An Alphabet Of Things I Like: G

Gorillas.

Looking into the face of a gorilla is the closest you can get to a human in the animal world, in my opinion. They live in family groups, love and care for their young, and do not hurt anyone or anything, existing on a vegetarian diet.

When I was very young, I was taken to London Zoo to see Guy the Gorilla. He was a famous exhibit there, having arrived in 1946. When I got to his cage, I was overwhelmed with sadness. The huge animal was in a relatively small cage, behind rows of iron bars like a prison cell. This is a photo of him around that time.

He sat close to the bars with his arm extended, and his hand palm up. After more than twelve years in captivity, he had already become used to zoo visitors offering him treats, and he would catch them when they were thrown at him. All were unsuitable of course, and included biscuits, (cookies) chewy sweets, (candy) and even ice cream thrown in paper tubs. The zoo staff made no attempt to stop anyone feeding him, including my mum, who had brought along some iced biscuits especially for him. She was delighted when he caught each one, and ate it immediately. I wanted the staff to let him go, so he could return to living in the jungle again. My mum told me he wouldn’t know what to do in the jungle now.

Guy was kept on his own for over twenty-five years. Eventually, the zoo decided to provide him with a mate. But they never really got on, and never produced any baby gorillas. Guy died in the zoo in 1978, after being little more than a well-fed prisoner there for his entire life.

I was also quite young when I saw the original 1933 film version of King Kong.

Despite the gigantic gorilla being portrayed as violent, including eating people and destroying things, the sympathy of the audience was directed at the poor creature, and his cruel exploitation by showmen and profiteers. When he is mortally wounded, and falls from the top of the Empire State Building, I cried. Later film versions also showed King Kong in a sympathetic light, with the similarity between the emotions of gorillas and humans being remarked upon.

Like many animals, Gorillas suffer at the hands of poachers in the countries where they still live in the wild. Some are killed for food, others for traditional medicine ingredients, and many more to provide grisly ‘trophies’, such as their heads and hands. In recent decades, various indivduals and some organisations have worked hard to establish refuges and safe areas for gorillas in African countries. Wardens have been employed to discourage poachers, and ‘gorilla tourism’ has been established, with people visiting groups of gorillas who have become used to the close proximity of humans.

Let’s hope that this continues, until gorillas are no longer endangered. It would be tragic indeed to see one of our closest relatives become extinct.

Welcome, Burundi

Flag of Burundi. Vector illustration. World flag

I have had 38 views of my blog today, from the country of Burundi. I know the name of course, but very little about the country.

Here is a map showing where it is on that vast continent.

Some countries just tend to get overlooked. If there is no war, no catastrophic disease, and no contentious political issues, they are easily tuned out of our consciousness.
In my case, that has surely happened to Burundi.

I looked up a few snippets of information about the country.

The Twa, Hutu and Tutsi peoples have lived in Burundi for at least 500 years. For more than 200 of those years, Burundi was an independent kingdom, until the beginning of the 20th century, when Germany colonised the region. After the First World War and Germany’s defeat, it ceded the territory to Belgium

Burundi remains primarily a rural society, with just 13.4% of the population living in urban areas in 2019.

One of the smallest countries in Africa, Burundi’s land is used mostly for subsistence agricultural and grazing, which has led to deforestation, soil erosion and habitat loss. As of 2005 the country was almost completely deforested, with less than 6% of its land covered by trees and over half of that being commercial plantations. In addition to poverty, Burundians often have to deal with corruption, weak infrastructure, poor access to health and education services, and hunger. Burundi is densely populated and many young people emigrate in search of opportunities elsewhere. The World Happiness Report 2018 ranked Burundi as the world’s least happy nation with a rank of 156.

Sadly, it doesn’t sound like the greatest place to live, far from it. But it is now back on my radar, thanks to blogging, and a resident who viewed my blog today.

Dream on

I am reblogging this post from Ngozi in my new series of ‘A Reblog Offer’

Doshelles

Author’s Note: Mum was involved in a ghastly motor accident in the year 2000. She was bed ridden for years, and as a result experienced some setbacks in life. This didn’t stop her from achieving her goals. One of her favorite expressions remain “I was unequivocal in expressing my thoughts.”

