Born in the Big Rains: A Memoir of Somalia and Survival 1558615318, 9781558615311

This powerful memoir portrays the life-altering transformation of a feisty nomad girl who undergoes genital excision. Cr

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Table of contents :
Nomadic Life • 1
In Mogadishu • 59
In Germany • 105
Epilogue • 169
Afterword: FGM, A Note on Advocacy and Women's Human Rights • 171
Addresses • 185
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>£>/*?

>£S ¥&**

WITH SABINE E1CHHQRST

TRANSLATED ANQ WITH AN AFTERWORD BY T08E LEVIN

A//A



"astonishing courage and sense of humor,"

anti-FGM (female activist

genital mutilation)

Fadumo Korn

forthrightly describes

her brutal circumcision at age seven and her

long and agonizing path to physical and psychological recovery.

As a

Fadumo

child,

freely

roams the

steppes of Somalia until her mother delivers

her into the hands of an excisor to undergo a horrific "ritual" cutting to

woman

in the eyes

of her

complications ensue

Fadumo

tribe.

—and

travels to the

make

her a

When

escalate

sprawling capital

of Mogadishu and the household of a relative

who

is

close to the

Somali president. The

girl

incoming then experiences

firsthand a world of incongruous luxury

amid

political instability in a

edge of civil war,

becomes so

life

condition later

threatening that she

for treatment to

Eventually,

Fadumo s

country on the

is

Germany, where she

Fadumo

sent

recovers.

marries and, following

corrective sureerv, she bears a child.

sensitive

understanding of traditional

practices with revelations about their

disturbing effects. This deftly crafted memoir,

suffused with sorrow and surprising humor, is

an unblinkered history of a

with trauma and pain activism. Today,

life

replete

as well as recovery

Korn campaigns

and

against

FGM while remaining sensitive to the fact that

many young African women womanhood.

a passage to

value

it

as

Digitized by the Internet Archive in

2012

http://archive.org/details/borninbigrainsaOOkorn

BORN

IN

THE

By Fadumo Korn With Sabine Eichhorst Translated from the

German and with an

Afterword by Tobe Levin

r. The Feminist at the

Press

City University of New York

New York

Published in 2006 by the Feminist Press

at the

City University of New York

The Graduate Center 365

Avenue, Ste 5406

Fifth

New York, NY

10016

© 2004 by Fadumo Korn with Sabine Eichhorst © 2006 by Tobe Levin Afterword copyright © 2006 by Tobe Levin Copyright

Translation copyright

Originally published under the

Rowohlt Verlag

GmbH,

Reinbek

title

GEBOREN IM GROSSEN REGEN ©

2004 by

Hamburg

bei

All rights reserved.

No

part of this

book may be reproduced or

used, stored in any information retrieval system

or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise

without prior written permission from the Feminist Press

of New York, except

versity

in the case

of brief quotations embodied

at the

City Uni-

in critical articles

and

reviews.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Korn, Fadumo, 1964-

[Geboren im grofien Regen. English]

Born

in the big rains

Eichhorst p.

cm.

;

translated

— (Women

:

a

memoir of Somalia and

/

by Fadumo Korn with Sabine

writing Africa)

ISBN-13: 978-1-55861-531-1

ISBN-10: 1-55861-531-8

(trade cloth)

(trade cloth)

— Somalia— Case Female circumcision — Somalia — Somaand customs. Korn, Fadumo, 1964— — Germany— Biography. Women, Somali — Germany — Biography. Eichhorst,

1.

Female circumcision

Sabine.

Psy-

studies. 2.

cological aspects. 3. Somalia lis

survival

from the German by Tobe Levin.

Social

life

4.

6.

II.

Title. III. Series:

I.

Women writing Africa series.

GN484.K6613 2006 392.1096773—dc22 2006010520

This publication was made possible,

in part,

Text and cover design by Lisa Force Printed in

Canada

13 12 11 10 09 08 07 06

543

5.

2

1

by the Rockefeller Foundation.

C&rrfZnlS

Nomadic

Life

1

In

Mogadishu 59

In

Germany 105

Epilogue

169

FGM, A Note on Advocacy and Women's Human Rights

Afterword:

171

Addresses

185

my beloved sister, Khadija, and to my husband, Walter, and To

son,

Jama

always given

Philip,

me

who have

their full support.

\te>*i*c/}c

V~fe

t

In the distance, a lion roared, deep and long, dismissing the night.

The

air

zon the

smelled of smoke and freshly brewed day's first light chalked the sky.

warmth of Adan's sleep

my eyes,

from

Only

breath, I

still

coming

a few paces

two

my

away

Soon

hori-

My shoulder soaked up the in

even puffs. Rubbing the

stools, a pail,

mother squatted, cracking

twigs.

A

metal

wife, rolled

up the mats.

and cooking pots stood where our hut

had been the previous evening. The briefly.

and on the

sat up.

Maryan, Uncle Yusuf's second suitcase,

tea,

lion roared again, this time

he'd find himself a place to sleep.

We

had survived

the night.

Aunt Maryan began

to

undo

the colorful

that usually decorated our huts.

branches, and in the distance

My

camel's bell.

brother

I

My

woven

leather

cousin Nadifo bundled

heard the wooden sound of a

Adan awoke.

I

took

his

hand. In a few

hours, once the sun stood higher in the sky, the sand like copper.

Now,

spiky

The brush had been

hills.

about before

in the half dawn, silhouettes

finally

would glow

of shrubs resembled

driven across the desert, rolling

being abandoned, as though Allah had been

throwing dice and had tree

bands

tired

of the game. Here and there an acacia

stood out.

My mother fanned the fire to flame.

Then

she carried the kettle

to

one of the water containers and

secured his loincloth, getting up so

mother poured

a

little

the fresh coolness of water

A herd.

The

on

made of thorny

fined our camels. bells

I

heard

now

penetrating animal

I

it.

could

face.

Adan roll

up our mat.

My

to

me.

in the I

loved

my morning skin.

twigs surrounded the

my brother Jama's I

and

She then turned

camp and con-

tongue clicking

rang out clearly too, and the calls.

stretched

Adan had dug

water into the hole

sand so that he could wash his

fence

filled

air

at the

vibrated with

placed our rolled-up mat next to the

others. I

want

didn't

to

move

away.

I

wanted

my

with

to stay

friend

Mahad.

A sheep

and Nadifo poured

bleated,

My father

tea into a cup.

entered the half circle in front of our huts and called out to Adan,

who

ran to Timiro, Uncle Yusuf's

returned with Timiro's sons.

In a minute he

first wife.

Jama herded

number of

a

transport

camels in our direction as he clicked and with his staff coaxed their flanks.

Two

the attack.

female camels tried to bite him, but Jama sidestepped

They answered with long

ening, almost "Ju,"



threat-

menacing announcements of displeasure.

my father said,

tugging at their reins to

while the boys brandished their as well.

throaty complaints

Though

sticks. "Ju,"

animal bent

resisting, the first

weight sink to the earth,

its

make them

my cousin its

long neck stretching

knees and

its

kneel

Said called let its

head high. The

other camels were also biting, spitting, and complaining, but father, Said,

and Jama weren't the

had the camels seated on the sand skin

on the animals'

legs

The men began

to

least bit

in front

my

bothered. Finally they

of the huts.

The

leathery

was dusty brown.

examine the herd with tender hands:

stroking their necks, torsos,

and backs,

feeling for leeches

and

ticks,

checking legs for thorns and hoofs for stones. They then spread mats over the camels' backs, stroked

them

flat,

and took

great care to

eliminate even the slightest unnecessary pressure or irritation. Gradually,

they loaded the camels with everything

never owns

more than can be loaded onto

we owned.

A nomad

his camels' backs.

A hand gripped my arm. "Go and milk the goats," my mother wove my way through the camels said. Taking the wooden pail, I

to the makeshift fence. Careful not to pierce

opened the the

gate.

The

air.

feel their

myself on thorns,

smelled dung, and a high-pitched whining

I

I

filled

my legs, some using their horns. I could my clothes. I counted them to make sure

goats nuzzled

breath through

none had gone missing during the night and then squatted beneath the udders of one unhappy, squealing goat. Deftly,

of her

my

between

legs

udder and

pull

on the

I

clamped one

knees and began, tenderly, to stroke her

nipple.

But

at first

no milk came. The

ani-

mal refused, knowing that we were on the verge of moving. Returning with the

half-full can,

found

I

all

the other huts had

been dismantled and Jama had tied the forelegs of the loaded

My mother

camels to prevent their running away.

handed

it

to

my

then passed

father,

before she drank what was

Mahad. Where

The sun hovered into the sand,

brayed.

in the

over a

left

my

to

warm

filled a

cup and

brother and to

me

milk.

world was Mahad?

hill

and lambs

of the

it

when

bleated.

the caravan set

off.

Camels snorted,

My father had bound the jaw of one of the

Hoofs sank

gargled,

and

females to pre-

vent her from biting. In a long row, the camels passed along the

thorn fence that guarded what had once been our home.

Jama guided the

lead animal.

Behind him, Said and Uncle

Yusuf s sons drove the herd, brandishing pulling

on the ropes

sticks, clucking,

and

Every once

in a

1

tied to the animals

halters.

while one of the boys would imitate Jamas clucks. Nadifo and the other

girls tried to

sat in the

I

keep the goats and sheep together.

sand next to the spot that had served

and watched the caravan

place

"What's the matter?" there. «T) 1

-1here. m staying

My daughter

my father asked when

our

fire-

he spied

me sitting

r>

father leaned over toward is

as

leaving.

staying here?"

me and

looked down.

"My

"I'm not going!

want

I

to stay with

Mahad."

Mahad and I belonged to the same clan and were distantly Mahad was my age and not very well liked because he

related.

We

could neither hear nor speak. But that didn't bother me.

found a language

want

in signs

and

gestures.

him behind. He was my

to leave

I

Mahad and

liked

had

didn't

friend!

My father shook his head and rejoined the caravan. The

lead animal struck off, followed

by the others laden so

high with goods that they dwarfed their drivers. Barefoot

women

and small children marched along over the steppe, wrapped cloth for protection from the sun.

grew

and

tinier

tinier, still visible

mal noises had faded.

I

I

long after

pulled

in

stared at the cloud of dust that

my

all

the

human and

wraparound

tighter.

ani-

A

fly

crawled up the inner side of my forearm.

The sun

rose higher.

I

was sweating.

Over the horizon, the dust had vanished. Soon,

and threw proud me.

I

began to

started to cry.

I

it

anxiety and rage,

I

ripped off

on the glowing embers. In seconds

run

to

feel frightened.

From

after the caravan,

it

blazed.

my I

scarf

was too

but no one had come back to get

My family had moved on and simply left me behind! I

looked around. In the shadow of an acacia, only a few paces

away, were Mahad's family's huts. Everything was silent. At this

hour Mahad's

and

sisters

his brothers

and cousins were watching the

goats, while

he

were leading the camels to water. They wouldn't

be back before nightfall. I

sat in the

hot sand crying, waiting.

Hours must have passed before smaller this time,

enough,

I

"How stay.

spied another sand cloud,

in my direction. Once it had gotten close my father.

moving

recognized

can a child be so stubborn?" he complained. "You can't

We've got to move because Later,

I

my

there's

no more water

here."

father admitted that, in the confusion of breaking

camp, he'd simply forgotten me. He'd been sure time, I'd follow of my

own

accord.

that, after a short

As he

me

lifted

onto

his. shoulders,

was jubilant, but

I

I

bawled. In the

midday heat we caught up with the

my

In the late afternoon,

already setting

found a place

when

father sent out a scout.

hour away by

for the night only half an

The

the camels.

"He's going to purify the ground of evil

I

legs,

before

it

plodded

making

The

spot

one we'd

him.

after

we

left

nomads had

gets too dark,"

themselves around

me to keep up with the adults'

reached just

as the

sun

set

my

rapid steps.

looked exactly

like the

that morning. In the middle of the steppe, other

already erected fences of thorns, a

goats

and sheep from night-prowling

dogs.

They had

built huts out

They had

left

stall

to protect their

and wild

jackals, hyenas,

of willow branches and woven mats,

and placed

installed water containers,

the space.

and gather

spirits,

my father explained.

My skirts wrapped

difficult for

it

foot.

scout ran ahead and soon

of sight, swallowed by the reddening earth.

practically out

wood

The sun was

the scout returned to report that he had

Jama and Said drove was

others.

a fireplace in the center of

only a short time ago. Their footprints had

not yet been erased by the wind, the animal dung was

fresh, the

fence intact.

The men began ing, the

women

prepared places to sleep under the

began to cook millet

stars.

Then

fire.

The

adults talked to

one another; we children cuddled up together on the mats. brother say

came, he'd get

My name and

is

I

me

have to sleep on the edge so that

first,

but

Fadumo Abdi

fifth child

Husen.

I'd

of Mayran

was born

in the

I

was too

tired to

I

when

heard a lion

punch him.

Hersi Farah Husen, the second daughter

Muhammad

Elmi and Abdi Hersi Farah

Big Rains, 1964.

dry steppes in Ogaden in Somalia, not der,

they

for dinner.

After eating, everyone sat around the

my

morn-

to unpack. Since we'd continue in the

had been green longer than

far

It

was a good

year:

The

from the Ethiopian bor-

usual, providing

nourishment

for

animals and people

Everyone

alike.

who

about

talks

my

birth

always mentions the Big Rains.

My oldest brother, Ahmed, already grown up by the time born, lived as a soldier in the city. My middle brother, Jama,

I

He was

eighteen.

was was

considered the most beautiful in the family

because of his muscular physique and even, white teeth. Khadija,

my sister, was nine and a stubborn, She lived mainly in the time to time

when

I

we

city

visited her.

my

with

My

Uncle

brother

Muhammad. From

Adan was

was born, and we loved and hated each

his place as the family's little later,

decidedly temperamental child.

would

drive

one



just as

me from my mother's

four years old

other.

Muhammad,

my appearance.

and very dark-skinned,

flour,

wove

rope,

She was

—even during

produced mats, and cured

was always ready to spring up pull her ears.

felt

My

mother,

very proud of

She devoted her energy to the family, cooking,

ing for the animals, and tilling fields

ground

four years

my hair gleamed

and

red under the sun, both signs of beauty in Somalia. small, round,

had stolen

arms.

My skin was lighter than all my siblings' who was

I

to

car-

pregnancy. She leather,

but she

pounce on a naughty child and

also very strict.

My

was a giant with

father

shimmering red hair and a henna-colored beard.

A gentle man,

he

never scolded and only seldom showed anger.

My

father

mother's

sister,

fell

in love

with Mulaho

Muhammad Elmi, my my father's uncle.

but she was already married to

She was very beautiful and songs were sung about her

and long

hair.

The

uncle was old, and

when he

died,

tall

frame

my

father

asked for Mulaho's hand. But tradition required that she marry the

dead husband's brother. In

this

way, strangers were prevented from

marrying, thereby keeping the children in the family.

My father eloped with They

fled,

married

Mulaho.

secretly,

and returned only when Mulaho

my

became pregnant. After the

birth of

marriage was annulled and

Mulaho married

deceased husband after

all.

half-sister

Halima, the

the brother of her

My father was very unhappy about this

but eventually married Mulaho's

sister,

my

mother. Because their

when Mulaho and my mother were young, responsibility of parents. The brothers

parents had died

uncles

—had wanted

When my

their

—my

on the

brothers took

the marriages arranged as they had been.

mother had her

she was barely fifteen.

first child,

my parents seemed to have a happy marriage; after my father was a well-respected man from a good family, and my all, mother had also inherited the proud character my father had so Nonetheless,

admired

in her sister.

In Somalia

we have

Hawiye, and the

Isaaq.

four major tribes: the Darod, the Dir, the

The

clans that frequently clash.

tribes are

subdivided into numerous

Clan membership has always been very

important. Early on, nomadic children learn songs about their

even the

clan's history so that

by

heart. I

And often,

belong to the Darod

Reer Kooshin. forty cousins,

nomads.

I

littlest

grandfathers' tribe,

Marehan

clan,

stories

sixty generations!

and the family of

have more than a dozen aunts and uncles, about

and

My father

hundred sheep and

six half-siblings:

I

sank, the

camels,

fifty

more than

as

five

and a dozen cows.

women

goats from the temporary

some of them

lived with

owned more than goats,

We were a highly respected The moon

know clan

ones already

names go back

family.

rolled

up the mats, the

compound,

girls

drove the

the boys brought the camels,

and the men loaded them. Before dawn the caravan set out. The sheep milled about in confusion, and

bush that might promise a hard, hot earth,

and pierced the

while thorn bushes tore at so as not to

leaf or two. soles

my legs.

I

followed them on the

I

of

the goats ran to any

my feet on sharp roots my shoes in my hands

carried

damage them. Uncle Yusuf and

his

second wife,

Maryan, scolded the children who lagged behind or who had goat. For days

we marched from dawn

lost a

to dusk, covering seemingly

endless distances.

On the fifth day Aunt Asha remained seated in acacia.

the

Her huge stomach hurt and she could hardly

shadow of an walk.

I

didn't

understand

why no one

thought to put her on a camel. The old and

the sick weren't expected to walk. Uncle Yusuf explained that the

camels were already laden with our huts and equipment and several lambs, so there was no room.

and stayed with ly

arms

in her

who would

Asha

tied the

The sky was

illuminated

hills

clear

jumped up and wanted

move

on, the next day

we had been bathed

in the color

From within came

meters high: I

We

and the majestic

gait

decorating languid eyes. father

had put

in the saddle,

humming and

a

not witches and ghosts?

I

marveled

as the

was

a

all

The men had run

the goods, and

thorn bush. Since then

On raining,

move,

sick during a

a camel. Surrounded

fever,

whip had

in overdrive: It flew.

saddle,

was

I

by mats,

I

had

fallen asleep.

camel suddenly sprang to one

Jama had screamed, at a gallop.

I

And I

struck,

had

I

side.

and

then, suddenly,

it

it

were

fat

lain

I'd

had only

My

brother

had sped up.

It

had stopped. The

had flown through the

decided

I

air,

landing on a

rather walk.

we

reached our goal.

and the earth steamed. Everywhere you looked

trees

my

and the camel had taken off

after the beast,

the afternoon of the ninth day

The

on the

calmed by the monotonous regularity of the animal's

plodding. Soon overcome by

awakened

at

of the camels with their long eyelashes

Once when

me up on

passed

asked myself whether only animals were

Why

these sounds.

of a lions

the beauty of our animals: the black and white patterns goats

to

Aunt

and the landscape changed color with the

buzzing, and sometimes

making

Aunt

named Iman. She was

but toward evening the world was a wild tomato.

termite

aunt

baby to her back and walked behind the caravan.

angle of the sun. Early, fur,

girls

Because of the dire need to

her.

be

my

for

reappeared sudden-

The glow of the campfire

small and round and snoring. All the

hold

up camp

women

evening both

her. In the

out of the darkness.

Asha and the baby

My mother set



It

was

green!

appeared to shine with an inner radiance; the bushes

and luxurious,

shot up that

I'd

like

rotund sheep. Out of the ground plants

never seen before.

animals were soon

full

The

air

smelled sweet and our

and contented. Aunt Maryan and

my

cousin Nadifo bent branches into arches and held them in place

with

My mother unbundled the mats and started to dec-

cord.

sisal

orate the poles. Before night

our huts stood in a half circle with

fell,

pens for goats and sheep on both outer edges, and

of

all

rounded by a fence made of thorn branches. Uncle Yusuf out of stone.

fireplace

My

it

sur-

built a

father sprinkled holy water in the four

make

corners of the courtyard and invited the spirits to

home

their

with us for a while.

Was Mahad

okay?

Had he made new

friends?

Screams echoed through the night, and before

my

I

was

fully

awake,

father rushed into the hut. In the next second he grabbed

brother, turned around,

ing with in front

me by the

my

and ran out with him,

my

mother follow-

hand. Uncle Yusuf was standing pale

as a

ghost

of his hut, and next to him were his wife and the children

huddling against

shouted

her. "Let's go!"

my father.

Not understanding what was happening, mother. She

lifted

me

up, covered

stumbled

I

my mouth if lions

Her

were

reached a copse of trees, the adults gagged us and together.

Someone put me

that only

my

tied the sack

I

was

Men

climbed the

in to a high limb.

and squatted on branches

Then

as close to the

heart beat wildly while, with wide

Coming from somewhere

I

open

my

older brother

after us.

As we

bound our hands

and pulled the cord so

in a leather sack

head emerged.

after

with one hand, and

ran through the darkness. Before us was Nadifo.

Said grabbed her. Everyone raced as

"Quick!"

the

One of them women climbed up trees.

trunk

eyes,

I

as they could.

My

stared into the night.

heard raised voices and angry, rag-

ing sounds.

The men ran back. I wanted to call to my father, wanted to know where he was going, wanted to shout, Stay with us! But my mouth produced only a gurgle. "Shush, Fadumo," my mother whispered. "Be

still,

for Allans sake!"

Out of fear I peed in my leather sack. The loud noises approached. I saw burning shrieked. Rigid with fear

hurt with

my

torches.

family squatted in the

terror, a cold, icy pain.

I

10

trees.

stopped breathing.

Someone

My back

my father returned with the other men. They had drithe attackers away. My father released my gag so that, finally, I

At dawn ven

could

All the children

cry.

had been

stuffed into sacks

from branches, so that when we became

would

we

be,

I

stared

to untie

The any

up

at

With shaky

legs

we stood

my mother, who was

my brother's

surely

or

still

in front

when

of the

trees,

in the branches trying

bundle.

attackers hadn't escaped with

women

we

wouldn't betray the group by making noise

wetting our pants.

and

terrified, as

and hung

girls in

any of our animals, nor had

our family been touched. But Uncle Yusuf s

The

second-eldest son had been killed.

other

men

hadn't been able

to save him.

Such

attacks were

commonplace between

tribes, the assault

One of my cousins, who had been dead many years, had killed many men of the Hawiye tribe some as many as four hundred. In revenge the Hawiyes struck us

often taking place at night. for

say



again and again. There was endless bloodshed between the

Hawiye

and the Darod.

The had

next day

tied cloth

we

left

our encampment and moved on.

around the animals' hips so that

behind them and wiped out their

tracks.

it

swept the ground

Many

before

we could

In the

morning our camel herder drove the animals

nights passed

sleep peacefully again.

and grinding

his teeth.

My

father

was

to the river a

my

father, frail,

furious.

His favorite

half day's walk away. Later he stood in front of afraid,

Men

camel had separated herself from the herd and disappeared; moreover, the

animal was pregnant.

to look for her

My father sent the camel herder out

and then followed. For many days he combed the

steppe, looking for tracks, asking other

nomads, constantly search-

ing for his camel. Finally, he turned back.

He had Weeks

Then

never been in such despair.

passed.

a neighbor reported having seen the footprints of a preg-

nant camel

at

about two days' walk from our encampment. But

l

l

a

had

lion

been on her

also

and

canister with water,

For a long time

That I

is,

My

trail.

father took his dagger, filled a

be back soon," before setting

said, "I'll

off.

we heard nothing from him.

not until one afternoon, when, not long before sunset,

was returning from herding the goats and ran into a neighbor.

The

him up

beaten

my

was

boy, Bile,

a

age but

number of

I

was bigger and,

times.

He

had

therefore,

ran alongside

me

while

keeping some distance, and then shouted suddenly, "Your father has been eaten by a lion!"

Angry,

I

faced him.

"My father's

big and strong.

No lion would

dare to attack him. But your father's so small and ugly, the lions are

Then

going to get him!"

On

the

tore after Bile to beat

I

way home my stomach

approached, a terrible sight greeted me:

Dead

huts was blood-red.

arm

at a strange

still,

blood-soaked. Everywhere

The sand

intestines.



And

as

in front of

I

our

right

My mother knelt, her clothes

blood, blood, blood, thick, red blood.

from the Qur'an.

My

a holy

man

father should only leave this

without pain.

for another,

my father didn't die.

But

For weeks he lay in our hut,

stiff,

and nearly paralyzed by

His wounds rotted in the heat. Sometimes he fever.

again.

my father lay on a mat with his

came and bound up the wound. Later

healer

recited verses

world

knots.

angle to his body, held on only by a few tendons.

His belly spewed blood and

A

him up

felt tied in

My

mother

was roaming with Together with

lost

called for his oldest brother, his herd. It

my

pain.

consciousness to

Uncle Yusuf,

who

took three weeks for him to

arrive.

my

father

brother Jama, Uncle Yusuf heaved

onto his camel and they made their way to the closest town.

Months went by and we heard nothing.

my

whether the

city.

father

was

still alive,

We knew

neither

nor whether he'd found help

in

We could do nothing but wait until one of my brothers or We hoped that no news was good

another relative brought news. news.

Had my

father died,

before to marry

move on

my

Uncle Yusuf would have appeared long

mother. In the meantime, however,

to search for

new

pastures.

1:

we had

to

Haifa year

my

later

my father returned

him they had found Chinese

brother had taken

among them were

workers, and

doctors

placing bands of rubber in

have some support

Every day

as

my father's

his

arm would

regained limited motion.

it

my mother fed my father camel's

in the family has

hands

I

milk and prepared

massaged

as strong as yours,"

his feet.

"No one

he praised.

my father told us what had happened. He had caught the

Later

trail

eucalyptus

and the day

after

he

out he had found her near a

set

But he immediately saw that

tree.

The

all.

construction

could treat various

elbow so that

healing herbs to increase his strength.

after

who

which

A Chinese surgeon had operated, without anesthesia,

emergencies.

camel's

to us. In the city to

animal had borne

its calf.

A

lion

it

wasn't his camel

and

a lioness then

around the mother and her young. The male lion had

circled

drawn back but the female remained ready resolved to

undone the

kill

father

He had

cloth that served as a turban to protect his head

wound it tightly around his forearm, from Then he had drawn his dagger.

the sun and the elbow.

My

to attack.

her and bring both camels back to camp.

my

But the lion pounced before

had ripped open both

sides

the wrist to

father could even

weapon. With both paws around him,

in a single swift

from

throw

motion, she

of his body, digging her teeth into

and smashing the bones

right arm, shredding his flesh,

his

his

in his

elbow.

My blood ran cold just to hear him tell "I

was so desperate that

strength.

That made her

made

way back with

his

the entire night huts,

and

all

the camels.

all

my

father

had

nose with

wounded,

my

They had walked throughout

of the next day until he had reached our I

was awestruck.

laughed. "That lion had the worst bad breath!"

Despite this joke, barely

it.

bit her in the

go." Badly

let

where he broke down.

He

I

moved, the

my

father

joint almost

had begun

stiff.

He

to change. His

could no longer load up

down trees. He He became known as

the camels, construct water containers, or chop couldn't fight.

He was no

longer a man.

13

arm

"one-armed Abdi," the same way they talked about the "four-eyed

who wore

uncle"

names with

produced nick-

glasses. Physical attributes often

us.

My father became withdrawn and silent.

A nomad

Without them he

loves his camels.

can't survive in the

The loss of a camel is worse than the loss of a daughter. The female camel gives us milk. Camel milk is rich in vita-

steppe.

mins, nourishing, and delicious, and often,

dry up and the next source

our only food.

quenches

It

is

when

stores

many days' walk away,

thirst

and

fills

of water

camels' milk

you up. Even

in the

extreme heat, camels need water only every couple of days; in they can go for a whole

month without

drinking. This

is

is

most fact,

good

a

thing, since watering places can be far apart and, during periods of

drought, water must be bought at the few spots that provide

Sometimes a camel herder can stand that there's

no water

camels are used

left.

as beasts

belongings from one

and

loads ly

camp

in line for

hours only to find

move

signals the time to

Male

on.

of burden: They carry our huts and to another.

They can

transport heavy

The females, in contrast, have extremememories. They hold grudges and exact revenge.

are easy to tame.

well-developed

Men

That

it.

women watch over the goats and sheep. My father, my brothers, and my cousin Said knew every single animal in our herd: its character, body, and qualities. Men take care of camels;

climb

trees to

leaves

of the

pluck tall

treats for the animals: fruit

eucalyptus.

A

camel herder

from the acacia or

will

do anything

to

ensure that his camels are contented. I

also loved

eye, the oldest

ed.

You had

our camels.

My

to feed the animal only

so that he wouldn't take fright.

and

let

slide

children climb

onto

father possessed

of all our camels, and

his

little

father

from the

one with a

single

and he never

part-

front, never the side,

Then he would

stretch out his

up before straightening out

so that

neck

we could

back and off again. His underhide was sticky with

urine, but the smell didn't bother us.

got a

my

It

was simply nature.

If things

too exciting for the cyclops, he would press his legs

14

together, depriving us of air for a second or

and we knew the game was

whether a caravan

You can

had passed

it

tell

an individual animal by

identify

long ago

You can

you can even

loaded;

is

and whether

by,

A nomad many

Making

is

known by his

to

its

from the

tell

which clan

camels and the

it

belongs.

size

families.

of his herd.

