I'M OFTEN ASKED WHO WAS MY FAVORITE RADIO GUEST OF ALL TIME? THIS STORY TELLS OF ONE OF THEM.
A few years ago I invited a guest on my radio show to talk about her book Dessert Flower, the author Waris Dirie. She turned out to be one of my favorite guests of all time and I would like to relate her story on my blog to you, that is, if you haven’t read her book already. Waris Dirie was born into a nomad family living in the Somali desert near the border to Ethiopia in 1965. At the tender age of five, she was forced to undergo the inhuman and extremely dangerous procedure of female genital mutilation. She was laid down by her mother on a flat rock, then an elderly woman proceeded to circumcise her using a dirty razorblade!
This horrible tradition is still practiced in many countries around the world today including UK by Moslems. According to records kept by the United Nations more than 8000 girls become victims of this heinous crime every day!!!!
At the age of 13, her father agreed a deal for a couple of camels for young Waris to marry a man who was old enough to be her grandfather. The strong willed Semolin had no intention to stay with this old man and fled to the capital Mogadishu where she new a sympathetic uncle lived. Eventually he agreed, for her safety, to send her to London. I remember smiling when she told me that when she saw her first white man on the plane to UK she thought he was a black man with a skin disorder.
Arriving in a snow covered UK all she had on was a light dress and a pair of plastic sandals (one she lost after stepping off the plane) Her uncle initially found her employment as a housemaid at the Somali Embassy where she told me she first saw Iman , David Bowie’s wife. She didn’t like her and says Inman’s claims of her past life in Somali are suspect at the least. After leaving the embassy she found work at a McDonald’s.
Now 18 she was spotted by one of Britain’s leading fashion photographers, Terence Donovan, who thought she would be the perfect model. I remember laughing when she related her experience during her first shoot with Donovan when he told her to take her top off she ran out of his studio after delivering a stream of unprintable words!!!!. But her and Donovan became quick friends after that shaky start and it wasn’t long before became an international model/ celebrity demanding huge fees and making the front cover of Vogue She was given a part in a James Bond epic, the blockbuster “The Living Daylights”, starring Timothy Dalton as 007.
In 1996 the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, appointed Waris Dirie a UN Special Ambassador for the elimination of Female Genital Mutilation. She has traveled the world extensively for the UN, participated in numerous conferences on the subject, met with national leaders, Nobel Prize-winners, international stars, gaining support for this important issue as well as generating large donations for the UN.
In 1997 Harper Collins in New York published Waris Dirie’s biography “Desert Flower”. The book quickly became an international bestseller. In the meantime the book has been published in 65 licensed editions, was number 1 on the bestseller lists in many countries (in Germany, for example, the book stayed in the Top Ten list of best-selling books published in the magazine ‘Der Spiegel’ for a total of 120 weeks) and has sold more than 11 million copies worldwide.
In 2002 she the extraordinary woman founded her own foundation, named Waris Dirie Foundation, based in Vienna/Austria, to support her work as a campaigner against FGM. In 2010, the Foundation was re-named “Desert Flower Foundation” to reflect the broader approach to addressing Female Genital Mutilation though economic projects in Africa.
Waris Dirie has received many prestigious prizes and awards for her work and books, such as the “Women’s World Award” by President Mikhail Gorbachev. In 2007 the French President Nicolas Sarkozy presented her with the “Chévalier de la Légion d’Honneur”. The ‘World Demographic Association’ nominated her as the first woman for the ‘Prix de la Gènèration’ and the ‘Martin Buber Foundation’ nominated her as the first woman for the ‘Martin Buber Gold Medal’.
In March 2008 producer and Oscar-winner Peter Hermann (“Nowhere in Africa”) commenced with the shooting of “Desert Flower” Waris Dirie served as associate producer for the film.
If you haven’t read the Book Desert Flower I beg you to do so Its a page turner you just can’t put down until you’ve fished the last page.
I still keep in touch with Waris, one of the most amazing guests I’ve ever had on my show.
For those of you who want to know more about FGM please read this: