Bishara Sheikh Hamo, 25, underwent female genital mutilation (FGM) when she was just 11 years old.
The cut resulted in serious health complications for Sheikh Hamo, and now, the tally clerk is an anti-FGM crusader keen to ensure no other girl experiences what she did.
She bared it all in an interview with Saturday Nation.
“The day was in December 2005. I was 11 and I woke up very early because I was going to get the cut. It was a ‘big day’.
The day that us girls would become clean and pure. I was excited about it. We had been socialised thus.
I grew up in a village called Sericho in Isiolo County. My dad was a polygamist who had 11 wives. We were about 46 children in total and my own mother had four kids; I was the last born.
I was always a friendly and talkative girl. I still have the same personality to date.
The practice was deep-rooted in our culture and I knew it was the only way into womanhood. As a young, girl, I was also looking forward to receiving an award that my grandmother had promised, if I didn’t cry during the process.
A LAUGHING STOCK
We were four girls eagerly awaiting to magically blossom into women after the cut. They took us from our homes to an unknown place.
All I could remember was the cutter or traditional midwife saying, “This is the place to get your earlobes piercing done.”
I got confused because two of the girls already had ear piercings. Perhaps she was trying to make light of the grave moment so that we don’t get afraid.
The midwife, as is the case, was a woman aged above 50. Most of the time, they use razor blades and one razor blade can be used on five or more girls. The cutters have no medical training.
FGM is one of the most severe non-medical type of procedures. For most girls, despite the severity of the procedure, there is no way out of it.
If you fail to be circumcised, you will be the laughing stock of the village; you will suffer stigma, and no man will want to marry you.
I didn’t want to be ostracised. I was the first one to be initiated on this particular day. I was blindfolded and my hands tied behind my back as I lay down on a floor mat.
There were five other women in the room including the midwife. One spread my legs wide open and pinned my limbs down.
At this point, my wrapper (leso) was removed. One of the big-bodied women sat on my chest and covered my mouth so that I couldn’t scream. They didn’t want the other girls to hear you scream.
I felt a sharp cut between my legs. I wailed loudly out of pain. They removed my blindfold and all I could see was blood everywhere.
Many years later, I learned that they performed the type II cut, which is known as excision. They removed the clitoris and labia minora.
They then applied some traditional herb called qumbi and rubbed it on the affected area. ‘It would soothe the pain,’ one woman assured.
Then they made me sit on a hole with burning charcoal mixed with herbs with my legs tied. It was the most excruciating pain I have ever felt in my life. “It is going to keep infection away,” another woman yelled out.
For the next week, I had to sit on the hot charcoal hole every morning and evening. The following day after the cut, I had the most unbearable pains when peeing.
By now I felt that this was pure torture. ‘Why did they have to make me go through this,’ I cursed. This was just the beginning of my agony.
My bladder became weak and I developed urinary problems. I even missed classes for two weeks.
When I urinated, it would come out in small drops. I would get migraines and whenever I saw the doctor, I was given painkillers which never helped.
My periods became irregular and I had an uncontrollable discharge. I suffered for 13 good years. Even in my agony, I tried to maintain a semblance of a normal life.
I secured a job in November 2016 at the Kenya Ports Authority as a berth tally clerk in the Cargo Department where I still work. That was after trying my hand in sales at various companies.
In May 2018 my health challenges heightened. I had an unusual migraine. I was admitted to a hospital in Mombasa.
The tests showed I was acutely dehydrated. I received 24 litres of intravenous fluids for three days and on the fourth day my urine came out in drops.
One drop was usually worse than the previous one and I would even go a day without peeing. It turned yellowish and my body swelled.
The urinary catheter wouldn’t get in because there was no space in my bladder.
In June, I got a special evaluation and that’s when the doctor told me that I had a bladder outlet obstruction.
“Have you gone through FGM?” the doctor inquired. “Yes. Why?” I responded. “Your urinary passage was sliced off,” he revealed and wondered how I had survived for those many years.
I required an urgent operation, he said. I had to undergo urethral structure and blood wash (urinary dilation) and immediately after an operation.
The process was to adjust my urine passage and clean my bladder because of the blockage I had. They also put a catheter in me for two weeks.
During that period, I also got my monthly period and I wasn’t sure if it was a normal period or not but the pain was excruciating.
Luckily, everything went back to normal and even my periods became regular. Two months after the operation, feeling normal and my health restored, I started to campaign against FGM.
I had seen firsthand what the practice can do to one’s life. I made it my mission to dissuade girls from undergoing the cut.
My two nieces are now 21 and did not go through the initiation. I would do the same for my daughter.
Kortex Kenya recognised me with an award called “She Can” in March 2019.
In the same year, I also formed a foundation called Bishara Hamo Foundation as a tool to bring advocacy against FGM to my community because of health complications.
I look up to Janet Mbugua as she is vocal about issues concerning women. I also look up to Hirbo Wadere – who is an FGM survivor and advocate.
I want to be remembered as an FGM fighter because I don’t want any young girl to go through what I did.”