Own-

camels means establishing great respect and prestige.

a present of a camel

the greatest gift Somalis can give.

is

She was big and already

circumcised and had permission to take care of the animals

had

I

tracks

know how Nomads are as

tired.

immediate

My cousin Nadifo drove her herd forward. herself.

us go,

footprints,

was

it

familiar with camels as they are with their

ing

let

an end.

at

learned to read camel tracks.

I

two before he

to

I

had found her

as a

kid under an incense

me

bush. She had been so tiny she almost starved to death. "Let

animal of

relieve the

and

is

its

her back to

life.

With

a

my

mother had

had

insisted

misery,"

going to die anyway." But

spoon

I

I

by

My favorite

run to keep up with her and the goats.

goat was called Long-Ear.

all

I

said. "It's

was going

had fed her milk

that

I

weak

to bring

had gotten

from her mother. Now, happily, Long-Ear ran around, following

me

as if

gers,

I

were her mother, licking

my face

and nipping

at

my

fin-

wanting to suckle on them.

We

ran until

we came

in the sand, a pool

turbed.

We

to a clearing.

had formed.

We

let

Nearby was

a spring and,

the animals drink undis-

might not find water again

for days.

The sun

stood

high overhead. "Lets

We

sit

in the shade,"

Nadifo suggested.

crouched under an acacia and lay

the sand.

I

was happy

to play the wife;

down

close together

on

Nadifo preferred to be the

husband. She giggled, then lowered her voice and made believe she

was snoring. "I'm pregnant," hands supporting "It's

no fun

ed Nadifo. didn't

want

"We

my back,

I

to play family

have to be

to stop

I

shouted, jumping up.

stretched out

when

my belly.

there are only

at least five girls."

our game.

I

was happy

is

With both

two of us," pout-

She was

right, but

to play the mother.

1

"Let's whittle

something," Nadifo suggested and pulled off a bit

of acacia bark. With nostalgia pulled

it

in,

beautifully.

animals

I

my outstretched belly, then hummed a tune. She could sing

rubbed

and gave up. Nadifo

We often sang to amuse ourselves,

—songs about how

the rain

but also to amuse our

would soon come and

trans-

form the desert into a flower garden; songs that praised the camels' beauty, give a

comparing them

woman

a finer

that of a female camel.

her hair

full like

to the

women

of our

compliment than

to

You

tribe.

couldn't

compare her beauty

A woman's neck should be long like a camel's,

a mane, her

gait undulating, her eyes

movements

gracious

dark and mysterious.

and

elegant, her

We sang songs of love

we would someday lead. Some of the goats, nervous now, began around. Nadifo jumped up while I grabbed my staff. We and of the

A bird

life

to

that

chirped.

to

run

ran in

opposite directions to drive the animals together and counted

them

quickly.

I

looked around

up

a jackal waiting. Jackals crept

without leaving a

trace.

direction, they'd run

In the distance I

I

—behind

But

if

every bush there could be

silently

and ripped

a

lamb apart

you sprinted screaming

in their

away because they were cowards. saw Nadifo wink.

ran toward her and found a goat in the dust. Next to her was

a tiny kid, her skin

all

wet and

sticky.

Nadifo knelt down. The goat

arched up. Nadifo stroked her neck but the animal screamed.

Out

of her nether region could be seen protruding the leg of another kid.

"Hold on

tight,"

Nadifo soothed,

as she slid her

the goat's belly and pushed the offending limb back

disappeared inside, then her whole forearm.

The herd drew grasses.

back. Hastily,

At the same time,

pressed

I

ing the goat to the ground. birthing, especially in the

the

had

my eyes

I

in.

Her hand

goat complained.

took in the animals, bushes,

down with

all

had already helped

my

to enter

might, push-

several times with

morning while milking.

young ones always wanted to be turned

The

hands along

It

life feet first

seemed

that

so that they

and helped into the world. kids lay next to their mother,

Finally, after four

moist

little

rubbed them dry with

leaves

and gave them names. Then, quick

10

I

as

lightning,

would cut

slits

They should become

us.

as clever

The sun was

and stubborn

The newborn and

a carrier

laid

her children,

From time

I

my finger.

at

one

inside.

my

to time

unusual, although often

I

that

and tough

as

I!

we made our way home.

cuddled her and then shoved her

I

kids couldn't

carried the

right,

That was the sign

as beautiful

already low in the sky as

Long- Ear snapped aside.

as

and

left ears. Later, left

into their ears with a knife.

they belonged to

Nadifo or

of their

bit off the tips

I

walk

On my

far so

made my

I

back, like a

scarf into

mother carrying

young goat home.

would

father

we

didn't

disappear.

That wasn't so

know where he

was. Sometimes

he went to town, sold a pair of sheep and goats, and returned with corn, millet,

rice,

My

and

cloth.

This time he brought back a woman.

Wrapped

in red, she

had

a thin black

head. She squatted there in the sand.

When my around

My

us.

Khadija,

fine rice.

and

father

home on Then he

opened

a sack

My father praised

its

He

at the gifts.



and

air freeze

and

let

the rice run

was

especially

pulled out the presents he had bought.

never done that before.

stretched out

sensed the

quality. It

He had

displayed colorful fabric with a flow-

ered pattern, a pair of shoes, and aromatic

even to look

skin was very dark.

I

unpacked the groceries he had brought.

a visit,

fingers.

scarlet scarf over her

Her

mother saw the strange woman,

through her

father

compound.

father signaled to her to wait outside the

oils.

My mother refused

Her hand on her

she was pregnant again



hip, her

stomach

she walked right past

my

his offerings.

"Come here, Fadumo," he said after a while and winked me over. hand was

In his

flowers.

to

my

what

I

father.

did.

I

looked from

I

had the

Then my

the cloth around

my

feeling

I

my father

ran to

to

would make

father stood up,

shoulders, covering

my mother. 17

my

my

mother and back

a mistake

came over

Outside, beyond the thorn fence, the strange I

and yellow

a piece of blue fabric covered with red

Confused,

to

body.

no matter

me, and draped It

woman

was

sat

exquisite.

and looked.

She was chopping wood. Her swollen belly was in the way, but she held

and hacked

in

it

From time

senses.

the fabric of her

moving,

wraparound

Mama?" I asked. too much corn,"

"I ate

my

Later

branches as though she had

at the

rose

and

fell.

"Why

is

your stomach

mother boiled water and prepared corn porridge

The steaming

lying

still

for

untouched on a mat.

a large wooden plate in the made my mouth water. Each of us

on the sand,

family sat in a circle

middle.

her

she answered, without looking up.

the evening meal. Father's gifts were

My

lost

stomach received a dent or two, and

to time her

porridge

hollowed out a space in the porridge and poured milk and sugar into

it.

offered at

Only

him

Adan and

directions.

mother

my

father sat to

side

I

bring

my

I

was confused and glanced I felt

something to

father

My mother

and looked on.

Khadija, trying to read their faces.

Should

slap

one

neither porridge nor water.

pulled in two

eat?

Would my

me?

my porridge. my parents began fighting. "Take your new wife and get out of here!" my mother shouted. "I have my sons and my daughters. I'm staying. I don't need you." In silence

I

ate

Later in the evening

I

was

Uncle Yusuf and the other

afraid.

men would

have beat-

en their wives on the spot had they dared to say anything so

disre-

My father rose from his stool. held my breath; my brothers and sisters stood stock My mother looked my father in the spectful.

I

still.

my

eyes: fearless, raging, wordless.

With

grew more and more powerful.

A couple of centimeters

my mother he other.

every step,

Even the goats and sheep were

my new wife

Men

travel,

body

in front

and

to

silent.

Then my

father turned

move with

the children

my mother's."

women

guard livestock and children. In Somalia,

the relationship between the sexes

is

clearly defined.

A man never does women's work. He takes care of camels, lions,

and

of

stopped. Like two unequal fighters, they faced each

abruptly on his heel and said, "I'm going to

and

father's

attacks

enemy

clans.

His wife does everything

else.

kills

Men

take themselves seriously, to

do

Even

so.

women

and

uncles.

own

my

him, petted

made me

My

bers to ate,

Men

men,

I

was proud to bring

Sometimes he allowed

me

To

his sunshine.

That the other men wanted

me

to

my

to send

sit

with

father,

I

me away

angry.

father

was peaceful,

my

fulfill

a country

father

was a

their duties,

and

just,

marked by rare

respectful of his daughters

masculinity, despotism,

He

man.

expected

all

family

and

mem-

but he was more considerate, affection-

and gentle toward children than our mother was, whose con-

stant

work

left

her no time for tenderness.

In Somalia,

men

several families in

They go

to town, travel,

in various places.

A number have

enjoy total freedom.

and maintain more than one wife

and

respect their

and

head, and called

special.

and women. In violence,

and

where she has been squatting.

father sat with other

tea or to serve a meal.

was someone

they are right

women the leftovers. Men have while women and children share mats.

sleeping quarters,

When my them

as if

A girl rises when a man enters because

like that precise spot

are always served the best meat,

their

them

treat

as small children, girls learn to serve

brothers, fathers,

he might

and

many

spots, live for

their children, then for a time

months with the

take a

the second wife has

it

wife

with the second or third wife

and the children he has had with them.

many sons,

first

If the first wife has

hard. But at any time, a

woman's children away. Then

she's

borne

man

can

alone and has nothing.

In Somalia, the world belongs to men.

Long-Ear licked her a ful.

I

opened the gate and

herd had eaten mals that

stroked her fur between the ears, gave

I

and told her lovingly

kiss,

Then

my hand.

I'd

In the

its fill,

done

a

good job taking

prayed. In the courtyard his

my

was very beauti-

out of the pen. tell

just

The contented

by looking

at the ani-

care of them.

father knelt, facing the East,

new wife, Magalo,

bowl and on the

furtive glance at her.

slid

and you could

shadow of a bush

to her stood a

that she stank but

fire

Magalo looked

19

sat.

On a stone next

was a pot. In passing up.

I

and

I

cast a

did not speak a word.

Instead

ond

wife,

I

went

my

to

Maryan,

but she pushed

me

mother had found a

wanted

I

My

away.

with Uncle Yusuf s

up

to cuddle

in

my

sec-

mother's

cousin Anisa cried because

on her head. With

tick

mother loosened the

sat

of her hut. They were both braiding

in front

their little daughters' hair. lap,

who

mother,

and threw

a practiced

hand

my my

where

it

exploded with a muffled thud. Amal, two years older, laughed

at

her

sister for

insect

having been so

"You dirty

little

involved with

as to get

Amal was

Anisa gave her a swipe but

hopped up and down

dumb

into the fire

it

ticks.

quicker, sprang aside,

and

in the sand before her sister.

thing,"

Amal

playing with you. You're impure."

called out

and laughed. "I'm not

Aunt Maryan

scolded,

and Amal

shut up. Since she'd been circumcised, she boasted and behaved as

woman

though she had been a grown-up

for a long time.

Aunt

Timiro ground wheat, and the rhythmic thump of the mortar mixed with

No

children's voices,

one paid attention

My father's tainer

had

our laughter, and song.

to Magalo.

second wife stood up and went to the water con-

between our hut and the one right next door that our father

built for her.

Aunt Maryan into the hut.

She moved heavily since she too was pregnant.

my

oiled Anisa's braids while I

stood up, went to the

sand into the pot with the boiling

fire,

mother disappeared

and threw

a handful of

rice.

A few days later Magalo asked my mother to show her how to prepare the noodles

"Throw them

my

father

had brought back from town.

into the boiling water

and

stir,"

she said, "and what-

ever you do, don't stop stirring." She hadn't even glanced up from

her work.

When Magalo

nothing but a

soft,

poured the noodles onto

a

wooden

plate,

broken porridge emerged from the pot.

"Yuck!" shouted Adan.

"I'm not eating that," Uncle Yusuf told his reached for the porridge, grabbed a chunk, held

Wholly unmoved, I

spread the

to poison

my

mother

word around

bit into a piece

that

my brother. 20

my

it

wife.

first

up,

and

Amal

giggled.

of lamb.

father's

new

wife had tried

Of course

was deaf whenever Magalo

I

ignored her commands, because

one replacing

my mother,

and

I

wasn't about to put

I

showed

me.

tried to talk to

I

up with any-

it.

My mother should have punished me for my naughtiness,

but

she pretended that nothing had happened. Everyone treated the

competition as

my

mother

But

punishment doesn't

exist.

Whenever he spoke

to her,

Once

a tree.

My

She was

did:

my

mother

he might

also ignored

chewing tobacco and keeping

and with

and spent hours

still.

my

strength.

in the shade,

Sometimes he chopped

he could with his damaged arm, and made low

as well as

father.

have been talking to

as well

in a while they fought, loudly

father then took to his heels

A harder

invisible to us.

twigs,

seats

out

of them. Finally he declared the need to

women

dismantled the huts, the

helped load them, and the

we mapped

This time

girls

men

Once

again the

herded the camels, the boys

Somalia's entire length,

my

from Ogaden

father's

making them sweat and slowly dry

mother grew weaker, but she

slipped her a few berries or roots

The

closer

we

I

let

when we

got to the north, the

into cups

and gave everyone a drink.

Then we began

more mountainous flat

file

At some

the ascent.

the camels plodded

up the

together, the reins tied to the

of the next. Nadifo and

I

rounded up

from the herd. Our

tail

pass, over tiny trails

Jama and Said had of one and the halter

a goat that

had broken away

feet were bleeding. The higher we climbed, the The massive cliffs were seemingly piled one on by some arbitrary hand. I was so overpowered by

deeper the chasms. top of the other

steppes.

the

men herded the camels The women poured water

rocks, always following the leader.

bound them

I

reached the foothills, the

Uncle Yusuf declared a pause.

and sharp

to day,

nothing show. Sometimes

together.

In single

From day

The

like a

had found under a bush.

landscape became. High plateaus replaced point,

up.

at the

family lived.

was oppressive. The heat spread over animals and people

blanket,

my

on.

kept the goats and sheep together.

Ethiopian border to the north where trip

move

21

same time

the view, and at the

forward, that

jumped

I

A female camel

as

had

so concentrated

on driving the

sudden shrieks pierced the

fallen into the abyss!

Stuck between two promontories the animal pressed to

drenched

but they

site,

its

them

father

leg

skull

and Uncle Yusuf s sons

maneuver the other animals

hysterical voices

always the victim's groans. in order to lead

one

lay,

back,

past the

stubbornly refusing to move forward or

resisted,

and

back. Shouts

My

canisters.

their energy to

all

its

Everywhere were scattered mats and pots,

in blood.

cooking utensils and were using

squashed behind

chest, the other

its

goats

air.

echoed from

and

cliff to cliff,

The women began to blindfold the herd wounded beast. Said, Jama, and

past the

Uncle Yusuf moved carefully down the crag

to kill the unfortunate

creature and bring back whatever could be saved of our posses-

Around

sions.

the

fire

that evening

I

saw

tears in

Uncle Yusuf's

My father and Said were also moved.

eyes.

Weeks

later

we

reached a river weaving through the landscape

like

a narrow band of cloth. Water rippled, slapping the shore, gurgling

and

had

licking at the lichens I

much

seen so

Behind

me

hysterically:

I

heard

water in one place.

my

"Watch out

mother

Soon the camels were

them

call

out

side.

Never

in

I

ran along the bank.

I

asked.

relieved of their burdens,

to the river to drink.

Nadifo and

I

and Jama and

herded the goats

listened to the

I

of their mouths, the slurping of tongues and

lips.

my

and smelled sweet.

and drank, trying thirsty again.

crack

drank

my

neck, I

to

swallow so

Never again did

my

arms,

my

face.

It

let it

was cool and

I

run

fresh

dipped and dipped without stopping, drank

neck, or slow

until

my

sounds

Again and again

knelt at the edge as well, dipped water with both hands,

body,

life

as she followed, gesturing

and sheep a short distance further upstream.

down my

my

for the crocodiles!"

"What's a crocodile?"

Said led

growing on either

my

much

want

I

water that

I'd

full

and then

22

feel

my

lips,

to feel dryness split

tongue, making swallowing

stomach was

never

I

difficult.

I

sank, groaning, to the

my clothes

ground. Through

The

the cool

I felt

happy

animals, too, were

to have their stomachs

we

children turned to play. Said taught

He

let

me do

each acting out a scene:

My

the

mud

wounds

other cousins,

my

I

wife; then

tummy.

I

The men

We

Most Magnificent

threw ourselves into

to stop walking. I

it

and

With Nadifo and

my

was the

man and

beat

my

and bound them with

—Jama took

folded as they had tried to lead

sisal

them

raft.

obstinate

and bellowed

width and

in

the

men

finally

as the

heaved one animal

the camels, they sang.

meaning of your

Many days passed while all

soon

The rocking movement frightand bucked. With rods and calls, with

To calm

know

as

to the raft.

while leading his favorite camel: "As long as

Freed from nearly

in

the

float

into the water. Again, the camels were blind-

it

become

shouts and tender petting, the

I'll

As the

cord.

—approximately one meter

ened them, and they shied

another onto the

was born.

They felled branches from

started building a raft.

I

letting the blisters

was the wife and the wind blew a baby into

trees

underground,

hands.

the white

we'd never done in any puddle before.

played family. Sometimes

I

neared completion

men

Father Has the

sneezed three times, and

surrounding

length

as

was happy

I

my

From

and

full,

We clowned around,

with water.

filled it

"My

my feet and dipped them in water,

cool.

walk on

to

his knees.

Brothers Are the Greatest!"

and splashed

massaged

me

earth.

huts with courtyards and campsites, then

little

shaped pottery of clay and

Camels;

on

cartwheels and bounce

sand we built

dampness of the

I

live,

after

Jama crooned

and

am

not yet

beauty. ..."

the whole herd was being transported.

duties,

I

played and watched the goats and

camels sitting contentedly in the sand, chewing leaves with their elongated jaws, from the middle to the right, from the right to the

middle, from the middle to the

same movement

The

that

made me

left,

feel

chomping with always

so at

home.

animals remained upstream at a bend in the

by Said and I

a

camel boy. The

had never seen

rest

river,

accompanied

of us went on to the nearby

a village before.

23

the

village.

We

reached a collection of courtyards.

They looked

like the

we had set up on the steppes, except that the people here made their homes not of willow branches and mats, but of stone. My oldest brother, Ahmed, had once told us about a town when he

ones

came back on

a

visit.

He had reported that he had also seen animals

made of metal: They didn't had round

Curious,

open, so

I

They were

legs.

eat or sleep, but stank

called cars.

I

and shrieked and

hadn't believed a word.

approached one of the stone huts. The door was

I

went

inside. It

hear the wind. Afraid,

I

was dark and suddenly

ran out.

I

could no longer

A sound— a shrill howl—forced me

to hold

still.

Something was bearing down on me, then came

a

screech,

and

my

I

tripped and stood,

heart stood

and a stinking

fell

Adan threw me to the side, metal animal zoomed by. When

still.

my back hurt from fear, my legs wouldn't behave,

had gone numb. Rigid, Village

life

us to the

home of a

Ahmed

distant aunt.

hut surrounded by a stone wall.

were the multicolored ledge. In the steppe,

and kept them

So

I

my feet

hadn't

lied.

was dangerous.

My father led in a stone

stared after the car.

I

and

in

also lived

fascinated

me

of glass embedded on top of the

slivers

from time

my

What

She

to time,

I

had found pieces of glass

collection of treasures.

These

glass bits

were

not only beautiful, but useful. You could use them for cutting

you forgot your

knife;

you could use them

to

make

if

a fire if you for-

got your matches; and they colored the world in radiance and mystery if

you held them before your

pretty glass stones, so

ing the top,

I

sliced

I

eyes.

climbed up the

and spat

it

wanted

wall.

A

to

second

touch these after reach-

my hand.

The village children laughed. They laughed again as my aunt having seen the

I

fruit before,

right out.

I

bit into

offered it

me

a banana.

Never

without removing the skin

They laughed once more when

I

refused to

use the outhouse. In the steppe you simply disappeared behind a

bush, and here in a

I

was supposed

dark wooden shack.

never seen before.

They

The

to squat over a stinky, slippery hole village children

ate vegetables

24

owned

toys that I'd

with gravy. They acted

as

— though

all

Since I

that

knew nothing about was

I

never seen

I'd

my grandmother before and all the children

knew had grandmothers, morose woman,

tered a

unbelievably significant.

I

couldn't wait to

meet mine.

I

encoun-

small, wrinkled as a berry, wearing a stained

wraparound. She shuffled grumbling through the courtyard, speaking a dialect

When

was sure that no one could overhear,

I

why grandma had no "She chopped

man

Nor could

could not understand.

I

it

want

she didn't

pointer finger

on her

left

she understand me. I

my

asked

mother

hand.

off because she had been promised to an old

to marry.

With

a mutilated hand, a

woman

is

man decided to do without her. Later grandgrandpa. He couldn't have cared less how many fingers

worthless, so the old

ma married

his wife had."

my father apologized to my mother and gave her days later, my mother gave birth to my brother

After a while a camel.

A

few

Muhammad. Magalo also had appeared, and we never saw

a boy. But shortly thereafter she dis-

My

her again.

family also

left

my

well cared

for.

For

grandmother's house to return to the steppe.

After the birth of a child, a

nomadic

woman

forty days she never leaves her hut. cousins,

and

women

Her

Once

takes leave

especially the first

becoming

a real

born



gift

If the

er worker.

I

baby I

had four is

a

girl,

My

fortune!

I

cut,

The

and he

the family.

If the child

Everyone

brother (or

sister

stature of a father

Even

I



a girl

or

and

—gained

brothers.

the family looks forward to having anoth-

was hardly bigger than

herd the flock.

member of

from God.

increases with the birth of a son.

status because

life. is

a boy, joy overflows.

is

"Hooray and what good

son or cousin) has just had a boy!"

mother

the only time that a

from her otherwise hard

Children in Somalia are considered a

shouts,

is

the forty days have passed, the baby's hair

or she receives a name,

and

sisters, sisters-in-law,

neighbors bring her food and drink, provid-

ing her with everything she needs. This

nomadic woman

is

learned to

make

a goat

myself when

cord, baskets,

25

was sent

to

and containers,

to

I

weave the mats on which we

make

huts, to a

nomadic

as she

is

flour

girl

and

slept

and from which we

butter, to milk.

By age

is

our

seven, if not sooner,

can take charge of an entire household.

circumcised, she

built

And

as

soon

allowed to slaughter goats or bring her

father the ritual water before he prays.

My mother was always pregnant. and those babies

riages,

whom

She had a number of miscar-

she did give birth to did not always

baby

survive. Somalis interpret the death of a

they do everything

of God.

else in life, as the will

The

as

down

teacher was dressed in white, his hair was parted

the

middle, and his beard reached to his chest. Today he was in a bad

mood.

That's

why he

let

us sweat under the sun while he sat cross-

legged under the shade of a

From

tree.

a container he poured water

mur-

into a bowl. Reverently he held

it

mured

to his well-padded, bulging lips,

a few words, brought

took a swallow, and passed This

it

it

in his hands, gazed at

to the oldest boy.

of our lessons each morning.

ritual signaled the start

Qur'anic school was the only school father

had made up

his

mind

that

and pleaded, wanting desperately

my

curious one,"

following week,

and wide, and

far

Adan would

the teacher reappeared,

brought small wooden

polished that they shone in the sun.

and

tablet small

light like

finger, the pastier

dipped a

from

"That I

it

got.

stick the size

a flourish

saw

is

a

my goats.

tablets that

My

father

had whittled

my

Once

it

stirred

with his

it

reached the right consistency, he

of a finger into the mixture and began to draw

right to

line

were so bright-

me. The teacher poured powdered coal

left,

with flowing movements.

a letter," said the teacher

wavy

my

begged

simply walked in

I

and added goat milk. The longer he

into a dish

I

go to school too. "You're a

to

behind Adan. In the meantime Nadifo guarded

ly

attend.

mother decided. "Go with your brother." The

when

All the pupils

it,

with a

lot

and held up the board.

of dots on top, moving

all

the

way

across.

"Letters

make up words, words become

26

sentences,

and sen-

tences

become

The verses

texts.

able to read the holy I

book

in the

later on.

Qur'an

are texts.

You

will

be

We will learn to write."

had no idea what he was talking about.

I

had never seen a

book. Stories were told; no one had to read or write in order to learn to recite them.

my left hand,

With and

started to

I

copy the

my board the way I had been shown

held

My movements were awkward and than could write. A boy made fun of

letters.

the pasty ink dried faster

me. The teacher pulled

I

and the boy

his ear

started to cry.

"Lick your board clean," the teacher said. "Lick

swallow so you'll have no more

We

evil

it

and

clean

thoughts in you."

children didn't like the teacher.

We

when

discovered that

he spoke, small drops of saliva spewed from his mouth. Like shiny pearls they shot

through the

a particular corner.

At

first I

realized that this spit also

air.

You saw them

clearly if you sat in

was fascinated by the

But

saliva.

I

soon

landed in the holy water that he gave us

every morning to drink.

"You

Drink the water," he shouted, angered by

evil child!

my

rebellion.

"No." "Drink!" he screamed. His rod hit

"No. You

my thigh.

spit in the water. That's disgusting."

A second slash burned my arm. I

took

The

my back. I

my board

and

hit

him

back.

switch sliced through the I

air,

hitting

stumbled over the other children,

heard the teacher

call after

me,

"I

my

arm,

my

ran, flew out

head,

of there.

never want to see you in

my

school again!"

At home

shamed me.

my

I'll

bad daughter!"

from I

in

mother scolded me. "You naughty

end up I

in hell because

cried because of

my

rage.

What had I done wrong?

took

my sandals,

some

cloth. "You're

the bundle over

a cup,

I

have brought up such a

guilty conscience but also

and a mat and bound

it all

mean. I'm running away!" Angry,

my shoulder and

stomped

27

You've

girl!

to the door.

together I

threw

My believe

mother looked

me. Suddenly she started to laugh.

at

"I'm going to Mahad's." After

know where

"So you "I'll I

had

A

"I

you would."

find out,"

didn't get

his

and marched

my aunt.

out.

and once back home,

far,

mother was

they live?"

called

I

all,

I

was

still

angry that

girls

to obey.

thousand stings

from tiny thorns

like pricks

—on my

feet, legs,

arms, back, stomach, and head. Yes, the stings on and in

my

were the worst. They never stopped, not by day or night.

I

prayed

didn't listen. In the

morn-

that sleep

would

when my mother

ing,

mixed with had

deliver

a

little

I

than

ever.

imagined the

and could

fresh,

and drank, I

woke

My eyes burned,

fell,

movement

I

up.

Sand stuck

thirsty.



The dream had

barely perceptible.

She had been unable

It

rot

my hands

my lips. On my tongue. On my gums. my fingers; my hands they were

to

stared at

I

For weeks

and buried him up seal in

still

scooped the water with both hands

dissolved.

now I had known under

lay

He was

a tree.

to feed him.

hoping

to his neck,

whatever remaining moisture he

was the worst drought

in ages.

of goats, sheep, and cows dead

nothing but skin and bones. already been

on the

went with the

trail

women

for

My

I

spit.

thirst.

His small chest rose

She dug

My

mother, her a

double

a hole in the earth

to delay his drying out, to still

had

in his little body.

Everywhere you could smell the

Even the camels were

father looked for water. days.

Even though

to fetch water, but they

28

coughed.

him and did

in their pens.

many

I

nothing but

unconscious.

eyes bulging in her emaciated skull, noticed take.

hurt.

the water flow over

air. I let

fingers.

My brother Muhammad and

all

greedily.

clawing the hot dune.

was

and

more

saw water, endless amounts of water,

the cool

my

Sand, everywhere.

I

the liquid than the pain began again,

river. I

feel

and run through

gave us three or four spoonfuls of water

milk to drink, the stinging abated. But scarcely

my body absorbed

insistent

me, but Allah

head

I

was

He

had

little, I

walked so quickly and

I

was already too weak, too

we had

to

go

farther,

and

frail



farther.

as thin as a finger.

Anyone who owned

and nobody knew when

it

a spring had

The drought had

stopped selling water to enemy clans long ago. lasted too long already,

And every time

would end.

Fights

broke out; people battled over the precious liquid.

My

tongue was thick and heavy: a furry foreign animal that

my mouth and took away my breath. We lay in the half shade of trees.

filled

Waiting. Shriveling.

The man had brought two

my

sugar. Oil for

Uncle Yusuf 's

first

cows,

wheat

rice,

flour, coffee,

and

mother. Fabric for Khadija. Sandals for me. wife slaughtered a sheep.

My mother and Uncle

Yusuf's second wife prepared the evening meal, grinding corn and

gathering nuts. tea,

and

The men

chatting.

asked

I

under an

sat

my

smoking, drinking

acacia,

mother why

I

couldn't join them.

"They're discussing important things," she answered. "Besides, you're a girl." I

es

ran to Khadija.

on her

knees.

The

she'd put herbs in Later,

it

My sister sat in our hut with long, thick weave

thin grass-

would soon become a bowl. Then

and rub them into the heated strands

when my mother

filled

the bowl, the

to seal

aroma of herbs would

perfume the milk. Khadija's movements were deft and strong. asked

why

she was angry. She waved

me

it.

away. "You're too

little

I

to

understand." "I'm about to be circumcised,"

up

like

My sister stared at me as I

I

retorted.

