Based on a true incident
Female genital mutilation is a very sensitive social issue which violates the human rights reserved for woman. It is also practiced in India in some parts of Maharashtra. This story is about Waris Dirie who is a victim of FGM and how she fights all the odds to become a supermodel.
The song 'Titanium' by David Guetta reminded me of her. She was Waris Dirie.
I am bulletproof. Nothing to lose. Fire away. Fire away.
Richocet, you take away. Fire away. Fire away.
You shoot me down. But I won't fall. I am titanium.
Her feet were bleeding. The thorns pierced her deep through the veins of her feet. The thorns of life had taken away her freedom. Through the cacti and reptiles of the barren deserts of Somalia. She fell. Only sand could be seen everywhere. She looked up at the sky. The night sky was too black. As black as charcoal.
In her darkest moments, there were stars shining bright in the sky. Twinkling forever. Giving her a ray of hope to get up.
"Mama, I don't want to be away from you."
She saw her mother's face. She wanted to be back. With her. With her little brother, Jeez. He always used to say,
Will you make me a doll some day?"
She could not help it. Her feet were sore. They were bleeding. Blood was oozing out from her heart.
She was free now. Free from that old man. That old man looked like a scarecrow. The turban on his head was a bag of rags. He smelt like tobacco. It had choked her to death when she had to meet him. The wrinkled face with that pot belly. His pointy nose was like a woodpecker's beak. And those dirty yellow teeth. His eyes seemed as if they were desperately thirsty for something. Something he had found in her. She was devastated. Her mind was full of random thoughts.
After all, he was the prince of my dreams? I felt like I was falling into a deep well. I couldn't live with a man like him. Why did dad want me to sell me away? I couldn't marry that man. I wanted to sit on those hills with Jeez and spend all my life with our sheep. Mama used to send us with the herd every morning. We would play with stones and leaves. I was so happy. Now, I was not ready to lose everything for that old man. Mama and Jeez must be searching for me. But I am too far.Too far from home.
Tears were rolling down her cheeks. Her feet were sunk deep in the sand. She felt numb. Her feet didn't hurt anymore. The blood was frozen. Again, her mind was overflowing with a lot of things.
I didn't want to run away like this, mama! I couldn't help it. I am too small to live with an old man like that. I am only 13. I am sorry. I know I have a weak heart. I am not brave. As you had always said,
Waris, you are beautiful. But you are weak. You have to be brave!"
She ran. Ran through those deserts for days. She had to reach Mashi's home soon.
Meeting the witch
At Mashi's home, Aunt Teesta was annoyed. Waris could sense that. Her anger. Her fists were enough to kill Waris. She was always like that. Full of hatred for Waris. She sat on the doormat and waited for her aunt to speak.
Aunt Teesta was plump. She looked like a big fat pumpkin. Jeez used to call her 'Pump'. And those arched eyebrows were always frightening. She was a perfect witch.
"Waris, we can't let you stay here. You should go and live with Uncle Daan. He will take care of you."
Waris was relieved. Uncle Daan was a nice man. He lived very far our home. In London. With his wife and two children. He was a Somalian ambassador now. Mama always used to say good things about him. He was the only ray of hope she had had. Everything seemed fine until the cruelest words struck her eardrums.
"After all you have run away from marriage. How will you live now? What have you done? It is a shame to have you here!"
Aunt Teesta was indeed a witch. Waris sat on the door mat. She looked at the polished floor. Her feet were still sore. All she could do was remember mama's words to be brave. Her mind was full of thoughts again. Rushing with all sorts of questions.
"Am I a bad girl? Does running away from a marriage mean death? Can't I live alone? What about those big beautiful women on the television screen who live in big cities? Are they all married?"
Just when she was thinking about all that, Aunt Teesta pulled her to the kitchen.
"Now girl! If you have to live here till the evening, wash these utensils and those clothes there in the corner."
Waris was happy. At last she had got some work to do. But she was too tired to do anything. Her frock was torn from all sides. The frills were gone. Mama had gifted it to her for her last birthday. She couldn't throw it away. Mama was with her. In the threads of her frock.
Aunt Teesta collected all her things and put it into a case and called up Uncle Daan.
"Yeah! This good for nothing girl has run away from home. I am sending her to you. Come in the evening."
Never did things go so fast in Waris's life. It was like an adventure for her.
Less than a slave
Uncle Daan's house was humongous. Waris reached the staircase. She could look at her face on the floor. So much of cleanliness all around. He was too rich. Too rich to even hire a maid fir themselves.
