foreskin wasn’t fully retractable yet. Unless the foreskin could be pulled back completely behind the head of the penis, he couldn’t perform the procedure.
It was a month later that my father sent me to a clinic in the city where a doctor circumcised me under the watchful eyes of a female nurse. The trip to the clinic didn’t exempt me from the pain. I suffered when the doctor forcefully retracted my foreskin still adhered to the glans. Then I suffered more when he injected anesthesia into the head of the penis. I never experienced that much pain in my life before. Somehow the presence of the nurse calmed me down a bit. She held onto my hand tightly until the procedure was completed.
It took two weeks after the procedure before I was able to walk normal again. But it was worth all the pain I suffered. The stigma of growing up uncircumcised in the Philippines was more than my family and I could bear.