Mum was (still is) partial to Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door perfume. Its sensuous blend of rich floral and fruity notes always announced her presence. The difference between a runway model and her was height and weight-she moved with grace and poise, the world was her runway. My greatest fantasy as a child was to grow up fast- share her wardrobe of tasteful-colorful-fashionable clothes, shoes, and handbags.

On the day of the accident, I came back from school downcast, hoping that Mum was home to cheer me up. My friends and neighbor, the twins, had lost their dog- Wisdom. I got…

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Electric Car, Anyone?

(This post is about all-electric cars, not petrol/electric hybrids)

We keep hearing a lot about electric cars. They don’t pollute, and they are ‘green’, as far as the environment is concerned. Some countries are insisting that all cars have to be electric by a certain date, though that date varies dramatically.

They have drawbacks of course. Limited range, depending on speed, and using lights or accessories. They are not easy to charge either. Very few charging stations have been built so far, and those that exist don’t have that many spaces. That means you might drive to a place, not be able to charge your vehicle, and then be stuck there.

Even charging them at home is a mission. If I had one, I would have to have a cable running from the car to a power source in the garage. Far from ideal, especially in bad weather, if the car doesn’t fit into the garage, or if like most of us, your garage is full of ‘stuff’, and has no room for a car.

And what if I lived in a smart high-rise apartment in London, with no underground car park? Would I drape my charging lead twenty floors down the side of the building, to the car parked outside? Or in a nice Edwardian house on a street. Would people be prepared to step over or under the cable as they walked along? I doubt that. And nobody will vandalise your unattended car as it charges, by pulling out the plug, or breaking the cable.
Believe that, and you’ll believe anything.

And there are some other much more serious considerations.

It is estimated that the batteries in such cars generally only last about seven years, depending on use, and how many times they are re-charged. If we end up with millions of electric cars on the roads, we will have the problem of having to dispose of millions of worn-out batteries too. And replacements can cost anything from £400 to £1900 each. That replacement cost has to be factored in to a car that has already been hit by age and use depreciation, possibly making the car completely worthless after a relatively short life.

But if it is going to be better for the environment, then it has to be done, right?

Think again.

Cobalt is essential for the manufacture of batteries used in electric cars. A lot of this is obtained from countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo. Child labour is used there in the extraction of Cobalt, as well as poorly-paid and unsafe adult labour. There is no health and safety, and no restrictions on the extraction. Last year, the DRC produced 70% of all the Cobalt used in the West.

COBALT

But even that won’t be enough once electric cars become compulsory. The ‘answer’ is going to be mining the seas for Cobalt. Those seas already choking on plastic pollution, oil pollution, and garbage pollution. Coral degeneration is a hot topic, but once Cobalt mining starts, the current worries will be overwhelmed by a true ecological disaster. The disturbance of the sea bed will cover plants and creatures in sand and silt, also making the water dark, and stifling the breathing of sea life.

Sea Cobalt

Here’s a recent BBC report on that.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-49759626

So when Amsterdam bans all but electric vehicles soon, and stands proud as the first city to do so, I hope they are giving some thought to the small boys hammering rocks in Africa for a pittance, or the sea-life destroyed by Cobalt mining in our oceans. And I also hope that they have worked out what to do with all the spent batteries, less than ten years after that.

I know petrol and diesel is no long-term answer. But it seems all-electric has just as many problems too. And I haven’t even discussed the generation of all that electricity using coal-fired, garbage-fired, and nuclear power stations that will still be in use for a generation.

Perhaps the future has to return to pedal power? And a lot more walking.

Ambulance stories (22)

With the recent conviction for FGM in the news, I thought it appropriate to reblog this post, from 2012.

beetleypete

The Hammersmith Swordsman

In the early 1980’s, female circumcision was not something that I was well acquainted with. In truth, I don’t recall that I had heard of it at that time, though in recent years, it has received a lot of attention in the media. For those of you who are not that intimate with this practice, I will give a very basic version of what is involved. A young girl, sometimes only a baby, has parts of the outer lips of her vagina cut off, usually including her clitoris. The resulting wound is then stitched together, in a somewhat rudimentary fashion, with a small opening left, to allow the flow of bodily fluids. On her wedding night, her husband then cuts the sutures prior to having sex, thus ‘guaranteeing’ that he has wed a virgin. I think this is the process in a nutshell, please forgive me for…

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Just been watching…(25)

Beasts of No Nation (2015)

***Plot spoilers avoided***

download

In 2008, I watched a film about boy soldiers involved in the civil war in Liberia. It was called ‘Johnny Mad Dog’. When I saw the news that there was to be a new film about boy soldiers, this time starring the excellent Idris Elba, I was looking forward to seeing it. I watched it this morning, and decided to review it now, when it was still fresh in my mind.

