When two of my peripatetic male colleagues, one in Jamaica and the other from some far-flung outpost of the World Bank recently drew my attention to the same news item and their e-mails were immediately followed by a call from a Trini friend with his take on the phenomenon to which they had drawn my attention, I had no choice but to take the matter very seriously.
The first e-mail from my Jamaican friend was headed “Another Easter Miracle.” The second from my friend who richly deserves his place among the Lords of Poverty as an advocate for the deprived and dispossessed said, “Quite the provocative headline, isn’t it?!!” As if his question mark and exclamations were not in themselves sufficient to excite my interest and bring my attention to attention, salute and all, the Trini caller took the headline to higher heights. “Tony,” he said, “you see the article?” I knew as sure as the Almighty makes little green bananas to boil and eat with saltfish the article he was talking about. He then gilded the lily, “Incredible eh? ‘Lab-grown vaginas implanted by US doctors’. What ah thing, eh?”
“Hold on, hold on,” I begged. Telling him that a headline was an act of marketing and not of journalism, I asked, “You read the rest of the story?” He reluctantly admitted, “Some of it but that don’t matter.” I was not surprised. The story, originating from North Carolina, started with, “A medical breakthrough in the United States has seen four women having new vaginas grown in the laboratory and implanted by doctors…” That set him off and what added further fuel to the conflagration was, “In the procedures, a tissue sample and a biodegradable scaffold were used to grow vaginas the right size and shape for each woman as well as provide a tissue match.” I believe a lot of men, including some very educated ones, started with a misconception similar to the one that the cloistered monk found in the holy book when he rushed out of the dark library where he was translating the scripture from the Latin and shouted, “The word is ‘celebrate’ not ‘celibate’.”
It is true for many men, not just my friend at the bank who admitted, “When I saw it, for a second I thought of the possibility of men having access just to a vagina and leaving out the rest of the female package! In other words, full pleasure without excess costs! An economist’s dream!” I could imagine those men who buy inflatable dolls for sexual use smirking all the way to North Carolina where they would be so doomed to disappointment that they would “steups” or suck air and saliva through their teeth to express annoyance instead of pleasure.
The fact is that the women for whom the implants had been customised, were born with a condition known as vaginal aplasia in which the vagina did not form properly while they were in their mother’s womb. Dr Anthony Atala, director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest, told the BBC News website: “Really for the first time we’ve created a whole organ that was never there to start with, it was a challenge.”
However, this did not challenge my Trini friend in the slightest. He was already seeing the possibilities and given the way that Trinidad and Tobago is now polarised along political lines he jumped on it like Brian Lara to a full-toss from Dinesh Kaneria, the Pakistan spinner. In fact, my friend put his own very partisan spin on it. “Remember that female politician who used the Government credit card for fertility or gynaecological treatments, hair transplants and clothes?” he asked. I told him to stop immediately. He did not and continued, “Consider what someone with that kind of buying power could have if this medical breakthrough had happened at that time! Talking about the hair business…”
This time I stopped him for good. “Look, let’s not go there,” I insisted. I know there were a lot of concerns at the time. The comptroller of accounts raised the matter in an official report about not one, but 29 government officials in the Patrick Manning government including ten ministers of whom the person you’re talking about was one and her bill was supposedly only $174,000…” He interrupted, “That should be illegal!” I told him that people were saying so at the time but that never happened so he should leave it alone. I pointed out that as far as I know the use of government or company credit cards for personal use is not an issue and even though people who do so and then refund the money are still guilty of breaching the terms and conditions of the use of the card, it is not a big deal in the region.
He then changed topic. “Yes, but if you accuse a parliamentarian of doing this in the House or Senate what is the problem? In the British tradition we follow this kind of back-and-forth among members is normal. I remember reading that David Lloyd George said of a Jewish member of parliament, “When they circumcised him they threw away the wrong bit!” and former prime minister Herbert Asquith describing Winston Churchill as, “Begotten of froth out of foam.”
I must say that as far as I was concerned the vagina dialogue ended there and then as Winston Churchill took the stage. When Lady Astor told Mr Churchill, “If you were my husband I would poison your tea”, he replied, “Madam, if you were my wife, I’d drink it.” And when MP Bessie Braddock said to the great man, “Mr Churchill, you are drunk,” he replied, “My dear you are ugly but tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be ugly.” He was never called on to apologise because part of the glorious tradition of parliament is the give-and-take. It has been often said to those who take offence that if you cannot tolerate high temperatures instead of being in the kitchen you should not be there. In other words, head for North Carolina.
• Tony Deyal was last seen repeating another Atlee quip about Churchill that
applies to many Caribbean politicians,
“I must remind the Right Honourable
Gentleman that a monologue is
not a decision.”