I first heard about Waris Dirie on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. From nomad to supermodel, Bond Girl to human rights campaigner, her story made me stop what I was doing, sit down and listen in disbelief.
The book opens in her home country, Somalia. Her upbringing there was about as different from mine as you can get. She lived a very simple, but hard life in the desert with her mother, father and siblings. Waris loved parts of her childhood, especially her family and the way of life; always on the move to find water, looking after the animals and caring for her younger siblings. However, there were certain things that she did not understand and her rebelliousness sometimes got her into trouble. The final straw came when, while still only a child, her father tried to force her into a marriage with a much older man. To escape this unwanted match, Waris decided to run away from home. She always had a feeling that she was destined to have a different life. And she was right.
How the wild desert nomad ended up on the front cover of magazines is an inspirational story but what really shook me up about Desert Flower was Waris’ experience of Female Genital Mutilation. Her descriptions of the act itself made me feel sick. I could only read half a page at a time. I am not usually squeamish, but everything about the ‘operation’ upset me and repulsed me. I haven’t felt such a physical reaction to a piece of writing since reading the real life rape scene in Alice Sebold’s Lucky. As well as the pain and trauma of the cutting itself, which can often be fatal, the problems for victims of Female Genital Mutilation will follow them for the rest of their lives.
The book itself doesn’t only focus on the negative parts of Waris’ life. This woman is truly an inspiration, from whichever way you look at it. She is strong, determined and not afraid of hard work. As she points out, a lot of us don’t know how good we’ve got it. There are deep moments of sadness in Desert Flower, but there are also pure moments of joy. I imagine Waris is a wonderful person to be around. She lives life to the full and comes across as having a really fun loving personality, and that rebellious streak from her youth never leaves her.
If you would like to learn more about Female Genital Mutilation, take a look at the Desert Flower Foundation website.
If you would like to get your own copy of this inspirational autobiography, click on the picture below!