Waris Dirie is an internationally recognized supermodel and United Nations Special ambassador who travels the world as an articulate and passionate advocate of human rights. She served as United Nations special ambassador for the elimination of FGM. She has since established the Desert Flower Foundation to advance women’s rights in Africa. Waris Dirie has also appeared on the runways of London, Milan, Paris and New York City, and in fashion magazines such as Elle, Glamour and Vogue.
Desert Flower tells young Waris’s extraordinary story from the desert in Somalia to being an internationally recognized model in London. The book centers on 13 year old Waris (although she is not sure of her age) and her trials as a desert nomad. The book gave me a sickly feeling that a little child could take the world alone, weaving through challenges and not losing hope for a happy ending. Waris’s young life was marked by terrible events; she suffered series of betrayal by both family and strangers. Despite all, she did not feel downtrodden, she was a child who found happiness in little things like when the rain fell and when her family was together.
Most of the memoir left me staring in horror into nothingness. It’s an amazing eye opener, the type of story that you would wish is fiction just to take away some of her pain. It makes you ponder on the myriad barbaric acts presently occurring around the world while you’re lying on your sofa. The most depressing aspect of the book was the prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation as a tradition in where parents pay a gypsy woman to cut off female children’s genitals with old razor blades and sew it back together with blunt needles. The whole process is highly unsanitary and left me paralyzed. The female children (aged about 5) for which FGM was performed were left to bleed in the desert, some eventually died, while those fortunate to make it returned to their homes and expected to continue life normally. This kind of life regardless of their expectations can never be normal, putting children through this sort of trauma. The women most of the times suffered and died from infections, even if they didn’t they had been cut away and sewed tight. They could never be normal. All to satisfy the egos and wants of greedy barbaric men who wanted to ensure their wives were virgins. The women would never be able to enjoy sexual pleasures etc. and therefore would not be promiscuous was their defense. The book lingered in my mind throughout the day and I soon found myself discussing it with older Nigerian women in their forties. I found out Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was and is still practiced in Nigeria.
Desert Flower is a tale of remarkable courage from young Waris, exposed too early to the ugliness of men and life in general. Her young life is tragic filled with death, rapes and frequent betrayals from friends and family, from her father’s friend to Nigel; they each give her good reason to distrust men Despite the many challenges Warris chose to believe in a mighty God who would see her to the end, In’shallah she continued to exclaim till the end of the book. Perhaps Allah sent her angels in the form of men as she later meets Malcolm Fairchild and life begins to make positive turns. Waris finds her way to runways of London, Milan, Paris and New York City, meeting the likes of Naomi Campbell and Iman. The book also consists of real life characters though some of their names were changed to protect their identities.
The characters are complex ones; they deal with a whole different set of human problems so it is therefore not easy to judge their decisions and actions. A good example is Waris’s mother, who takes her female children to be circumcised. One does not know whether to blame or pity Waris’s mother, first of all the decision was her husbands, she just had to play her role by taking them to be circumcised at the right time. She knew that if her daughters were to be married they had to be circumcised; she did what she felt was necessary to provide her girls with a fighting chance. After all who would marry dirty uncircumcised girls? A prevalent theme in the book is ignorance where no one knew better, therefore no one did better.
Desert flower is a tale of persistent optimism, looking through several episodes of betrayal, family values, friendships and unending faith. Waris Dirie is a heroine to have risen above such.