I've been a little too inquisitive recently, wondering about things that I've never wondered about before. I haven't been into any books as of late because I'm working on a baby blanket, so that's what I've been doing when I have any downtime. Apparently, though, I need something to think about, otherwise my mind starts getting off track.
Somehow, one night Andrew and I got on the topic of female genital mutilation (FGM), a rather archaic, tribal ritual done in parts of Africa, most popularly Sudan and Egypt. There are varying degrees of FGM, some less severe, others quite life-altering. Oddly enough, studies have shown that if women view the experience as positive then it doesn't negatively impact their life, whereas if women view the experience as negative it does negatively impact their life. With a full infibulation women have to be operated on to be able to birth a baby because there is, in essence, no birth canal. And then, after having the baby, some women want to be closed up again.
Anyway, although FGM is present in approximately 95% women in both Egypt and Sudan, full infibulation is more common in Sudan. (FGM is not condoned by Islam--it is considered a "tribal" ritual--and is illegal in Egypt, but only since the mid-1990s so many women still have/had it done).
That's one of my pregnancy nightmares, actually--coming home from the hospital after delivering the baby to find that instead of just having my perineal tearing stitched up, I've been fully circumcised.
It's kind of an illogical dream to be having since I trust my doctor (he studied in America thus probably doesn't support FGM), and besides, it's completely illegal for a medical doctor to perform such a surgery, anyway. I'd for sure rat my doctor out to the government if he did. And he probably knows that because Westerners typically aren't pro-FGM.
Still, it's a horrible dream when I have it.
Anyway, after reading about all these statistics, we were out walking last night and a group of Sudanese children walked by. I couldn't help but wonder what percentage of those girls were circumcised. I asked Andrew about it after we had passed them and he admitted to wondering the same thing, or at least he was able to guess what I was wondering about on the first guess...so chances are he was already thinking it.
We continued our walk and our talk smoothly transitioned to chickens...somehow.
I've always thought it would be nice to be a bird and have my offspring gestate outside my body. But then I started wondering a whole lot of things about chickens. I've never been very interested in chickens before, so I don't know very much about them. I had a lot to wonder about.
The egg is hard when it comes out...how does that work? How does the hard part form on the outside? How long does it take the egg to form? What exactly is the yolk? How many eggs does a chicken lay at one time? What happens if the egg gets stuck? Could an egg break inside a chicken? Would that kill the chicken?
Wow. There are so many questions about chickens and eggs. Who cares which came first? Let's just deal with how we get the egg out of the chicken in the first place!
I spent quite a bit of time learning about chickens and eggs today. I never knew there were so many chicken farmer forums out there on the world wide web! I shared some of what I learned with Rachel and we drew pictures of chickens...and octopuses (octopi/octopodes/whatever you prefer) because, did you know, female octopuses are called hens. Also, female lobsters.
A chicken egg takes one day to form. One day! Certain species of chickens may lay up to 300 eggs in one year when they're in their prime, although they'll only ever lay one per day. Her goal is to get a "clutch" of eggs (approximately 1 dozen) so that she can "brood" them (aggressively and tenderly protect them).
No wonder we get so many negative words like "hen-pecking" and "brooding" from hens. Can you imagine if teenage girls ovulated every day and not just once a month? Yikes! So that's reason #1 I'm glad I'm a human and not a chicken.
Another reason is because humans only have one baby at a time...or two...or six. My point is that our body eventually tells us to stop reproducing and start incubating. Even if we continue to release eggs, the chances of them becoming fertilized and/or implanting after the first few weeks of being pregnant already are slim. And the eggs are so small that it really doesn't crowd out the uterus if we release one or several.
Not so with a chicken. If delivery is tricky and an egg gets stuck inside a chicken, she'll keep producing eggs, and then she'll get "eggbound." It is not pretty. If you haven't noticed, chicken eggs are kind of huge. Can you imagine having 12 whole eggs stuck in your stomach going nowhere? Neither can I. And I don't want to.
I'm still not sure exactly how the eggshell forms around the yolk and white, but over dinner we were talking about how that must be for the hen to push out something as hard as an eggshell (we did not have eggs or chicken for dinner, in case you were wondering). And then I realised that I shouldn't pity the hen any more than should I pity myself.
"After all, I pushed out bone," I pointed out to Andrew.
He dropped his fork in surprise. "You did?!"
"Yes," I said, knocking gently on Rachel's head.
"Oh, yeah..." Andrew said.
"Mama--knock my head!" Rachel accused, rather offended.
"Sorry for knocking your head, Rachel."
I also wondered how it must feel to have a hard thing growing inside you, but then I realised that I do and for the most part it's okay...except for when she kicks too much...and eventually when she'll get lodged in my ribcage. Those are the times when it would be nice to be a chicken. Chickens don't get kicked by their eggs, nor do their eggs encroach upon their ribcage. Unless, of course, they are eggbound.
