Tuesday, November 10, 2009
out of the frying pan...
Anette and I went to see the film Wüstenblume (Desert Flower) the other night. Wüstenblume tells some of the story of the Somali supermodel and human rights spokesperson Waris Dirie. Dirie, like many Somali women yesterday and today, was a child victim of genital mutilation. She fled her desert home, on foot, the night before she was to be forcibly wed to an old man. She was 13. She was lucky to survive the trek through the desert, and according to the film, when Dirie finally arrived at a road and flagged down a truck, the driver tried to rape her.
That sort of an ordeal would kill most humans, but for Dirie, things really got weird when she left Somalia. She made it to London, where she worked for a time in the Somali embassy, then she ended up homeless. Somehow she got a job in a burger joint, where she--presto!--was discovered by a famous photographer and became--chango!--a supermodel. One of Wüstenblume problems is its failure to make anything of the irony of Dirie's escape from an oppressed life in Somalia to an equally oppressive (and sick) world politely known as the "fashion industry." But I'm saving that rant for another post.
The African scenes of the film--well-acted and beautifully shot--were almost too difficult for me to watch, because I couldn't look at the screen without thinking of V. and especially Adinah. From what I know, genital mutilation is not widely practiced in Ethiopia, though it does border Somalia. But many girls in the Ethiopian countryside are married off, by the age of 6 or 7, to a boy they may think is just a playmate. As I watched the film, and especially as Anette and I walked home afterward--feeling like we'd been kicked in the teeth--I thought once again that when our girls get old enough to understand a film like Wüstenblume, we're going to have some explaining to do. Life in Africa is so different from our everyday, and the "Africa" one sees in films, TV and other media is so distorted and filtered. How will we be able to express our view of Africa to Adinah? Will she understand that despite its problems, Ethiopia is an amazing place?
Or will she think, 'Thank god Mama and Papa got me out of there?'
Or is it okay for her to think that (a little) once she understands the larger truth that we never meant to save a child? We're not hoping to win one for Western Civilization. We wanted a child. And we thought going to Ethiopia was a good way to find her.
Worse than these thoughts was the feeling I got watching the scenes of the teenage Dirie fleeing her home alone, or the scene where the three-year-old Dirie is genitally "cut." Since we became parents, movies which depict the harm or neglect of a child have become even more difficult viewing for me. I can't process this. How could a parent knowingly harm a child?
Maybe that's why I can't believe that Adinah and V.'s first parents felt any differently. Both of our daughters knew tragedy before we met them. But I feel sure that their birth parents did everything they could for their girls. I'm certain they tried to save their own children. But they couldn't.
Maybe I have to feel this way about the parents before us. I look at our kids and I think, 'They're so beautiful--how could anyone not cherish them?'