Pre-pubescent boys line up, hushed. Their faces looked determined, only to be betrayed by fearful, anxious eyes. One by one, their names are called. They walk slowly, pull their shorts down, and hop on a make-shift table, supine. Like all Filipino children, they have to go through this, a ritual that dates back to Biblical times. If they don't, society will forever brand them as impotent. Sissies.
These children don't know how modern medicine has made it so much easier for them than it was for their forefathers who had to experience the painful agony of the summer ritual. There were no anesthetics then, only guava leaves that were laboriously chewed to distract the would-be men from the pain and the gore. After the cool bath in the stream came the glorious advent of manhood. It was—and still is—a ceremony. The ultimate father-and-son moment.
I stand from a distance. The boy, whose turn it is, covers his eyes, refusing to look beneath. A barangay health worker says, "Be a man, now. This won't hurt a bit." She injects an anesthetic, waits for a few seconds, and asks, "Does this hurt?" The boy doesn't squirm when she pulls the prepuce and clips it with a metallic device, revealing portions of the glans penis. It's time. She makes a clean cut, tearing open the foreskin. Like someone who has done this a million times, she makes clean, fast sutures. The bleeding stops. She dabs a cotton soaked in disinfectant before putting on a clean gauze. The boy shudders and cries quietly. It's over.
The boy walks funny. He stretches his garterized shorts to the maximum, a movement he will have to master for the next couple of days before the wound completely heals. And in his face is a childlike look of triumph. I've been through this; I can do anything.