The film is set in an unnamed country in West Africa. It begins in a small town in the countryside, and with the family of young Agu. He lives a happy enough life, with his parents, older brother, and baby sister. Fetching water from a communal pump, playing with his friends, and getting up to mischief. The town is poor, but they make the best of their lot, and his father has even given family land to help refugees from the war in a nearby country. Their own country is also in turmoil, with various rebel factions fighting for control of regions, and against the government forces that rule the country.

One day, they get the news that the war is coming close, and Agu’s father packs off his wife and baby to live with relatives in the capital city. They boys and men have to stay behind, to look after the stores and property in the town. Government troops arrive, shooting at random, and rounding up all the remaining people, who they accuse of being rebels. When it becomes obvious that they intend to execute everyone who is left, young Agu is told to run away. Lost and alone in the jungle, he stumbles across a rag-tag rebel force, comprised of small boys and young men. They take him to meet the leader, a fearsome man known only as ‘The Commandant’.(Elba) He takes the small boy in, and declares that he will train him to be a soldier.

Agu is initiated into the ways of the unit. He is not given food, and made to carry out menial tasks. For training, he is given a stick to use, and has to attend constant indoctrination lectures too. He makes friends with another small boy, Strika, who never speaks, and when they go off on their first mission, Agu is forced to kill a prisoner by The Commandant. Once he has done this, he is finally given an assault rifle, and hailed as a real soldier. As the battalion moves around the countryside, we see them taking part in old tribal rituals designed to increase their motivation, and to make them fearless of death. They also use a variety of narcotic drugs, to help make them desensitised to the fighting and killing they take part in.

Agu begins to realise that his home has gone, and he is unlikely to ever see his mother again. Under the spell of the charismatic Commandant, he starts to accept his new comrades as his real family. Led by the Commandant to more and more victories, they also attack and murder defenceless civilians, accusing them of helping the government troops. Agu is not only witness to many atrocities, he is involved in them too. When the battalion is summoned to a nearby city to see the Supreme Commander, Agu and Strika are chosen to be in the Commandant’s bodyguard, as trusted soldiers. Not only is the Commandant expecting to be promoted, he is also anticipating a share of riches from all the looting, and recognition of the successful fighting his unit has been involved in.

But their rebel faction has now been recognised by the United Nations, and marauding armies of young boys are bad publicity. The Commandant is unhappy with the news he receives in the city, and takes his forces back into the jungle, leading them to an uncertain fate. With no home to return to, and no cause to support any longer, they become ‘The Beasts of No Nation’ indeed.

This is at times an overwhelming film. It is beautifully shot, and delivers striking images alongside scenes that are frankly unsettling, and sometimes hard to watch. It deals unflinchingly with executions, murders, the brutal killing of women and children, and hints at child sexual abuse too. The battle scenes are reminiscent of news footage we may have seen from Liberia, Rwanda, and other war-torn African nations, with heavily-armed children in the thick of the action.

The group is like the ‘Lost Boys’ in Peter Pan, though armed with AK-47 rifles, and rocket launchers. Their uniforms are a mix of civilian clothes, and any equipment they can take from their dead enemies. Despite fighting a modern guerrilla war, they still carry totems, and engage in tribal dances. During breaks in the fighting, we see them returning to childish games like tag, or blind man’s buff, reminding us that these ruthless killers are still just small children.

Idris Elba is outstanding as the capricious Commandant. Friend one moment, heartless killer the next. Sometimes approaching the edge of madness, other times revealed as a cunning and greedy opportunist. But the most memorable performances come from the child actors. Abraham Attah is a revelation in the role of Agu. He was fourteen at the time of filming, but looks a lot younger. His expressive face can portray every emotion without the need for words to accompany the scene. Emmanuel Quaye as Strika, looking like a little boy lost, then joining in an attack without hesitation. Playing a mute, he manages to convey his feelings with his eyes. This is not a film you are likely to forget in a hurry, I assure you.

