“Good morning, class. How was your weekend?” I greeted my students as I entered the room and began pulling out materials.

“It was interesting,” one boy said. This is a common answer with interesting a synonym for great, busy, awful.

When I asked why he said, “ I was cut. On the pen.” I stepped closer to him, trying to make out what he was saying because this didn’t make sense. His voice was a little quieter than usual, but I kept making him repeat it until I understood.

Then, I realized, a cut. On the pen. He had a circumcision.

In Lesotho it is not typical for boys, especially in villages, to be circumcised at birth. There may be a variety of reasons, but I think it partly has to do with babies being born in villages and at rural clinics. Sometimes it is done at a traditional initiation school, where boys and occasionally girls go into the mountains for several months at a time and come back as men and women. The activities of initiation schools are extremely secret, even to Basotho who have never been. I have heard that circumcision is done at these schools, for both boys and girls, but I don’t really know for sure.

In fairly recent studies, circumcisions are shown to greatly reduce HIV risks, as high as 60 percent in South African tested groups. (NPR’s “This American Life” did a really awesome piece on HIV/AIDs in Malawi in a 2011 episode titled, “Gossip.” One of the researchers they interviewed made a strong case for circumcision as way to slow the spread of HIV/AIDs in rural Africa.) In a country like Lesotho, and I am only talking about Lesotho,where the infection rate is 23 percent, mostly spread through vaginal sex, circumcision is a valid tool for prevention, but should certainly not be one’s only defense.

In my life skills class, we have spent months on HIV/AIDS. What is it? What does it do to the body? How does it differ between men and women? Can it be cured? Even by a traditional doctor? Is it more common in America? How is spread? How do you protect yourself?

I’ve mentioned circumcision to my students and, thanks to a very life-like model another volunteer let me borrow, was able to show them what the surgery physically does. I threw in the stats and told my students that this method should NOT be their only defense, but does have an impact.

Then I didn’t hear anything until the boy and another in class said they had the operation. The Ministry of Health in Lesotho is partnering with a few local hospitals to provide free circumcisions to boys older than 15 or younger if they are with a parent. My students are 18 and 19. Although they used their procedure to get out of class work and make me feel sorry for them, I was really proud that they took this initiative and did something that is scary and, I assume, quite painful.

That Saturday, I saw both students and another on a taxi. They were headed to the nearest to clinic and I to town. The boys who already had the procedure were going in for a check up while the third was getting the operation done that day. Like the others, I told him I was happy he was doing such a great thing.

Then the boy, who spoke in class, said to me, “Madam, we are doing this because of your life skills class. You taught us this.”

My heart was filled with joy. I nearly burst into tears. These are young men who understand what this disease is doing to their country. They see it rip a part families and communities. They know they are at risk. And they want to do something about it.

I share this story not to pump up my own ego, because they may have gotten the operation without my class, but to remind myself that good things do happen. Even if the kid lied to me, I will still take it as a tick in the win column. Working in the third world is devastating. You can’t always make the changes or bring the help you intended to. There is too much heartbreak and not enough infrastructure. But you can make small differences and those are what you hang your hat on after two years.

I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I am not going to be the volunteer who builds a school. I am not going to be the one who starts a great income-generating project or builds a playground out of recycled materials. My contributions will likely be small for reasons beyond and within my control. But when something as sparkling as these boys taking an initiative for their health based on a little of my prodding happens, I need to stop and appreciate it. Recognize it, congratulate myself and use it to get me up the next mountain.

That mere statement was justification. It was a reminder of why I am here and why I wanted to come. I can’t change the world but I can do something to improve someone else’s world. And in this great big world full of wars, sickness and unfair playing fields, that really is enough.

*I have been told by adult males that infant circumcision is a choice taken away from them. I have no opinions about the issue at this point, but may when I am mother. All I know is that circumcision has been proven to be enough of an impact in Lesotho in the fight against HIV that the government is willing to do the procedure for free. It is certainly not 100 percent and doesn’t prevent HIV, but has greatly reduced infection rate in varying African countries.