"Then

I'll

be grown

you."

figured

I

though she had never seen

me

before.

wasn't going to get any answer, but suddenly, Khadija

threw the half-finished bowl into the corner and exclaimed, "I'm

NOT going to My

breath stuck in

"NO! 1

marry that old man!"

I'd

my

throat.

"You re getting married?"

rather feed myself to the lions."

shivered and besieged

my sister.

She should

tell

me evervthing.

But she was so angry that

me

for

had

I

my

to understand that

marry off

my

sister.

Our

excitement and ran out.

I

to

beg for every word.

Muhammad

Uncle

father

had agreed.

took a while

had decided

why

Khadija refused

dreamed of her wedding day and

to get married. Every girl

to

nearly burst from

I

couldn't understand

It

all

the

The men were still sitting under the acacia. They drank tea and haggled. Out of the corners of their mouths dribbled the juice of chewing tobacco. From a distance I observed the foreigner. He

presents.

was

limped

he



I

had noticed

him, imitating

after

telling the truth?

ran to

I

when he

that

his walk.

at

You know

A

father.

Adan

grandfather.

arrived.

said

it

We

children clowned

to bring the

men

me. "You're curious, Fadumo," she you're not supposed to disturb the

and awkward,

up. Stiff

belonged to somebody ran to

my father,

also

was a war wound, but was

his

else.

wounded Scarcely

man

dragged behind

leg

had

fresh tea.

said.

"And

men."

hid behind an incense bush. After a while the old

I

He

How did Adan know?

my mother for permission

She looked cheeky!

my

Older than

really old.

stood

as if

the guest retreated than

it I

grabbed the teapot, and promised to bring a fresh

brew.

In a whisper, Uncle

Muhammad

called

my

father a knuckle-

head. "For Khadija, you can get at least twenty camels. She's a very beautiful girl

Muhammad

from

a

good

had had no

very pretty, and the third to

family."

luck. still

someone but only marry

My

father spit a

impossible to read:

them

With

One was

his

whom

he could promise

later.

wad of tobacco

"My daughters

daughters Uncle

too short, the second not

a little child

off years

own

into the sand. His face

shouldn't think

I

was

would auction

off."

"You're not only a knucklehead, you're crazy!" scolded Uncle

Muhammad. "Twenty

camels! Plus a

rifle,

and

groceries.

a fresh

chunk of

a horse,

Just think of all the presents!"

My

father

shook

his

head and broke off

tobacco.

Bewitched,

I

stood there frozen, the teapot

30

in

my

hand.

The

next day the old

man mounted his horse and left. With the

help of a cousin, Khadija had run away to town, and Said swore to if he

shoot the old geezer

should

as

much

look at our

as

sister again.

Eighty-two, eighty-three, eighty-four. started again.

I

One was

The

result

was the same.

missing.

how

counted and counted, but no matter

I

goat had disappeared without bly legs

my

noticing.

often

I

did

it,

one

Anxious and on wob-

made my way toward home.

I

"You're irresponsible,"

He

into their pen.

my father scolded as I drove the animals at me, hitting my heel. "Run and

threw bark

find your goat!"

Crying, nized the

I

ran back. Tears blinded

trail.

I

me

so that

scarcely recog-

I

simply sprinted toward the myrrh where

brought the herd that morning. Soon night

fell. I

sought a

I

had

tree,

an

acacia,

anything by which to orient myself. But everything sank

further

and further into the darkness of

heard a muffled rumble. air

I

was

smelled fresh, and suddenly

A

thunder.

itself:

night. In the distance

afraid. Carefully, I

my

there.

changed

lairs. I

I

And ran

I

pupils, an

image formed.

A

my way. The

I

moment

shut

lightning

my eyes.

Then,

eucalyptus tree had been

direction. After the rain, animals

could already hear hyenas and a

would

leave their

lion.

faster.

Two

sharp strokes of lightning blazed across the sky.

couple of hundred meters separated I

felt

understood what was announcing

storm was coming. The next

revealed the landscape. Blinded by the flash,

behind

I

I

failed to see

me from

Only

the eucalyptus.

was the bush. Without warning

I

a

What

tripped on a

branch, screamed, and landed in the thorns. Paying no attention to the pain,

I

swung

mal sheltering But

I

With

my rod in all directions;

there,

I

had

to chase

it

if

there

off before

it

had been an

ani-

got me.

was alone. the rod

cradle. In the

I

dark

pushed aside the offending branches I

felt for

the thorns in

31

my

feet, legs,

to

form

a

arms, and

hands to pull them out.

my

big that they hurt day.

Only

my

asked

good

all

As the

me

tracks.

saw

I

I

me wake up

was

in the

invaded the horizon,

was, so

panicked.

I

seemed

It

show up

was

I

looked around.

I

My

and hungry.

thirsty

a

I

as

hurt.

I

patiently,

lie

Only then would

in packs.

set,

I

climbed a

of anything that moved.

tree,

branch and tied myself

undid

tight.

my

dress,

wrapped

killing

me

but

Despite knowing that,

it

was urgent.

grabbed the stones

I

I

I'd

I

hadn't

knew

I

it

and

ate berries, a root,

I

for a while, but

go of a drop, wild animals would be on

I let

relieve myself.

wounds

They would

The leaves would keep me full found much else to eat. My bladder was soon

my own

in the sand.

leaves.

as

had

I

heard barking. Very aggressive, wild dogs

at every noise, fearful

As the sun around

in peace.

stumbling across

especially fearful of hyenas.

jumped

I

and

crawled out of the bush and simply

I

and evidence of a hyena

they dare to attack.

I

moving.

to Allah,

morning

waiting for their victim to become exhausted.

always

moment,

next

to be

around me, prayed

tightly

in circles, for hours, always

lion tracks

so

animals shrieked.

first light

no idea where walked

resembled an animal.

more

spirits to let

around

All

it

dress

The

spied a tree stump.

I

The drops were

Again the lightning turned night to

skin.

away

a few feet

in the darkness,

pulled

A heavy rainfall began.

my

that trail.

down and brought up with me and had

to

climb

threw them down, screaming. Whatever might be lying

in wait at

the trunk had to be driven away. But nothing stirred. Carefully

I

descended, ran over the steppe, squatted behind a bush, and sprinted back. that if

I fell

Once up on

asleep,

of hyenas settled that

I

was

I

wouldn't

at the foot

afraid they

The whole

the branch,

night

myself to

it

again, so

wasn't long before a pack

My

heart beat so loudly

it.

left.

Every morning on waking I

it

perch.

tied

sweated without budging.

At dawn, the hyenas

run. For hours

my

would hear I

And

fall.

of

I

I'd

untie

my dress,

simply stumbled around.

32

I

climb down, and

cried, called

out for

my

Why wasn't she there to help me? Why didn't

mother, whimpered.

Why didn't ashamed. My father

also

was and,

when

instead,

I

had

I

just returned

me?

was

I

from a

afraid but

trip

and had

fast

lost a goat.

This was just

like the

time

me.

a leopard followed

Leopards are use.

had

for

me a beautiful piece of fabric. I wanted to prove what a big

brought girl I

anybody come

me?

she hear

and good climbers, so hiding

had thrown a stone and had driven him

broken the neck of one of my goats. Crying,

I

off.

in trees

is

of no

But he'd already

had kneeled next

to

the body.

Now I

ate roots

and looked

for berries.

found an ostrich nest and

I

attacked me.

I

needles pierced ate a

I

hardly

fit

ran and threw myself into a thornbush where the

my flesh.

poisoned

in

an egg, but the male bird

stole

berry. In

my mouth.

seconds

found wild

I

my tongue was garlic

and

swollen and

a floral anesthetic

my stomachache. When it rained, I caught the drops in large leaves, or I spread my cloth and wrung the water out into my mouth. I made

to help

out

straws out of grasses

the

and used them

The

holes in branches.

little

sweet.

It

was

much

as

I

to suck

earth,

and gentle under

soft

up the moisture from

drenched with

my

feet.

The

longed for such days throughout the

I

climbed a

tree

and

Then, one morning, bleating of sheep.

down

days

had been not

I

had been desperate tracks.

far

I

As

couldn't

terror,

every

I

wind

I

untied myself, climbed

could in the direction of the herd. recognized me. Soon

my

my mother and sisters and brothers.

For

as she

from them

to find

me

at

all,

but didn't

know

it.

They

but the rain had washed away

my

My mother gave me a big hug, and my father lifted me onto

his shoulders I

as the

Nadifo gestured wildly

came running, then

cooled.

heard the complaints of a goat and the

I

Quick

father

smelled

myself tight.

tied

the tree and ran as fast as

My cousin

air

year,

enjoy them then. In despair and overcome with evening

rain,

and

was cared

carried

for

and

me home.

spoiled.

They

33

pulled the thorns out of

my

wounds, massaged

my

and

feet

Everyone was jubilant to see that

my

oiled I'd

skin so

survived.

would

it

Nobody said

a

heal.

word

about the missing goat. After

my

recovered,

I'd

for the entire herd.

had

I

parents conferred

on me

responsibility

one animal but

I'd also

proven that

lost

could survive in the wild. "Now," said

The

from

ululation could be heard

sun blinding

me

more

freely,

wraparound

mother whipped

in her

his hair short

er laughed, letting her

tongue click against her

"Ahmed!

My firstborn son

Frozen,

I

back!

is

women

Thanks be

stood in the shadow of the hut,

ing the goats, and watched

Then

My

mother

started to prepare a festive

women

pitched

in.

I

Ahmed

attacked? city?

my

with questions:

at

and passed drinks.

celebrated

My

father,

What

How were our uncle,

Everyone shouted

guest,

Ahmed's

for



go

the sign of joy.

from herd-

dirty

still

I,

let

too, ran to

meal and

all

brother,

Ahmed. the other

Adan, and Uncle Yusuf, path had he taken?

cousins, brothers,

Had

and

in pelt-

he been

sisters in

the

next to the

sit

mother served camel milk. Everyone

return.

me: fabric

and

gifts

to

my

The

and

surprise

delight,

in the prettiest colors; a pearl necklace,

shining yellow; blue plastic sandals with buckles

ed for a long time.

and

to Allah!"

once, claimed the right to

My

brother had brought

most were

My moth-

palette,

swept the courtyard and spread mats. Jama

hurried over and joined ing

thin.

how my mother hugged my

stroked his face, and kissed his hands.

move

didn't recognize

first I

and looked too

with the typical ululation of Somali

across the

so she could

fist

and raced toward the man. At

him because he wore

grown up."

"you're

ran out of the hut, the

afar. I

My

moment.

for a

courtyard, balling her

my father,

I

leather sandals

—ones

my father made

1

had want-

from time to

time had begun to squeak, had become wet, and were disintegrating even before the animals had nibbled on their

soles.

cinating present was a collapsible pocket mirror.

thing similar only once before in Carefully

I

pressed

my thumb

my

life,

at

my

But the most I

had seen some-

aunt's in the city.

against the narrow plastic button.

34

fas-

The mirror sprang open. was strangely

It

Laughing,

I

large

and

same

wanted

face.

distorted.

opened

closed the mirror, shook myself,

my arm,

and looked. Khadija pulled at the

saw a

I

and a hundred hands reached

time for the pocket mirror. All the girls

what

to see

this

was

about.

all

again,

it

I felt

like a

pushed and

queen.

hugged

I

my brother and drowned him in kisses. "Thank you, Ahmed." Ahmed picked me up and tossed me in the air until I got dizzy. He was the best brother in the world. If I had my way, I'd marry him.

My mother stood next to us.

sake," she said

meant but

and petted

felt like

I

my

"Your brother has come for your

hair.

didn't

I

understand what she

the most important person in the universe.

"You've really gotten big," he said.

Dusk had

fallen as

my

family gathered in the courtyard.

The

cross-legged in front of our huts.

wonderful.

snuggled up to

I

fried goat smelled

legs.

Everyone ate

and laughed and described what had happened since Ahmed's

when

I

was alone,

draped the fabric around

sat

tasted

my mother and envied little Muhammad

who, courageously, cavorted about under Ahmed's

Later,

We

and

my

I

last visit.

my presents. Carefully veiled my head, twisted and

took out

body,

I

turned, put on the pearls, slipped into the plastic sandals and

examined

my

closed

my

always.

Then

eyes I

and folded the er,

who

night

feet.

and breathed the aroma so

opened the buckle on the fabric.

The

use

it

as

The

My

cloth

my

said, "If you die,

I'll

gave to

it

pearls,

my moth-

placed on the mats. At

get your presents."

all

brothers' snores, the goat's

over

and

it.

I

heard mother's

sheep's baying. Before

and cut

my mother had bathed me, scrubbing my body with my finger- and toenails. She had braided my hair and

my

that

going to bed soap,

remember

undid the

I

my mother said.

skin crawled as if there were ants

breath,

I

I

promising.

an aromatic pillow.

"Tomorrow's your big day," Khadija

as to

sandals,

and the shoes

pearls

locked them in a trunk.

I'd

new and

Everything smelled so

rubbed

body with buttermilk so

35

I

smelled like perfume.

I'm going to be married, marry.

was

I

girls

my

The

child will die,

them

to

Then

I

realized that

couldn't

old. Before the last Big Rains almost

age had had gudniin, circumcision. But

come

I

my mother had meant?

was seven years

I

thought.

impute.

still

what

that

Is

I

my mother had objected.

I

A bird shrieked.

I

had been

the

sick.

She had not permitted

my

me. Aunt Asha hadn't allowed

for

to be circumcised either.

all

cousin

Iman

mother's breath on

felt

my neck. On this night Muhammad had to give up his accustomed For the

spot.

my

time since

first

mother's arms. But

hollow. All

and spread the word of us were crying.

dirty.

Some

was going

was privileged stomach

felt

to

lie

in

hot and

But sometimes

girls

and pure, and the

that they were beautiful

became

ill.

I'd see a girl

Whatever

rest

coming back home me,

lay before

I

knew

it

to be painful.

If only the excisor

was shocked

I

I

My

thought of Nadifo and Amal. They had boasted

I

it.

was a baby

I

couldn't sleep.

anxiously await their circumcision, but nobody

girls

about

talks

I

at

would

die, this

my own

very night!

thoughts. Excisors are believed to

have magical powers. Thete was something mysterious about

What would happen

them.

what

should she detect

was she on intimate terms? Quickly

spirits

words of apology, pleaded with the long

It

spirits,

I

evil

wish?

mumbled

and wished her

a

With a

few

good

life.

was

still

when my mother woke me. She

dark

quiet.

Quickly

lowed

her.

I

The

stood up, pulled air

was

clear

and

my

cloth



still

echoed

in



big, large

enough it

for.

steps: four feet

me

to be

around me, and

fol-

and the

the singing and laugh-

my ears.

My mother carried a water bottle and would use

told

cool, a bird warbled,

cacophony of voices from the night before ter

my

to

sit in.

Instead

I

But

I

The tub was very didnt want to know what we a tub.

concentrated on the sound of our foot-

moving quickly over hardened

sand.

meter that moved us further from our encampment,

36

With every

my

fear grew.

My heart banged against my ribs. my stomach I

I

was nauseated.

had become unhinged.

couldn't run away.

my mother's

felt

I

as

though

eyes

on me.

I felt

Her hand clamped mine.

we reached a wide bare clearing. A single acacia stood at its edge. The light turned brown, then gray, and the brighter it got, the more the landscape lost its beauty for me. Out of the darkFinally

ness thorn bushes, dried plants,

wait here,"

my mother said

"Where

are

we

Wordlessly, It

and squatted

soil

emerged. "We'll

in the sand.

Aunt Asha and Iman?"

"They're coming

ening.

and cracked

later."

sat

next to each other.

announced mischief and made

ness with every second that elapsed.

"Look," said

my

was

I

The

me

stillness

my

realize

afraid I'd

was

fright-

powerless-

throw up.

mother, getting up and going to the acacia.

"Look what we've prepared

for

had pulled the branches of the

you and your cousin." Someone tree to

meet the

earth, creating a

kind of hut. Along the sides thorns had been placed to ward off

The

wild animals.

floor

had been stamped smooth and covered

with mats.

A camp.

For an

unknown

Although the sun was

still

period of time. low,

At the other end of the clearing

I

began to sweat.

a figure appeared.

The woman

looked ancient and she walked with a stoop. Despite appearances, she advanced rapidly toward us.

welcomed her with words me,

didn't

I

sat

respect.

The

When she reached us, my mother old woman mumbled a couple of

understand and, without casting even a glance

down. She was wearing a

dirty,

torn wraparound, and her

skin was wrinkled. She spread out a cloth in the dust reciting a secret spell to

ward off evil

at

spirits

and the

and began

devil.

A witch.

She was most certainly a witch.

The

woman

began to empty a pouch and spread out her

utensils: a little sack

of ash, a rod, a small metal container with

old

herbal paste, thorns from a bush, and elephant hair. She broke a razor blade into

and

I

two

halves.

Her

lids

hung heavy over both

eyes,

asked myself whether she could see what she was doing. She

37

grasped the rod, trimmed the top end, and slipped the razor blade into a

looked I

Then

slit.

she wrapped

sisal

cord around the instrument.

It

like a little ax.

wanted

But

I

to scream.

want

didn't

Nervously

gone numb.

I

wanted

I

to bring

plucked

at

arms.

my family.

My

skin

felt

hot and had

they were going to cut out of me?

mother put her arms around had not looked

run away.

shame on

my

at

What were

to

my

shoulders.

The

old

woman

My still

me.

down," she murmured, and gestured with her thumb

"Sit

toward the tub that

my

mother had placed upside down

in the

sand. "Sit

on

it,"

my mother said.

My heart was racing. My mouth was dry and not a word came out. sat on the tub. My mother squatted behind me and held me heard Aunt Asha's tight. A hand shoved my skirt up. Suddenly I

I

voice.

She said that

right,

on the

I

should

my legs

tearing, pulling.

left

and

A voice

said:

a

"Hold her

A hand gagged my mouth.

The

first

cut was ice cold.

A deep blue pain. A lightning bolt to the head. The voice of my mother, calling: Don't shame me. Be a big

This

"Don't scream

like that.

girl!"

cold.

Blood on I

my feet,

and put

Hands touched my body everywhere,

tub's rim.

horde of hands, pressing, tight!"

raise

my

backside, ice cold blood.

bucked under an all-consuming, devouring

pain.

A shriek to the ends of the world wanted to escape but stuck in my throat.

It

couldn't get out.

The world stopped

ing

And

soft.

Oh,

so soft

and

spinning. Everything went

light

and

beautiful.

A cocoon of fine sand,

my body up and carrying me off, hugging When I came to, felt nothing. heard I

I

38

numb.

tak-

me, protecting me. scraping, scratching

noises,

and

voices.

I

was floating and looking on from overhead,

seeing myself on the ground, on the upside-down

board,

my

block of wood in

my legs,

tub, stiff as a

me tight, putting a my mouth, and an old woman squatting between

mother and Aunt Asha holding

carrying out her barbaric craft.

At some point

I

could breathe again.

I

screamed:

help me!"

But

it

didn't stop.

It

didn't stop for a very long time.

39

"Mommy,

Salt

water washed the wound.

thorns, sharpened

more

and began

easily,

strong hands

"Hold the

to

first

will

I

sew me.

to

pressed

go through

cried.

I

still

still. It

my

fistful

of

defend myself but

mother

said. "You're

not

this."

could hear the thorns squeal

my

One

skin.

the next day,

as the old

woman

broke off and she spent an

end caught

became the agony, the cold

I

tried to

I

took a

so they'd pierce the skin

me down.

eternity trying to dig out the

When awoke

woman

old

soon be over,"

pushed them through

I

The

them with her blade

in

my flesh. my spine.

as ice agony, in

my whole

body ached. Although

I

was

aware of every limb, none seemed to belong to me. They had separated us

—my body and me. We were no

Softly

I

called

me to me on my

my

they carried

a corner

turned

side

angle.

The

But

it

of the hut, lay

and drew

my

excisor squatted behind me.

legs I

me down on up

the sand,

to the appropriate

tried to urinate.

was impossible.

"Pull yourself together,"

With

longer a whole.

mother. She called for the excisor. Together

murmured

the witch. "Try harder."

my thigh. Fire raced down my leg. my arm," my mother said. "I know it hurts." But still

her palm she hit

"Bite

40

not

The

a drop emerged.

every touch

"The

excisor

began fumbling with

my bandage.

At

panicked.

I

child

all

is

sewn up,"

heard

I

my

shocked mother

exclaim. "She'll die like that!"

The

complained and cursed and

excisor

spit in the sand.

cold fingers she pulled a thorn out of my flesh.

"But don't open her too wide,"

woman

something

slurred

my

It

mother

unintelligible.

It

With

squealed.

The

called.

old

took half an hour to

my bladder. The urine burned the open wound; tears ran down my face. Then the old woman replaced the bandage from hip to knee. Thorns bit into my thighs. "Now you're a clean girl," my mother said and stroked my empty

cheek. "You'll glow. You'll shine."

Somalis have their daughters circumcised to

and

clean.

The

It's

beautiful

an ancient tradition.

girls can't

wait for this big day. But they don't

they're waiting for.

about sex

make them

at all.

The custom

Afterward, the

is

know what

widespread, yet no one talks

girls

know

only that they have

become women. Excisors

remove the

clitoris

and

labia minora.

scrape the inside of the labia majora vagina.

They

Sometimes they tissue

from the

use razor blades, slivers of glass, knives, scissors,

sometimes even lips

and remove

Then

their sharp fingernails.

and

they sew the outer

with thorns and thread so they adhere. Only a minuscule

opening remains for urine and menstrual blood to

drop by

exit

drop.

Female genital mutilation takes place tries,

in Asia, even in the

differ considerably.

and they

aren't

Tradition

many

African coun-

United States and Europe, but the

A few have

only the

clitoral foreskin

is

powerful.

It's

No girl would want to

exclusion. Somalis

I

rites

removed,

sewn. In Somalia, however, 98 percent of

subjected to gudniin, or infibulation, as

tion.

in

girls are

was.

unthinkable to work against tradi-

avoid circumcision, for

assume that

it

would mean

their religion sanctions circumci-

41

but people of different

sion,

perform

faiths

it

as well.

consid-

It's

ered hygienic and aesthetic, since female genitalia must be cut and

sewn before they can be considered tion ensures

My

girls' chastity,

or so

operation cost a good

thought.

number of goats. Most

Somalia belong to a tribe that charges a lot for their services.

beautiful. In addition, infibula-

it is

is

The

excisors in

not highly respected but that circumcision of girls

is

a lucra-

tive business.

According to the World Health Organization's estimates, 140

women

million

more endure girls are

have been circumcised, and each year 2 million

the procedure.

horrendous. Girls die from shock or

experience infections; they lose their fertility.

All of that

is

And

loss

of blood; they

wind up with chronic

ailments; they

they suffer for

known and

for the health of

nonetheless

life as .

.

a result

of the trauma.

.

an ancient tradition.

It's

Only

The consequences

few hours

a

after the excisor

down with

a fever.

Blood and

flesh pulsated

Heat crept up

removed the thorns,

my

my

and into

legs

came

I

stomach.

and bubbled, knocking with such

force

my body was going to explode. Make it stop! wanted to scream and rip off the bindings on my legs. Air, longed for cooler air! Next to me lay my cousin Iman, silent and still, tears that

I

thought

I

I

running down her cheeks.

Then I

fell

I

awoke

asleep.

to find

my

mother kneeling beside me.

Carefully, she

helped

me

turn from one side to the other. Lying on

or

on

my

flat

goat's milk;

I

back was impossible. She offered

accepted the berries but not the milk.

pus and rotting but

my

flesh

began

mother shoved

my

to spread.

I

fingers aside.

Hellfire.

roaring.

The

and

stink of

I

felt as if

I

were being

hammering

inside

My face burned.

Everywhere.

When came I



stomach

berries

tugged on the bindings,

boiled alive with the heat and the pounding, the

me, the swelling ever louder

my

me

to,

my

tongue stuck to

42

my

gums.

My

lips

were

dry and

my eyes

down from

burned.

directed inward, she looked very sad.

my

mother held

fingers, kissed

were hanging upside

felt as if I

my

child ..." said

"My

a tree.

My skull

I

mother. Her glance

my hand. My stroked my face. She

extended

them, and

jumped up and gave me water. Greedily I drank,

my throat. Through

low run down

noon

sun.

heard a bird

I

trill

feeling every swal-

the ceiling seeped

muted

after-

and, in the distance, the clucking of a

camel herd. The spicy aroma of dust, earth, and weeds penetrated the hut.

The

Iman had

sat

and

I

my cousin

was empty.

lain,

my

Later

had

other side of the mat, on which both

mother told

watching over

me

me

that,

while

for seven days

I

was unconscious, she

and

nights.

Drop by drop

me water, had placed cool cloths on my forehead and fresh air around me. She had prayed. And then she had

she had given

fanned the ordered

my shroud

had refused cumcised

to bless

and

called



imam men are

an

me because

the prayer leader, but he

forbidden to approach

cir-

My mother, however, insisted, for she wanted me to

girls.

appear pure before

holy water over

God when

me and

"Mommy,"

I

said.

I

died.

At

the

last,

recited a couple of verses

"Mommy,

iman sprinkled

from the Qur'an.

I'm so hungry."

My

mother

broke into laughter, laughed and cried. She thanked Allah and projected a shrill ululation that soon brought in

our family to rejoice and celebrate that

They

all I

the

was

slaughtered a sheep and enjoyed a big

women and

girls

alive. feast.

Three weeks passed before the remaining thorns could be removed.

Iman recovered quickly but sate,

but a bit

knocking



I felt ill.

less painfully,

a sleeping animal not to be trusted. Again,

were bound, though not so tightly tiny steps. I

rated.

felt

I

But

I

didn't

want

to

this time. Still,

move.

I

was

wiped out, shrunken, worthless.

Instead,

changed,"

The wound continued

fear

didn't have

I

my

43

to

legs

could take only

My

energy had evapo-

my

body.

"You've

"What's the matter with you?"

words with which

a

afraid to.

and mourning ruled

my father remarked.

to pul-

and the twitching had become

answer him.

spent

I

my

assigned to me.

days in the hut, working obediently on the tasks

wove bowls and

I

entious. Outside,

I

could hear

goats into their pen, their feet

and

their velocity I

was crying.

I

wanted

I

was

and consci-

silent

running around and driving

on the hard sand,

their crowding,

strength.

my body behind.

to leave

had been deceived. Everything promised had turned into

I

illusion, rotten,

me.

baskets;

girls

nothing but dust in

had not become

I

en into an abyss.

And

cold blue pain that

beautiful.

I

my hands. They had betrayed

didn't radiate. Instead

now, upon landing, there to meet

my body never

I

had

fall-

me was

the

forgot.

There was no comfort. Everyone was busy. felt

I

Months I'd

my joints

later

bend

would

walls growing up, separating

my

feel

began to ache.

both

in

from those

On waking

But no sooner would

legs to stand.

cramping

me

feet.

When

I'd

bowl, a pricking and pounding announced

I

loved.

in the I

morning,

be up than

I

reach for the washing

my wrists.

itself inside

I

was always coughing.

"Drink me.

I

how

shook

thin

my

you

a big eater, I

goat's milk,"

head.

my mother said.

wasn't hungry. "Drink," she said.

I

are." Instead,

but

now I began

wasn't eating because

Anyway, why should mornings and evenings.

She was always up before

I

I

took a

giving I

sip

of water.

Adan my

I

"Look

had never been

leftover corn porridge.

couldn't.

I? It

was enough

took

my

staff

Behind the dunes the sun had begun

to

to drink a

and went out show: white,

little

water

to the goats. clear, pure.

What would happen, I suddenly thought, if my parents died? What if I died? Who would weep at my grave? Would my mother throw herself in the dust? Would my father wail? Would my sisters mourn for their lost sister? pushed the thoughts aside. I

I

didn't understand

where they had come from, but stubbornly, they

came over and over I

again.

drove the goats to an isolated clearing.

44

My

toes were

my knees

deformed, and

and ankles continued

The

of ripe grapefruits.

other

girls

laughed

names. They taunted me, saying that

no one would marry

them

them

to beat

on

rocks, or stood

Although

When

up.

their hands,

was hot,

it

And

a cripple.

I

I'd I

Once

shade with

my

there.

bony

sit

Whenever

could no longer run trees,

after

jumped over

stood apart.

They

wasn't thirsty. But the goats were.

there,

I let

teats.

drove them toward

I

the animals be and sat in the

Never again would anybody touch

thought of the

I

felt

I

me

with their thighs pressed together but

to protect myself.

fingers,

called

thighs pressed together, not cross-legged. Girls

weren't supposed to

wanted

me and

at

never find a husband, that

they climbed

I

were constantly pulling on each other's a clearing of myrrh.

to swell to the size

excisor's

an icy pain run up

I

me

wrinkled face and her

my spine.