It may not be to everyone’s taste, to watch a film that shows such brutality. But it is a stark reminder of events that we usually only see for 90 seconds on the news, before changing channels, or popping out to make a cup of tea. And as a film, it is incredibly well made too.
If you think you can stand it, I recommend it without hesitation.

This is the short trailer.

Holidays and Travel: Kenya 1983 (Part Three)

Our driver and guide for the trip to Amboseli introduced himself as Stephen. He was quick to add that he was from the Kikuyu tribe, and was a Christian. He told us that he would be with us for the whole stay, and would be sure to show us all the ‘best animals’. We were in a small minibus with five other passengers; two couples, and a single Japanese man. We were the only tourists from England, but everyone else spoke English, which was just as well, as at no time was any other language translation offered. Starting the long journey soon after an early breakfast, we began to see something like the country we had expected. Rough roads, slow lorries, and wobbling motorcyclists heralded the start of the trip, but we were soon away from the city’s outskirts, and into open country.

This was the Kenya of my youth, and all those safari films. Endless plains, stunted acacia trees, termite mounds, and scrub-land. The sun was out too, and it was getting warmer; light reflecting off of the red earth that looked as if it had been painted especially for our arrival. We passed small villages, a few jumbled buildings at the roadside, surrounding a general store, or perhaps a lone petrol pump. Small children waved as we passed, thin frames in tight vests. After some hours of this, we stopped for lunch, at a roadside lay-by. It was a cold meal, prepared by the hotels we had come from and handed to the driver, who kept it in a cool-box. Stephen showed us the view, by waving his arm expansively. ‘That is a part of the Rift Valley’, he told us, adding ‘Look, elephant.’ I looked off at the horizon but could see nothing. One of the other passengers offered his binoculars, and I was amazed, quite literally, to see hundreds of elephants, far off. I had never imagined that so many of these magnificent creatures still existed, let alone in one single massive herd. We took many photos, but the small lens failed to register much of interest.

We arrived at the Kilimanjaro Safari Lodge that afternoon. It was exactly as I had expected it to be. Individual African-style cabins, dotted around a large central building housing the reception, bar, and restaurant. The whole area was overshadowed by Mount Kilimanjaro; snow-capped, and truly magnificent to behold. Although a long way off, and actually in another country, Tanzania, we felt as if we could easily walk across to it. We couldn’t of course. We were shown to our cabin. It had basic accommodation, and a small patio with comfortable chairs. The beds had mosquito nets over them, but I never once saw a mosquito in Kenya, so presumed that they protected us from some other kind of bug. Sitting outside, the view was simply enthralling. We were told that late afternoon was the best time to look for animals around the lodge, but that we should not venture too far after dark, as lions had been seen close to the compound. We went for dinner, and during a drink in the bar, Stephen appeared, to tell us that we would be going on a game drive after breakfast. We were very excited that night, as we were finally in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but animals.

Back in the minibus the next day, we didn’t have to wait too long before coming across the first truly wild animals. As we drove along the track from the lodge, we had to stop, as a family of wart-hogs crossed the road ahead of us. The large male stood guard in the centre of the road, glaring at us behind a formidable display of curly tusks. His females and tiny babies crossed behind him, just like a family using a pedestrian crossing in London. It was very charming, and a good start to the day. With the lodge no longer visible, we started to see quite a few other vehicles, more tourist minibuses, and some large four-wheel-drive safari jeeps too. Stephen told us that he was going to turn off, so as not to end up in a queue, to look at the ‘best’ animals. One of the passengers alerted us to a huge herd of zebra, grazing off to the right. They were accompanied by a large number of Thompson’s gazelle, and some larger impala. It seemed to be a feature of the prey animals, to gather together in groups of differing species. Stephen got the vehicle close enough for us to take some good photos, but not to frighten off the nervous small deer.

