Male Pruning, Celebrity, and the Greener Grasses of Africa

Note: African circumcision practices vary by tribe and region, but it is a male rite of passage in many East African tribes.

The room darkened as the sun dipped behind the lush hills surrounding the shores of Lake Bunyonyi, making it even more difficult for me to see the cue ball resting atop the derelict billiard table’s frayed felt. I took aim, while the small group of villagers that came to watch me, the muzungo, observed and commentated in one of the multiple languages spoken in this area of Uganda.

The bartender lit a candle, pawed at her hefty breasts with one hand and used the other to pat the braids on her head to relieve the itching. She giggled and whispered something to my opponent.

“She said if you win, she makes a baby with you,” he interpreted. I looked her way and in the candlelight caught a smile slash across her dark face.

“Victor, you don’t have to translate every single thing they say about me,” I said, trying to hide my annoyance.

I had sucked down the contents from two plastic pouches of waragi, the local moonshine, and my diplomatic patience was running as low as my sobriety. Being granted instant celebrity just for showing up somewhere has its advantages, but the constant scrutiny is not easy to get used to, especially when hearing things like: “They said your feet and hands are very small and your chest is very big and they want to know if all muzungos smell strange like you. Also, is it true muzungos have hair on you asses?”

After losing the game, and disappointing my would-be baby mama, I asked Victor if we could go drink somewhere without a crowd gathered to gawk at me. In the dark, he led me on a hilly trail serving as the village’s main street. I tried, and utterly failed, to maneuver past the many potholes and rocks jutting out of the dirt, while silhouettes of women carrying huge jugs of water on their heads gracefully sauntered past me. Every time I stumbled, I could hear explosions of laughter and gibberish erupt out of the darkness.

“They are saying you are drunk,” Victor said.

“Yeah, they’re very perceptive… but that’s not why I’m stumbling,” I groaned. “How do you people see in the dark?”

Muzungos walk like zombies,” he stomped his feet on the ground. “You cannot walk in the dark like that. For now, just use your phone light and let’s go for a short call.”

A short call is code for taking a piss. We stood side-by-side on a ledge of a cliff overlooking the lake and unzipped. “Point the light this way,” he said. As I did, the light caught a stream arching over and behind his head, nearly twice his height.

“Now you try,” he said.

“I’m sure I don’t have your talents, but I’ll give it a shot,” I slurred. I pointed skyward, pushed the jet out as hard as I could, and braced myself to be sprayed in the face, but to my surprise it was easy to clear my head, which left me wondering how this party trick had never occurred to me in college.

“Why aren’t you circumcised?” He asked.

“Because my mother didn’t believe that babies come equipped with spare parts that need to be hacked off.”

“They say it makes it grow. An American doctor did mine last year for free.”

“Those do-gooders are butchers. No different than the religious colonizers staking their claim on African souls. Pruning is for trees and from the looks of it,” I gestured downward, “it doesn’t do much for growing penises.”

He looked down, laughed, and said, “But at least now I can’t get HIV.”

I cringed at his words, which I knew were probably not said in jest. “You’re depressing me. Let’s go drink more and talk less.” After shaking our pruned and non-pruned members off, we continued our walk until we arrived at a hut not much bigger than a typical Western playpen. I followed Victor as he ducked into the doorway and took a seat on one of the benches against the wall. Once my eyes adjusted further to the dark, I could make out three men and two women huddled in conference, obviously discussing me. One of them said something to Victor and they all laughed.

“She said …”

“Victor, please! No more translating about how much I stink or how weirdly I walk or how… Just order more of that home brew stuff for us… and another Bell’s.”

As I gulped down my beer, a chicken came in and started pecking at the dirt floor around my sandals, followed by a naked toddler who crawled over to me and began rubbing his cheek against my leg.

“He’s not used to seeing hairy legs,” Victor laughed. The lady talking to him got up and handed me a 2,000 shilling note.

Victor chimed in, “I know you don’t want me to translate, but she says she wants to buy you another Bells beer because you’re a guest, but she doesn’t have enough money, so she hopes you can pay the other 1,000. Also, she wants to ask you how things are different here from your home.”

I thought about it for a while, then shooed the chicken away, picked up the giggling, naked baby, and said, “The grass is greener here.”

– Names and situations are changed to protect the innocent, guilty and pruned.

Note: East African circumcision for males is a rite of passage in some tribes’ cultures.

Aimless Vagabond

Aimless Vagabond

Efraín Villa, the Aimless Vagabond, is an optimist, cynic, and lover of contradiction. He's also a photographer, actor, and global wanderer whose endless quest for randomness has led him to colorful roles as tourism marketing director for the great state of New Mexico, pharmaceutical salesman of vaginal cream, professional fondling recipient at med schools (AKA standardized patient), trainer in police shooting simulations, and “pseudo intoxicated patron” in federal liquor licensing studies. He has traveled, lived, worked, and volunteered in more than 50 countries in five continents. While not running his consulting firm in Albuquerque, he is busy avoiding adulthood while wearing the least amount of clothes possible... usually in far away countries. Oh, also, he writes.
Aimless Vagabond
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