AS part of activities to mark the centenary anniversary of the International Women’s Day (IWD) and honour African women for their resilience and contributions to the development of the continent, Okhma Global presents Desert Flower.
The film is the adapted autobiography of Waris Dire (Liya Kebede); an African, who overcame the trauma of female circumcision at five and early marriage at 13 to become a famous New York City supermodel and United Nations Special Ambassador of Peace and Security.
Desert Flower tells the story of how the young lady at 13 finds out that her father has decided to marry her off as fourth wife to a 60-year-old man. She did not only rejects the marriage, but runs away from the desert camp of her nomadic family.
Throwing caution to the winds and in desperation to run to a haven, she makes her way through the rocky Somali desert to the capital city Mogadishu, where her mother’s family lives.
Completely exhausted with ragged clothes, sore feet, the young girl overcomes the dangers of the desert, including rape by benefactors who drives her in a lorry to the chaotic Somali capital.
To protect the fleeing young woman, her aunty and grandmother sent her to London to live with a distant relative, who works for the Somali Embassy, as a maid; where she spent her adolescent years in illiteracy.
With the breakout of civil war in Somali and the Embassy shut down, Waris, now older, is faced with the threat of deportation and so decides to run into the city, where she meets Marilyn, a sales assistant, who becomes her most trusted friend. As the friendship deepens Waris reveals to Marilyn, she was circumcised at five years and then sown up.
She explains, it’s a common tradition in her country, which according to belief, is meant to guarantee the purity of a woman, as the husband must be the first to open (cohabit) with her. With Marilyn’s help, Waris decides to have an operation to correct the wrong done on her genital.
While working as a cleaner in a restaurant, the indigent and naïve Waris attracts the attention of the famous fashion photographer, Terry Donaldson and after some initial hesitation agrees to let him take her pictures — including semi-nude postures. From the on, her life changed for good, as Donaldson introduces her to the fashion world and Lucinda, a fashion agent, who smells a lucrative model potential in her.
But then, it quickly comes out that Waris is living illegally in England, because she didn’t apply for a residence permit after the Embassy was closed. To keep working as a model and be able to travel, she gets a false identity papers with the help of Pushpa. The plan however fails with her ﬁrst ﬂight to Paris.
At the airport, she was arrested and taken into custody pending deportation. Lucinda pays the bail for her release, but demands, she ‘works back’ her debt.
Desperate because of her illegal status, Waris accepts the offer of the boarding house caretaker Neil to marry her. Neil’s motives were in no way as altruistic as he had led Waris to believe. He had fallen in love with her from the moment he ﬁrst laid eyes on her — a love that Waris could not return despite all her gratitude. She is dreaming of another man, the New Yorker Harold, whom she had met at a disco with Marilyn. Since meeting him, she can’t get him out of her head.
Neil’s constant threatens to cohabite with Waris becomes worsened by the early morning control visits of the immigration ofﬁce. Finally, Waris gets the residency permit she had been longing for.
Armed with this document, she starts work as a model abroad and begins to pay back her debts to Lucinda. From then on, things begin to turn around at a fast pace: she becomes an international sought-after model.
Going to New York for work, Waris decides to look up Harold, whose address she has been carrying like a treasure since the day they met in London. But when she ﬁnds him, he is not alone. He’s living with a woman. Sad and deeply disappointed, Waris wanders aimlessly through the streets of New York reproaching herself for her silly ideas.
Realising, she can’t escape the wounds of her past or ignore her fate, despite her success; Waris remains burdened by a violent childhood secret. At the height of her career, she reveals to the world through an interview with Marie Claire magazine that she was a victim of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
Her story unleashes a wave of sympathy and controversy that made the United Nations (UN) to invite her to speak against this archaic and barbaric practiced in many countries across the globe.
The film exposes the struggle of a naïve rural girl, who escaping from brutish cultural practice, rose from obscurity to stardom and being in the forefront of the fight against such cultural practices across the globe.