Have you ever been shocked by something foreign, only to realize later that the shocking thing actually exists much, much closer than you previously thought? Like being shocked by the news of a snake appearing in a toilet bowl somewhere in Papua, and thinking to yourself: “what a different place Papua is! We’re really coddled by modern luxury. I can’t imagine a snake suddenly appearing when I’m taking a crap. It must be the wilderness out there…” And then suddenly a few weeks later a friend sent you a picture of her toilet bowl, with a huge honking snake head peeking out from the water. A friend who lives in a posh urban house with good sanitation and electricity and technology and no wild jungles visible from the window.
I just had a similar experience today. Only, instead of a snake (freakish, I admit, but it doesn’t shake your core belief or fundamental sense of self), it came in the form of FGM (female genital mutilation). It is something I learned from the pages of Cultural Anthropology textbook about African cultures. It is something I read in feminist books condemning the widespread African practice of it. It is something that shocked me when African victims made video testimonies. It is something I’m passionately, personally against. It is something shocking, outrageous, alien, foreign. It’s African.
Only it might not be so African as I thought.
Apparently the practice is not only alive in Indonesia (my own country, for crying out loud), it is very much alive and well and widely practiced and and and… accepted as a norm!
The snake has suddenly appeared in my living room!
There’s this article in (6-12 August 2011 edition, if you’re interested in reading the article and can get your hands on one) highlighting the practice of ‘female circumcision’ in Indonesia. And I just happen to be sitting in a hair salon, and I, in self-righteous shock, blurted out to my hairdresser, “Hah?? Sunat perempuan (female circumcision)?” And what did she say? (And her three other friends who happened to be around) “Oh yeah. Sure. Usually done together while piercing the baby girl’s ears (tindik).” Like talking about their daily menu!
So am I the only one being rendered speechless, slack-jawed, and reeling from this mind-boggling revelation? Or am I just not well-read/connected/updated enough?
I guess it’s the fact that FGM’s not such an ‘aboriginal’ concept after all that boggles me. (Or that Indonesia is not as ‘civilized’ (insert my culturally-tied definition of civilized here) as I thought. One or the other.)
I had further discussion with my hairdresser about it, including its ties with regional customs, religious beliefs, and local medical practices, but I’m not going to elaborate about it here because it’s too loaded. If anyone comments and asks about it maybe I’ll write some more (some time). For now, suffice it to say that I’m still tipsy and reeling from the culture shock.