Every single

cell in

my body remembered. With

a piece of bark

I

dug

sand to cool

a hole in the

swollen ankles. Slowly the sun crawled through

its

orbit

and

I

my

wait-

ed for the time to pass. In the evening, while

I

was milking the herd, Anisa stood

the edge of the pen. She had brought out: thick juice

"Go

away,"

I

Anisa looked that

I

many

me

was running through her

knew only

berries

at

and held them

fingers.

said. "You're dirty."

at

me, and

too well.

years they'd

I,

in her eyes

too,

hammered

it

I

recognized an expression

would have into me.

since for so

felt dirty,

Now

I

was

clean.

But

I

really didn't feel that way. Still, I

flaunted

it.

Just like the other

A year passed,

and

girls.

I still

couldn't walk without pain.

My toes were

my knees were stiff, and often would totter on the outer sides of my feet. Every evening my ankles were swollen. They twisted bone,

looked

like balls

I

of dust

left

lying

drenched in rain and enlarged

to

size.

45

on the ground double and

that

had gotten

triple their original

my

morning

In the

she extinguished the

mother fanned embers into flame. Then

dug out and wrapped the hot

fire,

my

and placed the compress on

cloth,

Warmed

legs.

earth in a

like this,

could sometimes move them. "You're getting grandma's

my mother said. much

was mentioned.

longer a worker,

Slowly

ents

I

had

joints

I

sat

become deformed, but

also

around, unable to make myself useful.

had become

I

grew more and more

a burden. bitter.

my

One

night

and

siblings stood in a half circle

I

illness,"

And my cough grew worse. At some point tuber-

later in life.

culosis

No

Grandma's

I

dreamed

that

family had buried me.

my grave. through my

around

throw earth on me, every clump thudding

My par-

shroud.

shouted, "I'm not dead! I'm not dead!" But with

unmoving

they stared into the depth at a white cloth, a dead

body

stayed behind at the gravesite after the others had gone. he, too, turned away.

Very

clearly

I

them

felt

I

I

faces

My father And

then

heard his footsteps fade.

Screaming, panting for breath,

woke

I

up.

One morning my mother said to my father, "Take her to town, to your brother. He's rich. He should take Fadumo to a doctor. But .

.

."

and

my

mother covered her

hands before

face with both

reaching toward the sky in prayer. "But, Allah be praised, bring her

back to me!"

Sad but excited

Muhammad, children.

said

I

good-bye to everyone: Jama and Adan and

Nadifo and Said, Uncle Ynsur,

My

mother accompanied

stopped, and hugged and kissed me. Then

Every time the fence.

burned

Her

itself

I

turned around,

left

into

I

hand on her

saw

my

hip, she

my memory.

his

wives and their

There she

us to the fence.

my

father

mother

waved

and

still

to us.

The path was hard

1

set off.

standing

m\/

G7aa7

r

Small as a matchbox, the apartment, on the third floor of a student

and

residence, contained a cooking corner

a shower. Sahra, a cousin

of Aunt Madeleine, lived there with her brother Jamal and stepson,

"German

Rashid.

doctors are the best," Uncle Abdulkadir had

declared. Besides, I'd be better off with relatives than with strangers.

That's

how

Suddenly

I

I

got to Munich.

was

living in a very small space.

together in a single bed. That didn't bother me. left

my

my

rheumatism, and pretty soon

crisis-ridden

who was

there

his contacts

apartment. spouses,

home

behind.

I

change of

was almost

on scholarship studying

and

four of us slept

was happy

to have

seemed

to help

air

free

of pain. Jamal,

electrical engineering,

used

visited the appropriate offices to apply for a larger

German law

and he claimed

allowed family members to follow resident I

was

to a three-room social welfare



Jamal would say Sahra's

I

A

The

his wife. flat. I

nary science, he had finished

able to

move

was always shocked whenever

in earnest or in jest

husband, Ibrahim, lived

Thus we were



that

we were

in Berlin.

first in

A

married.

doctor of veteri-

his class, yet as a black vet,

Berlin was the only place he could find work. Rashid, his son, had

come leg as

to

Germany

after physicians

was shorter than

his left.

had diagnosed

polio.

The boy underwent many

surgeons tried to lengthen his

leg.

106

His right

operations

Eventually he was fitted for a

which had

prosthesis

to be altered every time

he grew. Nonetheless,

Rashid was a cheerful boy.

and

Sahra, Rashid,

shared the other

I

ed her grandmother to

more than eighty years was very fond of gin. to try

even

room for himself. bedroom. Then Sahra invit-

new apartment Jamal claimed

In the

with

live

had

old,

Madame La Lune, a woman many years in France. She

us.

lived for

when Ibrahim came back from

Finally,

once more to find employment near

tighter.

Ibrahim

took

also

a

me

his family, space

Berlin

became

to the university clinic.

my

There a professor of hand surgery examined

twisted fin-

He bent them, twisted them, measured them, and took xHe spoke to Ibrahim, who nodded enthusiastically, while I sat there not understanding a word. Finally, the two men shook hands.

gers. rays.

"The professor streetcar

is

going to operate," Ibrahim said

home. "He's going

to straighten

so easy

and permanent. In only

hands!

I

was

numb

a

your

few weeks

I'd

as

we took

have

the

seemed

fingers." It

pretty, straight

with pleasure.

The operation took place several days later. I woke up with a plaster cast on my right arm.

In the afternoon

the professor came, and, this time, Ibrahim translated. Into the

middle knuckle of each finger they had inserted metal rods, which

would be removed

When

it

a thin, gray tight

tor

in six weeks. Impatient,

finally arrived the

hand with

to cut into

me

me a number of shots ers, started to

With

to

its

nurse took off the

threading into

remove the

for the pain.

withdraw the

rods.

bits

Then

my skin

of gauze.

and

I

saw

The

and the doc-

The

nurse gave

the surgeon, using tweez-

Each squeaked

splints to

apply

and

orders to take

strict

plaster,

as

it

was loosened

my flesh.

and withdrawn from

therapist,

longed for the day.

fingers that appeared unnaturally long.

bandage had pressed

had

I

at night,

an introduction to a physical

good

charged. In the meantime, with the

care of myself,

money

I

was

dis-

given to her by Uncle

Abdulkadir, Sahra enrolled in a private school to qualify as a secretary with foreign language

look after Rashid and

skills.

Madame

Everyone expected that

I

would

La Lune and take care of the house-

107

When

work.

I

asked

how soon

Sahra answered that there was no

ing,

In the spring they operated

woke from But

the anesthesia

I

the doctors assured

first,

that

several days later the finger

for the third time.

Still,

"The

feet.

it

was

feel

was an

still

for

me.

hand. This time

of the

painkiller.

was operated on

stiff. It

had assumed an that a mistake

Instead, they started planning to operate

toes, too,

should be straightened," they

on

my

Each time

said.

weeks passed before the metal rods were removed. Each time screamed when

I

I

I

so

Nobody admitted

angle.

when

my middle finger. At

effect

numb,

the finger remained

untoward twenty-degree

had been made.

money

my left

on

could no longer

me

my school-

be able to continue

I'd

heard the metal squeaking in

my

I

After the

flesh.

operation nine fingers and a pair of toes were nearly straight,

fifth

one finger had than

ever.

I

lost all feeling,

was forced

to

and

my big toe was now more crooked

walk on the outsides of my

feet.

In the meantime, Sahra had given birth. While she was in school,

took care of little Mursel

I

La Lune, whose dementia was one that gave

me

pride.

fever or cried because he

therapy.

At night

I

as well as

increasing.

From time

It

to time,

was teething,

I

Madame

Rashid and

was

a challenge but

when Mursel had

would miss

sometimes forgot to put on the

my

a

physical

splints because

if the baby, whom I now loved above all else, fell asleep my stomach. Haifa year after having been discharged from the ignored clinic, my fingers started to become crooked again. it

was best

on

I

them.

Back

in

Mogadishu, Aunt Madeleine and Uncle Abdulkadir had

divorced. For years, their

spared, the rage they er,

Aunt Madeleine's family had been ashamed

unorthodox son-in-law

who had

Now

that nobody's feelings

had long nourished burst

arrived recently,

and

had

out. Sahra, her

Madame La Lune

criticized

of

to be

mothUncle

who had me criticized they And been stupid to marry him because I was Uncle Abdulkadir's niece, a member of that unholy clan that had made Aunt Madeleine so unhappy. The women now

Abdulkadir.

They complained

also

about Aunt Madeleine,

in the first place.

looked

me

over scornfully, directing their gaze toward

108

my

hands,

dropping

their eyes to

my feet,

and

calling

me a pitiful

cripple.

took refuge in the broom closet and locked myself

I

longed for Aunt Madeleine,

my

mother and

phone Mogadishu, but register

I

loved, just as

in.

I

loved Uncle

I

My inability to help either of them tortured me. And

Abdulkadir.

missed

whom

my it

I

asked Sahra for permission to

sister. I

became too complicated.

my call and then wait around for hours

I

would have

to

for a connection. It

At night I lay awake for hours, my body my heart heavy. At some point, I would close my eyes

was

also expensive.

like

lead

and

and

imagine myself standing in a palace, in a foyer flowers,

full

with white curtains puffed by gentle breezes

dows, with birds singing, and on the terrace

I

of light and at

open win-

would hear Uncle

Abdulkadir and Aunt Madeleine receiving guests. Glasses would

music would sound, and soon

clink,

pleasantly greeted, to

would go out

I

make my own compliments,

pliments from others admiring

my

there to be

to enjoy

petal-white dress and

pumps. And the ambassadors of foreign lands would

kiss

com-

my new my stun-

ningly beautiful hands.

Ibrahim was unable to find work, so he and Sahra decided, a year

and a half

Emirates. will

in

Munich,

you do?" Sahra asked

taking

to try their luck in the United

The movers marched

my few possessions

in

and

as she spied

out of the

out, packing crates.

after

Arab

"What

me, shortly before they

last

left,

remaining wardrobe.

"I'm packing."

"Did you I

really

think

we were going

to take

you with

us?"

turned to dust.

The day

they were to

the movers picked

fly,

Voices echoed against the naked walls.

stood at the

up the

last

boxes.

With Mursel on

my

arm,

window and looked down at the street. The Nobody saw me.

I

furniture

truck glistened blue in the sun.

"Where should

I

go?"

I

asked.

Sahra was combing her

without looking up. "Maybe paper over

my

cheek.

I

hair. "Call he'll

made

your uncle," she replied

help you." Mursel passed a bit of

believe

109

it

tickled,

and

that got

him

The thought

laughing.

him

that in a

me

over forever caused

"Do you remember

moment

severe pain.

would have

I

hollowed out.

I felt

the people in Augsburg

few weeks ago?" Sahra asked. "The Somali with

band and the "But

child?

little

who visited the German

us a

hus-

Maybe you can live with them." I don't know her!"

saw her only once.

would only be

"It

you

I

hand

to

for a couple of

months. Until they can send

a plane ticket."

"But

"Do you have any

better idea?"

"Maybe they

want anyone

don't

..." The

phone her

"I'll

else living

shrill

of the horn cut Sahra short.

Below, next to the furniture truck, stood a

put on her coat and swayed approached

me and

Time stood I

I

as she

with them."

taxi.

Madame La Lune

reached for her hat. Sahra

took Mursel.

still.

heard the door

close.

know how long I sat there. At some point, I remember,

don't

immense echo

fell

pressure grew

my

back from the walls and pierced

my

body.

the

same time,

might

a cry rose in

felt as

I

I

my

and then broke, shattering the

though

a club

me

to hit

— an

breast, crashing into

had been pounding

wanted someone

chest

stillness. Its

my

— anything

torso.

At

so that

I

feel again.

Where could Slowly,

I

I

go?

grew more

front door lock, Jamal

"Come," he

said,

still

tranquil.

came

in.

Then,

He had

as a

not

key turned

left

in the

with the others.

standing on the threshold and observing me.

"I'm driving you to Augsburg."

Yes, then

I

remembered. They had come once to

whole afternoon



and

Said, their son.

and

as

I

Waris, a Somali, Detlef, her

hesitated to

visit

and stayed the

German husband,

Now she stood before me and said, mount

the step, "I've

1

10

made

us

"Welcome!"

some

tea."

I

had been sweating,

What would

options.

took into

do

I

and

freezing, if this

woman

didn't

my

considering

in a frenzy,

want me? Then Waris

my suitcase, placed it next to the wardrobe, and pushed me gently the living room. On the table was a cake, on the couch, Said. He

was pouting. But suddenly, recognized

me and

his

mouth

laughed, and

I

pulled

itself into a

big smile.

hugged him and gave him

He

a kiss.

"Please take a seat," Detlef said and pointed to an armchair.

"Are you going to be his

He had

cheek with mine.

while

we

played with

I

sat in the living

my big sister

now?" asked

me

him and Mursel

dish together. Detlef

night

I

as the adults talked.

So there

tea

and eating cake. Gradually

down

sit

We

a servant.

He

again.

to help with the

to

me

that

it

gave

me

"Fadumo,"

said

held on that

They

registered

and

me

in a

told

to act like

language school,

my

to extend

phoned him

also

Uncle Abdulkadir

They saw

visa.

Mogadishu.

in

in a voice riddled

with exhaus-

much more

whom

— took me

here."

felt rejected.

1

me along when

Paula,

Ami,

sent.

again

Waris took

Grandma

me

Germany. Don't come back. There's no future

And once

mother

That

bed.

had health insurance, and they invested the money that

tion, "stay in

called

Soma-

housework, Dctlci

books and forbade

to find babysitting jobs

I

Uncle Abdulkadir

I

a

cooked and washed up together, played games or

watched TV. Waris and Detlef helped

my

and Waris helped me make

I

to

we cooked

dreamed of Mursel.

Whenever jumped up

me

touched

Munich

the fear drained out of my body. In the evening li

I

that in

already asked

room, drinking

Sa'i'd.

to Waris, Detlef,

and

everyone called Ayeeyo

— Somali

to the movies. Detlcfs father,

for uncle, gave

Sa'i'd.

she visited friends. Detlef 's mother,

me money

whom

for

grand-

the family

for an iced coffee.

"Go

out,

Fadumo," Detlef said. "Go and meet other young people."

"Go out dancing," Waris said. "Live!" When they moved elsewhere in Augsburg, Outside

On

it



was raining

they took

thick drops exploded

the table there were roasted

I

I

them.

on the windowpancs.

lamb and other

I

me with

dishes. "I felp yonr-

my new

self,"

ried rice

and

Maryan

friend

dipped the spoon into the cur-

said. I

you made

rejoiced at the smell. "I'm so glad

Udo, Maryan's German boyfriend.

my mouth. The

forked a raisin and put

I

said

it,"

into

it

radio was playing James Brown. "After eating we'll

go to the Olympic Stadium. There's a fantastic Mardi Gras party."

"Hm," Maryan "It's

eight o'clock to

answered.

already pretty late,"

and

Augsburg

it

left at

was

I

"What should

I

Waris, a Somali trying to

make

could go

as

knew

had done

I

I

a bad

who

one there "But

I

idea,"

didn't

could spend the night

I

model

a career as a

at

was a friend of

so before. She

in

Munich.

an African woman," Maryan grinned,

stuffing a forkful of vegetables into her

"Not

put on?"

now ten-thirty. The last train from Munich

midnight.

Maryan's, however, since

"Well,

I

We had started cooking at

objected.

Udo

mouth. probably be the only

replied. "You'd

need makeup."

don't have a costume,"

On

said.

I

the radio, Aretha

Franklin replaced James Brown. "We'll find something," aside.

"Come

Maryan

on," she added, pulling

and shoved her

said

me

behind

plate

her. "Let's explore

the closet."

Shortly before midnight two African princesses in glittering veils,

escorted by a pirate in jeans and hiking boots, could be seen

waiting for the tram.

The

building was

full.

Udo, Maryan, and

together next to the entrance, and for a

squeeze

But

in.

I

quickly adjusted

my

I

moment

I

stood squashed lost all desire to

hooked

veil,

my arm

into

Maryan's, and competing with the music, shouted, "Okay! Let's

Udo performed

celebrate!"

We

mushroom Eskimo

a long,

drawn-out whistle.

snaked through gigolos and

girl.

transvestites, a

Ahab

blocking the way, and Captain

A doctor with

a surgical

mask

"Let's go!"

mountain of a

flirting

with an

raised his stein to

Udo,

bellowing, "Cheers!" Next to the doctor stood Frankenstein with

huge

plastic hands, facial scars, a full beard,

"Should I

I

find

you

grinned back.

and

hair to his hips.

a table?" Frankenstein offered, grinning.

"Of course! And

112

fast



"

Frankenstein vanished

into the crowd, but to

my

peared with coffee and

jelly

surprise, a

donuts.

few moments

"Come

he reap-

later,

with me," he said and

We tagged along.

gestured toward a corner.

Frankenstein really had found a table. "What's your name?" he

He

asked once we'd sat down.

my hands

with

"Fatima," to

I

offered

me

cup of coffee.

I

took

it

my fingers.

angled so he couldn't see answered. That was the

a

name most Germans assigned

me since Fadumo was too difficult for them to pronounce. "I'm Walter."

veil,

and

my

drank to him using

I

bit the jelly

donut.

coffee

mug,

The marmalade oozed out

lifted

my

the sides.

"Are you from the Maldives?"

"From Somalia." "Amazing.

ma.

And you

I

have a friend from the Maldives, also called

could be twins."

"Of course,"

asking myself why he was telling

said,

I

Maryan and Udo got up stein asked. I

had

Fati-

hesitated.

I

to think about

to dance.

The

"Would you

me

this.

Franken-

Nina Simone, and

deejay was playing

how you danced

like to?"

to this sort of music.

I

nod-

ded, and Frankenstein held out his gigantic hand.

At about 3 a.m., when we were drive us

exhausted, he offered to

all

home. The subway had stopped running, so we accepted

with pleasure.

The

Beetle stopped in front of Maryan's house.

We

got out, said good-bye, and the car rattled away.

A

couple of days

Detlef's

plastic hands,

thought.

though

his hair

"How

At the door of

this

Waris's

and

time minus the scars and

continued to reach

What would Waris and

for words.

"I

later the bell rang.

house stood Frankenstein,

his hips.

A hippie,

Detlef say? For an instant

I

I

searched

"Hello," he said. .

.

.

How did you find my address?"

asked Maryan." Under his beard

I

saw

I

asked.

a grin.

"But

I

had

to

beg for a long time."

"Who's there?" Waris "a guest.

Come

Hesitantly,

I

in!"

called

from the hallway. "Oh," she

said,

Said was rumbling around in the living room.

stepped aside and Walter entered.

113

Waris offered coffee and cake. Detlef shook his hand, and

minutes hours

later the

later

they were

Two

stood out on the balcony, talking. talking,

still

"What were you

nervous.

when

men

and

I

was getting increasingly

chatting about for so long?"

hissed

I

Detlef came in to go to the bathroom.

"About

this

and

"What does

that."

that

mean? Give me

a real answer,"

nagged.

I

"Please ..."

Detlef merely looked at me. "Really. He's okay." closed the

bathroom door.

Walter impressed before the

Then he

Mardi Gras

me

with his

party,

travel stories.

Only

he had returned from a

trip

few days

a

around the

world. As a photographer he had been to Iran, Turkey, Sri Lanka, and

and

India,

worked

malaria.

he ran out of money, he had

cook, a hotel manager, or in any job he could find. In

as a

Australia he a hospice

When

he'd crossed deserts.

was

in construction. For a while

run by Mother Teresa. In the Maldives he had

That was something

could talk about, too,

I

compared symptoms: shivering followed by ing.

he had tended lepers in

so,

Walter saw the world through a camera

lens.

ed to

know how

He

taught

you're

time

first

about countries

my German

Ami, and Ayeeyo

The

with

He was lives.

by

interested

He want-

I

I

had never heard of and,

improved remarkably. Waris,

also liked Walter.

Detlef,

That made me happy.

spent the night at Walter's, he said,

"I

know

Muslim, and what that means. You don't have any reason

be afraid of me."

He

and

next morning as

gave a

start.

nearly

fell

we

sheets

I'll

entered the kitchen, Walter's mother she had been cleaning a dish

from her hand. "Good morning," Walter

moved back

to

on the bed and puffed up the

take the couch."

The brush with which

return he had a place

new

put

pillow. "You'll sleep here

The

we

freez-

they lived and he wanted to preserve his impres-

me things

not coincidentally, Said,

ill

laughing,

fever succeeded

not only in the beauty of nature but in people's daily

sions.

fallen

said. After his

into his parents' house while looking for

of his own. Taking two mugs from the cupboard, he asked,

"Would you

like a

cup of coffee, Fatima?"

114

Walter's father sat at the table, his

The room drowned

head bent over a newspaper.

broken only by the ticking clock.

in silence

I

could hardly bring myself to nod. bringin' the likes of her

"You

understand her Bavarian accent at fer

go to

I

hell.

But why?

"Mother!" Walter it

around here?" Although was

first, it

What had I done

my girlfriend,

I

didn't

would

pre-

to her?

sharp as

said, his voice

like that before. "Fatima's

clear she

never heard

steel. I'd

and she can

visit

when-

ever she wants to."

"Your girlfriend?" She front of

my

feet.

words on the

spit the

Slowly, her stare traced

her eyes stopped at

my

hands? Just take a look

hands.

floor, directly in

my body from head to

up with her

shivered. "What's

I

toe;

at those mitts!"

"Mother." Crash went the coffee cup. His father peered for a

second over the top of his paper before sinking into as if he weren't really there. Walter's

mother

it

again, silent,

stiffened her shoulders,

straightened her apron, and stepped back. Leaning against the

arms folded over her

stove,

chest, she fixed

"Don't think for a minute that you'll get him.

me

she hissed. Walter pushed

room he threw packed

a pair of pants

quickly from the kitchen. In his

and a couple of shirts into

camera equipment, and grabbed

his

That summer Walter and

me with her gaze. He deserves better,"

I

moved

his keys.

and knew we wanted

My

family didn't

but

I

feared they

know

to

that,

We We were

into a small apartment.

got along very well, talking, laughing, taking short in love

a suitcase,

spend the

unmarried,

rest I

trips.

of our

was

lives together.

living

with a man,

might hear about me, and, indeed, the idea

itself

worried me.

One day I

in

awoke,

March, under a

my

with the Alps in the distance,

head hurting. The evening before we'd attended

concert and had been out asleep; in half an

hour

In the kitchen

the stove.

clear sky,

From

I

I'd

late.

I

put on

wake him

my slippers.

Walter was

a

still

up.

put bread into the toaster and some water on

the refrigerator,

1

I

15

poured two

glasses

of orange

juice.

bread, butter,

and

Walter stretched. to the bed.

at his

it

beard and balanced the tray next

to be like this,

"We

had told

mother had been

my name.

he'd take

his parents that

me

That made

feel

unthinkable in Somalia.

my future

and might come

hoped she would.

During the

I

we

marry, but

it

right to treat

made me

your

was

their parents ill.

But, two days

to the

wedding

after

real-

all. I

longed for family, peace, and harmony.

car trip

home

the night before the wedding, a

my ear,

high-pitched sound invaded to understand

was

away from

idea alone

I

mother-in-law had announced that she was con-

sidering the matter ly

The

it."

getting mar-

almost sorry for his moth-

still,

parents like that? Children turning

before,

we were

weeks they had fought.

furious. For

She scolded and insulted me, but

her decision."

it's

do anything about

can't

Walter threatened them: Not only would

Finally,

bedroom.

slipped under the covers.

I

mother wants things

sighed. After Walter

er.

into the

it

doesn't matter."

Walter decapitated his egg.

ried, his

carried

think your parents will come?"

matters."

it

and

a tray,

plucked

know. But

"Of course

my

on

tea

I

"Do you

"I don't

"If

and placed them, marmalade, honey,

soft-boiled eggs

I

what was being

and

had

I

"I'm

said.

still

to turn

up the radio

half deaf from the

concert."

"The main thing posed to say

yes,"'

is

you're sup-

give

me

a sign?"

godmother was already waiting

for us outside city

His friends, Sonja and Ernst, were also there, standing to one

hall.

side

you hear the prompt when

Walter grinned.

"Could you maybe Walter's

that

and waving. Many of his

friends

still

met me with

reserve;

Sonja had wholeheartedly embraced me. For that reason asked her to be

my

witness. Waris

because they were away,

as

the

in front

car's

of

city hall.

I

had

Detlef couldn't be there

were Maryan and Udo. Walter found

parking space, signaled, and backed

from

and

only

in.

A woman's

shriek

sounded

Walter stomped on the brakes.

Out of

blind spot his father appeared with his mother in tow.

Walter had nearly run them over.

1

16

a

The

civil

ceremony was

mother strode

Walter's

to take place in

directly

an unadorned room.

toward a seat in the

row. She

first

pressed her handbag to her chest and was uncharacteristically quiet. Sonja chattered all the

carried ter

my bouquet.

She was

greeted a colleague

ding,

my

future

more, pulled clearly

way he

I

and

my hair,

to take photos. For the his hip-length hair.

still

I

to his wife.

As always, he was

tie

silent

to not really belong.

looked around.

On

two candles.

a table next to the justice of the peace were

The few

guests

seemed

lost in the big

remembered the extravagant weddings cating celebrations for

in

room. For

moment

a



my country

which parents saved

the intoxi-

who brought many

The thought made me

only

sister-in-law,

was

sad. Eva, Walter's

sister

to

marry into a family that

feuds.

I

case,

my future

mother hugged her son, held him

I

thought,

was used

A hand found its way between Walter and me. Walter's

and

gifts.

Walter and Eva got along, but their

also absent.

mother wasn't fond of her own daughter. In any

my life

I

for years so that for

days they could fete hundreds of guests

suits

wed-

looked. Walter's father adjusted his

and then seated himself next

and seemed

my dress

more nervous than I was. Wal-

who had agreed

husband had cut off

wasn't used to the

at

I

it

to that.

stepped aside.

tight, and, crying,

wished him future happiness. Then, abruptly, she

let

him

go,

stepped back, and tripped, falling against a vase in which Sonja had

put the bouquet. the flowers. I

The

vase

fell,

knocking over a candle that ignited

My bouquet went up

in flames.

nearly cried.

Outside the sky streamed the most beautiful blue.

To be married meant

to have children

and

that

meant

I

had

to

be

how would I manage that? What could I do? No one had ever talked to me about these things. I missed my mother, Khadija, my cousin Nadifo the women in the family who could help a woman do what had to be done. opened. But



For months Walter and

I

were chaste and embarrassed with

117

each other, each thinking about

young:

how

and fooled around, but we had no words

From time

to time

have continued lend us a

we used

car,

we

gave each other a

like that.

and we

the tram to

want

move our

me

go;

it

feeling that

I

One day

I

laughed

for the unspeakable.

little kiss.

And

it

could

to ask his parents for their help,

things to a larger apartment.

bound

was missing

We felt

us together.

a part of marriage never let

grew and grew, ever more powerful.

responsible.

We

Because none of Walter's friends could

didn't

strong, even invincible; difficulties

But the

We were

to broach the topic.

was nineteen, and Walter was twenty-four.

I

I

also felt guilty

and

said timidly, "I'm going to see a doctor."

My suggestion took Walter's breath away. The office occupied the fourth floor of a pre-World War I apartment house. The entry smelled of cleanser that had just been applied to the still-moist ertheless, the place

Next

A

open.

peered at "I

put

to the

mature

me

stairs.

Someone had been mopping. Nev-

was shabby.

door was a

woman

sign.

I

and the door was buzzed

rang,

in large gold earrings

"What can

over the tops of her glasses.

have an appointment with the doctor."

my insurance card "Take a

room other women were

took a newspaper,

fifty.

I

I

do

for you?"

my name

and

I

swallowed, but a

seated, none,

one

greeted them, but most didnt

My

throat was

it,

com-

lump simply wouldn't go down.

had no idea what might be done

Every time the assistant came a

I

down, and thumbed through

sat

but could not concentrate enough to read. pletely dry.

gave

on the counter.

glance told me, younger than I

I

lipstick

seat, please."

In the waiting

look up.

and red

in

name, her earrings clanged. Her

to

me.

holding a card and calling out feet

were slipped into robust,

supportive shoes with open backs that looked professional but clashed with her

"Mrs.

.

.

."

more

dressy clothing.

She glanced

"Cracow," a

woman

at the card in

said, rising.

1

18

her hand. "Koro?"

"No, Koro," the

anybody here named

assistant corrected. "Is

Koro?" She looked around, her glance stopping

at

me. "That must

be you, such an African sound ..."

"The name

Korn.

is

what

"Right, that's

"Nobody can

pen.

Fadumo Korn." said." From her pocket

she extracted a

I

Come

read this scribble.

with me." In silence

I

followed.

She opened a door.

A

To

screen divided the room.

the right

stood a desk. "The doctor will be with you shortly," she said, gesturing toward a chair.

The door

No voices. Not a sound

Silence. sat

I

closed.

down on

On

the chair.

could be heard.

the wall behind the desk were

metal cabinets, and behind glass doors boxes of medicines were piled high.

On

a ledge stood a cactus, joined

two smaller ones,

its

offshoots.

