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Sunday, 31 May 2009

A Short Cut to Manhood, Uganda

Written by David Bentley
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The threshold, a tree branch on the ground, has been crossed. The 16-year-old boy, the candidate, steps forward. He's about to become a man. The crowd encircled around him inches forward, craning for a better look. Children crawl beneath the forest of legs, hoping for a glimpse.

A Short Cut to Manhood, male circumcision, rite of passage, circumcision ritual, Lwemuna Village, Uganda, Uganda rituals, Mount Elgon, David BentleyThe threshold, a tree branch on the ground, has been crossed. The 16-year-old boy, the candidate, steps forward. He's about to become a man. The crowd encircled around him inches forward, craning for a better look. Children crawl beneath the forest of legs, hoping for a glimpse.

My heart is pounding. I'm near the front, close to the boy. The energy and emotion of the crowd is so overwhelming that I don't even notice the scorching afternoon sun.

The casually dressed man standing in front of the 16-year-old, the surgeon, pulls out a six inch long, razor sharp blade. The candidate, seemingly in a trance, stands expressionless. His face is covered in goat dung. He holds a baton in each hand. His chin is up as he stares unblinkingly at the sky. The crowd goes quiet.

A Short Cut to Manhood, male circumcision, rite of passage, circumcision ritual, Lwemuna Village, Uganda, Uganda rituals, Mount Elgon, David BentleyFor 48 hours prior to this moment, the boy has been running, chanting and singing non-stop, day and night, in a parade of supporters. Now, in five seconds, it will all be over. The surgeon pulls the candidate's foreskin forward and raises the blade....

The whistle blows. 700 primary school students begin to form disorganized lines in the shadeless, dirt field in front of the school. It's report card day, but the students are distracted by us. 700 kids stare in unison at the mzungu, Swahili for white people. Melanin deficient people are not common here; this is a small village in the middle of nowhere. There's no running water, no electricity and no pubic transport. The main road in and out of town is a ruddy, dirt track. No one in the village seems to own a car, but flagging down a passing motorcycle, plus 4,000 Ugandan shillings (about US$2), will get you a dusty, 20 minute ride on the back of the bike to the paved road, the default public transport hub.

Although people here are cash poor they are by no means destitute. There are few bills to pay in such a place. Building badly-needed classrooms, however, does require money.

A Short Cut to Manhood, male circumcision, rite of passage, circumcision ritual, Lwemuna Village, Uganda, Uganda rituals, Mount Elgon, David BentleyWe are in Lwemuna Village in Uganda, at the base of Mount Elgon near the Kenyan border, along with five other white, European volunteers and four Ugandan volunteers. The goal of our two-week work camp is to build another classroom at the primary school. Currently there are just four useable classrooms for the 700 students. As many as 100 students cram into each room. Classes are often taught outside by necessity, but the teachers seem to do all right with it. Two or three teachers work together to keep the kids busy.

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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