"So, how come you came here?
Mama was getting me married. I was afraid. I ran away. "
Waris was so happy there. With all the fluffy and soft mattresses on the beds for sleeping. Beautiful bathrooms. A playground. A dining table full of chicken rolls, apples, bananas, grapes and what not. She felt like a drooling dog for a moment. It was like a heaven for her.
"Come here Waris! Wash these clothes today. I was looking for a maid all this time. Good that you are here now. My money will also be saved. You are like a blessing."
A blessing. She didn't get it. She was confused. Little did she know that the heaven was a grave for children like her. Children who run away from homes. Who are a shame for the family. Who wore ragged clothes. Who didn't behave like good girls.
Her days went on like the days of an obedient servant. Waris was missing Mama and Jeez. She kept on thinking continuously.
"Mama never made me work this much. I used to love boiled potatoes. She would cook for me sometimes. I want to go back. I will be made to work all days. I know. Washing clothes. Cleaning utensils. Watering the plants in the garden. Washing Uncle Daan's car. Cleaning up of the doghouse. Everything was fine until I found out that I have to sleep outside the house. On the doorstep. No fluffy pillows or soft mattresses. And I had to bathe near the doghouse. No watching of television. Not even a glimpse of it. And I had to wear old torn clothes of Uncle Daan's pampered daughters. "
Waris felt like the princess of the kingdom of slavery. She was so content that she could have gone into the doghouse and told him to bite her to death.
One day Uncle Daan stormed into the house yelling away like some mad king.
They have thrown me out. My term is over. I can't live a poor life. I don't want to go back there and be shepherds. They will take away this house, car, money…."
She was cleaning the floor with a mop. The mop had got dry again. She had to drench it again with water. She had to go out. To the doghouse. To get some water and drench the mop. Uncle Daan was still shouting. Waris walked out.
"How will I live then? I will have to live all by myself. I should have lived at home with that old man."
Uncle Daan's term as an ambassador had got over. A shrill voice went right through her ears and hurt her too much. It was his wife. She called Waris to her room. Waris's legs ran in sheer hope of some shelter that she would suggest her. It was hard for her to expect such a thing from Uncle Daan's wife. But she didn't lose hope. She reached her room's entrance. The doorknob was dabbed with fresh flour. She had to clean it.
So, I don't think you can stay here anymore girl! Pack up and go on your own way. We are helpless. "
Waris was heartbroken. She was too young to do something on her own. That is why she had ran all the away from her home. She was talking to herself again. Like a mad girl.
"I was wrong about expecting anything from her. I am suddenly feeling all alone here. I have only one piggy bank I had got with me from home. Jeez and I had collected all the coins for getting a cycle which I had seen one day on the far distant road while we were with the sheep. I remember I had hidden it in the garden at Uncle Daan's house. Near the doghouse below the marigold flower pot. I had to go and get it. That was the only hope I had had. I will have to go and get it."
Photography and my speech
Those days were full of misery and poverty. Waris had no food to eat. Not even a crumb of bread to taste. Not a glass of water to quench her thirst. The months of January and February were killing her. The chilling weather and the snowfall were too much for her body to bear. Dustbins were the only hope she had of finding something to feed herself. Nobody understood her when she tried to talk to others in Somalian. The nights were spent on some platform near a pub or a bar where she could find left over food to eat too. Uncle Daan had left her only with a passport for her. She was almost like a stray dog on the street. Dirty and shabby. Ignored by all. She knew nobody there.
After so much of roaming around the busy streets of London, Waris got a job in a restaurant as a housekeeper. After all those days on the streets. Finally. She had a job. Waris cleaned the floor with all her passion. The floors had to look better than those at Uncle Daan's house. After all, the man on the counter paid her daily for her work. She had to impress him. Cleaning all the glass tables and seats. Removing the leftover food from the tables. Emptying the dustbins. She loved working there. She didn't have to go out and look for food and water packets in those garbage bins.
The apron she was given to wear was even better. The lace was so like velvet to touch. Waris went into the washroom and admired herself in the mirror.
Look at me. Mom was never wrong. I look so good in this apron. The blue lines go well with the cream color."
It had been three whole weeks when she had noticed a man on the third table at the right corner of the restaurant who used to stare at her daily. A plump man with a pot belly. His eyes popped out his round glasses. The suits he wore were to loose. He dressed clumsily. Something was hanging around his neck. Every now and then he used to click at the buttons of that instrument and it flashed very quickly. The gapped teeth smile he gave to Waris was too scary for her. She ignored her.
