My Meeting with The Girl With Three Legs

Soraya Miré is a beautiful and talented Somali feminist, a filmmaker, and the author of a new and daring memoir titled The Girl With Three Legs. Soraya lives in Los Angeles and she has the Hollywood-speak down pat. Everyone is “darling,” and “honey,” things are “awesome.” But, through it all, one can still see the Somali African in her. She greets people on the street, café waiters—mere strangers—with warmth and humor, with an easy familiarity, just as if they were clan or tribal members. “What a funny dog! And how are you today?” She wears a strong Biblical fragrance: Frank Incense, a “spiritual body oil,” which I imagine the Queen of Sheba might have worn on her visit with King Solomon. She keeps her main stash in a jeweled, French-African perfume bottle.

Soraya is in the midst of a fifteen city book tour in both the United States and Canada. At a time when travel is far from easy, she cheerfully rises before dawn to catch one early morning flight after another. Soraya patiently sits on the tarmac for hours. A storm delayed her flight to NYC but still, she came, even after she missed her bookstore reading. Soraya flew clear across the country for only two days just to spend some time with me. And, when she left, she flew clear across the country again, this time to Seattle.

Soraya and I first met in Los Angeles many years ago. When her publisher (who is my publisher, too) sent me her manuscript, I literally could not put the book down. And trust me: I have read most of the books on this subject beginning with Fran Hosken’s 1979 The Hosken Report, Nawal al-Sadawi’s work from 1960 right on through the 21stcentury, Alice Walker’s Warrior Marks: Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Blinding of Women (1996), Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel, etc.

Still, Miré’s is a uniquely riveting read. She is a woman who has turned her own suffering into a brave campaign to help other women who have also been genitally mutilated in the Arab, Muslim, and African worlds. Miré is unstoppable. She does not spare anyone: not herself, not her family, not her culture, which persists in traumatizing and torturing its girls in the name of family purity. Miré carefully, personally, exposes how girls are genitally mutilated, usually without anesthesia, always at the insistence of their mothers and/or grandmothers. And she describes exactly how this mutilation leads to lifelong suffering.

Unlike male circumcision, such female genital mutilation means that girls often cannot urinate or menstruate properly. Scar tissue and the sewn-shut vagina lead to agony and serious medical problems. Then, their wedding night becomes a veritable torture chamber as do all subsequent childbirths. (Unbelievably, the post-partum mothers are sewn right back up.) Many develop horrendous fistulas (they lose control of both urination and defecation) and are therefore rejected by the very families who caused this great misery. Miré writes about her own experience of all this—and about her arranged marriage to her first cousin which she fled. (“Today? The man is a drug addict. He has never found a life. And, he never remarried.”)

Miré refuses to give up on—or to stop loving her--family and her people. She tries hard to visualize how her mother was also mutilated before her and also forced into arranged marriages. She shows us how “crazy” women become (hysterical, depressed, anxious, “wild”); and that such torture, especially at the hands of other women, beginning with one’s own mother, can make someone mistrust the universe forever after. But Miré also shows us that suffering can also lead to strength and to truth-telling.

Miré finally has had her mutilation surgically reversed and embarks on a fearless course of sex therapy and psychotherapy. In all innocence, she asks questions that would make the proverbial sailor blush. And she writes about it all.

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