The international model Waris Dirie grew up as a nomadic girl in Somalia. When her father wants to give her away in marriage to a much older man she decides to run away from home. She is thirteen years young at that time. But this is not the most traumatic episode in her life. On top of the list is her circumcision. She flees to her relatives in Mogadishu.

Her mother hails from a well-to-do family, but she ended up in the desert as a nomad when her marriage did not get the approval of her family. Waris can atay at a familymember as a housemaid. One day she meets a brother to her mother who is ambassador in London. She manages to become his housemaid in London. There she lives a few years, seperated from the other members of the household. She is at the ready for all the members of that household.

When the ambassador decides to return to Somalia, Waris decides to stay in London. She does not have the proper papers and she lives a life on the run. In order to get the proper papers she marries an older man. Shortly afterwards the old man dies and she enters the next ‘fake’marriage. This time she gets married to a brother of a friend. The remaining part of the book this man tries to hitchhike Waris’life. Later on, in New York, Waris marries the drummer of a band. But also this relationship does not last. This seems to be a recurring theme in lifestories of Somalian women: relationships that do not last.

When she was still working at the ambassador’s she came into contact with a man who wanted to take her picture. She declined his invitation. A few years later when she was down and out she decides to look for this man, together with a friend. They find out that he is a famous photographer. Within a short time she is a model on the Pirelli-calender (you know, the calender with bare tyres). This is the start of an international career.

The longing for Somalia is strongly present in the life of Waris. When the BBC wants to shoot a documentary on her life she travels to Ethiopia. She cannot travel to Somalia, for her passport includes all the countries in the world, except Somalia. At the border of Ethiopia and Somalia she meets her mother, the first encounter after she ran away from home when she thirteen years young.

Waris Dirie and Cathleen Miller – Desert Flower – 1998


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I enjoy reading about Africa. New books. Old books. By African writers. By non-African writers. Novel. History. Travel. Biographies. Autobiographies. Politics. Colonialism. Poetry.

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