I wanted to buy a bilaawe, a traditional Somali knife. The shopkeeper wanted me to buy a bowl with two figures carved into ebony. The woman leaned over the edge of the bowl, her back arched, her breasts high and pointed and firm. The man also leaned back and his penis arced up and over, into the woman.

“Buy this, my sister,” the vendor insisted. He cupped the bowl in his hands and shoved it into my face so I could no longer see the man with whom I’d been bargaining for the bilaawe. I blinked, uncertain at first of what was in front of me. Slowly it came into focus. The breasts, the penis, the Djiboutian man holding it. His cheek bulged with khat, green leaves lodged between his teeth.

Rachel Pieh Jones is a writer raised in the… More…