Little did she know that he was the famous photographer, Terence Donovan who photographed for the famous Pirelli calendar.
That day things had gone out of hand.
Waris was cleaning the dustbins when that man called her to his table. She went to him with her heartbeats racing like anything. She was afraid. She had run away from home to escape from a man. And now she had to face another one. He gave her a small card which had something written on it. Waris knew only Somalian. English was too tough for her.
That card took her to so many world tours, ramp walks and her career had started there.
And that was a turning point for her. From the deserts of Somalia to the cover page of the Pirelli calendar.
Terence found her beautiful. Waris went for the career of modeling. After all the running around from home to the dustbins to the restaurant. She had found a ray of hope: Terence Donovan.
It was the great day. She had to deliver a speech in the United Nations representing her motherland, Somalia. That day was a revolutionary day. She had spoken her heart and soul.
The brown dress she had worn made her remember the apron she had worn in that restaurant. And the favourite blue frock Mama had stitched for her. Everything was still crystal clear in her mind. The auditorium was filled with so many people. People from different countries. Different families. The whole world had gathered that day for her.
The podium was not far away. Waris reached it in no time. She adjusted the mike. The lipstick on her lips seemed too much for her. She wiped it off with her handkerchief. Her eyes scanned through the whole audience. She saw that man. The man who had helped her to reach there, on that podium. The one and only Terence Donovan. She cleared her throat. And she began.
"A very good morning to everyone present here. I am Waris Dirie. From Somalia. My motherland. A place where women are never allowed to go out of their homes and are suppressed like anything. A place where I had spent my childhood until I had to run away from my home leaving my family because they had sold me to an old man. They were getting me married.
Someone asked me in an interview for the BCN news channel that what was the most important part of my life which was a turning point for me. I still remember that pain. I had crawled on the floor in our hut for weeks. I was bleeding. It is called female genital mutilation. I had gone through it when I was five years old. Mama took me to the old woman who lived far away from our hut. And she held my legs and arms tightly while that woman was using a blade to mutilate. I was screaming in pain. Then she stitched it up with some thread.
It was a life changing event for me. Today also millions of girls are facing the same problem. I am thankful to you people who are listening to me patiently. I hope a day will come when Somalia will be free of such practices. Not only Somalia, I am sure thus must be going on in other parts of the world too.
Being a supermodel today and getting a platform to express my thoughts about this issue gives me immense pleasure. I just …."
Waris was crying. Her throat had got choked. She couldn't speak more. A glass of water didn't suffice her suffering and pain. She continued with her speech.
"Mama always used to say that I was beautiful but I had to be brave. Running away from home was after all the best decision I had taken for the women of my country. I guess I have been a brave girl today. Thank you. "
Many girls and men were waiting for her in the auditorium. Each person was craving for an autograph. She was a supermodel. She was Waris Dirie.
Waris Dirie is a Somali model, author, actress and social activist. From 1997 to 2003, she served as a UN Special Ambassador.
Waris was born into a nomadic family in 1965 in Galkayo, Somalia. At the age of thirteen, she fled to Mogadishu in order to escape an arranged marriage to a much older man. There, she briefly lived with an older sister and her family. Waris along with a few relatives later moved to London, where she resided with and worked for an uncle who had been appointed Somali ambassador. When his term in office ended, Waris remained in the city and held a job at a local McDonald's. She also began evening classes to learn English.
By chance, Waris was discovered by photographer Terence Donovan, who helped secure for her the cover of the 1987 Pirelli Calendar. From there, her modeling career took off, appearing in advertisements for top brands such as Chanel, Levi's, L'Oréal and Revlon.
In 1987, Waris played a minor role in the James Bond movie The Living Daylights. She also appeared on the runways of London, Milan, Paris and New York City, and in fashion magazines such as Elle, Glamour and Vogue. This was followed in 1995 by a BBC documentary entitled A Nomad in New York about her modeling career.
In 1997, at the height of her modeling career, Waris spoke for the first time with Laura Ziv of the women's magazine Marie Claire about the female genital mutilation (FGM) that she had undergone as a child, at the age of three along with her two sisters. That same year, Waris became a UN ambassador for the abolition of FGM. She later paid her mother a visit in her native Somalia.
In 1998, Waris authored her first book, Desert Flower, an autobiography that went on to become an international bestseller. She later released other successful books including Desert Dawn, Letter To My Mother, and Desert Children, the latter of which was launched in tandem with a European campaign against FGM.