By David Haldane
June 4, 2020
Want to receive Expat Eye weekly in your mailbox? Sign up here.
He squealed like a pig being slaughtered.
But this was no pig, it was my eight-year-old nephew, and the slaughter wasn’t a hog being gutted for fiesta. No this was a somewhat less lethal procedure, though judging from his screams, perhaps just as traumatic; the slicing away of a small portion of his anatomy to which he was, well…quite attached. More specifically the snipping of his foreskin, that seemingly useless bit of flesh sheathing the penis with which all boys are born but, in the Philippines, few keep intact.
In normal times, those bothersome pinkish globs are clipped en mass during summer clinics held at health centers and school gymnasiums nationwide. But with tiny killer microbes still lurking about, these are hardly normal times. And so it came to pass that a friendly local nurse made a house call to perform the deed on our table.
I should probably mention that I am certainly no stranger to the rite of circumcision. In fact, I myself am a survivor of the procedure as are both my sons. Here’s the thing, though; none of us remember the shearing of our private parts because it happened when we were just days old. Here in the Philippines it’s different; boys aren’t even considered eligible for pruning until age six and remain eligible until, well…until the thing is done.
As strange as it may sound, this wasn’t even the first time I’d witnessed older boys getting carved. That actually happened 30 years ago when, as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, I covered an event that – by American standards anyway – seemed quite bizarre; the ritualistic cutting of newly arrived Jewish immigrants at a hospital in California.
See, in Judaism circumcision is viewed as a religious rite marking a special “covenant” with God. Traditionally performed by a rabbi at the baby’s home eight days after his birth, the event – during which the foreskin is completely removed – involves friends and family who recite lots of blessings and say lots of prayers. After which, of course, they eat lots of food and drink lots of wine.
These particular immigrants, however, had come from the former Soviet Union where such religious rituals were forbidden. So they were more than happy to have their young sons – age 2-12 – submit to the rabbi’s knife, in this case under the watchful eye of a surgeon. My most vivid memory of that day is the long line of crumpled foreskins sitting on the operating room table after the procedures were done.
My own son, now 9, had the opposite problem; instead of too old, he was almost too young. We knew that because the doctor who delivered him recommended that we return in a month by which time his tiny you-know-what might be big enough to snip. We were fine with that, but then another doctor who claimed to specialize in such matters insisted that he could do it and so he did. I’ll never forget the moment they brought our baby out; where his penis had been now looked like a bloody crevice.
“Oh my God,” I screamed, “they cut if off!” Fortunately, time proved me wrong; eventually that tiny traumatized member once again peaked timidly out from its raggedy little foxhole.
But now it was his cousin’s turn, and not a moment too soon. Twice he ran out the front door only to be retrieved by his sprinting big brother. And then, with his mother holding him down and a gaggle of grinning relatives taking pictures, the poor boy screamed bloody murder as the nurse wielded scissors where we’d served breakfast just before.
“It’s easier when they’re younger,” she finally admitted, adding that her oldest patient had been 17.
When it was all over, my own son looked mighty scared. “Daddy,” he murmured, “is she gonna to do that to me?” Gallantly, I assured him of his safety.
And that’s how we passed the morning of our final day under general community quarantine. Everything’s back to normal now except for just one thing; an unsmiling little boy is still limping around in pain.
David Haldane is the author of an award-winning memoir called “Nazis & Nudists.” A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he is an American journalist, essayist, and broadcaster whose radio work was awarded a 2018 Golden Mike by the Radio & Television News Association of Southern California. He currently lives in Mindanao with his Filipino wife and their two children. This column tells the unfolding story of that adventure. http:///www.davidshaldane.com
Originally Published in Mindanao Gold Star Daily