Loud screams filled the air and woke me up. It was that time of the year again. I was only four but I knew that tears, blood and death were common at this time. I would hide under my bed to shut it out. This time my mother came for me, I thought it was finally my turn. “We have to go. Don’t make any noise” she whispered. I didn’t understand what was going on but I followed her out.

My two older sisters were waiting for us outside. We snuck out of the village into the wilderness in the dark. The screaming faded as we got further away. My questions about where we were going went an answered. We walked for hours, my sister Fauzia took turns with my mother carrying me when I got tired. I didn’t know where we were headed, mother wouldn’t tell us.

We walked all night, by morning we were tired. Mother would not let us sop. We had to get to safety she told us. So we kept walking. By midday the next day, we were dehydrated from the heat. I remember watching my 6year old sister Rahma fall down. She had a fever. Mother carried her and tried to get the fever to subside. When we got to the nearest town, she was so sick, hallucinating and crying in pain. She died in hospital minutes after we got there. We buried her and started a new life in this new town where no one knew us.

I never understood why we had left home, left my father and brothers. It was now just me, mother and Fauzia. Mother never let us out of her sight. She was scared they would come for us. She loved and protected us. Fauzia had gotten married, had a beautiful daughter. Her husband had died months after her birth

When our mother died Fauzia decided we should go back home, find our father. I was hesitant but she said it would be okay. So we went back, found our father. He was happy to see us, glad we were back home. He had spent years and lots of money searching for us. My mother had made sure they never found us. I spent most days remembering the years we had spent away, always looking over our shoulders. I was scared that our coming back would not end well

Twelve years after we left, screams interrupted my sleep again. This time they were coming from inside our home. I rushed out of my room to find Fauzia lying on the floor, blood everywhere. My grandmother and a strange woman standing over her. I knew what was happening, mother had told us about it, it was the reason we had left, the reason I did not want to come back. I rushed to Fauzia and tried to help her, stop the bleeding. It was all futile nothing could be done, she was already dead.

We buried my sister and I was now all my niece had. More screams filled the night again. My father and grandmother whispered in a corner. I knew what was being planned. I knew I was next; my niece would also go through the same thing. I had to escape. No one was going to circumcise me, to mutilate me. Family or not, my body was off limits to them. I had to protect Fauzia’s daughter.

I snuck out in the middle of the night took Fauzia’s daughter with me. I walked for miles crying for my sisters and mother. For Rahma who had died on the run, for Fauzia who was a victim of the mutilation my mother had saved us from. For my mother who I wished was here to help me. I had lost too much to circumcision, my father had failed to protect my sister and me from it. My grandmother thought we needed this rite of passage to be considered real women. As I walk in the dark, I make one vow, to protect my niece form this rite of passage. As long as I live, no one shall mutilate her as they did her mother. I knew they would come looking for me, but like my mother I was prepared to live my life on the run to protect my niece. Once again circumcision had put a child on the run.