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Circumcision anyone?

Laurian heads down to Kisesa early leaving Cos and Shegera to cook up some rice and daga. I am content to take it slow, heeding last nights warning not to over do things. I will cycle back to Mwanza today, taking it easy and rest up for the next couple of days to give my body time to recover. I have a tendency to over do things, to think I am invulnerable but of course I am pushing my body to the limit, exercising it in conditions I am not used to and even the heart needs time to rest and grow strong. I think again of the strong arms and the simple efficient team work with which my friends cared for me and am thankful again I am in such good company.

Shegera and Cos are laughing while they are cooking. We are talking about the children in the village Mzee tells me; the ones who were calling “God has come”. I walk into the kitchen and pull the picture of Jesus off the wall, walk out with it held up next to my face, my other arm extended in benediction. They fall about laughing. He is your younger brother they joke and I am a bit peeked that they think “younger” brother but of course he would be that, I still think of myself as a younger man. I smile at myself and take the opportunity to tell them that the Church told the Africans that Jesus was white so they would think the whites were closer to god. Therefore they should do what I say. Cook my food! Fetch my bags! Make more fire! I shout out at them in mockery of the White Fathers.

Since they seem to find that amusing I tell them that Jesus was a black Arab and God is a woman. Shegera nods sagely. It could be, I think you are right he says. Cos asks a question- why are the Palestinians and the Israelis fighting? We get into a long history lesson that takes in Auschwitz and the concentration camps, the partition of the British Middle East protectorate after the war and the creation of Zion. We talk of the problems there now, sons avenging fathers and brothers, families uprooted, poverty and persecution, the endless cycle of blame and counter blame. We shake our heads in horror, not knowing what can be done.

I am missing my friends in England this morning and I become a bit despondent before breakfast arrives but the rice is so sweet and the daga so tasty that very soon I have cheered up. I cycle down to Kisesa and catch up with Laurian. We go for supu- clearly they are taking no chances this morning and I am to be well fed! Laurian has something to show me and produces a bunch of typed notes he has made on his orphanage project. He goes off to deal with a patient and I take my place under the usual tree to read through the notes. Sala and the children hang around looking for something to do and are soon draped over me. Edela turns up obviously at the prompt of Emmanuelle again. I wonder at her persistence and suspect her parents must have something to do with it. She can’t afford those western style clothes without their help. She leans sullenly against the wall, not joining in or opening conversation just hanging there. Later when I am surrounded by clinging children and she is trying to get to talk to me alone I raise my voice to her. I have heard you I say in frustration.

Paulo and Emmanuelle are discussing the duck. Emmanuelle echoes what Paulo has said. This duck is worth 3000 shillings he says. I tell them Cos told me it was a good price and I took his word for it. Shegera says, well perhaps because it is his village, his family. You know if you want to get a good price for something you should not go your self, send a black man. Mzee (Shegera) has given me a photo of himself and I realise he is anxious that I will not be coming back. I reassure him that I will be, that I would not go without saying goodbye properly. I ask him what he will be doing while I am gone. Will he be working? No he says, you know, if Baba Lau wants something fetched may be. You do not do anything for money I ask. No he says. Baba Lau finds the money. So you are like his personal assistant I say. I think you know what is going on he says and looks down at the ground. I realise I don’t know what is going on. I don’t know if they are together as brothers or lovers but I begin to think it is maybe the latter. I wonder how I can help Mzee to stand on his own two feet.

Baba Lau pokes his head round the corner and motions me to join him. I will just be ten minutes with this patient he says but I thought you might like some space away from these womens and childrens (sic). He motions me into a room where his patient is lying stripped from the waist down.

Sit! Sit he says and motions to the box propping the door open for light. The room is dark and the walls dirty but he is putting on clean gloves and the surgical tools gleam clean steel. I just have to perform this circumcision he says and I wince inwardly, my eyes widening involuntarily. The next 10 minutes are surreal. I sit glancing through the notes as he works and we chat together casually while he sticks a needle in the teenager’s penis, delivering a local anaesthetic. He talks me through the operation. First the local anaesthetic in the base of the penis, then there is no pain. He squeezes the foreskin with his pressure forceps testing the anaesthetic and I wince inwardly again, a grimace curling up the corner of my mouth. He pulls the foreskin tight, positioning the head behind the forceps so he can make a clean cut. The surgical scissors cut as easily through skin as they would through paper, one snip and the foreskin is gone. He clears the blood away and I turn back to the notes, gagging instinctively but fascinated none the less. With a curved needle he begins to stitch the foreskin, tidying up the cut with another quick snip to make sure it looks nice. The notes suddenly become very absorbing, I am interested in the smallest details but I remain fixed on the same point on the page as I follow the procedure out of the corner of my eye. Four stitches and the job is done. Lau is casual and relaxed and I remember this is the man who dispatched and butchered a pig with the same nonchalance.

In the bright sunlight outside we agree that Laurian will come to Mwanza next week and he asks what Mama Kilala would like as a gift. I hang around for a little longer until the midday sun begins its slow descent and then I hit the road. Before I go Laurian hands me a 2000 shilling note. You must remember to take it easy he says. This is for you to buy Fanta on the journey he says. I am about to protest that this is too much for Fanta, that I have some money but then I realise what is going on. He is giving me the difference between what I paid for the duck and what it was worth. Mama Kilala laughs when I tell her later. Yes this is the Sukuma way she says. He can not give it to you directly. That would imply maybe you were foolish, or that Constantine made a mistake. No instead he must find some other excuse, some reason to give you the money that will make it right. I am impressed again by this subtle understanding of give and take.

The journey back to Mwanza is easy and quick. I almost stop a couple of times, wary of overstretching myself but the road seems to angle down for most of the way and I ride the slope letting gravity do the walk and before I know it I am at the bottom of Bugando hill. I check my email before heading back for a much needed shower.

That evening Mama Kilala, Yussaf, Max, Maya and I head out to Isamilo lodge to try out the restaurant there. The food I order is delicious, cumin rice and fish cooked in a fenugreek and tomato sauce but it arrives cold. I eat it anyway, sip a couple of beers and happily fork out 20,000 for the bill. I have spent in less than three hours half of what I spent in the last five days.

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