6 thoughts on “Circumcision

  1. My god, I’ve never heard such bile as

    “My heart was filled with joy. I nearly burst into tears. These are young men who understand what this disease is doing to their country. They see it rip a part families and communities. They know they are at risk. And they want to do something about it. ”

    ELECTIVE surgery to help prevent a STD?

    If female circumcision increased the liklihood of a good marriage, and thus less STD transmission, would you be overjoyed by female students getting circumcized? Or would you try to change the cultural norm?

    By age 75, 99% of men have prostate problems. So let’s remove the prostate at age 10? 15?

    Women get breast cancer–let’s remove them at age 10 or 15 to avoid the risk.

    God, what rubbish.

    • Well, thank you for your opinion. It is hard to compare stats you read on the Internet to what you live each day. Unless you experience it, you cannot relate.

  2. Great job, Heather. You taught those kids what you could, and they made the best decision for themselves. Whether they decide to use protection or to get a circumcision, they are protecting themselves from STDs and HIV infection, and you know that you’ve achieved what you needed to.

  3. 1. Nature Really Likes Male Circumcisions
    Way down under in Melbourne, Australia is the story of a tightly done male adult circumcision of the ultimate kind. You’ll never believe the story … or will you?
    Around 17 years ago, I became aware that circumcision was of interest to me. How to go about it ? What an embarrassment, how to sneak into a Doctor cost etc. I became more and more frustrated, as I knew I wanted it done. Australia is a hot climate too and I wanted a slick model penis, not a sock, at half mast. I had learnt from school that I was bisexual, I would use the odd opportunity to check out and occasionally talk another classmate into pulling down his pants and letting me give him oral sex. Both circumcised and uncircumcised, although I didn’t know what circumcision was then, I was only ten ! We start pretty early in Australia !
    Anyway back to circumcision. I became more and more, frustrated and there didn’t seem to be a way of resolving the issue. Then I had a bereavement in the family. If I couldn’t solve this simple problem… It was a question of honor.
    So what I did may surprise many. I am an everyday kind of bloke, a family now, job and the rest of it. So don’t be too shocked. Where there is a will there is a way.
    I had been researching on the net at the time and I was reading and seeing pics of tribal and African circumcisions. There are great stories of the Tuli in the Philippines and also teens putting their penis on a log with a piece of twine and the elder slicing off the foreskin, high and tight, leaving a terrific red patched scar.
    I decided after much viewing and research that this is what I wanted. I was a bit far from the Philippines and Africa, so this is what happened.
    One long weekend when there was a Public holiday, I decided to have a go myself. This is not for the faint hearted.
    On the Friday night, I did the usual, a few beers then came home. I opened a bottle of white wine and proceeded to watch an x-rated video. Of course with a long ring barked cock or two. After a while I was ready. A bit of popper amyl and I was more or less ready to have a go. At circumcision.
    I knew the skin would be sensitive, so I had purchased from an adult store, delay spray. This I think had lidocaine like when you get Suntan mozzie burns cream from the supermarket only stronger. I applied it to my foreskin until the end of my cock felt number, than usual. Another drink and some poppers, a look at the tightly taut scarred cocks on the TV screen and it was time. Time to join the rest of my male brothers on the planet with a permanently forever nude glans and a stripped pointed helmety penis. Intention purple glans to always lead the way, from that night on or else.
    I sized and drew a line working out where to cut and checked this out numerous times. Another drink, more amyl and an inspection of the video playing and I was ready.
    I took a very sharp pair a medium size sewing scissors and sat down. Carefully lining them up, I very slowly, and I mean really really slowly, put them through the line on the foreskin I had drawn. I had already pulled the foreskin as hard as I ever could in front of my glans.
    Slowly but surely I got the job done. Everything dropped back behind my glans and my foreskin lay on a tissue. A dream come true. I couldn’t believe my absolute relief and satisfaction.
    All this time later nearly two decades on, I am still happy. A couple a days later, I consulted a friendly doctor and some stitches were added on the quiet to complete the job.
    Result is I have a very tightly circumcised penis, with absolutely no frenulum or foreskin.
    The absolute tightest male circumcision possible, for myself and any partner I should choose, whether it be female or male. Amazingly there is no two tone scar and the circumcision join is one color and height. No different levels of skin height or misalignment.
    Nature really does like circumcisions.

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