Further on, he took us to his ‘favourite trees’, where he was sure that he would find giraffe. The taller trees were in a clump, and sure enough, there were giraffes feeding, and in large numbers too. Brought up with zoos, we might have already seen most of these animals, but it never ceased to fascinate, to see them in such large numbers. Quite a few family groups of giraffe were there, and numbered over fifty in total. Leaving that area, we were suddenly aware of a large ostrich running very fast a few yards from the bus. Another followed, accompanied by a juvenile. They got up a fair turn of speed, and ran very close to us for a while before veering off, seeking safety from whatever danger they had perceived. We then had to return for lunch, with the promise of a trip to see hippo that afternoon.

Driving out to the hippo pools, Stephen gave us stern warnings about approaching them. They were responsible for killing more people every year than any other African animal, he told us. We would have to walk some way off the track to see them, so rangers armed with rifles were going to escort us. He was going to stay with the minibus where we were dropped off. We met up with another group, and the two rangers. They explained that there was a ten minute walk, and we were potentially exposed to any dangers. They advised us to be wary of the cape buffalo, as it was unpredictable, and to listen to their instructions, should any animals approach the group. It seemed to be exciting, away from the relative safety of the small bus, walking across to the watery area where the hippos were usually found. We were all very safety conscious, and kept quiet. We arrived at an area where rushes surrounded a few deep pools which had a lot of vegetation floating on them. The rangers indicated the presence of the large mammals, but we couldn’t see anything. After ten minutes or so, the shiny back of a hippo briefly appeared on the surface, and on the other side of the pond, a loud snort indicated another. That was it. We were told that we had to go, as another group would arrive soon, and numbers were controlled. It was something of a disappointment, even though we had seen a back!

When we told Stephen, he seemed determined to find us something to make up for it. After a brief drive, he stopped the bus. Up ahead, we could see a large number of baboons. They were picking at the ground on either side of the road, unconcerned by our presence. He waited for them to move off, before continuing the drive back to the lodge. Just before sunset that evening, something happened that made the holiday for me. As my wife was in the shower, I was sitting outside the hut, on the small patio. In the distance, thousands of wildebeest were heading across the horizon, silhouetted by the setting sun. They looked as if they were returning from a hard day somewhere, moving slowly and deliberately. I was suddenly aware of something close by, and turned slowly to look. I almost leapt out of my chair in alarm, as I saw a huge mandrill sitting down next to me. This large baboon-like animal had a formidable set of teeth, and a brightly-coloured muzzle, indicating a mature male. Even sitting, its head was level with mine, it was so large. I had no idea what to do, but thought it best not to run. Moments later, I was amazed when it extended its hand to me, palm up. All I had to offer was some cube sugar, a leftover from a cup of coffee. I placed it very gently into the outstretched hand, and the mandrill ran off clutching the booty. That close-range encounter made the whole trip worthwhile for me.

That evening over dinner, I told of my meeting with the mandrill to anyone who would listen. The staff scolded me for giving it the sugar. It had obviously been fed before, and would keep coming back if people gave it treats. They mentioned that salt was being put out that evening, and with the lights from the compound, we might see some elephants. We sat outside after the meal, and did indeed see some elephants and buffalo, coming for the salt, all very close to the buildings. I was left unsure if that was how I wanted to see them though. The next day would be our last at the lodge, and was to feature a trip to a Maasai village, and the prospect of seeing some big cats.

Holidays and Travel: Kenya 1983 (Part One)

After the early death of my then mother in law, my ex-wife was left some money in her will. It was a generous, if not life-changing amount, and she decided to spend it on a holiday. As it was enough to be able to choose somewhere sufficiently exotic, we could examine the possibilities of travel further afield. The short list was soon drawn up. India, Egypt, South America, and Kenya were all at the top. I was quite keen to visit the USA at the time, and to explore the battlefields of the Civil War. However, it was my wife’s legacy, and only right that she should make the final decision. She settled on Africa, and a trip to see wildlife in Kenya. It would be a two-centre holiday, with time spent in Nairobi, before moving on to the coast at Mombasa. Some excursions would be arranged beforehand, and others chosen after arrival. We would have to visit during the summer, as my wife was a lecturer, so had over six weeks off at that time. We settled on mid-July, and made the booking. We were going to fly to Nairobi (via Rome), and stay in a nice hotel on the edge of the city. We included an overnight stay at The Ark, a purpose-built hotel and animal viewing area, similar to the more famous ‘Treetops’. After eight days in this region, we would fly on to Mombasa, to enjoy the coastal area, and warmer weather found there. It was all arranged, and we began to get quite excited about our forthcoming safari adventure.