As the door opened, the notion shot through the cacti had

ered them.

all

He

my record and

I

My hands were ice cold.

jumped.

my

on the windowsill by

An

man

old

entered. Swiftly,

head that the doctor,

his helper,

and

suddenly aged. Soon spiderwebs would have cov-

sat

down on

the other side of the desk, glanced at

health insurance card, requested

my name,

address,

and date of birth. "What's the problem?" he asked. Blood rushed

my

head, and

out

my

Closed

my

heart beat so loudly

The doctor looked Opened it.

voice.

it.

"I'd like

"Then

you

to

at

I

was sure

me.

I

would drown

opened

my

mouth.

examine me."

get undressed.

I'll

be right back." With his right hand

he gestured toward the screen while with the earth under his cacti

and shook

his head.

disappearing through the door.

and

it

to

he patted the

left

"Mrs. Gruber," he called,

got up, approached the screen,

I

froze.

wanted

I

to turn

"Are you ready?"

hand. jeans

I



around and

flee.

The doctor

darted behind the divider.

returned, a watering can in his

With

stiff fingers

plunging into an infinite shame

1

19



yet

I

I

unzipped

my

forced myself to

what

carry out

I

had come there

to do.

Water splashed, meeting

my

dry earth. In a T-shirt that reached almost to out. "Please," said the doctor, putting

toward the examining

table.

ing, freezing, defenseless.

I

I

stepped

gloves, gesturing

was incapable of movement, shak-

felt

I

on rubber

knees,

vulnerably naked and exposed.

whispered Khadija's name to myself. She would have

I

known what

to do.

"You have to take off toward the

chair.

I

wanted

all

A

your clothes."

to scream

anything just to get away, to escape. "Place your rups." His

hand grasped

obeyed. Closed

a

lamp over

my eyes. Made as

hand pushed me

and do something

his

if it

really bad,

legs in these stir-

head and pulled

were not

me

it

down.

I

lying there.

A shriek. "My god!" The

doctor's

head shot up, colliding with the lamp.

"Child, what have they done to you?" he screeched.

open.

The

assistant

came

The door

flew

in.

"Doctor?"

The

physician struggled for

air.

I

heard his chair rolling over

the floor, heard footsteps. "I'm sorry. There's nothing

I

can do for

you. You'll have to see another doctor."

The door I

cried as

shut. Silence. I

hadn't since

my mother died.

doctor, an educated professional

I

felt dirty, rejected.

whose job

it

was

to

A

examine

women, had run screaming from the sight of me. No other woman had fled his office sobbing. They had all appeared happy, relieved. What was so monstrous about me? Was there some awful growth between my legs, something I hadn't noticed that made me untouchable? I

crept into bed. Walter tried to comfort me, but

solable.

I

wanted

to die.

fart

moment I was

who

grief,"

doesn't

know

"I'll

his ass

from

tell

his elbow."

make an appointment

her

For a

know a good

for you."

"No! Never! I'm never going to see a doctor again."

120

I

she exclaimed. "You ended up

angry to hear her disrespectful tone. "I

doctor," she said firmly.

was incon-

Only when Maryan phoned did

what had happened. "Good with an old

I

"So what will you do with your husband?" I

kept quiet.

"Fadumo,

in Africa older people are considered wise

and therefore they

rienced,

are respected. In

Germany

and expesome-

it's

times exactly the opposite. Often younger doctors have been better

educated and are more sensitive to their patients' problems.

who knows about

with you to a doctor

"Do you mean

Madeleine

mean,"

My

head spun.

I

remembered

—but Aunt Madeleine was an

said, "so

I

.

.

go

have a problem because I'm circumcised?"

I

Now Maryan was silent. After a while she said, "But ..."

I'll

female circumcision."

.

German women

Fadumo."

"Yes,

and Aunt

Sai'da

extraordinary person. "I

circumcised?"

aren't

"No, Fadumo." "But laughed.

.

.

.

but

that's disgusting!"

I

swallowed. Actually,

sounded so absurd. "You mean,

It

all

the

I

almost

women

in this

country are dirty?" "Well, they're not circumcised."

came over me

superiority

me

It filled

aside.

I

A

spontaneous feeling of



just a hint at first,

and erased

up, carried me,

then

my shame,

my pride grew. shoving sadness

was clean in a country of the unclean.

A child chosen by God. Maryan came

my

to

postwar building.

office in a

with pictures of desert walls.

There were no

shaking.

"And

We

house.

"He

believe

is

The rooms were

safaris

bright

and

friendly

and innumerable newborns on the

cacti or older assistants. Nonetheless,

Maryan

really nice,"

me,

took the subway to the doctor's

assured me, pressing

I

was

my hand.

good doctor."

he's a

A blond, not very large man entered the waiting room. He had a mustache

wanted

to

and offered

me

show someone

special respect.

we did at home "A new patient," he

Why was

at

both

his hands, as

if

we

said.

"Hello." I

greeted

him

"Please." Dr. his seat

in return.

he beaming

Schmidt gestured toward

up alongside

it.

Stiffly

I

sat there,

121

me

a leather chair

my

like that?

and pulled

eyes directed at the

shaming sentence: Please undress.

gynecologist, waiting for a single,

"Don't worry," Dr. Schmidt

"No?"

It

"I'm not going to examine you."

said.

was almost too good

"No," Dr. Schmidt smiled.

we do

this:

My assistant will

There

He

smiled more broadly.

operate.

know why you're

here.

I

suggest

arrange an appointment at the hospi-

You won't

tal.

I'll

"I

to believe.

"I call

it

"

thing because you get

feel a

.

.

.

the 'blue dream.'"

"What's a 'blue dream'?"

"A narcotic."

He

talked as if something fine awaited me, some-

thing to be happy about. His voice was convincing, even

if

I

didn't

understand what the operation was meant to do. "I'm aware that to have intercourse

an instant

women

in

your country are infibulated. In order

and become pregnant they have

my euphoria vanished.

"I assure

you, you won't

I

to be opened." In

heard the word "opened."

feel a thing," said

Dr. Schmidt. "After

the operation you'll have pain, but you'll also receive medication to

stop

it."

My back hurt again. And In Somalia a

times she does

it

woman

is

herself,

my spine.

again an icy cold crept up

opened on her wedding

night.

Some-

with a knife; sometimes an aunt, the

mother-in-law, or the husband does

Sometimes the wound

closes

it.

up

again.

Some women

give

birth without ever having been really opened. In that case, the scar tissue

around the vagina

can't stretch,

or the baby can be smothered. infibulation can be lethal for insist that, after

Thus

and they can bleed

mother and

giving birth, their

to death

the long-term side effects of child. Yet,

wives be sewn up

some men

again.

In the hospital, reversing infibulation takes about half an hour.

But complications can occur: The surgeon might discover sized cyst, wild growths, strange scarring,

been blocking the minute opening treat old

wounds of the

Walter went with

me

dead

a football-

of flesh that had

for years. Often, surgeons

urethra, vagina, anus,

to the clinic.

"Everything's going to be

leaves

all right.

122

have to

and perineum.

Hugging me good-bye, he Don't be afraid."

said,

— I

wasn't afraid.

I

was panicked.

In the bed next to just lost her baby.

ever again. Softly it,

and

further

When

my eyes,

squeaking of a thorn. away, and yet the pain they

The The the

I

saw the



morning

clearing.

ing with

of the

fearful

I

was getting

I

heard the

and

excisor's dirty fingers

I

me and

felt

A

my pulse.

I

to

doctor

me

gave her a double dose."



I

cheek.

as if the

into a pail. Colors disappeared, replaced

—wet and

from the didn't

At some

I

walls, hur-

know him

my teeth

chatter-

saw Dr. Schmidt,

An

anesthesiologist

world were clattering

by a white fog that crept

My body heaved once

cold.

ran to

My body resisted. A mask covered

my face. There were noises, clanking, my limbs

I

into the operating

was shaking,

warm hand on my

said, "I

my belly.

still.

pill.

My whole body heaved. Suddenly

smile and

legs

a bladder infection.

voices echoing

tiles,

my

couldn't keep

a male nurse wheeled

felt his

it

the white bed.

Sometimes

and migrated

somewhere, a scream.

fear.

in

circumcision was thousands of miles

my heels

cold light, naked

leaned over

me

had wrought.

convinced

ried steps,

into

no one would touch

mummy in

lay like a

She had

crying.

and wrapped myself up

asked the night nurse for a sleeping

In the

room

I

night before the operation

toilet, I

I

My

remained

fidgeting began in

point

that

crept under the sheet

tighter, until

closed

I

young woman was

a

wept and wished

I I

mine

more



I

felt

only from a distance.

Then I

everything went white.

woke up sobbing

like a

baby because

I

didn't

know where

was or what had happened. Completely overwhelmed,

my cheeks took

me

wet, the pillow moist.

in her arms,

and stroked

The

my head.

next day

I

up

At some point

I fell

Maryan and Walter

"Was

to the bedside. I

"You

lay there,

couldn't stop the tears.

murmured some words

I

really

A

nurse

didn't understand,

asleep again.

visited,

and, in the after-

noon, Dr. Schmidt came. "You're quite a patient," he a chair

I

I

said, pulling

kept us busy."

cracking bad jokes?"

"No, you were stalking

lions

123

and hunting hyenas. You were

somewhere

in the steppe, defending yourself

We almost had to "Sorry."

tie

with arms and

legs.

you down."

My stomach hurt,

but

I

could smile again.

how are you?" Dr. Schmidt asked. "My body feels dull, gray somehow." "So

"We've given you

painkillers.

nearly three hours. Luckily

The

operation took a long time,

found no

I

never been expelled." Dr. Schmidt

cysts,

thumbed

say so, the excisor did a pretty thorough job. tle."

Sometimes

you'll see. In a

In the meantime,

I

me from

I

you'll

was

And

had

the

left

to the right side, just as

my mother

my

legs,

it,

to leave

One week

it

to suffer.

More than anything

years before.

But

cursed

memory was

I

I

couldn't produce a

felt

my

slithered

it

It

running over an

me

that

my

blood

was physically impos-

powerful. Again,

I

stopped

lower body and wanted to get rid of

behind, and never deal with

alone,

every leaning and

wasn't because the opening was too small.

it

after the operation,

When

I

always, the real pain confused itself with the

contained so high a dose of painkillers that

I

like a deer."

in bed, the

open wound. Doctors encouraged me, assured

drinking. Again,

lit-

was

was remembering how the sting of the urine

me

to improvise a

When

to be carried.

of going to the bathroom.

afraid

drop, and this time

sible for

may

crept through the corridors like a grand-

remembered one from twelve else, I

had

be jumping around

had once done. Every movement of bending hurt.

I

mustache. "If I

brutality can only be described ironically. "But

few weeks

mother. Often enough nurses turned

only blood that had

his

I

it

ever, ever again.

was discharged.

on

my

stomach through the apart-

ment. Otherwise Walter took care of me. Because Dr. Schmidt had

me

prescribed medicinal baths, twice a day Walter lifted

bathtub, and fifteen minutes later he heaved

helped

me when had I

glad to be of use. But

to use the toilet. I

felt

ashamed. Six weeks

had healed.

During

this time,

He

me

my life changed. 124

out.

assured

into the

My husband

me

that he

later the

was

wounds

Never had

What

imagined

I

now

But

to painful kidneys.

why it took me

Now it was Even

but

hurt,

four days,

was

sheet.

was

it

used to drink very

I

could

I

I

my surprise was a

over.

I

one morning

air

and

felt

ripping,

I felt

light

led

and laughed,

my body.

I

as well,

my

after

breathed in and breathed in the clearing that

cheerful

and

periods

came and went

free.

without incident. The panic that had become habitual

approach gradually diminished.

No

only

a tickling behind

felt

morning

I felt

opened,

My stomach didn't

have to throw up, and

for the first time since that

coming months

wound had

no rumbling.

didn't even

could stream deep inside In the

which

to discover a spot of

afraid that the

little

my belly button and laughed more loudly. out,

little,

have explained to an employer

almost a pleasure to go.

had no cramps,

I

how

my period. No

was

it

few

half an hour to go to the bathroom?

greater

blood on the

my bladder.

a feeling of relief after only a

spent ten, twenty, even thirty minutes on the

and squeezing.

pressing

toilet,

I'd

could be so easy to empty

What

a powerful stream!

seconds! Till

it

longer was

at their

compelled to

I

change jobs every couple of months because, during menstruation, I

would be absent

change

for several days.

my hair style,

From time changed

my

and

to time

to take care I

I

began to use makeup, to

of myself.

discovered evidence of a discharge.

underpants, washed, and douched. "You're destroying

the vaginal flora," Dr. Schmidt said. "You'll get infections."

But

infections.

I

uncomfortable. discharge ty

is

was unable

It

made me

to stop washing.

feel as dirty as a

It

In Walter

I

The

fear

to us.

We

got

discharge was

But

this

normali-

it.

of the unspeakable.

had an intimate friend

had happened

I

drooling child. "The

said.

took awhile to get used to

Most stubborn, however, was that

Schmidt

perfectly normal," Dr.

was foreign to me.

much

I

to

whom

I

felt

bound by

loved each other, and

I

would

have been perfectly content for the relationship to remain platonic. I

would have

liked Dr.

Schmidt

to inseminate

me.

I

wanted an

adult version of the childhood play with Nadifo: squatting, sneezing,

and birthing the baby with

ease.

125

with a man,"

"I can't sleep

"Yes,

Whenever him

said.

replied.

to talk to us

to be considerate.

—which he had

me

about

He

would

thing.

He

lot

"You both need

counseled Walter,

Walter not to pressure

never done in any case.

be numb, but, with time,

still

said,

He

sex.

also told

during the operation he had removed a skin

came with me. Dr.

visited his office, Walter

I

Schmidt took time telling

I

you can," Dr. Schmidt

He

informed us that

of dead

begin to

I'd

to develop

flesh, that

your

feel

my

some-

fantasies."

He

often talked in the plural, or about "us three," as if we were a team

working on

common

a

learned," he said.

me

had taught

But

project. "Lust

and

want

really, I didn't

sensitivity can be

to feel.

My

experience

my body meant only torture.

that touching

"Discover your body," Dr. Schmidt repeated again and again.

—with your

"Touch yourself satisfies

you."

I

fingers,

with a

feather.

stared at him, completely at sea,

Find out what

and sometimes

shipwrecked. "Never!"

Maybe

I'd

be

swore. Allah

I

sterile!

I

would

wanted

kill

me. Lightning would

"Sex takes place in your head, not between your

Schmidt

said.

"Leave

Two

legs," Dr.

"Enjoy your body."

me

alone,"

years after the

I

strike.

at least five children.

responded harshly more than once.

wedding we had the honeymoon.

126

7 A man

He was wearing a gray suit, a tie, and a He smiled politely and said, "Good day. I'm from city of Munich." Then he gave me his name. A representative of the German government in our apartstood at the door.

light trench coat.

the

ment a



I

was surprised but, of course,

cup of tea?"

I

him

in.

"Would you

like

asked, pushing a couple of newspapers aside to clear

the table. "Please,

sit

down."

few buttons on

his jacket.

"What can

for you?"

I

let

do

I

I

took his coat. The

man opened

a

put the water on to boil and asked,

"Well," he said, searching for documents in his briefcase.

"We

have a few open questions." Walter came out of the bathroom, and

I

introduced our guest.

"A very nice apartment you have here," the gentleman looking around as "Yes,

we were

I

said,

put tea in the teapot.

lucky,"

I

answered. "But

we had

to

do

a lot of

renovating."

Iwo rooms? "Yes,

and

a small balcony."

a plate of cookies

When

"No problem," I

placed the cups on the table with

and poured the

he put the cup down,

"Can

I

I

said,

it

tea.

The gentleman took

splattered,

and he apologized.

jumping up and grabbing

use the toilet?"

127

a towel.

a sip.

"Of

course."

Wait a minute.

my

dried

I

I'll

hands. "The

door on the

first

left.

show you."

"Thank you, but

don't go to any trouble."

In the bedroom, Walter was shaking out the bedclothes.

"That's an unusually large bedroom," the gentleman said returning from the bathroom. "Very nice,

"Take a look around," Walter

The gentleman documents back

said,

very nice."

really,

not very

politely.

finished his tea. Shortly thereafter he put his

in the briefcase. "Well,

longer," he said. "In case

I

won't disturb you any

any further questions

arise,

I'll

be back in

touch."

"Of course, any time,"

I

wondering what

said,

this

was

all

about.

He hadn't asked me anything. I accompanied him to the door. "Do you know what that was?" Walter queried as I put empty teacup

in the dishwasher.

"A representative of the German government," "A spy

you could

The

woman

the

who was

trying to find out

if

I

said.

we had married only

so

get a residency permit!"

idea wasn't entirely

working

had paid him

to

new

to

me. Before our wedding, a

government had asked Walter how much

for the

I

marry me. The suspicion had enraged me. Later a

bureaucrat had said

we

birth certificate. In tears

couldn't I

marry because

had run

to the

I

couldn't produce a

Somali consulate, only a few

blocks away, to find a friend of my uncle. Storming into a meeting

had thrown myself

into his arms. "Girl," he

have they done to you?" Five days

later

I

had exclaimed. "What

we had gained permission

to

name,

a

marry.

The

court clerk had forced

requirement revenge.

and grandfather

to take Walter's it

would have been cause

betrays the family.

I

then add the names

had refused, but without

Fadumo Abdi

Korn. "Fadumo

a

isn't

for

to identify the heritage. Altering one's

bureaucracy changed

to

me

resented, for in Somalia

We give a child a name of its own and

of father

name

I

Hersi Farah

woman's name," the

me.

128

Husen

official

success. to

So

Faduma

had explained

"But

I

am a woman," I had

retorted.

"Here no woman's name ends in

When

I

had

left

the office,

humiliating enough, they had

changed ding

I

my name.

had had

And after all ed only

Then,

o.'"

was Faduma, and

made me

to extend

do once a

to

I

year,

I

my had

visa, which, since the

I

it's

friendships the time they deserve.

friends

difficult for a

Even

mainly within the family. Walter worked

in

clerked in shops,

as a press

holidays

we

my hands hurt,

but

traveled to Greece

Hong Kong.

I

would have

it

I

to give

had

I

lived

photographer for

washed

dishes,

and

and

belonged somewhere. For so long

alone and unloved.

From my siblings,

I

was fun

to restore old

Algeria, to Malaysia,

liked children right away,

but when Walter suggested waiting a few years,

know

nomad

I'd

was employed in a bookbindery. The work was

I

and sometimes

Thailand, and

—something

Mogadishu,

a newspaper. After having cared for babies,

to

wed-

run an obstacle course.

to

had women

never experienced before, since

On

that

of marriage.

We had a beautiful apartment.

books.

documents

sign the

of that, a permanent residence permit would be grant-

after five years

difficult,

as if that wasn't

I

I

agreed.

I

was happy

had moved

aimlessly,

received long letters.

recorded tapes for each other and, from time to time,

I

We also phoned

Uncle Abdulkadir.

We enjoyed life in Munich. In Somalia, where

I

could have returned at any time,

my family

a house for us. We could have had servants. My husband could have worked in one of my uncle's companies or created a firm of his own. We could have lived very comfortably

would have provided

among Mogadishu's

elite.

Either way, the world seemed to be ours.

The connection voice. Just as receiver.

I

Dead

I

held

hissed, interrupted

was about

my breath

silence.

Only

to

and

static

from time

to time

by a woman's

hang up, Uncle Abdulkadir took the said,

"Uncle,

and the

129

I've

woman

gotten married."

speaking.

you back," Uncle Abdulkadir

"I'll call I

ment.

said.

Then

the dial tone.

waited an hour, pacing nervously back and forth in the apart-

was

I

Had

afraid.

I

not kept

it

secret,

my family would have my uncle said,

forbidden the marriage. "You've gotten married,"

telephone finally rang. "So

after the

about

nothing to be done

there's

it?"

"No, Uncle." "Is

he Somali?"

"No. German." "At least you didn't marry a nigger." For a speechless. In too,

were

Germany I was

to a black African

Three years wanting to meet

a

first

about



to darker-skinned Africans. Marriage

my family's eyes

in

girl

I

but

child,

it

without

my family.

I

really

was time

artifice

for Walter to get to

To

or arrogance until

talked of villas

Walter, I

I

who

who was

had participated

from the Lufthansa plane skyjacked uncle, the president.

At times

started to

All these relatives offerings to mollify

in

Minister of Finance,

my husband looked at me as

if

them because our union had

his voice

were

Some-

— expensive

already been con-

gifts for

my father. They

make up

for not having

my hand. My father sent a cassette. As

machine and

I

my

relatives.

would be expecting presents

constituted the bride-price. Walter had to

into the

told

I

in liberating hostages

1977, and mentioned

summated. Especially important were the

asked formally for

him

tell

exotic bird; at others, as if he didn't believe a word.

times he simply lost count of the

know

had been

controlled the government printing office.

my brother, who

we

and power, about one uncle who

and

a third

rather have waited until

to fly to Somalia.

secret service, another

some

union

a

our wedding Khadija began to nag about

after

headed the

him about

—would have been

my husband. would

So we decided

family.

young

the one called a nigger. But Somalis,

my status.

unequal to

my

was

I

Because they were relatively light-skinned, they

racist.

assumed they were superior

had our

moment

came

on, for a

his little girl. Slowly, always looking for just the right

130

I

thrust

moment I was

it

again

word,

my

father spoke: First, he gave thanks to Allah, then to the spirits, then to his children

and parents-in-law,

an aluminum trunk and a radio. the

meantime had become

racket,

gym

shoes, socks,

until finally,

he named

a successful tennis player,

and tennis

balls.

wanted

in

a

Khadija asked for per-

fume. Uncle Abdulkadir didn't want a present, but bottle of his favorite Christian

his gifts:

My brother Muhammad, who

Dior cologne.

I

bought him a

And we

purchased

we

flew from

toys for the children.

With

Munich

a considerable

to

Rome

number of

large suitcases,

Mogadishu. Shortly before landing, the

to

attendant distributed forms. "You don't have to declaration,"

I

"Because

a financial

said.

"Why not?" or customs."

make

flight

Walter asked.

we

aren't

going to go through either passport control

My husband looked at me quizzically and insisted on

declaring his funds.

On

the

runway

a black limousine

was already waiting.

Uncle Abdulkadir had moved. His new house was grand than that of the evicted Russian ambassador.

easily

On

more

our

first

afternoon he held a reception, and the entire family poured in to stare at

Fadumo and

her white husband. Walter and

I,

after

more

than thirty hours of traveling, had to shake innumerable hands. In the evening



was December 31

it



the reception blurred into a

New Year's party, and we were called upon to join the celebration. When the older people withdrew for a more formal dinner, Uncle Abdulkadir seemed displeased, but he said nothing.

My

cousins,

all

of

whom

spoke English, drowned Walter

in

Germany. Shortly before midnight,

as

questions about his

life

we climbed up onto

the roof, four of my cousins placed themselves

in

squarely

on the

together,

and shouted, "Heil Hitler!"

stairs, raised their right

arms, snapped their heels

Walter paled.

"Why are

they doing that?" he whispered, shocked.

"Because they want to give you the warmest of welcomes."

131

My

"Why whole day." One

cousin asked,

ticed the

"Everyone agrees

We

prac-

of them shook his head and

said,

your husband happy?

isn't

courteous to welcome someone the

it's

way

he's

accustomed to being greeted back home." decided not to explain just then that "Heil Hitler" carried

I

criminal sanctions in Germany, and that

was hardly possible

it

subject a former hippie to any worse greeting. Instead, a distraction. This

we not only

tions

The quet,

now

light fireworks

but shoot

live

I

looked for

Somali celebra-

in

ammunition,

and more family

living not far

spending

celebrations.

who

had eleven

his wife

spread a cloth over the

saw

I

my

father again,

saw Ahmed, who,

after

had resigned because of

a leg

my father's

third

from Mogadishu.

fifteen years in the army,

wound. He and

also

I

children.

I

met

aluminum trunk and

placed the

A feeling of childhood affection for my father

new radio on

top of it.

overwhelmed

me when I saw how,

despite having aged considerably,

he stood with the same handsome dignity

among

his children

grandchildren, his red henna beard glistening in the sun.

him.

I

Khadija for forgiveness

a

hugged I

daughters must marry before younger ones.

of view, violating

I

and

my little brother Muhammad. asked since my marriage had broken a rule: Elder

hugged Jama and

"It's

too.

following day another reception took place, then a ban-

visits,

wife,

was soon provided because

to

From

a traditional point

custom had insulted Khadija.

this

good thing you

don't plan to marry.

I

didn't wait," she told

my

love

me, smiling.

"I

brothers and want to live with

them." I

knew

that a

number of men had

Surprisingly, neither

my

father nor

already asked for her hand.

Uncle Abdulkadir had forced

Khadija to accept them. Khadija and the

women

valued the good opinion of liked him.

She

my

sister

Walter warmly.

more than anyone

stroked Walter's soft beard, his

bled: "Like silk

blond

hair,

else.

I

She

and bub-

." .

.

"The important thing

Men

in the family greeted

is,

he's

not

reacted with greater reserve.

132

Italian,"

my great

aunt

said.

My father talked to Walter as

he did to nearly everyone

my husband

whether

else:

timidly but politely.

asked

had been circumcised, and whether he was

Muslim. "But of course,"

answered. In

I

during a

fact,

From then on

Maldives, Walter had converted.

him

Some

a

trip to the

the family called

Rashid. In addition to

and aunt

cousins,

many

—people

"You don't know

said,

lied.

I

"I'm

"Oh,

me

I

uncle,

hardly remembered appeared and

anymore?"

Aunt Masbal, cousin

"Where

— including my

yes, indeed!"

nodded. But

I

close relatives

who was

Leyla's

second oldest

sister."

Leyla?

are the gifts for the family?"

"The shipment

is

on

way,"

its

I

The aunt looked me up

lied.

and down before moving away, apparently

satisfied

with

my

response.

At the end of the second week, Walter refused time

at receptions.

For days

He wanted

we fought with Uncle

Mogadishu and refused

leave

Abdulkadir.

that

I

when Walter played

to be driven to its

my

city just

beaches. Jama, a chauffeur,

carried guns.

On

the

Nobody

first

told us

The chauffeur The driver then

called out.

"Why

"We

forbade us to

my But

He com-

cousins and insisted I

was angry and

finally

he allowed us

south of Mogadishu, famous for

and

why

a guard

went with

us; all three

those were necessary.

day of the journey, our Land Rover entered a gas

station.

wallet. I

football with

uncle's behavior.

Merka, a

He

special permit.

ensure that he behave like a grown-up.

couldn't understand

spend any more

to lend us a car, explaining that every

photo Walter might want to take needed a plained

to

to see the countryside.

filled

the tank, and Walter pulled out his

got back into the car and drove

off.

"Hey!"

didn't pay."

should we?" Jama

said.

"Everything belongs to us any-

way."

Walter gave the chauffeur a number of bills and car

and go

"

back, please.

133

said, "Stop the

your husband to put the money away," Jama command-

"Tell

ed. "He's dishonoring the family." It

didn't take long before

we were

among

fighting

ourselves.

we reached a plantation. "We'll get you some coconuts," we got out and stretched our legs. A few meters

Later

the guard said. So

away someone screamed. Suddenly clubs,

was

several

dozen men, armed with

jumped out of the bush and ran toward them!

after

I

climbed up on the

us.

car's roof.

A hippopotamus

Walter grabbed his

camera. Running, he sprinted behind the hippo clubs cursed and tried to escape

it.

I

almost

fell

as the

men

with

off the roof laugh-

ing.

Once

the farmers had driven the hippo back to working the

irrigation system, they sent a

bring us coconuts.

"Make

same thing repeated

few boys off to climb the palms and

The

sure he doesn't pay," hissed Jama.

itself in

the hotel, in restaurants, and in the

market.

From Merka we drove one

side of the road a

to

being inspected by uniformed

and

cases

bags.

opened the

tries, I'll I

men who rummaged

"What's going on here?"

just try to stop us,"

I

On

a border.

parked, their interiors

Immediately upon recognizing our

gates.

them

"Let

Kismayo and reached

number of cars were

asked

through

car,

suit-

the soldiers

my brother.

Jama answered. "Anyone who

shoot."

was speechless. So was Walter.

Back

in

Mogadishu, we went out alone and found our way

to

we showed Uncle Abdulkadir the masks and animals whittled from driftwood that we were going to take back to Germany as souvenirs. He liked them. "Where did you get the market. In the evening

them?"

"We bought them from

a merchant."

Immediately Uncle Abdulkadir sent ket.

He

forced the ed.

My

thinking

his chauffeur to the

brought a trembling merchant back with him.

man

to return

our money, which he did while

absolutely out of place here."

134

Jama scolded

I

maruncle

protest-

German me as well.

opposition enraged Uncle Abdulkadir: "Your is

My

Were

these

my relatives? man

ket to give the refused to take

One

Walter and

Secretly,

his

money, but

—with

returned to the mar-

I

fear in his eyes

—he

it.

afternoon while

was napping, Walter disappeared,

I

unnoticed by the guard, through the outer door.