I learned that eggs can break inside a chicken, and the pieces of eggshell can cause internal damage. I suppose that's kind of like a chicken miscarriage, though there are many ways for a chicken to miscarry...they can lay rubber eggs, too, for instance, when the shell doesn't calcify correctly. It's much better for a rubber egg to break inside a chicken than for a well-formed egg to break inside a chicken, for obvious reasons.
The eggs on our dinner plate are typically not fertilized, just in case you were wondering. This was something I already knew. I quite enjoy the fact that the eggs we buy in stores aren't fertilized because there is no guarantee with farm eggs. And, oh, do I ever have a story about farm eggs! *gag*
At the end of the day, I'm pretty glad I'm not a chicken...I was thinking I could almost go for being a penguin, though. One egg per year, and the daddy penguin incubates. Sign me up!
I'd miss my babies, though. I kind of like it when they move around, I like feeling them grow, and getting to hear their heartbeat. I kind of missed being pregnant after I had Rachel in my arms. I had to hold her all the time, otherwise I felt empty. I missed her squirmies and hiccups.
Not that I wasn't glad to be finished being pregnant, just that I missed it a little (like when she was screaming and wouldn't stop--sheesh, I never had to deal with that when she was in-utero). I did eventually get used to having her on the outside instead of on the inside, though. Motherhood is great, but we do put up with quite a bit of mistreatment from our babies, don't we?
Maybe I'll tell you tomorrow what Andrew's been wondering about...he has some pretty bizarre questions, too, regarding gestation (mainly of the human variety, though, not chickens). He just finished The Hunt for Red October...he can read during his commute time, lucky guy...maybe I'll pick that up since he seemed to enjoy it so much...and then I can think about the Cold War instead of FGM and chicken reproduction. That sounds like a much safer dinner table topic to me.
I really enjoyed this post....don't ask me why, maybe it is because I learned a little something about the world around me, maybe it is because I have 'been there felt that' or maybe it is just before you wrote it in a very entertaining way. Whatever the case, thanks, I enjoyed it. Good luck with the rest of the pregnancy.ReplyDelete
I don't think I'll ever be able to eat chicken or eggs again without all of this coming rushing back.....well maybe sometime, but not today and not tomorrow. Just sayin'.ReplyDelete
Rachel, you are inadvertently misguiding people with this post. FGM (Type III) is MANDATORY in Shafi'i Sunni Islam, which is the sect practiced in all of the Nile Littoral (Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, parts of Kenya, Eritrea) and in Mali, Sierra Leone, Kurish Iraq, and Indonesia.ReplyDelete
The map of Shafi'i Sunni Islam overlaid on the map of Type III and Type IV FGM (the worst kinds) is a PERFECT MATCH.
And the fact is that medical problems affect nearly 87% of all FGM victims (and I use the term advisedly).
Note this: Genital mutilations and "puberty" rites (which even Van Gennep, who coined the phrase "rites of passage" agrees have nothing to do with puberty) do not exist in matriarch societies. They only exist in patriarchal ones, and any ritualist or mythologist worth her salt will tell you this is NOT about ANYTHING except breaking the mother-son bond and transferring that bond to male-male bonds in patriarchal societies.
And in places where follow-up and intensive interviewing has taken place, between 80-90% of women have problems of fistulas, pain during sex, extensive bleeding, infections, sterility, die in childbirth, or just plain die young. When this occurs, the problems are blamed on witchcraft, so statistically it doesn't show up until you get some good ethnographic information.
Anyhow, for a really illumuminating interview, go to the link below. This is an imam from Al Azhar University in Cairo having a debate with an old woman who is an activist and a hip Kuwaiti news reporter. Notice how he openly admits — and DEFENDS — FGM as mandatory in the Shafi'i Sunni Islam of which he is an imam:
Also, for a video of a 3-year-old girl in Indonesia being circumcized (did she have a POSITIVE experience?) go to
I understand that not a lot is known by most people about this, and it's not your fault. The media feeds you a whitewash, because NOBODY is willing to get up at the UN and discuss the relationship of Islam to FGM (it is now illegal in the UN Human Rights Commission to even bring it up since the Egyptian delegate said it was insulting for non-Muslims to talk to Muslims about their religious beliefs!). The media in the United States presents it as a "cultural" issue, and therefore brainwashes us to stop thinking about it as a human rights and child abuse issue.
The Pleasure Clinic that just opened in Burkina Faso has a waiting list of tens of thousands of women hoping to get clitoral sensation restored as they have no idea what it means to have sex be pleasureful.
Thank you for your concern and for trying to enlighten us further. I realise that a lot of muslims do practice FMG--but truthfully I do not believe it is condoned by Islam "proper." Rather, the doctrine of Islam is used to justify it. Kind of how the doctrine of Islam is used to justify jihad.
Many things that are wrong are justified by religion, but that does not mean that they are "part" of the religion.
I completely agree with you that this is a distasteful practice. And I am appreciative of the attempts of the Egyptian government to stop it from happening. Like any change, though, that will take time, especially beause it is such a traditional thing.
Hopefully in the future less women will be affected by this as local governments and people are starting to take a stand.