We lived in Wimbledon at the time, and our next-door neighbours were from a Kenyan Asian background. Their brother still lived in Mombasa, where he owned a large car dealership. We were very friendly with them, so naturally chatted to them about the holiday, and they were happy to give us some tips and pointers. Back then, Kenya was not a very democratic country. Daniel Arap Moi had declared himself president for life, and the currency was not traded; so the Kenyan Shillings were only available in the home country, at rates inflated for tourists. Our London neighbours devised a plan, where we would be able to get much better rates, and help their family into the bargain. On our arrival in Nairobi, we would be met by a business acquaintance. He would come to our hotel, and give us a substantial sum of Kenyan money. For the sake of appearances, we would change up some of our travellers cheques at the hotel too, so that we had a receipt for a transaction. On our return to the UK, we would give our neighbours the amount of money agreed. In this way, their brother was able to get some money out of Kenya, and have some savings over in England. It was illegal in Kenya, but the UK government were not at all interested. So, we agreed to help out, knowing that it would make our holiday very cheap in terms of spending money once we were there.

The flight was long and tiring, mainly because of a long delay on the ground in Rome, waiting for the time when dozens of noisy and excited Italian passengers were to board the aircraft. As we were flying due south, there was no time delay to deal with, and we arrived as expected, in the mid-afternoon. Although we had booked with a large company, our trip was mainly as independent travellers, with a guide arranged for some trips, and the services of a representative on call, if we needed them. We were met by a driver at Nairobi airport, and we were the only passengers in a small mini-coach. The hotel was modern and comfortable, with the city in sight some distance off. The reception advised us that it was dangerous to walk into the centre, and recommended that we take a taxi at all times. We changed up some travellers cheques, booked a table in the restaurant of the hotel for later that night, and retired to our room for a nap, as we were both very tired after the journey. We were woken about two hours later by the telephone. The reception said that someone was there, asking for us. He had thought this to be most unusual, and asked if he should be allowed up. I asked them to show him to our room, and as I suspected, he was the ‘money-man’, a salesman from the local branch of the car dealership. He introduced himself, and handed over a small zip bag. Once he was sure that we were satisfied, he said his farewells, and left. He was visibly uncomfortable, and seemed unhappy doing this task. We counted the bagful of cash, and were surprised to find just over £1,000 worth of Kenyan money. We had been asked to give £200 for this in sterling, once back in England. This meant that we had a rate of five to one, instead of less than one to one exchanged by the hotel. We were cash-rich, for the first time in our lives. The meal in the hotel that evening was surprisingly good, and compensated for the overcast weather; hardly the blazing African sun we had anticipated. It was to turn out to be indicative of many very good meals during the whole holiday. Kenya remains as one of the few places that I have visited, where I never once got an upset stomach, despite eating in a wide variety of places, including open-air restaurants, and small cafes. Flush with our new wad of cash, we paid for the meal immediately, and even left a generous tip.

The next morning, we decided to take in the sights of Nairobi. As advised, we took a taxi, as there were always plenty waiting outside the hotel. The reception also told us the approximate cost, as the meter was either not switched on, or unreliable. The driver first told me not to lean my arm on the open window. He said that if he had to stop, there was a good chance that someone would steal my watch, by ripping it off my wrist. He also told us to keep our camera slung at the front where we could see it, and suggested that my wife sling her bag around her body. On the short journey into the city, he drove straight through the first red traffic light, causing us some alarm. Realising our concern, he said that he would not stop at any lights or stop signs, in case someone came out of the bushes to rob us. We had only been in the country a short time, and we were becoming very worried by all these warnings. When he dropped us at the main shopping street, he went on to say that we should not offer large denomination notes, or produce any wallets. He said that we should carry small amounts in our pockets, and never accept the offer of tour guides, or go off with anyone who wanted to show us something. As we got out of the cab, we were wondering what we had let ourselves in for.