He meandered

along the streets on foot, ended up in a tea house, ordered a

mocha, and got

to talking with other

men. Where was he from?

they asked.

"From Germany," was

"Germany is

a

Walter's reply.

good country," the men

and a strong economy." But what was he doing

players

my wife's

"We're visiting

They asked

in Somalia?

family," Walter answered.

the family's name. Within seconds the entire tea

house was empty, except for Walter alone Like a puzzle the pieces

at the table.

into place. In

fell

Munich,

I

had read

newspapers that the president's clan robbed, murdered, and

in the stole.

praised. "Great football

The

story

had not believed

was about an attempted coup it. I

breaking the law and ruling like tyrants. family!

d'etat

and

revolt.

I

my relatives would be They were, after all, my

could not imagine that

They were holy

reporters dragging

them

accept something,

I

to

me, and

in the dirt.

repressed

things were even worse than

I

it.

I

wasn't going to stand for

As always, when unwilling

Now

I

was forced

to

to

admit that

could have imagined.

Somalia was a dictatorship.

One day

Walter, Khadija, and

I

drove to the market.

The

chauffeur maneuvered the car through narrow lanes. Hostile glances followed us. Walter was taunted



as a

white

man

in the

company of Somali women, he angered many. At some point streets

narrowed, so

we

got out and went on by foot.

a shop selling Somali clothing.

Two

We stopped at

boys ran after us with

Khadija cursed them, and she wasn't understated about cried,

"You whores!"

A

the

insults.

it.

A man

him

in the

exploding from houses and

stores,

boy threw

a stone. Khadija hit

head.

That did

it.

Chaos followed.

Dozens of men stormed

us,

135

burying us under an avalanche of insults and curses. Stones

more and more

We

stones.

mob

telephoned for help. Outside a

Minutes er

had the

later the military

and into corners and

The committee of

My

all

vanished into their houses

Jama had

elders met.

No soon-

police cleared the area.

lanes clearly used regularly

woman who,

divorced, very wealthy clan.

and

We were afraid.

raged.

troops appeared than

first

flew,

took refuge in a beauty salon. Khadija

on such

occasions.

with a

fallen in love

however, belonged to another

brother had to ask the family council for permission to

marry, and he would be compelled to accept their judgment.

men withdrew

Before the

for their deliberations, they debated

whether or not Walter should be invited to join them. Half wanted him. After

all,

my

he was

husband and belonged

other half was absolutely opposed: Walter was

to the clan. The new and had to

prove himself first. Besides, he did not speak Somali. "We'll get a translator," said one of those in favor.

"Who

could that be?" asked the

critics.

"Fadumo!" "A

woman

in the family council?"

"Impossible!" Walter,

who

They

all

agreed.

my

did not participate, gave his vote to

father, a

Hour

gesture that angered Uncle Abdulkadir. Negotiations began. after

hour passed, while Jama paced back and

nervous

tiger.

for you?"

I

"How

asked.

can you

"It's

your

let

life

forth, circling like a

others determine your marriage

—your

"Whatever the family decides,

future!" I'll

have to accept," Jama

answered. "I'm not like you."

"What do mean by

that?"

I

asked.

"Well ..." Jama searched for words. "You've broken the

But you're disabled. Everyone's happy that you found a It

was

as if he'd hit

me

in the chest

never said a word about

own

brother considered

my me

stiff,

with a club.

My

twisted hands and

an outcast! Something

went stone hard.

136

in

man

rules.

at all."

husband had feet,

me

but

my

suddenly

In the afternoon, after,

he

left

Jama was

the house with his head hanging.

Later the family council considered

organize another wedding, to marry

Somali tradition. As a I

room. Shortly there-

called into the

spoke anyway.

woman

me and

already married

me

it.

They wanted

case.

to

according to Islamic and

was not asked

I

want

didn't

I

my

my opinion,

for

but

Walter also explained that he had

didn't have to be married a

second time.

Enraged, Uncle Abdulkadir turned away. Uncle Omar, his brother,

announced

that he

buy the bride

"I'll

was going

Uncle Abdulkadir.

er

A

He

men complained

few

after

all, I

said

that

to be

just to

it

annoy

didn't deserve

I

hadn't brought

My father took the floor and

of the antique Persian

happened

wedding present anyway:

a trunk full of jewels!"

wedding presents because, from Germany.

to offer a

them

all gifts

reminded the speak-

who

Walter had given to the uncle

pistol

complaining the loudest. Uncle Abdulkadir

ordered a jeweler to prepare a mountain of gold jewelry for me.

By

the end of the fourth

week of

vacation,

I

not been accepted by the

him tial

men

in the family.

exhausted.

felt

Walter had been feeling imprisoned. Moreover, he

knew he had

They had expected

to follow their rules, but he refused to be uncritically deferen-

toward the

elders, to

show

the respect that especially Uncle

Adbulkadir thought was appropriate.

I

respected

my

family but

shared Walter's attitude.

I

was no longer the same young

our

trips

around the world

look through his camera ty

and

brilliance,

my

lens.

girl

who had

left

Mogadishu.

husband had often allowed

Thus

focused,

I

had seen a

lot

On

me

to

of beau-

but also unbelievable poverty and misery, usually

only a few meters away from the loveliness. Humiliating experiences in

Germany had sharpened my

with

my

husband had ripened

Many woman who

sense of injustice.

discussions

me

thought

into a

terms of social good. Perhaps Aunt Madeleine's example invited the poor to eat

—had

finally



was embarrassing, even

painful, to recognize

137

she

taken root in me. Taking out

my own trash and washing my own clothes had long been my It

as

in

how

naive

I

habit.

had been

when

had

I

member of

uncle, an accepted

whose

politics

could never

I

Jama

tried to talk to

I

Mogadishu. Siad Barre was

lived in

first

ous conversation.

the family

—and,

therefore,

one

few times, but he always avoided

seri-

criticize.

a

didn't have the courage to address

I

Abdulkadir, since feelings between us had become tense. ly

had power and believed themselves

attack drove

them

value to

So that was

had

I

the family

went

smooth

finally

I'd

flesh.

The

wanted

to look. If

I

had had absolutely no idea

hadn't seen the

I

have had no idea of what

in reconstructing.

I

left

I

little girl

used to look

tried to

woman's sexual organs fear?

I

babies in

like.

I

exam-

over and what Dr. Schmidt succeed-

imagine the allegedly gigantic,

gusting growths that were supposed to be there.

motivated by

labia, a little

it.

ined what the excisor had

a

it

flew back to Munich.

about that part of my body.

Were

And

A hole.

crooked and uneven.

ed

Every outside

say.

folds of skin. In between,

I

Uncle

My fami-

Fadumo from Germany had nothing of

little

Sad and worried,

Two

infallible.

closer together, hardening them.

without saying that

my

clearly

really repulsive?

A

put the mirror down.

I

Or was

my

so.

that a fiction

stubborn regret took

hold of me. They had taken something away from never experience the feelings of

dis-

could not do

me and I would

sexual organs as they

would

have been. After the

first

time Walter and

pride swept over me. Finally

had managed

to

destroyed me. grew, tied

did

I

up

I

I

I

made

love, a

had become

a real

wave of relief and

woman and

do what was expected of me, and the had survived!

in part

I

felt fulfilled.

My

act

wife,

had not

love for Walter

with exuberant gratitude. Only

much

later

discover desire.

More than anything world

in

which

I

else, a

deep shame barred

my way.

In the

had grown up, no one talked about intimacy or

Even modern, European-influenced people

138

like

sex.

Aunt Madeleine and

Uncle Abdulkadir merely made

ashamed of my body ing with a man. tried to cover

up

for

allusions. In fact,

imperfections,

its

ashamed

was even ashamed when

I

my malaise

by acting

I

I

was perpetually that

I

was

put on a pretty

dress.

joked around with

silly. I

To

husband instead of meeting him

as

time for foreplay was

me. Years would pass before

enjoyed

sex.

was

I

which was

adult.

me

terribly

I

hard for

I felt

that

I

was doing the

depressed or stressed.

him, for he had become a substitute

would never have shared with you getting on?"

he'd ask

know whether my would grow

me, praising

was

also

came

I

He

heard secrets

I

how are He wanted to

father. "Well,

He

skin was gaining sensation.

encouraged me.

increasingly sensitive, he promised.

ashamed of the

He examined

but there was no room for such

praise,

He

allowed

me

to air

all

my

reser-

no matter how contradictory.

At some point

I

wanted

my body, I my skin.

bing ointments on

hand was doing

made

it

Because

as

more

it is

I

learned

difficult

lust.

it

increased.

know what

to

As

desire felt like.

I

found myself not only washing or rubRather,

how

my head hardly knew what my

to stimulate myself.

Lack of a

cli-

but not impossible.

the seat of desire, the house

Girls are infibulated so that,

must be destroyed.

once they are women, they may

Their sexual desire must be forbidden and so the

must be removed. Thus, circumcision eliminates

meant

I

very close to

my body: "The tissue has recovered very well." At first

began to explore

toris

to have

right thing.

felt

to the office.

My confidence increased slowly but

no

I

father.

my biological

when

feelings in Dr. Schmidt's office.

vations,

feel

want

didn't

me because I didn't want to hurt him.

and the assurance

phoned him when

toris

I

me

on

insisted

for guidance

I

truly

I

my never doing anything unless I wanted to. confided my timid discoveries to Dr. Schmidt, whom I asked

But Walter

I

when

to refuse or signal

I

my

discuss sex or take

grateful to Walter for constantly encouraging

but also for urging sex,

difficult for

an

sleep-

to protect female morals.

It

libido.

fences in the drive for sex,

ing impossible immoral thoughts and actions.

139

cliIt

is

mak-

Whatever reasons and

the labia

infibulation,

are deployed

much

so

it's

aesthetic (the folds of skin of

disgusting); hygienic (after

easier to wash);

cludes noxious excretions)

woman's



and

clitoris are gigantic



the goal

medical (stitching pre-

clearly the control of a

is

Because a woman's sex drive

sexuality.

powerful than a man's, so they

say,

gudniin

many times more

is

her from

frees

its evil

power.

Take away the house and you destroy

One

year after Walter and

had

I

desire.

my

visited

family,

returned to

I

Somalia alone. Khadija was disappointed, Uncle Abdulkadir insulted.

My

"Did he

great aunt urged. I

had come

leave you?"

make

to

sense of

my

Aunt Madeleine's

feelings.

and Uncle Abdulkadir's family had broken up. The sold. Dissatisfaction

wondered

for

my

aunts were worried. "Tell us the truth, child,"

how

villa

had been

was growing throughout the country and

my

long

I

family could hold on to their power.

My sense of home was slipping away. Shortly after

my

arrival,

I

sought out Uncle Abdulkadir for an

intimate conversation. Female strangers

came and went, but of

course Aunt Madeleine was absent. In

my

betrayed his ex-wife.

I

knew

eyes,

my

uncle had

she blamed him. Vaguely,

also felt

I

He

responsible for the divorce. But Uncle Abdulkadir avoided me.

was often away

traveling.

hungry, dissatisfied man. stroke

But

I

my

head

as

My I

friendly uncle

had become

would have given anything

a

power-

to have

him

he had when there were no barriers between

was no longer

a child.

Without

us.

uttering a word, each of us

chided the other for having changed.

Disappointed that

I

could not reach Uncle Abdulkadir,

1

called

on Aunt Madeleine, who had her own house and income, although she no longer attended dinners and receptions.

I

she was excluded from certain

social

Madeleine was

woman, and

still

an impressive

Abdulkadir had made a big mistake. return to

my

uncle's house.

Still, I

Though

140

I

felt sad,

circles. I

knowing

To me, Aunt thought Uncle

had no choice but

loved

to

them both, Uncle

my

Abdulkadir was society.

and men dominate Somali

father's brother,

Even small children know they must prefer

their

male

to

their female relatives.

spent long days with

I

shade,

we

my

on

gossiped with Khadija, just as

I

bench

a

in the

and passed the time. Into the

told each other stories

hours of the morning

father. Sitting

early

we used to do

when we were nomad children around the campfire. I visited my brother Ahmed, his wife, and their eleven children. My sisters and

me

brothers questioned

ever traveled. "Is

about Germany, for none but Khadija had

women

true that

it

in

Germany run around

naked?" Jama asked. "I haven't

seen any,"

tain rivers people

"Really?"

swim

answered. "But on the beach and in cer-

in the nude."

Nobody wanted

At some point he

I

said, pulling

to believe

on

words. Impatience

his

my head.

my daughter,"

"Well,

beard while he searched for just the right

made my stomach

father continued, "children are a gift

and shook

it.

my father called me aside.

"Is there

queasy.

understood

I

anything wrong with your husband?"

"Everything's fine, Papa. Walter has to work. That's

came by

now

It

was impossible

to

to translate or negotiate

I

tell

him

My father was worried about

was using contraceptives.

I

spent weeks in the circle of my family. This time

to feel

I

I

for quite a long time."

"Pretty soon we'll have children."

I

why

myself."

"But you've been married

me.

my

"You know,"

from Allah."

between the warring

was neglecting anyone. As

I

parties,

I

didn't have

nor was

I

made

approached the end of my

thought often about inviting Khadija to return with

me

visit,

to Ger-

many. She kept house for Uncle Abdulkadir, managed the servants, cooked, and worried about her brothers,

who were

glad to accept

her care. Khadija sacrificed herself, but no one appreciated her.

one

treated her with the respect she deserved.

typical

Somali woman.

to learn to read ities. I

and

I

wanted

write, to get

wanted Khadija

to

end her

My sister lived

servitude.

I

like a

wanted her

an education and develop her

to lead a free, independent,

141

No

and happy

abil-

life.

My sister only smiled and said, Jama

also treated

The speech and

my view

In

I

The day last

time.

true

it

a foreigner.

traditions of

had simply won

a

asked

my home

I

for

me.

Uncle Abdulkadir

visited

for the

him about what had been bothering me.

what the newspapers abroad

"What

had not faded

few freedoms from another culture.

my departure

before

finally

I

me as

"Our German."

are printing

"Is

about Uncle Siad?"

Uncle Abdulkadir asked, lighting up

are they writing?"

the remains of a cigarette stub. hesitated. "I don't

I

"Out with "They

it."

know

if you really

want

to hear this."

My uncle seemed to be extraordinarily nervous.

are writing that

Uncle Siad

a dictator

is

who

is

ruining

the country." "It's all lies!

Those

reporters for the foreign press are simply

jealous."

With

that the discussion ended.

We cried for joy when we It

would be

the fifth

than

I

already was.

good

We

several times a

ter

had threatened

stop

me

was an awful

part of the day. Walter

She and

I

how

I

had found

strict

for

trial

me

a larger

When

a

first

me

was, and ordered

had become more

to break with her entirely,

waiting for her

now.

it

painted the walls and pushed the furniture around.

care of myself.

ly ecstatic,

enjoyed an extraordinary

I

ate fruit, but

His mother phoned often, asked

good

the end of

day and grew even thinner

Schmidt prescribed vitamins and

girl, I

on the couch

lie still

apartment.

was pregnant!

At the same time

energy. Dr.

bedrest. Like a

I

demanding pregnancy. Until

a turbulent,

month I threw up

amount of to

found out

to take

friendly after Wal-

and now she was

clear-

grandchild. Nothing was going to

group of right-wingers put up a stand

in the

pedestrian zone and distributed flyers reading, "Foreigners, get out!" I

strode firmly to their booth.

was lucky pregnant



a kick to the

A number of men

stomach could have

women don't always

think straight.

and nothing could have stopped

me

142

came

killed

to

my

They think

in those days.

my

aid.

child.

I

But

pregnantly,

was a woman, and

I

For years ignored

and I

had hated

I

and problems.

pretty. It

my

was never

It

as

would have abandoned

it

me and

life

body and slipped

and invited her

called Khadija

I

"Oh

could,

I

not feminine

I

been able

to,

into another one.

the center of my

my pregnancy my body became of my child.

ticket. You'll live

ill,

Had

should have been.

that

as

offered nothing but con-

had been skinny and

But with the

much

body, and, as

had disappointed

It

it.

stant pain

was having a baby.

I

life

to visit. "We're sending

and

you

a

with us."

yes, gladly."

Despite the bad connection

I

heard the hap-

piness in her voice.

"We're going to do the town.

Maybe even

drive to Berlin."

"Oh yes!" "Good.

I'll

call

you

as

soon

as

we've booked the flight."

"Okay. I'm very happy. Hear from you soon."

Then,

for the first time,

bathed in sweat.

from to

had dreamed

my body but had gotten

watch

The ing.

I

awoke

I

next night

I

that the baby's

head had emerged I

found myself in the woods, alone lay sideways

Every night the same kinds of pictures appeared:

and the child unable

shut,

Every night brought a

Then

to be

up

chill

and had

my spine and a mad

coming by

the fantasies started

dizzy, trembling,

to

sit

blood.

My

down.

memories were sharp and

pounding them from

I

day.

It

Pain

had a

life

moved

giving birth and

of its

own and was and

excisor's

I

hands

Blue pain seized

clear.

heels to hips.

in as a squatter

Within seconds

saw the

I

fear.

smelled the dust and the

And

again, the old separation, the old enmity.

mine.

my womb

born and dying.

and heard the squeaking of the thorns.

legs,

in a clear-

and couldn't

out.

sewn

was

was forced

me down.

calm

Suddenly labor started but the child

come

middle of the night

stuck halfway. Helpless,

suffocate. Walter tried to

it

in the

My

suddenly

I

felt it

lower body wasn't

stronger than stayed.

I

my

I.

had only

to think of

my whole body froze. My arms and legs filled with 143

pins and needles, and toward the end even called Khadija. "Please,

come

Dr. Schmidt had calculated

"Ahmed

has a cold.

I

quickly.

March

It

my

jaw cramped.

could be any day now."

5.

can't leave

him

alone."

"But Ahmed's wife can take care of him. Besides, have to be with him. But

"I I

my sister.

didn't understand

I

come

I'll

as

soon

Disappointed,

Then March 5 came. And went. Then March 6 gone. Then March 7 vanished. On March 10, a Sunday, I noticed

I

only a cold!"

it's

as he's recovered."

hung

up.

— —

ach wasn't

as taut as usual.

that the skin

on

my

stom-

Walter called the midwife. She examined

me. "Nothing to worry about," she

said.

"Your baby

is

simply tak-

ing his time."

Monday morning, my face was hospital. in

my

They found an

gray Dr. Schmidt sent

I

urine as well as alarmingly high blood pressure

was given an infusion of medicine.

The

Two

13.

1

anniversary of his death.

The cutting

didn't think

The

— two

baby's heartbeat

signs of

was weak.

days passed before the doc-

ordered a cesarean. "Please, not today,"

had died on March

I

begged. Walters lather

our child should be born on the

doctors didn't understand.

when

anesthesia had not yet begun working

they began

my stomach. It sounded like ripping a heavy cloth. The my breath away. Then my eyes grew heavy. When came ." asked, still nurse put a baby in my arms. "Does

pain took to,

the

to the

extraordinarily high protein concentration

poisoning in a prolonged pregnancy.

tors

me

I

it

.

I

.

groggy, "have ten straight fingers?"

When woke I

I

up the second time, baby

Philip

was gone.

screamed, cried, and shouted for the nurses

my child!

I

wanted

to see

But Philip had been placed into an intensive care unit

children's clinic.

The

and anesthesia

had pushed with

I

was putting needles shot out.



I

in a

birth had been dramatic. Despite the cesarean

in

my

thigh.

my

force as the anesthesiologist

With

every push, waves or blood

all

had gone into labor and begun twisting

144

just as the

doctors

were getting hold of the

By

nearly bled to death.

They finally had

infant.

the time Dr. Schmidt

the umbilical cord, Philip's heartbeat

My

stomach hurt.

knew

I

was having

truly torturous

to restrain

had managed

I

to cut

heal slowly, but

watch the other mothers with

to

had

had become a mere whisper.

wounds would

the

me.

their

heavenly smiles holding their newborns and feeding them. Milk

streamed from

my breasts

my son.

longed for

I

as

I

My whole body

had never imagined.

agonized over every

moment

that separated us.

Walter traveled back and forth between the hospitals every

he described

day, bringing Polaroids. Daily,

The

and

pictures

he

day,

drive

said,

you

We

jolt,

my

made me more

noon, and they're

sneaked out of the

but

and had

sit

all

sad.

One

taking a break.

I'll

it

Every step was excruciating.

clinic.

my

to bite

At every bump

into the car.

ing

however, just

It's

over."

could hardly

the

stories,

"Come on.

Philip's tiny advances.

I

when Walter helped me

my backside to avoid feeling elevate my body without tighten-

raised

I

was impossible

lips

to

belly muscles. Everything hurt,

and

came only with

relief

the sight of the children's clinic. I

could see Philip through a

A nurse held him

in her

glass wall.

arms and smiled. Rage

barely able to contain myself.

That was my

filled

child!

me;

I

was

That foreign

woman had no right to touch him, to cuddle him! Walter escorted me into the room. With shaking legs I bent over my son. Philip looked

like

an old man, his face wrinkled, his skin thin and transpar-

ent as parchment. His eyes looked as though they had already seen a great deal.

Tiny and emaciated, he

lay in his incubator, needles in his

arms, a tube in his nose. Wires connected

little

which waves I

rose

and

fell,

only to

rise to

new

him

to a screen

heights a second

on

later.

burst into tears.

When

Philip

pounds



ful feet,

was discharged, he weighed

tiny as a

worm. He had

and the strength of

slept for longer

a

a large

just

under

mouth,

baby many times

than half an hour.

145

I

six

and

a half

perfectly beauti-

his size.

didn't sleep either.

He I

never

stopped

and dropped down

eating

my son aunt.

She cried when

called Khadija.

I

to eighty-eight pounds.

But day by day

grew chubbier.

"We

"I'll

have a

come

as

I

become an

told her she'd

flight reservation for you."

soon

"Why? Where

is

as father gets back."

he?"

"Visiting Uncle Yusuf and his family." "Is that a

"First

I

good reason not

have to call."

"No,

got to see

"I

I've

need you,

"I'll fly as

excuses.

in

it

soon

my own eyes. The family needs me." my sister."

with

as father gets back."

couldn't understand

I

come?"

that everybody's taken care of here."

too. You're

In Somalia, the

me;

know

"You can

to

women

in

why

My

up the

was hurt.

I

my family would

Germany, Waris from Augsburg moved

much

sister piled

have taken care of

in for a week.

There

know about taking care of a baby, but Waris gave me support. Our lives had been turned upside down since the arrival of an infant who seemed never to tire. Still, really wasn't

I

I

didn't already

missed Khadija and phoned her again, holding the receiver up to

the baby's bed where Philip gurgled and cooed. "He's getting beautiful every day.

We named him

Khadija cried. "You haven't forgotten tradition," she then did

I

remember

that in

my

"You wanted

to

said.

Only

mother's family, every generation

named one son Jama. Unconsciously to visit

more

Philip Jama."

become an aunt

I

had continued the

so badly.

When

are

legacy.

you going

your nephew?"

"After the anniversary of mother's death day.

Then

I'm coming

for sure."

But Khadija didn't come.

And

three weeks after the birth of

her grandchild, Walter's mother died.

146

&

And

Somalia burst into war.

TV showed

militia

the capital, shooting. fear,

cies

—young men with weapons

raging through

We saw refugees, children with faces distorted by

and we saw corpses strewn along the

roadsides.

The news

agen-

described fighting between guerrillas and the army, massacres and

blood baths. Daily, newspapers

Somalia exploded, and

tallied

of

all

the

its

wounded and

the dead.

hatred and rage poured out

over the administration, targeting the entire

Marehan

clan,

my

A female cousin was caught by marauding rebels, tied to the fenders of two cars, and pulled to pieces. My favorite cousin Said family.

and innumerable male family members were

A mine blew up

raped, an aunt stoned.

and other

women my father

killed, the

the car carrying

elders of our tribe. All died.

Every time the telephone rang, a part of me died, too.

In the eighties Somali clans had formed their in exile

some

had organized

political resistance

own

parties.

Somalis

and even within Somalia

dissidence emerged. President Siad Barre ordered federal

troops to attack his opponents. Repression led to further assaults.

The government began

to fight

its

own

people.

Opposition groups constantly splintered, since clans and subclans were internally divided.

The Somali army

147

dissolved and

its

— soldiers joined tribal militias. In response to a loyal to the administration reacted

coup

with a massacre.

clan affiliation alone, people were persecuted

and

d'etat, troops

On

the basis of

arrested.

Despite different clan membership, more than 100 prominent

Somalis joined forces to produce a manifesto calling for a solution to the conflict.

During

The

a rally in

president arrested the manifesto's signatories.

Mogadishu stadium, Siad Barre was booed. His Thousands

security forces turned the scene into a bloodbath.

died.

war began.

Civil

President Siad Barre fled.

Obsessed, to hear

Siad

sought out every newspaper and report, and scrambled

I

any anecdote having to do with

my

Mahdi Muhammad became

fled, Ali

homeland. After Uncle

the

new president, but

his

parry also excluded other clans from the administration. Fighting

continued unabated. Conferences and

efforts at conciliation failed

or talks were canceled. Somalia divided led

by General Farrah Aidid,

a

itself into

two camps, one

Hawiye, the other by Ali Mahdi

Muhammad, also a Hawiye but from a sub-clan. Both were engaged in gunning down my people, the Darod. Everyone fought against everyone

the government dissolved, and there were bombings,

else,

and

shootings,

killings.

Whenever men of one

In Somalia, blood feuds reign. killed, survivors feel

many

having their born.

obliged to avenge their deaths by murdering as

members of the offending

have been disposed

The

tribe are

of,

it's

bellies slit to

the

women's

is

Once

all

the

men

turn: If pregnant, they risk

ensure that no child, especially no son,

killing never stops.

innumerable camels,

tribe as possible.

Only

a council

rarely,

and

for the price

is

of

of elders able to intervene and

negotiate an end to bloodshed. Daughters, too, are sold in marriage to the

With ers

enemy

the

last

in order to satisfy the

of my energy

I

demands of a blood

feud.

took care of our son, building tow-

out of blocks, singing children's songs, and pushing the baby car-

riage

around the English Garden. As soon

on the phone. At

first I

didn't

know where

148

as Philip

to turn.

fell I

asleep, I'd get

called Caritas

— a Catholic international humanitarian aid

and asked how

who had

could find out

I

had escaped the mob, and where they had

Red

International

Cross. For hours

names of my brothers and

the

on

the burn scar

Jama,

whether they were

and empty

Why hadn't

or

couldn't sleep

I

my

phoned

I

Befogged

weighed

me down.

my sister

come? She

daily tasks. Guilt

that

eating.

I

ran to the mailbox;

the refugee commissions. Evenings

I

sat

TV to watch the marauding soldiers and hired guns

in front

of the

turning

my country into alive!

She had

Now

fingers

and

had

amputate her

toes.

a pile of rubble.

from Khadija

a letter

During the week-long

to

their ages, heights,

and stopped

more emphatically

insisted

every afternoon

She was

who

to the

out search requests, wrote

could have been in Germany. Every morning

Then

They sent me

fled.

Nobody knew where Ahmed, Khadija had found shelter; no one knew

went about I

survived a massacre,

on forms,

sisters

organization

still alive.

passed.

I

filled

relief

Khadija's right hand.

Muhammad,

Months

I

and

fled

arrived.

Mogadishu and made

it

had

and broken

trip she

fallen off a truck

to Kenya.

she was in a refugee camp. There they had toes.

Because of the miserably unhygienic

conditions she had also contracted hepatitis.

I

was

relieved,

shocked, ecstatic, and desperate. Later

I

learned that

Jama had survived

through Kenya to Uganda. to

he

as well.

He had

traveled

Muhammad had fought his way through

Kismayo, a Somali region mainly inhabited by Marehans where felt relatively safe.

Hawiye, in her

clan's territory.

Walter and

In 1992,

when

Ahmed

I

sent

all

the

continued to

live

with his wife, a

Her people hid him.

money we

had.

ten thousand people had already been killed and thirty

thousand had been wounded, a

UN delegation met in Mogadishu. But

General Aidid refused to negotiate. In

New York,

bly passed a resolution appealing to the warlords to

the General Assem-

end the

conflict.

agreement calling for a truce was signed and an embargo launched.

The

fighting continued.

149

An

Further

UN

and an action plan followed. Siad Barre

resolutions

entered the fray once again, sending troops into a city close to

Muhammad

Mogadishu, creating another wave of refugees. Ali Mahdi called for general mobilization. General

To escape hunger and Somalis

into exile in Nigeria.

war, at least five

hundred thousand

fled.

At some point I

Aidid started a counteroffen-

Kenya and then went

Siad Barre fled to

sive.

my frozen emotions melted. I felt my pain. my relations' torturous deaths. I mourned

mourned

women, abducted,

And

I

raped,

cried for

my

The United Nations tarian aid.

Media

and dishonored

for

for the

life.

father.

sent in their Blue Helmets to offer

carried the stories,

discovered the Somali cause.

An

air

humani-

and other aid organizations

bridge was set up to supply the

people. Civil

war continued.

