Waris Dirie peeked at the world from underneath her skin
Which is dark, shiny and smooth like newly woven black silk.
The first thing she saw was her father laughing victoriously
In the middle of his wives like a roaring African lion.
Her mother, breathing yet dead, gazed at her husband with blank eyes
From inside the hut, smeared with clay and resembling a rat hole.
Her mother’s hands on her body were coarse like corn leaves,
But she felt warm and cared for.
She heard the sound of camel hooves in the distance
And saw a fiery plain shimmering with mirages.
She heard a regular drumbeat from the birthing ceremony drum circle
And saw children of all ages and sizes, their colorful shawls flying in the wind.
When her mother put fragrances on her body, Waris giggled.
Too young to realize living is a curse of traditional beliefs,
Life is a poison cup of superstitions,
And being a woman means falling into the pit of hell, Waris giggled.
Her laughter had no traces of pain—not yet.
What Waris saw next isn’t something you would find in the Koran.
She saw an old woman chanting something like a witch weaving a spell.
She listened with her eyes wide open.
A glint of madness flashed in the gray eyes of the old woman.
Her hands were deft.
She cut the tender flesh like breaking a stamen. Then she stitched the cut.
Tears and blood poured from Waris.
The sound of her crying echoed on the rocks and mountains.
Pain and fear were hot-stamped on the flesh of her heart.
Her genitals, her heart, her mind, her life and her womanhood –
They were all mutilated.
Vultures were circling in the sky noisily.
Waris’s hot tears burned the skin of her mother like acid.
The mother’s comforting caresses seemed to be saying:
But my sweet daughter,
This is for every woman’s dignity.
This is a key that locks the door of your virginity.
This is a manifestation of purity.
This is the noblest sacrifice for your future bridegroom.
And Waris must have protested furiously:
I don’t want to be a woman, mother.
I don’t want to be a woman.
A fiery plain and a herd of goats were the third view Waris had.
Newborn goats made her happy.
Life, a desert flower, taught her to reconcile
With her body and soul that were equally damaged.
Hot tears blurred Waris’s vision.
Dad, a thirteen-year-old girl should be playing with her kid brothers.
And I earned this puberty after enduring so much pain.
How could you make me serve my body to that old man?
With what kind of heart could you choose me to be his fifth wife?
Look at your youngest wife, dad.
She’s nothing but a corpse taken over by a demon.
What kind of belief or superstition made you decide
That I live the rest of my life just like her? How could you do that?
Waris wasn’t sure if she woke up because of her mother’s crying
Or it was her own crying that woke her mother.
They hugged each other, and it was well past midnight.
Run, my sweet daughter, run!
Run from the endless sufferings,
Run from all these superstitions,
Run from all these inhumanities.
Even if you die in the desert,
It would be much better than living in this hell.
When Waris said goodbye to her mother with a kiss,
Her mother, in tears, was praying to Allah for her.
Waris realized that she might not see her again.
Against the midnight sky, Waris ran without looking back.
Her mother’s crying set the whole Somalia quaking.
Waris turned every wound into strength.
Allah and her will to escape protected her.
When she missed her mother, she thought about the landscape
Of her village, which she vaguely remembered.
Working as a child maid wasn’t as hard as tending goats,
And the man who cleaned the shop didn’t smell like lust
Like the old men from her village.
Now Waris had a lovely friend called Marilyn.
In London where water comes out of taps all the time, Waris was happy.
She landed here with only one shoe, but she was happy.
She had always thought everybody was black,
Every woman had her genitals mutilated,
And life was just a stage performance from hell.
Now she realized that she was wrong.
She came to believe that once a woman fought her way out of a burka,
There was hope for a good life.
The shiny black pearl inside her would never fade.
Under the flashlights of cameras, she now saw how beautiful she was.
Her long legs and her pretty weaves had brought her into the limelight.
I love my mother,
I love my family,
And I love my Africa.
We must put an end to superstitions
Non-existent in the 3000 year-old Koran.
We must say no to wedding nights
When the grooms take sexual pleasure from cutting open our stitches.
We must save all women mentally and physically damaged.
I escaped that hell, but Sofia is bleeding on her wedding night,
And Amina is carrying a child.
These poisonous traditions killed my sisters.
These horrendous acts have destroyed many flowers.
The last camel in line can walk as fast as the first one.
Now I can live my life with dignity and pride.
Tomorrow, all Somalian women will live the same life.
Waris’s voice trembled but it was clear and loud.
Her body shook with pain, but she felt relieved.
The whole thing was like a dream.
The entire hall was quiet, and there was sadness in the air.
Waris’s tears were flowing down the cheeks of the audience.
The whole world stopped with fright.
Compassion and sympathy interwove.
Hands joined with a great sense of hope.
Meanwhile in Somalia, people were collecting stones for Waris.
3 April 2014
This poem is dedicated to Somalian model Waris Dirie who founded Desert Flower Foundation,
Desert Dawn Foundation and PPR Foundation for Women’s Dignity and Rights
in her attempt to protect the rights of women.
Translated from the Burmese by Maung Day
– From Eaindra’s bilingual poetry collection A Poem Writes A Woman (long poems, translated into English by Maung Day, 2017)