Fashion model, UN ambassador and courageous spirit, Waris Dirie is a remarkable woman, born into a traditional family of tribal desert nomads in Somalia. She told her story – enduring, at five years old, the ancient and savage custom of female circumcision; running away at twelve on foot through the desert in order to escape an arranged marriage; being discovered by Terence Donovan as she worked as a cleaner in London; and becoming a top fashion model – in her book, the worldwide bestseller, Desert Flower.
Although Waris Dirie fled her homeland, she never forgot the country and culture that moulded her. The world of famine and violence, where women have no voice and no place – the very world that nearly destroyed her also gave her the tools to survive. She traces the roots of her courage, resilience and humour back to her motherland, and most particularly to her mother.
Desert Dawn is the story of that return and a testimony to the stubborn fact that you can love something dearly and yet not love all that it represents. Desert Dawn is about coming home.
Waris Dirie (Waris: a Somali name that means desert flower) was born in the middle of the desert in Somalia. She was born into a nomad family of a tribe called Darood, that was considered as wealthy. Nevertheless they lived under extremely poor conditions, their lives depending from their livestock and rain.
Her family consisted of her parents, 12 children and there were even other relatives, who travelled with them.
Many of her siblings died because of the rough conditions, illnesses and famine.
Every helping hand in her family was important in order to provide their chance of survival.
They couldn’t afford any day-off, because they had to move on to find water for themselves and their camels and goats.
Their livestock gave them everything they needed to survive (milk, meat). Every now and then they’d sell an animal to buy some rice or for great feasts they slaughtered a goat. There were only a few feasts like the beginning of the rainy season (gnu) or weddings.
Birthdays didn’t count, because many babies died, so it wasn’t worth remembering the exact date of birth if it wasn’t granted that the one would survive.
Usually the animals are the most precious thing a clan can obtain. When a girl marries, her family gets some camels (Waris’ fiancé offered 5 camels). Camels are the most appreciated animals, because they can live without water for some weeks, carry the clan’s belongings and in addition to that they give milk.
Waris was raised in nature and freedom. Soon she learnt to trust her feelings and developed a sense to smell the rain or find her family in the desert. The expert of trusting his feelings was her father, who found them everywhere. Even when he couldn’t see anymore.
Soon Waris got chores she had to fulfil every day (tending the goats). She knew nothing else than the desert and her greatest desire was a pair of shoes.
Her sister Aman was Waris’ idol. Aman’s time to become a woman had come, so Waris was envious and wanted it too. She urged her mother to let her become a woman too.
In Waris’ culture having undergone a circumcision is a great event in a girl’s life. Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to find a husband. (è FGM)
When Waris’ sister was circumcised, Waris watched the procedure secretly. What she saw shocked her that much that she didn’t want to undergo this torture too. But soon she forgot, what she had seen. Even the fact that another one of her sisters never came home after her female genital mutilation (FGM), didn’t come to her mind anymore.
Then it was her time. She felt proud to join womanhood. A gypsy woman came and they went into the desert, far away from their camp, so that no one could hear her cry. She was positioned on a rock, held by her mother, the gypsy woman took a broken razor blade and Waris’ had to experience the dramatic torture. Her world became dark. She didn’t move nor cried but suffered the hardest pain in her life until she passed out. [p. 47] The gypsy woman took some thorn from an acacia tree and sew her up. Her legs were bound together and remained that way for weeks. It took her a long time to recover. Still she was lucky because other girls never recovered from that operation.
Waris father wanted her to get married and presented her an old man, who was supposed to become her husband. Waris was shocked and couldn’t imagine to spend her life with this guy. So she made the decision to run away from home (like her sister Aman had done). Her mother knew about her plan. Though she was rather worried and sad about that news, she understood her daughter’s reason and helped her.