Fighting hindered the distribution of food. Pakistani diers

UN

sol-

were attacked by Somali warlords. Although the United

Nations hired armed

locals to protect their convoys,

quarter of the intended aid reached

its

only about a

destination.

People were starving.

The United diers

under a

For the

first

send twenty-eight thousand

States offered to

sol-

UN mandate to Somalia to secure humanitarian aid.

time in

its

history, the

United Nations approved a mil-

itary invasion.

The day

UN

troops marched

the Blue Helmets lights

in,

I

was glued

to the

TV, watching

on Mogadishu's beach blinded by the

of the world's

press.

The men looked

as if

flashing

they couldn't see

where they were going. I

hoped they would bring

peace.

Uncle Adbulkadir phoned from the Netherlands with news: Idil

and Qamaan had

traveled

from Kenya

150

to the

United

States;

Sai'da

was

in the

via a detour "I

United Kingdom, and

to defend

had forced him

my country,"

wanted

Uncle Abdulkadir

I

sent

fifty relatives

to fight those primitives." His children

more money.

We

who had managed

were destitute and living

We were

as refugees.

responsible for

to save themselves but

limits.

The telephone

never stopped ringing.

My

now

were

and emotional

bones ached with rheumatism

The tendons

said, his

to flee.

Walter and

cial

followed her

through France; and Aunt Madeleine was in Canada.

wanted

voice wavering. "I

about

Ahmed had

—my

who

reaching our finan-

joints swelled again.

my fingers

gave and the middle knuckles on

slipped.

My right hand froze, crooked as a comma, and couldn't be budged. I

tried to diaper

a piece of fabric to

lift

The

my

my kicking Philip around my neck,

son out of bed.

My

a sling that allowed

neighbors helped

orthopedist suggested an operation, but In Somalia, the fighting continued, and

ished.

More and more

foreign troops

military nor their governments intricate structures

and

my left hand. I hung

using only

making

I

to feed him.

refused.

my hope for peace van-

marched

made any

me

me

in,

but neither the

effort to

understand the

traditions of the country.

The

soldiers stag-

gered around blindly, caught in a net of feuding clans, of intrigue,

enemies, and hatreds, as well as weapons and drugs. Hostilities escalated. Aidid's

men

killed

UN troops,

and

UN

troops took revenge.

Washington sent a contingent of four hundred Army Rangers under their

own commander

resentatives

Diplomats and rep-

(NGOs)

of charitable nongovernmental organizations

criticized the

UN

eighteen killed. streets

to arrest General Aidid.

troops. Eighty

American

soldiers

were injured,

A raging mob pulled their bodies through

the dusty

of Mogadishu. U.S. President Clinton swore revenge.

Some days I would lie down take in his sweet

baby

smell.

next to

my son,

press

him

to

me, and

He gave me the strength to get out of bed.

But the time came when, leaning over vous breakdown.

151

Philip's bed,

I

had

a ner-

Three years

later the

Blue Helmets pulled out. Reporters, corre-

spondents, photographers, and filmmakers went with them.

Mutual massacre by

hostile clans continued, but the

media aban-

doned Somalia.

The world

left

horror. Yet fear for

but

terror,

again.

a

the country to

itself.

me

thanked destiny for having spared

I

I

it

had a

permanent

my

firsthand experiences of

never ceased.

relatives

I

tried to repress the

marched through

my

family, a supportive

husband, and a son. But

I

lived in

Once again, many months had Was Jama still alive? When I

of anguish.

state

mind's back door again and

elapsed since Khadija had written.

heard about disturbances in Kismayo,

Had

Hawiye found Ahmed

the

I

phoned the

in hiding

and

local

killed

UN office.

him?

How many deaths would have to survive? How many could withstand? sent e-mails to my cousins in the United States and the UnitI

I

I

ed Kingdom. suffering

I

called

from the

my

cold,

nieces in

Norway. Depressed, they were

from long days without

light.

I

visited

who was edgy and became aggressive when I asked if he really hadn't seen it coming. He spoke constantly about the past. He would talk of nothing else. He reinvented it to suit his Uncle Abdulkadir,

fantasies.

My

uncle had lost everything

now lived in his house He was a broken man.

Rebels

When

little

The surgeons put

hand.

were

Philip was a

older,

noses,

came

and

to

my

to pass

Everybody looked

and glad

my

rear

I

family, position, wealth.

Mogadishu.

agreed to an operation on

artificial joints in

the smallest joints that

doctors

in



four of my fingers.

my

x-rays, to

judgment. Nobody showed any

and talked about

end hadn't needed

my

hand.

I

They

I

make prog-

interest in

me.

was "the hand"

to be fixed.

Talking to a specialist for internal medicine,

kind of rheumatism

right

had ever been implanted. Groups of

bedside to examine

at

my

I

learned that the

had was usually provoked by an infection or

trauma. Could the trigger have been the festering following infibu-

152

lation, or

The ter use

even the gudniin

came

stitches

of my

many years,

out, the

But they would remain bent

fingers.

I

The doctors couldn't say for sure. wounds healed, and I enjoyed bet-

itself?

forever. After so

could only be resigned.

In the now-isolated Somalia, feuding clans and their militias drove

the country ever closer to disaster. Terror, anarchy, and chaos

governed daily

wartime



life.

A

whole generation of children grew up

violence was normality for them. Before they could read

or write, they had learned streets,

They

and volunteer

learned that

wanted a man's

man

if

how to

as soldiers.

handle guns, maraud through the

They were

often paid with drugs.

you wanted something, you took

shirt,

If a

it.

he would simply shoot him to get

it.

boy

Or

a

could be shot not for his shirt but for someone's pleasure in

killing

him.

Human

life

was cheap. Adolescents raped

wound up on

fun. Children vanished. Their organs tional It

I

women

for

the interna-

market in exchange for cash.

was a nightmare.

The world Fear

in

closed

gnawed

closed

mine its

its

eyes.

as well,

because

way into me and

it

was more than

stayed. Fear

I

could bear.

emptied me, gave

me

my strength. How was I going to explain all my child? For a long time had hoped to return to SomaI wanted my son to meet my family. Philip should see where his

headaches, took away

of this to lia.

I

mother grew up, should know familiar with his African roots.

the road back was blocked. the

I

home, should become

his other

At some point

I

illegal.

I

Germany,

decided to apply for

German

found the necessary documents and

for fifteen years

admit that

and the mother of a

153

kill

me

political representa-

There was no embassy where

passport. After nineteen years in

becoming

to

disappeared. Somalia had

no legitimate government and maintained no

my

had

was a Marehan. They would

moment I set foot on Somali soil. The country where I was born had

tion in foreign lands.

I

child,

set I

I

I

could renew

ran the risk of

citizenship.

out to do

it.

Married

could not imagine that

the authorities

After

I

ization said,

my

would suspect

described

my problem,

"No problem."

husband would have

The employee

1880.

in a marriage of convenience.

man

immigration and natural-

in

would only need various

I

to trace his

German

and

papers,

family tree back to

On his desk stood an African violet. show you my parents' birth certificates."

smiled.

won't be able to

"I

was

I

the

"No?" "No. Not only do nomads not run to birth of a child, but in Somalia there

ments no longer

Mogadishu

is

I

"Nothing," the citizen.

papers

—no

It's

papers,

had canceled

wiped

out.

my

man

said,

still

smiling.

do?"

man

said.

"Without papers you cant become

a

the law."

exploded with

I

war. Official docu-

a slaughterhouse."

"So what can

First

civil

announce the

the institutions have been

exist, since

"That's too bad," the

German

is

city hall to

no

Then

rage.

existence.

I

froze.

A smiling

No

documents, no

Bavarian administrator

existence to devote himself, undisturbed, to his

African violet. I

managed

tax returns,

to collect a police statement of

good conduct,

all

my

proof of social security payments without any gaps, and

all

had resided

in

the permits showing

that during the past fifteen years

Germany only. The employee days later he discovered that,

Detlef in Augsburg,

I

accepted the papers with a smile.

when

my health

I

had been

living

A few

with Waris and

insurance had lapsed for

six

weeks.

"I'm sorry," the employee said.

"What can

do?"

I

"We'll have to look into the situation. Wait until

we

get in

touch with you." I

waited, called, stopped by,

made

ance documents were scrutinized.

The

inquiries.

a

it

turned out that one of the

new copy. "What do

I

do now?"

154

health insur-

bureaucrat discovered that

another, extremely important paper was missing.

Suddenly

The

certificates

I

brought

it

had expired.

over. I

got

"Wait until you heat from

"My

passport

illegally if

us."

few weeks

expiring. In a

is

my application

isn't

I'll

worked on before

be in

Germany

then. You've got to

help me."

The

"I'm sorry."

administrator smiled.

Burning with rage

known me

since

I

like a criminal.

had

drove home. This particular employee had

come

leagues, a lawyer.

not at

"It's

They

"in"

made

I

date and

Munich. Yet he

all

I

documents

treated

"The

office

is

expire, deadlines is

decided."

document was stamped with

be given a copy.

me

husband's col-

go by before anything

sure every

insisted that

my

still

unusual," he said.

deliberately let

pass, and, in the end, years

From then on

to

described the case to one of

I

playing for time.

I

first

Still,

the

we remained

pressed for time.

Shortly before the deadline

I

received a

letter.

The

using personal discretion granted by his office, had taken

my

himself to reject

application for citizenship.

official, it

upon

He was

not

required to give a reason.

The country in which I had lived for so long wanted me out. The ground shifted under my feet. I had no idea what to do. By pure coincidence an editor of the Siiddeutsche Zeitung, a leading

German

newspaper, learned about what had happened.

ber of cases like

mine had been

piling

up

for quite

some

The numtime. The

editor started his research.

Five days later

My citizenship For some time

I

received another

I

letter.

request had been accepted.

had been working

refugee organizations.

I

as a volunteer interpreter for

accompanied Somali refugees

to hearings in

court and drove to the airport whenever immigration officers detained Somalis without papers.

people

was

who had been

tiring

and often

worthwhile. I

was invited

It

I

also

went

frustrating,

helped

but

I

knew

me overcome my

to train as

I

was doing something

feelings

of impotence. Then

an interpreter in ethnomedicine.

155

when The work

to the airport

denied asylum were being deported.

Nearly everyone enrolled in the course was female, and nearly all

had already worked

as translators for years.

Arab countries and Eastern Europe, a few from

He

led the group.

trist

Even

if

Germany and

Africa.

numbers of migrants were walking

hospitals,

to think

when

German

let

alone

why

ill-

doctor had no idea what

"My body

is

a

might not understand why she

a female patient

needed an enema,

A group

instance, a

a patient said, "I have a red pain" or

Or

desert storm."

man.

faulty language

but also because of different cultural concepts of health,

and therapy. For

ness,

into doc-

where they almost always experienced

communication problems, not only because of skills,

A psychia-

explained the concept of ethnomedicine.

actively discouraged immigration, practically

speaking, increasing tors' offices

Many came from

it

was

to be administered

of physicians had gotten together to train a

by a

circle

of

They recognized that when communication could be saved

interpreters to help bridge such cultural gaps.

not only

money but

also lives

between doctor and patient worked

well.

standing tension had been resolved. Soon physicians

who

"My body

I I

felt as

was

though

a long-

assisting registered

treated Somali patients. is

burning, doctor," a young

woman

complained.

The doctor thought she might be having a stroke and asked her to undress.

"My

The woman was heart

lems, but

is

shocked.

hot," said another. She

no Somali woman

talks

had gynecological prob-

about that part of her body.

Instead she might describe heart pain, back pain, abdominal pain.

"There are

butterflies in

In discussion I

idea

I

found out she had uterine cramps.

started giving lectures to hospital personnel

what ethnomedicine was.

late their

would African women those doctors

been

I

questions in ways that

them how important

told

my stomach."

who

it

often had

would not embarrass

was

their patients.

I

to recognize that only with time

patients develop a sense of trust.

forced

no

requested that the physicians formu-

Somali women, complaining

sullied, to describe in great detail the rapes

The

who

criticized

had

they had suffered.

general lack of sensitivity angered me.

156

I

that they

I

told patients

about their right to ask for a female doctor.

fought with the Min-

I

of Health for recognition of these needs.

istry

when

interpreter take over

a Somali

I

man had

riences as the victim of multiple rapes to spare

and torment of having female.

from doctors' up.

to speak

The Ministry stopped

Mine was

nobody

in

time

I

I

was ejected

refused to shut

And I was

—with

Germany

—knew anything about

this

the humiliation

my services.

offices. Still,

of Dr. Schmidt

At about

him

a deep rage that rushed in torrents.

to recognize that almost

male

of these things in the presence of a

asking for

and law

offices, clinics,

insisted that a

to describe his expe-

forced

the exception

gudniin.

read Waris Dirie's Desert Flower (1998). Like me,

I

and had been infibulated

Dirie was born in Somalia

When

as a child.

her father wanted to force her to marry, she fled to Mogadishu. Later, in

London, her beauty was "discovered." After

model

years as a successful tria.

New York,

in

living for a

she settled in Vienna, Aus-

In an interview with an American journalist, she told her story.

For the

first

cumcision.

time a

The

had had no idea

woman

report

let

the whole world

became a cause

celebre:

know about her cirThe Western world

that such a horrific ritual could be so widespread.

Following the newspaper report came

TV

interviews

Waris Dirie became a special ambassador in the against genital mutilation of women I

and

all

me

girls.

It wracked me, made me jubilant, When Waris Dirie described her pain, felt When she screamed, screamed. saw myself

and

Suddenly,

asked

I

I

lived

me. The book moved

me

as

no other ever had.

Germany was

made me angry

me "mutilation."

I

hesitantly at

first,

and neighbors, and got It

was

that the

Yes,

FGM. Women

talking about

me about my experience,

friend Waris in Augsburg. it

I

through situations that were decades behind

talked to acquaintances

to

campaign

sleepless.

over again.

in her place

yet,

and

and speeches.

UN

swallowed her book whole.

left

mine

I

number of

as if the

referred to casualties of war,

then more in

whole world

called

broken.

my

And

what happened

—but

someone whose arm or

157

freely.

touch with

dam had

was certainly damaged

friends

"mutilated"

leg

had been

blown off by

a grenade.

In a process lasting

tude toward

One

was not an

I

many

years,

my body and had

evening

I

I

invalid.

remained a woman.

I

had cultivated a

friendlier atti-

even learned to enjoy

sex.

TV programs

was flipping through

and heard,

"Mommy! Help me!" I froze. cry came from my mouth as if my own voice were

suddenly, a child shrieking in Somali: It

was



as if this

my

Those had been

calling.

exact words. Against

thighs pressed together.

The

stared at the screen but

saw nothing,

someone had to see,

just

my ears

blown smoke

in

my

will,

my

and shrieked, and

child shrieked

I

my eyes blinded as though my face. Because my eyes failed

heard even more sharply.

At some point pictures on the showing the operation.

I

TV

emerged from the

smelled blood, earth.

I

saw bony

fog,

fingers,

a clearing.

The squeal of a blade through flesh. Then the camera panned to a group of studio guests discussing female genital mutilation. The moderator invited the audience to participate. A telephone number appeared on screen. As though hypnotized

sound.

I

took

One

my ears the girls screams continued to

in the digits. In

of the studio guests said that genital mutilation

rent practice in

many

first listeners

called in.

I

jumped.

could have punched him!

I

A few were weeping,

others angry.

complained about being faced with such horror evenings entertainment.

phone.

A voice

think straight.

I

I

answered. felt

be so disrespectful?

a cur-

African countries. Every time he pronounced

the words "genital mutilation,"

The

is

rage

was burning,

Words

raging,

shot out of

a tortured

of their

and dialing the

my

mouth;

and shame and mourning.

Why show

as part

A few

little girl

I

tele-

couldn't

How could

they

in the depths

of

despair if not to appeal to millions of voyeurs? Couldn't they imagine

what

a child

might

Suddenly

feel

realizing

when

how

faced with such an image?

long

I

had been speaking,

ed myself and was about to hang up when the only the studio guests called out, "Wait!"

And

leave your telephone number.

you back."

The woman

did

call

I'll

call

I

interrupt-

woman among

then she added, "Please

back. She introduced herself as Christa

158

Muller, wife of Oskar Lafontaine and founder of an

NGO

the International Action Against Circumcision of

Women



Girls

said

I

known

better

was courageous, that

become more help,

I

active

and

should phone

her.

Euphoric, sites

on

I

fight like

financial donations.

thing, but did not

Months

later

me

wanted

I

Waris Dirie, and,

was

I

to

become involved

woman: Her walk and

was

the

Her name was

also the vice president

mutilation. Immediately I

Again,

I

I

needed

grew impatient with brochures

I

worked

registered charity that I

tried to locate

ber connected

should

and searching web-

essays,

in

doing some-

me

to

knew

I

wanted

FORWARD.

time

way she swung

her

Asili Barre-Dirie.

A

of the Foundation for

Women's Health Research and Development

Walter and

if

I

My euphoria trickled into sand. sitting in front of the TV again. This

she was Somali.

veterinarian, she

Germany), a

two hours. She

know how.

the camera followed a

hands told

and

wrote long letters to Christa Muller and received boxes

of information in return. But soon

and

talked for

shouldn't give up, that

I

began reading books and

I

FGM.

We

(I)NTACT.

as

called

to

(FORWARD-

end female

to

meet

her.

genital

For days

Finally a telephone

num-

an answering machine.

had an empty

feeling.

That same evening Tobe Levin, the president of FORWARD-Germany, called. In 1983 a group of African and British women gathered in London and founded FORWARD. The following decade,

Groups formed 1999

FORWARD became an international organization. in

in Nigeria.

1990

in California, in

Honorary

chair of the

1998

in

German

Germany, and

section

is

in

a leading

feminist author and editor, Alice Schwarzer.

FORWARD

campaigns against female genital mutilation.

It

cooperates with network partners, institutions, and local organizations to inform

and

care for circumcised

One week later, Tobe

Levin visited

me

and bursting with energy, she got

in

women. Munich. American-born,

straight to the point. "I've

brought you a catalog of our traveling exhibition. This winter the

159

pictures are

coming

Munich. Could you ask the

to

health

city's

department to host the exhibition here?" Finally, there

was

work

real

for

me

to do!

knocked on doors and explained why an exhibition of paint-

I

ings against female circumcision

was important.

explained

I

how

many African women were living in Germany and suffering complihow education on the issue could protect immigrant chil-

cations;

dren



my

used

known

to everyone

and

life. I

and need

On

on

this subject

and made

their distribution

couldn't have been

for this

government agen-

insisted that

I

lists.

I

International invited

me

intentions

interviews

first

me

asked

to write an

to give a lecture.

My

was shaking.

I

my

I

more convinced of the importance of

A professional journal

work.

from taboo.

phoned Bavarian

the women's magazines, giving the

entering the room,

cold.

to

all

Amnesty

article.

here.

was high time we freed

contacts in refugee organizations

Television

of my

up

the ones growing

cies cooperate. It

hands and

were

feet

ice

A small redheaded man with freckles greeted me and showed me

my seat. Tables and chairs formed a horseshoe, with

the head. Relieved to find

name on

it

no podium,

and watched the room

The redhead opened was sure

I

was going

to

fill

sat

I

up.

I

the speakers at

behind the sign with

couldn't utter a word.

the event and presented the speakers.

throw up. Walter,

sitting next to

my hand. The audience applauded. The redhead got up. his brief introduction,

"Hello,"

I

A man

all

my

faces

said, clearing

I

me, held

Following

turned to me.

my

"My name

throat.

is

Fadumo

me to speak up. coughed, breathed deeply and counted to three. "My name is Fadumo Korn," repeated. "I want to tell you why am happy to be an African woman. You'll Korn."

asked

I

I

I

probably wonder about rights

come

and

as a surprise."

"It's

my

that, since this

true,

I

a

meeting about

human

happy might

spoke quickly and without looking up.

of course, that

I

was circumcised.

parents had the excisor come.

blind,

is

genital mutilation, so the fact that I'm

and what happened

that

When

The woman was

morning

160

I

was

eight,

old and almost

in the clearing

I

will never

wound became

forget. Afterward,

when

the

high fever and

into a

coma.

are always

fell

dying

People would "Allah let

as a result

infected,

My family feared

of circumcision, so

it's

developed a

I

would

I

nothing unusual.

say, 'Allah

has taken the child to himself.'

me

recovered.

live. I

But

I

was never the same

Formerly a curious, undisciplined, sometimes willful withdrew, became infinitely sad

silent,

my fingers and toes became deformed. skinny

as a

father brought

went by before

Years

me

family sent

"Here clinics. I I

My

I

accepted

life.

I

me

it

up.

her body and

and want

is

And I want

being subjected to

the

to relatives in

time

I

and

Mogadishu.

my

I

in

of

rest

handicap,

met

me

good doctors and

My pain was eased although I

my

can

days, but

live a

happy

who woman who

a sensitive physician

becoming

my I

happiness. For

want

to prevent

this horrible

to be an

a

what

is

women who went

example and source of

happening

daily: little girls

custom. If I can save even one

the effort will have been worthwhile. So

first

swelled,

able to enjoy sex. I'm eternally grateful for

to share

through a similar trauma,

girl,

my

Both supported

that

was

was never hungry and grew

have rheumatism for the

because, despite

likes

I

I

for therapy.

know my husband.

got to

support.

I

me

was treated and operated on.

I've

opened

My joints

was fortunate to find a country with

I'll

now

was diagnosed with rheumatism. Then

Germany

to

be cured.

can't

I

girl,

again.

and was preoccupied with death.

and couldn't understand why.

rail.

die. Girls

you can

little

see ..." For

became conscious of myself in the room and took

the listening faces. "You can see, that's

what

I

in

meant by the happi-

woman. Thank you." For a moment, there was perfect silence. Then a few people began to applaud. Others joined them. The applause grew louder ness of an African

and became an avalanche. The redheaded man got up; came over me, and held out happy,

The

I

his

to

hand. "Congratulations." Exhausted and

thanked him.

exhibition opened at the beginning of January in the Ministry

of Health. Four hundred people appeared. Representatives of

161



another association, also opposed to female circumcision, had

hung

posters in the lobby.

A few of their

tributions. Reporters interviewed

were the organizers of the event.

them.

members asked looked

It

though they

as

and

Asili Barre-Dirie

for con-

I

were prac-

overlooked.

tically

A representative

of the municipal Minister of Health gave the

opening speech, which flowed into a discussion with various

A

experts.

few

women

activists

took the

floor.

female genital mutilation, wallowed in bloody

They

details,

attacked

preached

about underdeveloped cultures, brutal customs, and lack of educa-

At

tion.

first I

found

it

about me, and what they were saying I

women were talking made me ashamed. But then

embarrassing. These

got angry and took the floor myself.

"You

are absolutely right,

girls is cruel,

well

when

present

know

and

it

honored

colleagues. Circumcision of

should be opposed. But you are being cruel

them

as stupid

the real

tunate not

to.

puppets of an archaic culture. You don't

meaning of circumcision, and, of course, But you

group of well-meaning

also don't realize folks

people about say I

it



friends

got to beat your that I'd

To

found

a

if

it

you're for-

feels like

talks

It

when

about you

care. Please don't

whom you really know nothing.

directly

made

what

comes along and

though you were an object that needed

I'll

as

you, as Europeans, place yourselves above Africans and

would be

a as

speak for better

you shut up."

and enemies

that evening.

drum loudly if you want home with FORWARD.

further intercultural understanding

I

learned that you've

to be heard.

and ensure

And

I

knew

sensitivity, the

constitution of FORWARD-Germany mandates that two thirds of its

board members be of African origin. Members must

port

FORWARD'S To

talk

also sup-

explicit opposition to racism.

about customs deeply rooted in tradition and culture

requires trust. Asili Barre-Dirie

flies

regularly to Somalia.

women

she sees there

know and

plished

woman. And

she shows respect for

respect her, since she

162

them

too.

is

The

an accom-

For that

rea-

son, they listen to her

fundamental

and

are willing to accept challenges to the

ideas organizing their lives.

FORWARD

helps in practical ways. In Shilabo (Ogaden,

Ethiopia), the association contributes to running a poultry farm.

women receive hens whose eggs support the family. True, the men are only too willing to lean back, relinquish responsibility, and let the women do the work. But the women profit. They barter among themselves and improve their negotiation skills,

Village

thereby increasing their independence.

FORWARD

contributes to

education by paying for text-

girls'

The

books, uniforms, and regular health examinations.

association

supports families, enabling them to send their daughters to school rather than to herd goats.

school-going

girls

The

mothers, above

are

all,

proud of their

even though they have not been cut. Funding

is

offered in exchange for parental promises not to infibulate.

Only ficult

a small

number of families, however, have taken

vow. Most parents do not see progress in leaving their daugh-

uncut, although they agree that education

ters

this dif-

progressive, the

is

path toward a better future.

It

wasn't

my

who

allies

aim

to

shock or condemn. Rather,

support our

common

goal. Yet

I

I

wanted

to

win

often slipped into situ-

ations that provoked an emotional response.

One Monday morning staff

at eight o'clock

of a Munich gynecology unit.

that infibulated

Then

I

women

I

I

faced the assembled

had often been

were sewn shut again

told,

I

said,

after giving birth.

described in gruesome detail how, for half of each month,

I

how during every menstrual period, I would spend at least three days throwing up; how the blood barely escaped, drop by drop, through a tiny opening; and how it would often close, thus damming the flow of menses so that my stomach ballooned. "Can't you see that it's liberating for a woman used to double over with cramps;

to

come

to

Germany and

find a doctor to

open her up?"

into a sea of closed faces.

"Can you imagine how

relieved these

163

women

feel?"

I

looked

Nobody said

a

word.

"But sometimes,"

carried on, "after a

I

woman

bears a child,

the physician stitches her shut." Silence.

"Doctors violate the interests of a patient simply because a

husband waiting

in the hallway says, 'Please close her

up

again.'"

Some in the audience were looking out of the window "We know of such cases here in Munich. Therefore, I'm calling

Silence.

Do

on you,

in case you're asked to restitch, to refuse.

woman's

best interest. She's already suffered enough. Explain to the

man

that, in

Germany,

in the

forbidden."

it's

my nose in somebody else's affairs," one

"I'm not going to stick physician offered.

it

He wore

a

determined expression.

"I'm not going to destroy a family," chimed in another. "Can't you simply stitch what's medically necessary,"

"and spare the "If I don't I

woman do

it,

asked,

somebody

else will,"

he answered.

gulped.

"What do you it's

I

additional agony?"

tradition.

You

suggest?" a very

young doctor

asked. "After

all,

simply say no.'"

can't

"There are associations that oppose female circumcision and offer seminars for medical personnel.

Id be happy

to help

you

organize such a training session for your colleagues."

A woman doctor rose to leave. quick decisions," she

said,

"During

a birth

I

buttoning her white coat.

have to make "I don't

have

time for deep reflection."

"But ..." friendly.

I

voice calm and

"You have taken an oath that obligates you

patient's best interest. es."

my

began, trying hard to keep

You

The woman doctor

don't have to act

left

on

to consider the

a third party's wish-

the room, and a couple of her col-

leagues followed.

Again and again their daughters to

I

would hear about African

families flying

Egypt or Kenya during summer vacations.

There, on holiday, the

girls

were

teachers to observe their pupils.

cut. I

164

I

spoke

in schools

and asked

tried to sensitize pediatricians,

asking them, should suspicion

(I)NTACT, or Terre des Femmes fight for

women's human

rights.

— I

to contact

arise,

FORWARD,

nonprofit organizations that

all

them

told

that

we could succeed

in convincing parents not to infibulate their daughters.

In the meantime,

had heard

I

taking place in Germany.

didn't have

I

many Africans immigrants were by

even

Had

scenes.

I

again.

Such

difficult, if

confronted parents

my

the door in

was

if it

and

face,

situations

the parents.

I

I

I

furious.

that

I

their daughters

tempted to threaten

I felt

knew what

they were

could go to the police and bring them to

trial.

family.

that have been better?

became known. Sometimes Somalis landed

and asked

to

they would have closed

directly,

But then the child might be taken away from her

Would

that

So the rumors were not hard

know

to

knew

I

not impossible, to go behind the

would never have seen

I

made me

wanted them

planning and that

any proof. But

prevented from leaving the country

their conditional residence status.

believe,

that such operations were also

for

me by name.

African refugees

whom

at

Munich

airport

This surprised but also helped me. I

a number of among them. I when I came to see

Germany had

assisted in

problems, the aftermath of circumcision only one

took the time to

them



trust.

know my CDs,

clothing,

That

I

a radio

As time passed, our

birth.

told

With

me

you do

in Africa.

talk could

who had



I

I

cultivated

was one of them, a

move

good humor, we spoke

they were in pain.

fifteen euros

gifts

sister.

to intimate topics.

about their wedding nights and about giving

surprising

gynecologists

as

of strangers,

niin without ever uttering the

when



brought

spoke Somali and looked Somali was of immense

Among crowds

importance.