Ambulance stories (22)

The Hammersmith Swordsman

In the early 1980’s, female circumcision was not something that I was well acquainted with. In truth, I don’t recall that I had heard of it at that time, though in recent years, it has received a lot of attention in the media. For those of you who are not that intimate with this practice, I will give a very basic version of what is involved. A young girl, sometimes only a baby, has parts of the outer lips of her vagina cut off, usually including her clitoris. The resulting wound is then stitched together, in a somewhat rudimentary fashion, with a small opening left, to allow the flow of bodily fluids. On her wedding night, her husband then cuts the sutures prior to having sex, thus ‘guaranteeing’ that he has wed a virgin. I think this is the process in a nutshell, please forgive me for not going into greater detail, a lot more information is available on the Internet.

This practice is most common in countries in north-east Africa, such as Sudan, Somalia, and others in the Horn of Africa, though it is carried out elsewhere, especially in western nations with a large immigrant population from those places mentioned. As well as the ‘proof’ of virginity, the removal of the clitoris is thought to stop any possibility of infidelity, by removing any pleasure that could be gained. To the cultures that continue to see it as normal, it has both traditional, and religious associations. In other countries, it is considered to be archaic, and barbaric. (And rightly so, in my personal opinion).

Late one evening, we were called to a flat, inside a large house, in the Hammersmith area of West London. A midwife, on a routine call to a pregnant female, was being denied access to the patient, and was concerned for her safety. The Social Services had become involved, and after a long drawn out attendance at the address, they had decided to involve the Police as well. As pregnancy had been mentioned, the Police summoned an ambulance, in case it should be needed. The flat was at the top of the building, and the social workers and Police were trying to gain access, by shouting through the door, and repeated loud knocking. After this had gone on for a few minutes, the door was suddenly wrenched open. To the surprise of all of us assembled in the stairwell, a tall, thin, somewhat elderly man appeared. He was wide-eyed, and dressed only in thin cotton trousers; he was bare-chested and barefoot also. His hair was unkempt and wild, and he sported a straggly beard. But what really got our attention, was the fact that he was wielding a huge sword. This was not an ornamental weapon, of the sort that might have been mounted above a fireplace, but a very real,  traditional item, that looked as if it had once seen action. The blade was a good three feet in length, and the long handle, complete with wrist guard, was taped with cord. Moreover, he was brandishing it in the manner of someone who knew how to use it, and was prepared to do so.

We all made a hurried retreat to the lower floor, including the few Policemen present, who were only armed with truncheons. The man held his position at the head of the stairs, screaming at us in a foreign language, and waving the sword from side to side, with menacing strokes. The wide blade looked more than capable of taking off a limb, perhaps even severing a head, so nobody was taking any chances, and Police reinforcements were summoned, as a matter of urgency. They arrived after some delay, equipped with riot gear, helmets, and shields, though none had firearms of any kind. After a brief, further attempt to reason with the crazed man, the Police eventually charged him, using the shields to protect themselves from the swinging blows of his sword, and manged to pin him down on the stairs, and disarm him. This was done with considerable courage, as none of them had more than a shield, and a riot baton to hand. Once he had been handcuffed and secured, he was removed to a Police van, and we were all able to enter the flat.

We found a young female of African origin, aged about 18. She was on the floor, in some distress, with a high fever, and blood issuing from between her legs. On examination by the midwife, it soon became clear that she had a bad infection inside her vagina, which was still stitched up, in the fashion previously described. It seems that once pregnancy had been confirmed, she had been re-stitched, by someone from her own community, to await full term of her labour, and to make sure that she did not have sex with anyone else. The wound between her legs was very distressing to behold, grossly swollen, with thick cord sutures cutting into her flesh, some bleeding apparent, and a noxious odour issuing from the whole area. We got her down to the ambulance on a stretcher, and with the help of the midwife, the stitches were cut, to relieve pressure, and the young lady taken to a local hospital for further treatment. She was six months pregnant at the time, but was so thin, it was barely noticeable.

We found out later, that the elderly man with the sword was her husband, and she was only one of a few wives he had. His reason for taking this action, was that he did not want any westerners, especially men, to examine his wife. This was my first close encounter with both female circumcision, and an angry swordsman. Thankfully, it was also my last.