PERREAULT Magazine January 2014 - Page 47

Each one of us decided to continue with our work to end the practice of female genital mutilation. I thought the storm had passed, and I focused on other things.

Then CNN called for an interview. I was accused of being among the Americans who put an African man in jail for ten years. My words were closely scrutinized, and some went so far as to analyze these simple lines: “When I saw that child, I saw myself. I could see the pain in her eyes.”

The Somalis did what they know best, numb themselves with fanaticism, using Islam like an anesthetic from the pain within, calling anyone who raises a dissenting voice Shaitan, or devil. My response to those who wished I would vanish from the planet was to say Khalid Adem deserved life in prison for violating his daughter’s human rights.

Many do not want to hear or understand why our mothers and grandmothers put our bodies through the mutilating ritual and watched us become nothing more than the pleasurable commodity of men. By the grace of God, we, the survivors of female genital mutilation, know how to use our pain to bring this human rights violation to an end.

Today, we are the generations that recognize the deep wound, the private pain, because we live with the anguish of what has been done to us and our loved ones. Together, we certainly can make a difference. We will continue to transform our pain and suffering by bringing this horrendous act of cultural violence, which I call the ultimate child abuse, to an end.

My activism on this issue has not only brought about threats to my safety, but it has been the cause of estrangement with many of my family members, especially with my mother. Before writing this memoir, I hadn’t spoken to Mother since March 2007, when the Somalis told my sister Amal I was going to be gunned down while walking the streets of Boston. I was on my way to give a lecture at Lesley College in Cambridge.

But to write my story, I had to speak with her. I needed to ask Mother questions about my ex-husband, cousin Yusuf, and I called her.

“Salaama, Mother,” I greeted her when she came to the phone.

“I can’t speak with you,” she replied.

“Why not?”

“I heard you’re putting people in jail . . . I don’t want to say anything.”

“Who did I put in jail?”

“That Ethiopian father—ten years!”

“Mother, did Yusuf lose his mind when I ran away from him?”

“He became an alcoholic, but I remember rescuing you before you escaped.”

“No . . .”

“What was that woman’s name at the Geneva embassy who was helping you?”

“Mother, you didn’t rescue me. You came too late.”

“All the abuse happened before I got to Geneva!”

“No, Mother, you were sitting in the guest room, listening to my anguish. Didn’t you hear me that first night?”

“What do you want?”

“I want to tell the truth . . . I have been writing a book. And it will not smell like a cleanup.”

“A cleanup?”

“Yes. It will not be filled with pretty pictures retelling the same story. Do you want to hear?”

I have known two kinds of pain. The first, a stabbing between my legs; the second, reliving it to tell my story. The latter is for the highest good, but it is painful and challenging. The other one is destructive. If I were writing this book to wage war and to hurt those people I care about, it would be entirely different. I’m doing it to free myself and to heal a deep and private wound. I choose to speak the truth as I know it. Anything I can do to shed light on my life is going to shed light on the global issue of female genital mutilation. I know I must bring more healing and understanding to this crucial human rights issue.

As for my mother, she has the choice and the right to further alienate me. She has decided never to make atonement. She has refused to hear anything I have to say on this harmful issue or my arranged marriage to my cousin Yusuf. But she can no longer stop me from having my catharsis by releasing my experience into the world, so that I can have a life.

The burden of shame will no longer have a grip on my heart. I have to tell my story, and if it gets in the way of Mother’s reality, that will be something she needs to work on for herself.

Reprinted with permission from

The Girl with Three Legs: A Memoir by Soraya Miré.

Published by Lawrence Hill Books (distributed by IPG). Available in bookstores everywhere in October 2011.

Perreault Magazine / January, 2014 47