The Desert Flower: Waris Dirie


Waris Dirie
Photo via Desertflower (Desert Flower Foundation)

How can women change a dangerous tradition? Ryan Geertsma and Liz Waid look at the life of Ethiopian model Waris Dirie. She has used her difficult past to create hope for many women.

Transcript


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Ryan Geertsma.

Voice 2 

And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

A young girl walks the land in Somalia.  She is part of a nomadic tribe. They travel with their animals – goats, sheep and camels. She watches the natural world, and the animals. She lives a traditional life.

Voice 2 

But the girl is worried. Her marriage is coming soon. She is to be married to a man as old as her grandfather. Her father is forcing her to marry the man.

Voice 1 

But this young girl will not be married. Instead she is going to have a very different life. She will travel the world. She will help children who are being harmed.  She will be famous.

Voice 2 

Today’s Spotlight is on this woman. Her name is Waris Dirie.

Voice 1 

The name Waris means “desert flower.” A desert flower can live and grow where nothing else can. It can survive bad times with no water.  It flowers again when it has water. This name describes Waris Dirie well. She has survived many bad times and situations.

Voice 2 

When Waris was 13, she was supposed to marry a much older man.  Her father had prepared this marriage. But Waris did not want to marry such an old man. She wanted to decide for herself. Several years before, her sister had also escaped a marriage like this. Her sister had gone to the capital city of Somalia, Mogadishu. So Waris told her mother that she also did not want to marry.

Voice 1 

One night, her mother woke her and said “Go now!” Waris ran into the desert. She had no shoes and no food or water. She was only wearing light clothing. She ran for days in the direction of Mogadishu. At first, her father chased her. But after some time, he stopped. He knew she would run forever to be free.

Voice 2 

Waris arrived in Mogadishu, and her sister’s house. But she did not stay for a long time. Soon, she left for the city of London.  She travelled there to work for a Somali family - friends of her family. When the family returned to Somalia, Waris stayed. She began to work at a McDonald’s restaurant to pay her rent. She earned very little money, but she was making a new life.

Voice 1 

One day, a man saw her working at McDonald’s. He was a photographer. He believed she could be a model. And he was right. He took pictures of her. And soon, Waris was working as a clothing model. Waris had her first modelling job in 1987. When people working in fashion and design saw the pictures, Waris got lots of work. Major companies like L’Oreal, Levi’s, Revlon, and Chanel all wanted her to model for them.

Voice 2 

By 1997, Waris was very well-known.  She was a model for many different companies. Writers and journalists wanted to hear about her life. She had talked about some things. But finally, Waris decided to talk about a very difficult subject. Waris first talked about her past to a writer from Marie Claire magazine. Waris began speaking about female circumcision.

Voice 1 

The World Health Organization estimates 150 million women are affected by female circumcision. This is most common in 23 African countries. But it also happens in other parts of the world, including Western countries.

Voice 2 

These women have had their external sex organs removed. These are the sex organs on the outside of the body. After they are removed, the opening is sewn closed. Female circumcision usually happens in dirty conditions. People do not use clean instruments to operate. Infection and even death are common after a circumcision. And many women continue to experience serious pain from the circumcision for the rest of their lives. Circumcised women are still able to have children. But it is dangerous. They may have problems each month when they menstruate. And usually, they cannot enjoy sex.

Voice 1 

Waris spoke about female circumcision because she was circumcised. Waris was circumcised when she was only five years old. Waris spoke of the serious pain she felt when she was circumcised. The woman who circumcised her used a dirty, rusty knife blade. Waris did not get any medicine for pain. She told Bazaar magazine,

Voice 3

“I consider female circumcision to be the worst torture that can be done to a woman. It is impossible to describe the pain.”

Voice 2 

Families often circumcise their daughters at a young age. They believe that this prevents the girls from having sexual partners before marriage. Parents believe that circumcision means their daughter will be pure. This way she can marry a good man.

Voice 1 

Like many experts, Waris calls female circumcision by the name female genital mutilation, or FGM. This name means that the female sex organs are mutilated, or destroyed. They use this name to show that this tradition is wrong and dangerous. It damages women.

Voice 2 

People all around the world heard about female circumcision because of Waris Dirie. She shocked the world by speaking about how common circumcision is. The United Nations appointed Waris Dirie an ambassador. She now travels the world talking to politicians, writers, famous people, and health organizations. She speaks about the danger of female circumcision.

Voice 1 

Waris also started The Desert Flower Foundation. The foundation concentrates on telling people about the dangers of female circumcision. Many poor communities do not know how dangerous it is. People do not know the problems it can cause women.

Voice 2 

The foundation also helps victims of female circumcision.  It provides for a healing operation if the victim would like it.  The foundation also provides mental and emotional help to women. They train women to prevent female circumcision in their own communities. Waris told the BBC,

Voice 3 

“You deal with what you have experienced. You make the best of it. For me, the Desert Flower Foundation is the best I can do.”

Voice 1 

In 1998, Waris wrote a book called Desert Flower. She told her story of struggle, success, and help. Her book Desert Flower was a bestseller. Millions of people bought the book.  It was also made into a movie.

Voice 2 

Waris did not see any of the film until it was complete. Her life had been very difficult. But it was much different now. However, the pain of her childhood was still real. She told Bazaar magazine,

Voice 3 

“I was moved and shocked when I saw my childhood as a film. It brought back all the memories.”

Voice 1 

At the age of 13, Waris Dirie could not have imagined the life she has now. Now, Waris Dirie, the desert flower, has flowered from her difficult past.

Voice 2 

The writer of this program was Johanna Poole. The producer was Michio Ozaki. All quotes were adapted and voiced by Spotlight. You can find our programs on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called "The Desert Flower: Waris Dirie".

Voice 1 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

Would you change anything about your culture? What would it be, and why?

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
Skender
said on January 26, 2012

This story is tremendous story for me. It surprised me and still I can’t believe it. I have heard about a boy circumcision, but it is the first time to hear about girl circumcision.  I hope that those people one day will understand what they are doing. Destroying the outer part of vagine means to act against handmaking job of God. God created us as He want to see us. No one can do against God’s will.

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NightlyOwl
said on May 15, 2012

For the first time I heard about Waris from the movie. Desert Flower made a great impression on me. I try to understand any culture, which many in our world. Some interesting, but some is cruel. Waris is truly a fighter. She was born that would bring to the ears of the world their story and take the protection of the rights of African women.

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kenhieuloilam
said on March 21, 2013

When we live in difficulties we know how big difficulties are. When we live in sufferings we know how big sufferings are. We have faith and hope. Faith helps us overcome difficulties and sufferings. We try much to become better. Beautiful good things bring us beautiful good things. We go to beautiful good things. In the life difficulties and sufferings are big. Faith helps us overcome difficulties and sufferings. The life has beautiful good things. Becoming good persons is our great joys.

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duccong829
said on July 20, 2015

This is the first time i hear about circumcision. I hope they will prevent it as soon as possible. I will find her book to read today.

Kaleb Kolaibi's avatar
Kaleb Kolaibi
said on February 16, 2017

The courageous decision changes the way of its taker to the better.
G-d bless you