Reporters on the Job

STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND: To report today's story about female genital mutilation, the Monitor's Danna Harman went to a rural village in Ethiopia (this page). Every woman there, and all their ancestors, had participated in this rite. And Danna was a novelty to them.

"When I got to the village I sat down with a group of women on a cow hide and asked my questions. It went slowly because it had to go through two translators - English to Amharic and then Amharic to the local dialect. After about an hour of asking questions, I sort of began to wind down."

That's when the women turned the tables on Danna, interviewing her for another two hours. "They simply could not believe that I, or any woman in the world, had not been circumcised. They asked what could possibly be the advantages of not being circumcised. They asked if I was married (and my single status seemed to confirm their belief that no one would marry a woman who was not circumcised) and then asked a host of questions about my body and having sex."

We eventually moved on to totally unrelated questions about what goes on in the world outside their village. One woman said she had heard that when it is daytime in their village - it is nighttime in the other countries. Everyone fell over laughing at her question. At first, they were afraid of the camera and asked if it were not true that it was doing something evil to them. I said no, and explained that I wanted to show people in America what their lives were like.

"When I left they thanked me for coming so far to learn about their culture and asked that when I got some feedback from the people in my country, I return and tell them what everyone outside thought of it. It was one of the most amazing experiences I've had in two years of reporting in Africa."

David Clark Scott
World editor

Cultural snapshot
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