Amanda Koster

thoughts and experiences of an international documentarian

sexy sperm receptor?

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So I am finally here. It is Sunday and I finally feel like I am able to see some kind of groove on the horizon. Today I will move into my room, have the first Bridges meeting and get things going computer and camera wise, and check my email via cell phone.

Hi tech.

Besides all that I have been having some good conversation. Suzanne Jeneby, the head of the EAC (East African Center) is basically the point woman for the whole deal here in Takaungu. She, an American, founded the center based on her graduate studies of international health and development. So because of a magazine assignment to photograph her for a story about her center, she is from and was in Seattle at the time, here I am. We talked, Bridges sounded like a good idea for Takaungu. It is 7am on a Sunday. It was 5-day commute. I’m now in Kenya, for the second time.

Suzanne is married to a Kenyan man, Mahmud. Among many other great things he is also Muslim. Takaungu feels predominantly Muslim though here are also Christians and ‘animists’ here, pagans, whatever…. indigenous belief systems.

So we talked about the burning questions. The “full ninja”, a Swahili bhurka, or it’s casual westernish nickname, ‘the full ninja’. In other words, the totally black consume that Muslim women wear that totally covers everything but their eyes.

“It was totally liberating”. She talked about trying on the full ninja for the first time and looking in the mirror. She described what it was like to wear it around Mombasa (the nearest metropolis). “Finally, I could walk around without feeling any staring, gawking”.

It was the first time she did not feel like sexual prey.

Suzanne said try it on. So for the first time I saw myself in the full ninja, the ‘most oppressive’ aspect of women in Islam. I did not feel any religious breakthrough or fall to my knees, praise Allah or start chanting God is great. But I did find it very easy to pose for the camera. I did not have to worry about where to land my hips or place my hands or even fake a smile. I just stood there, as myself, my body mysteriously covered with material blacker than black. I stood there for the camera thinking if my parents could only see me now.

“Take a digital picture so I can email it back to the US, captioned “I have married a Muslim and am never coming home”…. “They’ll loose it”. (I didn’t marry a Muslim)

It made sense to me though. It made sense that this is in fact liberating. The thought of a conversation with a man and not have to watch his eyes unsuccessfully resist glancing at my breasts. For my flowing hair and tinted lips and collarbone and shoulders and waist, actually now that I think of it for my whole body to not distract a conversation, a situation, a moment with a man or men might be wonderful. To have a costume that might not cause a sexy, available, body over brain reaction might actually keep my body to myself, sacred. Then we might speak with totally open minds and ideas, and those words might actually make it to all other neuro receptors as 100% intelligent and equal, and worthy. A wondering glance will only find more modesty and also eyes and how so beautiful they are.

“When you get home an take off the full ninja in front of your husband not only was your body protected from gawking, immodest thoughts and strange animal sounds, you are most likely in for a very sexy night”.

Not totally able to ignore my western-ness I couldn’t help thinking of three things. The first is that I may be in totally denial of just how much we are a part of the animal kingdom and I have liked to pretend all along that I am more than an attractive fertile sperm receptor. Of course I have my college education, booming career and am financially secure and independent so I would like to think that I am this uber-intellignt creature that has what, surpassed all the basics with the option to participate in reproduction when I decide the time is right…. And, that my male counterpart has also reached this level, and sees himself as this uber-creature and in fact as well. Does our ‘privileged’ upbringing superficially dilute raw animal instinct? Am I more protected and better off, is there more security and promise that I will actually find a mate and will only experience intellectual and proper gawk in my world? Don’t I still fantasize about children and a happy family? Am I living in an ‘over civilized’ bubble?

Second. That my outfits, decisive actions, are for a man. That I need to protect my body and physical experience of this world from everyone but my one-day husband, or ‘partner’ back in the USA since people don’t really seem to get married there. That is a harder concept for me to compromise. Though, it could still relate back to my first point that I am living in this over civilized superficially force field and that ultimately, my appearance is like the design of a flower that does its best to lead a bee to pollen. The western world likes to tell you that isn’t so, in fact there is a huge market that bolsters this thinking. A huge market.

Third and probably most packed for me is choice. I was able to take the ??? off yesterday. I can reform my wardrobe and war looser clothes and even cover my head and that will still be fashion in America (there is another market that will support that). However, what id I did not have the choice. The ?? was hot even in a mazungu house mad of strong cement, vented windows screen and a cool breeze. What about the mud huts thriving throughout Takaungu? What about the hot pavement with babies and provisions, crowds? Maybe that also relates back to my first western reaction, of this over civilized bubble of denial, but I couldn’t get choice out of my mind.

In any case, it was the most interesting experience and conversation. Hands down a new perspective on this believed to be horribly oppressive Islam enforced uniform. I was thinking about clothing and oppression. I remembered wearing a Brazilian bikini in flamboyant Ipanema, basically a strung up wedgie and 2 pasties, versus the ????, both black. Which outfit, in fact, made me more comfortable, more at ease with my surroundings and made me feel like more brain and less like a sexy sperm receptor?

Written by amandakoster

September 13, 2006 at 3:20 am

Posted in kenya 04

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