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?'


uzma said...

Thank you for this post. I was touched by your thoughts/ conflict.

If you're ever interested, check out my blog. http://uzmaaslamkhan.blogspot.com
I'm primarily a novelist but also an essayist, and I've written a few pieces (see especially "The West Must Save the East!") on the ways in which the west sees the east/ third world, only through the lens of "liberating" it, if it sees it at all. It's a fine balance, telling the truth about without pandering to those who wish to prove their own way right.

Take care
Uzma Aslam Khan

pat said...

Thanks for reading, Uzma. I couldn't find that essay at your blog, but will use other methods. Be well!

Anonymous said...

hey i really like the fact that you are getting really emotional about the issue. we are all but one as i say we all hold a global visa and your concern is very touching. however, when you write about a country you need to get all the facts right.Genetal mutilation had allways been outlawed in ethiopia for manny centuries. sex is seen as a natural gift to man kind to enjoy an extra luxury and ethiopians find it very devastating to find that the women can not enjoy her joy as weel. however it is not a practice that every ethiopian child has to undertake as a right of passage kind of way as seen in the movie. only some tribes in the north use to do that to there women and even 100 years ago it was seen barbaric by the other tribes who felt violating a women in such a manner was not acceptable. however there backward thinking meant that they carried this on secretively. there is and was a great opposition towar these tribs and the way they devalued women as the rest of ethiopia saw women and men as equals, if you go to any village home you would see the man and the women together giving each other mutual respect. the women before they marry are aloud to have boyfriends just like any western nation and go have there high school sweet heart as you would say it. then they can marry them when they are older or they just marry another man. the culture is a very open and has great respect for women even after marriage a women can go back to her love and have a fling as it is seen normal its an agreement which is not spoken about between husband and wife as in any relationship would bring some disagreement and is left as a form of respect for each other. women have been regarded as equal to men in ethiopian history even in he 12 century there where women in the government queens who ruled the country (saba, titue, i dont kbow all of them at the top of my head google them) and lead armys and even when women where repressed and seen as a mans inferior, where they cant own property etc, ethiopian women could own there own property have there own money however when married both of them share what they have as they feel what one has is as if the other has as they precive marriage as the coming together of tow souls. the women is aloud to have a devorce if she is unhappy with the marriage as well.
so if you can understand where i am coming form having a very one way steriotypical view point of something is not good dont be feed information. this is oming form a fellow ethiopian

pat said...

Well, thanks for your thoughts, Anonymous. I'm sure there is some truth to some of what you say.