Women

clients,

I

word

at

all.

for hours

They asked me

accompanied them on

volunteered to work with

or about nineteen dollars

about gud-



a

for help

visits to

female

FORWARD.

woman

For

could have an

operation to be opened. Others had to be treated because they had tried to

open themselves.

Often

I

had

to assure frightened

165

women

that a medical exami-

nation wasn't shameful.

them and

protected

I

informed them about German law that

their children.

Although

we must abandon,

sion as a custom

framed circumci-

I

tried not to stand

I

them, separate from their suffering and their daughters'. the tradition deserved to be opposed, people

my

dition should feel

respect.

wanted

I

above

Yes, while

who had obeyed trawomen and men

to give

the opportunity to understand that they were damaging their

daughters

me as

when

they had them cut and sewn. After

quite awhile, despite

someone other than

my suffering,

before

God

by

a child chosen

all, it

had taken

began to see myself

I

for purification, liv-

ing in a country of the impure and unclean.

My mother had caused me pain. never reproached her.

focused

all

excisor. It

my

It

But she had no choice.

has never influenced

rage, despair,

was important

my love

me

to

my

that

sharpest critiques of my

got around that bers of Somali

gudniin, they

circumcised,"

I

my

speeches.

they heard that

in the

Qur'an

is

told them. "Isn't

me

I

On

they

numknew

to talk

about

arrival,

was going

of heresy and betrayal.

it

written that children should be

it

heresy

when

I

cut part of Allah's

work? Doesn't that mean I'm unhappy with what I

a deadly sin.

work came from men. After word

the room, accusing

left

"Nowhere

to

had

I

mother be absolved of

acted as a translator for refugees, increasing

I

men came

my name. As soon as

only

for her.

have

shame, vulnerability and hate on the

blame. To have thought otherwise would have been

The

I

place myself above creation?"

The men remained

he's

made

silent,



that

and some

appeared ashamed.

But they brations.

Some men

date me.

Then

who

me

stopped inviting

also

insulted

me on

to

the

Somali community

phone and

found two and then three

I

influential

did support me, once they understood

the custom caused.

Somali

men

in whispers.

facing them.

One

resident in

At I

but that perhaps

I

I

them

I

Somali

how much

asked them to

Munich. As

least sixty

told

day

call a

entered, the

had something

I

suffering

room broke out I

stood

wanted from them

to offer. If they agreed,

166

men

meeting of

had come. As the only woman, there was nothing

cele-

tried to intimi-

I

would

any way

help

them

had

useful contacts.

in

I'm at your service."

I

could. After

all, I

"Whoever wants

They

all

tinued, "stop talking about

knew my way around and

my

help has simply to ask.

listened silently.

me

behind

my

"And

back.

please,"

I

know

your eyes I'm working against tradition. But you must

am now and

a

German woman, and

I

con-

that in

realize that

the laws of this land protect

I

me

my work." I

thanked them for coming and

Later

my supporters

"She's not a "She's a

bad woman,"

Darod," others

member of the

several noted.

replied.

"And what's even worse," han, a

left.

reported the discussion that followed:

others called out, "she's a Mare-

still

old regime."

"She was sixteen when she

my

Somalia,"

left

supporters inter-

jected.

"So what," those opposing rating with the

My

responded. "She's a spy, collabo-

German government.

She's a traitor to

our people!"

supporters negotiated, conciliated, spoke well of me.

refused to be cowed.

Infibulation

is

I

That's a point

Even

went on with

I

to live with

achieve what

my work.

it.

constantly stressed in

after gudniin, a it's

I

traumatic and can bring lifelong pain.

But you can learn

respects,

me

woman

can lead a

hard to do, of course, and

we should enjoy

naturally

bodies and sexual pleasure.

But African

women

my speeches.

are strong.

167

fulfilling life. In

it's

and

some

a pity to struggle to



easily

love for our

Ey?//£>7 »£

He was a pilot flying the lectures near Stuttgart.

He

Khadija.

Quickly

him

asked

if

We met at one of my

he would take a package to

"Of course."

said, I

next day to Nairobi.

I

sped back to Munich, looked for a couple of photos,

recorded a cassette, and put cash into an envelope.

on our spending, and

forced to cut back

We

for a while

had been

had sent

I

Khadija only irregular sums of money and medicine.

The

next day

afternoon. sister in

Two

I

days

gave

my

later,

on June

package to the

pilot.

2001, he gave

7,

He flew that my gift to my

Kenya.

The evening of Munich.

the

same day

We cooked and,

friends visited Walter

because

was very warm,

it

balcony. In the middle of the night,

I

my

a.m.,

friend as well.

Although

was

it

1

and

ate out

suddenly awoke. I

I

me

in

on the

woke up

asked her to walk out

with me.

We strolled down

the street and turned onto a path that led to

the Isar River. Everything was quiet except for the gurgling water. Stars blinked,

and the water shone

heading toward the waterfall.

I

felt

169

black.

We

skirted the shore

nervous and walked

as

chough

some

driven by said

I

though

as

indescribable force.

well.

little as

I

would

I

My friend followed me,

silent.

simply wanted to go on and on, never to stop,

collapse if

I

paused, as

if

the restlessness could

destroy me.

We It

reached the waterfall and stood silently watching

rumbled "Let's

my ears. And suddenly I

in

go back,"

I

My

said.

felt

through hers and tried to talk against the

As we climbed back up

too

tired.

we

hadn't carried any

money

thing had happened to us

soon home. until

I



relieved

friend turned. silence,

to the street,

or a

I

but

We

crash.

free.

put

my arm

we were both

occurred to us that

phone. "Just think,

cell

" I said.

it

and

it

walked

faster

if

any-

and were

crawled back into bed and slept like a happy child

morning.

As we were eating

breakfast, the telephone rang.

Khadija was dead.

My sister

passed away on the very day the pilot had given her

package. Without anything to

died from cirrhosis of the I

put

down

At night

When

I

the

kill

the pain, she had suffered and

following a hepatitis infection.

phone and went numb.

paced through the apartment, haunted.

the pilot returned, he gave

from Khadija. In themselves into I

liver

my

my

my flesh.

had been too

me

a letter

and two

hands, they were aflame.

late.

170

bracelets

They branded

Wearing the

traditional dress of their native countries, a

women

African

London holds

in

FGM!" They have gathered ough of Brent

in

to protest the

signs that read

1992

in front

mently oppose

it."

"That's right,"

FORWARD, who was

tered "a child

of city

hall in the bor-

woman

"Female circumcision

abuse," one demonstrator says. "It degrades

activist for

"We Condemn

motion by an African

selor to legalize female circumcision.

group of

coun-

is

child

women and we

vehe-

Comfort Ottah,

a

midwife and

shouts over other voices. Having encounmutilated," she explains, "the

girl

wasn't

strong enough to go against her parents but the government could

have protected cultural,

it's

her.

torture,

...

hurts

views the term "mutilation"

human

rights,

Many es, feel

what

heart very badly, for this suffer for life"

isn't

(Walker and

Fadumo Korn also calls many anthropologists, she with distrust. Why? Between cultural

in the Big Rains,

to her "torture."

relativists, leery

my

and these children

Parmar 1993a). In Born

what was done

It

But

like

of judgmental terms and advocates of women's

what

are the lines of debate?

well-intentioned Westerners, aware of colonialist abus-

unable to "take sides," because to do so would be dictating

insiders

must manage

for themselves. I'm convinced,

171

howev-

er,

that silence

know whose

collusion,

is

side

you

are

Somali and other African

and

that

on once you girls are

becomes

it

less difficult to

reminded of exactly what

are

forced to endure. In charting the

course of her emerging activism, Fadumo's

memoir may

help read-

support the abolition of female circumcision. Korn's child-

ers to

hood experience makes While

the suffering palpable.

terror pervades Korn's

1

key experience, her words are

those of the small child trying to please her mother and the tradition

she

part

feels

of.

Although the sun has not yet

risen, the seven-year-

old begins "to sweat" even before an "ancient"

woman

and

The

"dirty"

garment advances into the

the mother welcomes with "respect,"

clearing. fails

in a "torn"

excisor,

whom

to greet the initiate or



vation

much as a glance later on another obserKorn remembers. The child both resents being ignored and

senses

something unpleasant about to happen, so she thinks of her

acknowledge her with so

soon-to-be tormenter as "a witch

Fadumo

Korn's childhood

.

.

.

most

memory

of the instruments placed before her: "a

certainly a witch" (37).

also retains a vivid little

:

image

sack of ash, a rod, a

small metal container with herbal paste, thorns from a bush

.

.

.

elephant hair [and] a razor blade [broken] into two halves" (37-8).

Furthermore,

many who have undergone

like

Korn remembers the

this

procedure, 3

cutter's eyes, "heavy-lidded," possibly sug-

gesting impaired vision. She also describes her fingers' agility in

wrapping

"sisal

the rod so that]

Not

cord around the [razor half inserted into a look[s] like a

it

little

slit

in

ax" (38).

surprisingly, the child "want[s] ... to

run away" (57). But

she also wishes to avoid "shamfing]" her clan. She has no choice

but to submit to

of course

procedure

this

—whose aftermath would,

everything else in her

A voice said: The .

.

.

—without any kind of

first

life

in

tight!"

A hand gagged my mouth.

cut was ice cold. .

.

Fadumo's words, determine

(quoted in Schuhler 2005).

"Hold her

deep blue

anesthesia,

.

A lightning bolt to the head.

(38)

172

— Fadumo and

faints

from the

consuming, devouring pain"

"all

has a typical near-death experience, "floating [herself]

on the ground, on the upside-

tub, stiff as a board, [her]

mother and Aunt Asha holding

from overhead, seeing

down

and looking on

woman

wood

putting a block of

[her] tight,

mouth, and an old

in [her]

squatting between [her] legs, carrying out her barbaric

craft" (39).

The block of wood

is

of clitoridectomy, to prevent the

Are tongues,

often used, even in "milder" cases girl

from biting off her tongue. amputated? The

at least figuratively, also

loss

of

language appears to be an intended consequence of genital cutting.

Fadumo writes: "A shriek to but stuck in

my

the ends of the world

throat" (38).

While Fadumo's

wanted

narrative

to escape

is

born of

blue-black pain, a change in her personality follows, the experience

Not

effectively silencing her.

unlike victims of trauma, a muted,

timid, introspective person replaces the earlier vivacious spirit. Fortunately, as this

volume makes

Fadumo

explicit,

ing,

raises

funds to support educational, income-generat-

and consciousness-raising

Africa. Yet, despite her

for

how to

discuss

own

projects being run in

FGM remains acute. call it?"

— remains an important —have

—FGM,

cutting, circumci-

question. "Hardliners"

"female genital mutilation" Senegalese

awarded

and

Germany and

charismatic public presence, her concern

Therefore, "what do you sion?

received

Ousmane Sembene's stunning

first

prize at

Cannes

film

community, committed

certain regard"

tion of what

to the

FGM

term

agrees with him: "Mutilation"

was done to

her,

(Annas and

in his opposition, follows the

international conventions crafted by African

And Fadumo

use

Moolaade (2004),

"Un

in the category

Busch 2005). Sembene, unequivocal

—who

welcome support from

called "a manifesto against genital mutilation"

NGO

has emerged

FORWARD-

from muteness into speech. As vice-president of Germany, she

4

but she

is

rejects

as codified in

women and men.

an accurate descrip-

being referred to

as a

mutilated personality. Still,

in a sense, the

to a great extent

dilemma

itself

is

misleading and depends

on audience. Not "what do you

173

say?" but "to

whom?" and first

"in

what language?"

are the real issues.

At one of

its

meetings in 1998, the European Network for the Prevention

FGM)

and Eradication of Female Genital Mutilation (EuroNet

spent an entire day on this subject. Zahra, a Somali in the Netherlands, said:

"When

I'm speaking to the immigrant community,

use gudniin [translated as "female circumcision"]

lem." Others agreed: Individuals use any figurative

and euphemistic designations

For example, Ibo novelist Flora

Nwapa

.

not a prob-

It's

number of customary, in their

uses a

own

couteau, or

"women

sitting

common

phrase

euphemism,

"the

1995; Erben 2000). Takhoundi

is

the

word

we

femmes

assises sous le

(Gillette

and Franjou

is

under the knife"

if

languages.

bath" (Erben 2000). In Sembene's film, shot in Burkina Faso,

hear bolokoli. In Mali, the

I

in Sarakole, tukore in

Senoufo, both spoken in Mali (Sahel Initiative 2000). Different

when

languages prefer different descriptors. But

individuals

address Westerners? It is

certainly true that journalists

ize genital cutting.

Outrage,

may

sadistic titillation

also

if

be

and others often sensational-

not racism, replaces reason, and a

at

work. Certain approaches to the

subject can indeed be painful, embarrassing, or humiliating for

women who alternative.

have suffered the procedure. Yet silence

Nor

is

is

not the

hiding behind misleading or ineffective lan-

guage. "Circumcision," for instance, draws a false analogy to male

FGM

is

not equivalent to the removal of a foreskin (although that too

is

circumcision and diminishes the

now opposed by

a

harm done

to

women.

growing movement). Women's "circumcision,"

moreover, causes perilous short- and long-term health

which

scar tissue

compromises

a fulfilling sex life

risks in

and threatens the

well-being of babies ("Female Genital Mutilation and Obstetric

Outcome" 2006, 1853-41). Ultimately and over, the lesson

is

significantly,

more-

subordination.

Given growing awareness of the procedures medical damage,

one must conclude that behind the debate about terminology

women's subordination. Despite some success, 6 persists.

In

my view,

FGM

lurks

stubbornly

the diaspora itself contributes to the practice's

174

longevity outside of Africa. Genital mutilation

closely associated

is

with ethnicity, challenged by the Western nations' contemporary liberal stance as well as earlier efforts

women

the practice. Because

be viewed

as "scapegoats

by colonial powers

to suppress

men, they can

are less powerful than

of culture and cult" (Levin 1986). In her

interviews with Somali immigrants in Switzerland, Charlotte Beck-

Karrer found grounds to fear that "gudniin

is

becoming

a

means of

maintaining ethnic and cultural identity [abroad]" (1996, 120). scene in Fadumo's

memoir

their sexual bodies

and

suggests

girls

on

sip cocktails

a

Mogadishu

terrace,

confront their European classmates, taunting them for

being wet, smelly, or worse. Although the Spanish youngsters ironically,

"We're circumcised like you!"

believe

and

it"

escalates

refuse to "prove

between are

shriveled,

at them!!"

how

When

ugly.

Fadumo

assault.

When

insist,

declares, "I don't

the Spanish sisters

the Somalis unzip and exhibit the bridge

it,"

their thighs.

doubt into

When

7

thrown onto the bed and

"Look

A

connect

their cultural identities.

While diplomatic parents Somali

how deeply young girls

do

the Spaniards don't

Fadumo

cries.

likewise, they

removed.

their panties

"How wrinkled

they are,

how

Yuck!"

analyzing this scene, one remembers that

leading the aggressors

—was once

—now

Fadumo

and constrained by women.

seized

may be understood as validating the admitshe has endured. FGM's power, I believe,

Fadumo's violent behavior tedly excruciating rite derives

from

its

status as inheritance, a transformative act passed

through the generations. As former chief advisor to against

FGM,

woman's for

.

.

.

Efua Dorkenoo

genitals;

it's

also the

attests, "It's

WHO

s

on

programs

not just the cutting of a

symbolic power of it [with] implications

psychology and character development. Therefore male-domi-

nated society sees any attempt to change

it

as a threat" (qtd. in

Walker

and Parmar 1993b, 249). Fadumo's

narrative conveys this deep

tional investment in genital erasure.

For even

if

vaginal torture origi-

women who pre-

nates in the (imagined) aesthetic preferences of men, fer infibulation self-police the practice to

certainly circumcise

my

ensure

daughter," a patient

175

emo-

its

tells

continuity. "I will

gynecologist

Nawal

Nour

in

Boston who,

Fadumo, hopes

like

2006). Persuasion has proved

to talk her out of

it

(Nour

however, for the behavior of

difficult,

those in diaspora remains in thrall to pre-immigration experiences

rooted in village or nomadic

life

and the acceptance by daughters of

FGM makes manifest an ideal of

their mothers' example. In addition,

who want to

cultural beauty for parents

ensure the perception of their

daughters as desirable marriage partners.

To become activist

a "positive deviant" then

—means moving from

neutral knowledge from ficult psychological

pride to



that

shame

which opposition may

maneuver

takes

is,

to

become an

to

an emotionally

But

this dif-

enormous courage. At

risk are

follow.

community and her self-esteem. In diasFadumo skirmish on two fronts, with their own people and with their host society. Hence, Fadumo reacts with hostility to the man on the talk show when he mentions "mutilation." Like many victims of FGM addressing the "West," Fadumo refusa person's reputation in a

pora, activists like

es to

be seen

the talk for.

8

as a "mutilated" cripple,

show

At Fadumo's

first

which

She

participant's stance.

is

public appearance for

FORWARD,

an exhibition of Nigerian paintings against municipal Ministry of Health, the

from another

women tell

the

NGO,

critical

FGM

in

in

spoken opening

Munich's

tone of Western speakers

seemingly without noting the pressures on

to accept genital surgery, allies to

what she senses

also rejects being

makes Fadumo

lose patience

hold their tongues. Thus the task of fighting

and

FGM

challenges activists to convince policy-makers and foundations that

an alarming public health menace deserves to be met with impressive

sums

same time

for research, prevention,

these activists

and health care

must never

facilities.

At the

violate the dignity of victims.

Fortunately, international instruments bearing the impeccable

stamp of African authorship codify and thereby propagate an understanding of "female circumcision" fore, as a practice that

as

mutilation and, there-

should be addressed with urgency and funds.

These include the Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Africa.

Adopted by the African Union

graph B

calls for "prohibition,

through

176

in

Women

2003, Article

legislative

5,

in

para-

measures backed

9 by sanctions, of all forms of female genital mutilation."

the

UN

Similarly,

Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against

Women acknowledges the need to eliminate FGM. Article 2 states: women

"Violence against

not be limited to tional practices

(a)

.

.

.

be understood to encompass, but

shall

female genital mutilation and other tradi-

harmful to

women"

(Sen,

et. al.

the U.S. Congress also passed a law against

1993). In 1996,

FGM,

as

have the

majority of African and Western nations with relevant immigrant

populations If,

(Rahman and Toubia 2000).

then, significant constituencies support abolition,

the need to discuss terminology?

call it" derives in

accidental circumstance, the brusque tone

coined the term

Hosken

late

and

part

and male-bashing behind

the

first

end excision her

life's

on

work.

who

vocal Western femi-

act tirelessly against the practice.

edited, carried reports

from an

Fran Hosken (1920-2006),

"FGM." Hosken was

nist to speak, write,

the struggle to

of the

then

not a distraction from central

Is it

concerns? Controversy about "what to

early abolition efforts

why

WIN News,

She made

a quarterly

FGM in every issue from

2003. Hosken also produced and distributed a teaching

1975 to

tool, the

Childbirth Picture Book (2000), and in 1979 was keynote speaker at

the

first

on

international conference

Sudan with mainly African

FGM

participation.

The Hosken Report (1993), continues

held in Khartoum,

Her encyclopedic work,

to be cited frequently.

The problems with Hosken's initiative, however, surfaced in an explosive way at the 1980 UN Mid-Decade for Women Conference in Copenhagen. As the Boston Globe phrased

it,

"sharp-

tongued and headstrong," Hosken was "accused by anthropologists of committing cultural genocide by criticizing Africans for counte-

nancing female circumcision. She was undeterred by such

criti-

cism, [however], having visited hospitals where the practice was

not only routine, but subsidized by U.S. aid" (Kahn 2006).

Hosken protested tion of also

this link

women's and

girls'

between U.S. taxpayers and the

human

viola-

rights. In the late seventies,

she

wrote to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the

United Nation's Educational,

Scientific,

177

and Cultural Organ iza-

(UNESCO), and

tion

the

World Health Organization (WHO),

asking these influential institutions what they were doing to stop the practice.

work

Her

actions

had

impact on organizing

a significant

Germany.

in

As Germany's leading

WHO,

UNICEF,

Fadumo

activist today,

cooperates with

the Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit

(Society for Technical Cooperation), a technical

man Development Agency

arm of

the Ger-

that provides international aid,

and

other governmental agencies. Unlike the deaf ear these institutions

turned to Hosken's pleas in the 1970s, eradication efforts to celebrate

March

requested that

8,

have become involved in

all

Fadumo to speak. For instance, International Women's Day, UNICEF

and often

invite

Fadumo come

to Zurich for a week's campaigning,

including Swiss television appearances, and then attend a major

conference in Berlin's Friedrichpalast opened by Chancellor Angela

Merkel on

May

15,

German

wife of

2006. Participants included Eva Luise Kohler,

President Horst Kohler,

who

is

patron of the

INTEGRA that unites twenty German antiFGM nongovernmental organizations, and UNICEF international umbrella organization

ambassador Vanessa Redgrave. Fadumo tria's

Minister for Health and

is

also in

touch with Aus-

Women, Maria

Rauch-Kallat,

presendy chairing the European Union Council. The two are prepared to reintroduce the issue in Brussels.

To

address the next generation of immigrants and their Euro-

pean peers, the European Union has already allocated funding several projects

managed by EuroNet

both sexes under the for "Instruments to

the

word

"idil"

DAPHNE

In

in

young people

programs IDIL

1

"

of

— an acronym

Develop the Integrity of Lasses." Fortuitously

means

"intact" in Somali.

(www.eu-idil.org), in six European

FGM

for girls or

for

From 2001-2003 IDIL

countries, attempted to stop

immigrant communities by targeting youth."

Denmark,

for example,

Women's Association (SWOD)

Ambara Hashi Nur of in partnership

the Somali

with the Federation of

Somali Associations (FSAN, the Netherlands) and the Islington Training Network (ITN, UK), ran "IFT

178

I

IN"

—Somali

for "enlight-

enment." African

recruited in schools or located through the

girls,

recommendations of parents, counselors, or

met on

religious leaders,

Fridays to cook, try on make-up, listen to music. But counselors also raised issues

of health and beauty that led to debates on

SWOD

inal to

is

view each other to

which means

elicit stories

of success.

The

participants inter-

theory proposes that

positive experiences will build the confidence of girls to

oppose parents and community:

Theater professionals polished the

which

participants acted before

that

is,

FORWARD-Germany's

girls' stories

mothers

them

community audiences. Both

of FGM.

of tradition, to

on

n.d.).

"Unlike

their ethnicity], expatriate girls, lacking

with ambivalence to media distor-

"contemporaries' pride in themselves and their

avers, "enables

criticize

them

and improve

it"

to single out isolated aspects

(Levin 2005, 290).

the aim of ameliorating harmful customs, as well as soft-

ening the pain occasioned African culture,

when German schoolmates

FORWARD-Germany

gin, ages 14 to 22, to

spend

several

invites girls

weekends

and German counselors, the teens cook,

and watch videos on be a black

girl in a

demand more for

DVD

awarded the Grafin zu

director, Dr. Asili Barre-Dirie explains:

Asili's

background," she

li

a

who grew up before exile in a proud culture that taught

self-esteem [based

With

project,

girls'

cultural confidence, often react tions"

into stage plays in

Rights prize in 2002, has similar confidence-building

As managing

aims. their

Human

and thus enable

to stop infibulation.

and a comic book have been produced (Dariatou,

Solms

Orig-

the use of empowerment tools such as forum-the-

ater as well as "appreciative inquiry,"

them

FGM.

improved

criticize

of Somali

together.

ori-

With Soma-

hike, dance, perform,

FGM. They

also talk

about "what

white world,

criticize

male family members,

it's

like to

personal freedom, ask for sex education, and wish relations

with older

women

in the family" (Levin

2005, 290-291). Fadumo's figurative offspring, these immigrant daughters are becoming the avant-garde of change.

Tobe Levin June 2006

Waltham, Massachusetts and Frankfurt, Germany

179

NOTES 1

er

At a book signing

.

on February

Day"

2005,

11,

again in performance with Alice Schwarz"International Zero Tolerance to

retold her infibulation story

performed

is

at every reading (see

Schuhler 2005).

cutter,

but often, the victims themselves apply

the metaphor. In L'excisee by Evelyne Accad (1982), Mutilee by

many

excisor appears as a sorceress.

social

and of Walker

worker

as

The

Not only the

Fadumo

is

practitioner's eyesight

can

.

.

.

as a psychiatric

frequently in doubt.

is

and scratching, Edna Adan Ismail flesh.

told

And

me

that

another

tes-

Nura Abdi's:

When my and

working

hear the knifes tearing of her

still

turn came,

[but] that didn't help at

crate

Imagination (1999b).

activist,

larynx but also the ears are assaulted by these operations. Just

writes about scraping

sixty years later, she

timony

in Black

FORWARD

Kenya, describes a case in which the excisor was almost blind

in

(Levin 2003, 289). 4.

Germany

in

Dr. Muthoni Mathai,

3.

Khady (2005) and

FGM, as well as innumerable factual accounts, the See my analysis of Accad in Comparative American

on

other fictional works

Studies (2003)

FGM

by reading aloud from her

not innocent: Alice Walker, an "outsider," was criticized above

is

"demonization" of the

for her

all else

the story

fact,

This detail

2.

Munich and

FORWARD'S

Fadumo

in Frankfurt,

memoir. In

in at

sat

me down on

[When] the

halaleiso

.

burst into tears [and] screamed,

I

They grabbed me, dragged me

all. it.

.

.

"I

screamed, kicked, and was held

I

started to cut, there

was

a

don't want to!"

empty orange

to the

sound

down on

like

sharp scratching

or ripping, like knifing a burlap sack or heavy-meshed towel. ...

shock that no scream came out.

No

dous scratching jack-hammered

all sides.

I

was

in

such

matter what they cut, every time that horren-

my

in

ear,

louder than

all

the [attending

women's] screams. But the worst was yet to come ... I

was

It

tried to

as if with all

I

moaned, maybe

was spared the gag. And then

I

Before they began to bind

healing.

It felt like

"critical

change

they sew you up.

wholly conscious,

I

was being slaughtered.

I

gasped for breath. But

I

six

I

I

my

I

fainted.

me

up,

I

came

to. It

was being held over an open

fainted. (See

grown-up

didn't scream, for

was

a

new

pain this time, the

translation

to speed

up

fire.

Abdi and Linder 2003)

For further details on the movement against male circumcision see

NOCIRC 6.

when

.

rubbing herbs on the fresh wound. These herbs are supposed

Again 5.

.

defend myself, but what can a four year old do against

women? Maybe

halaleiso

.

my senses,

(http://www.nocirc.org/).

In response to this sort of social pressure, Gerry Mackie offers a theory of

mass": convince a large enough percentage in the same marriage pool to its

preferences simultaneously and one important argument

husband, a

woman must

be cut

— becomes 180

invalid.



Mackie draws

a

that to get a

convincing

.

between conditions permitting the sudden end to foot-binding

parallel

1,000 years, changed in a single generation successful campaigns.

These include



to lessons

societies,



after

drawn from TOSTAN's

public renunciation, and a critical

mass within the marriage pool. 7.

Anthropologists' accounts confirm that

by comparing

to settle disputes

week you can

everyone see 8.

in

you sharmuuto, you compete

right there,

by taking off your underpants and spreading your

are,

if you are a

and Boddy 2004,

virgin or not" (Barnes

After running continuously from February

Germany and

legs

.

.

When

.

no matter and

letting

76).

2000 through February 2006

elsewhere in Europe, the exhibition opened in the

on 6 April 2006. Catalogues

deis University

girls

For instance, "several times a

see girls in a crowd, checking each other's circumcisions.

a girl your age or older calls

where you

not unusual for Somali

it is

their genital scars.

are available

USA at

Bran-

from Tobe Levin,

[email protected] 9.

Protocol to the African Charter on

Rights of Women in Africa, adopted by the bly of the Union,

Maputo, CAB/LEG/66.6

Nov. 25, 2005. See the African 10.

Human

and Peoples' Rights on the Session of the Assem-

[Sept. 13, 2000]; entered into force

Rights

Law Journal 2001

Administered by the Centro Piemontese di Studi Africani in Torino,

IDIL covered Germany.

projects in Italy, Spain,

DAPHNE

is

a

dren and to protect the victims in 11. In

its

the Netherlands,

and

fight violence against

and

a decision

women and

of

chil-

risk groups.

Final Report on Female Genital Mutilation (2001), the European

Parliament Committee on

about 270,000

Denmark, Belgium,

European Community program based on

the European Parliament to prevent

home

Human

2nd Ordinary

women

Women's

Rights and Equal Opportunities estimates

Europe.

sufferers or girls "at risk" in

to 30,000, Italy to 28,000,

and Germany

to

Of these,

the

UK

is

20,000 (Africa Women's

Organization, 4). Sweden, Denmark, Spain and, of course, France also host considerable affected populations.

WORKS CITED Abdi, Nura and Leo Linder. 2003. Trdnen im Sand. Bergisch-Gladback: Verlags-

gruppe Lubbe. Excerpted

as

"Watering the Dunes with Tears." Trans. Tobe

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FORWARD-GERMANY e.V. Foundation for Women's Health, Research and

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