Reading Corrie Ten Boom’s well-known autobiography: “The Hiding Place”; I came across an anecdote from her life that didn’t only send me searching the dictionary and other sources for meaning, but also reminded me of a similar childhood experience I share with her.
In one of the poems they had read at school, one line had described “a young man whose face was not shadowed by sexsin”. She’d “been far too shy to ask the teacher what it meant, and her mother had blushed the scarlet when she consulted her”. “In those days just after the turn of the century sex was never discussed, even at home”.
She was pretty sure “Sex” meant whether one was a boy or a girl, and “sin” made one of her aunts very angry, but she couldn’t imagine the meaning of the two combined–the line had stuck in her head.
Her father Caspar Ten Boom was a watch repairer, regulator and dealer from Haarlem. On holidays, she would travel with him every Monday on a train to Amsterdam: to buy new watches, spares and collect the right time from the Naval Observatory’s astronomical clock. So one Monday, during their return trip from Amsterdam, she asked her father what “sexsin” meant.
Her father turned and looked at her as he always did when answering a question, but to her surprise he said nothing. At last, when they got to their destination, he stood up, lifted his travelling case from the rack and set it on the train’s floor.
“Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” he asked. Corrie stood up and tried to lift, but she couldn’t; it was too heavy. The case was full of watches and spare parts they had purchased earlier that morning. “It’s too heavy dad, I can’t” went Corrie.
“Yes,” her dad said. “And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.”
And Corrie was more than satisfied and at peace with her dad’s response; she trusted him. Now she knew there were answers to that and all her hard questions; except that the timing wasn’t proper; in the meantime, she was content to leave them in her father’s keeping.
That’s it. Now, looking and searching for the meaning of “sexsin” I couldn’t find it anywhere. Personally, I think it has to do with: sex before marriage and other sexual acts considered unacceptable by a society/community or belief system.
Corrie was 10 or 11 then(1908 or 1909); but a girl or boy of that age today is taught many things regarding sex and their likes, so I don’t see the reasons to hide the explanation of “sexsin” from them. However, I find the “loaded briefcase” metaphor still fresh and of great and wide application to date. Maybe we add it to our repertoires of responses to our children’s serial curiosity questions.
As for my similar experience to Corrie’s, I was 5 or 6 when I managed to eavesdrop into some of our then village youths’ conversation. They were on their way to the market on one of the most famous market days in our village. I overheard one of them tell the others enthusiastically: “Awobe!:tin cuk pong wiye woko,tin aye nino cuna kikome”. I didn’t know the meaning of the word “cuna” and kept wondering what it meant.
“I would’ve known the meaning of the whole sentence if I knew the meaning of “cuna”” I told myself. I feared asking my mum because she was a no nonsense woman; I am sure she would have tortured me if I dared to ask her to simplify the word.
So one day, while taking a walk with my dad around the village, just the two of us, I decided to ask him: “Baba, cuna tere ningo?” (Dad, what does “cuna” mean)? He looked at me and looked away and looked at me again. After a moment of silence between us, he asked me where I heard that word from and I told him “from some guys going to the market the other day”.
“You still have many years ahead of you to know the meaning of the word, and those boys you heard the word from are fools, the word is not to be used anyhow; just like they did, OK?” he said.
I was finally relieved and at peace when he told me that. I trusted and respected him. I knew him as the brightest and most intelligent man. I took everything he told me as being the most accurate and reliable.
Otherwise, if you don’t speak Acoli luo, those boys were talking of how the market would be full of beautiful girls from near and far that day; and that it would be the best opportunity for them to get some of the most beautiful ones for themselves.