Back at Jane’s, we sat down for a soda and a chat with Bill (but not before I’d gone to the bathroom and doused my face liberally with Dettol). When, in his first email to me back in London, Bill had said, “My culture is circumcision and I hope you will enjoy it,” we’d assumed there had been some sort of communication breakdown. But as we sat with him in the sitting room while he told us about his culture and traditions, we realised there hadn’t. Circumcision, he told us, is performed publicly at the age of 14-16 years old in front of a crowd of thousands of people and is only performed in even numbered years. The procedure itself takes seconds, but the pain lasts for up to a month. It’s the single most important ceremony in his tribe (he is Kikuyu) and they believe that a man that has not been circumcised, and not experienced the pain involved, is not a real man. Even I had crossed my legs by this point, and I didn’t dare check the look on Alex’s face.
The conversation took an even more uncomfortable turn when he told us that he believed that circumcision reduced the chances of spreading AIDS. Though we couldn’t let this go, neither could we wade in with incredulous refutations. It dawned on me that to say circumcision did not reduce the chance of spreading AIDS might seem as much like propaganda - spread by ‘not real’ men - as saying it did seemed to us. So, all I could say in response was, “we believe that as long as there’s even the slimmest of chances, you should always wear protection.” I was glad to leave the topic of conversation at that.