The place comes to me before anything else and this happens when I am too young to know the words.
As I get older, the place sits in my heart, gathering, gathering, as I learn and grow as a human being, until one day I understand the reason I will fly over oceans to stand on her land, in her arms.
The reason starts when I am young, too, but as it is with all of us in those early days, the ones where we take our first steps and laugh our first laugh and find our first words, there is much in our grasp, just as there is much that eludes us.
I am know I am a girl and that I have a vagina—I don’t know what this means in the world, really, because I am shielded from the war that wages against my kind until I am old enough to be let in on the secret.
My mother—a single working woman—is loving and tougher on me and my schoolwork than on my brother and she says repeatedly, You have to do better…you have to try harder…as a woman you will have to work twice as hard to survive in this world…and so I do my best to do better and begin too-early to feel the weight of the world settle onto my too-young shoulders.
Already, I am a warrior fighting for my right to be here and I have not yet had my first period.
My story follows a path of (mostly) freedom from this moment on—I was born into a country and a family that believe in my right to choose what happens to my body; in my right to express myself using my voice and my words without threat of punishment, violence or death and, in my right to be a woman, equal to all human beings.
This path allows me the privilege to thrive.
So much of how our lives unfold depend on where we are born and what how we are raised—if you are reading this, it is possible that your path is similar to mine. You, like I, may move through this world with relative freedom; you, like I, may have figured out early on, not without some struggle, how to leap over the obstacles that are placed in your way by others who do not believe in your equality.
For too many of us—the silent ones, mostly—the only way forward is to survive.
This leads me to the place (Africa) and the reason for these words (the war on girls).
Had I not been born here and into the family that dreamed of me, my story would unfold in a way that is difficult to imagine. Instead of being encouraged to stand up for myself and create a life of my own choosing, before my first period, between the ages of four and eight, I would have been initiated in a ritual that my elders claim enhances my femininity.
They would perform this ritual—female genital mutilation—one steeped heavily in custom and tradition—to protect me from being raped before I was married at too-young an age; they would tell me that the sacred space at the meeting of my thighs is unclean and dirty and that my clitoris and labia are my “male parts” and need to be removed to decrease the risk of infidelity.
There will be many reasons and I will wonder if any of them are true.
What they will not tell me, even though they themselves have lived this trauma for the course of their lives, is that I will have to endure constant violation to my vagina—without medication or sterilization—many times as I grow older.
Because they will sew me together when they are done removing my parts, each time an opening is required, say for the blessing of my marriage, or the birth of my children, I will need to be cut, again and again, to allow life to happen.
Some of us in my village won’t make it to the rest of our lives—we will develop an infection or bleed out and if we are lucky, there will be a place to go nearby that will save us—and if not, we will die.
Bryonie’s life is rooted in the belief that when we come from a place of love, anything is possible. When not teaching yoga (soon-to-be at Misfit Studio and as a supporting teacher at 889 Yoga, Ahimsa Yoga and Octopus Garden Holistic Yoga Centre) or writing her heart to the bone (for Rebelle Society and elephant journal, where she recently stepped away from her role as Managing Editor), she can be found synching each step on this path to the beat of her heart.
Join her on Saturday, November 29th, 7-9:30pm, for Poetics of Practice, an evening dedicated to the freedom of all beings. All funds raised (the cost is $25 or by donation) will be contributed towards her fundraising efforts for the 2015 Seva Challenge to Kenya, with Off the Mat into the World, which focuses on female genital mutilation, early childhood marriage and raises awareness of violence against women around our world. For more information please follow this link: https://www.crowdrise.com/2015sevachallengetokenya/fundraiser/bryoniewise.