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Desert Flower

The Extraordinary Journey Of A Desert Nomad

Desert Flower by Waris Dirie
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Waris Dirie leads a double life -- by day, she is an international supermodel and human rights ambassador for the United Nations; by night, she dreams of the simplicity of life in her native Somalia and the family she was forced to leave behind. Desert Flower, her intimate and inspiring memoir, is a must-read for anyone who has ever wondered about the beauty of African life, the chaotic existence of a supermodel, or the joys of new motherhood.

Waris was born into a traditional Somali family, desert nomads who engaged in such ancient and antiquated customs as genital mutilation and arranged marriage. At twelve, she fled an arranged marriage to an old man and traveled alone across the dangerous Somali desert to Mogadishu -- the first leg of an emotional journey that would take her to London as a house servant, around the world as a fashion model, and eventually to America, where she would find peace in motherhood and humanitarian work for the U.N.

Today, as Special Ambassador for the U.N., she travels the world speaking out against the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation, promoting women's reproductive rights, and educating people about the Africa she fled -- but still deeply loves.

Desert Flower will be published simultaneously in eleven languages throughout the world and is currently being produced as a feature film by Rocket Pictures UK.

HarperCollins; June 2009
240 pages; ISBN 9780061952272
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Title: Desert Flower
Author: Waris Dirie; Cathleen Miller

Chapter One

Running Away

A slight sound woke me, and when I opened my eyes, I was staring into the face of a lion. Riveted awake, my eyes stretched wide -- very wide -- as if to expand enough to contain the animal in front of me. I tried to stand up, but I hadn't eaten for several days, so my weak legs wobbled and folded beneath me. Collapsing, I slumped back against the tree where I had been resting, sheltered from the African desert sun that becomes so merciless at noon. I quietly leaned my head back and closed my eyes, and felt the rough bark of the tree pressing into my skull. The lion was so near I could smell his musty scent in the hot air. I spoke to Allah: "It's the end for me, my God. Please take me now."

My long journey across the desert had come to an end. I had no protection, no weapon. Nor the strength to run. Even under the best of circumstances, I knew I couldn't beat the lion up the tree, because like all cats, lions with their strong claws are excellent climbers. By the time I got halfway up -- Boom -- one swipe and I'd be gone. Without any fear I opened my eyes again and said to the lion, "Come and get me. I'm ready for you."

He was a beautiful male with a golden mane and a long tail switching back and forth to flick away flies. He was five or six years old, young and healthy. I knew he could crush me instantly; he was the king. All my life I'd watched those paws take down wildebeest and zebras weighing hundreds of pounds more than me.

The lion stared at me and slowly blinked his honey-colored eyes. My brown eyes stared back, locked on his. He looked away. "Go on. Take me now." He looked at me again, then looked away. He licked his lips and sat down on his haunches. Then the lion rose and paced back and forth in front of me, sexily, elegantly. Finally, he turned and walked away, no doubt deciding that I had so little flesh on my bones, I wasn't worth eating. He strode across the desert until his tawny-colored fur was lost against the sand.

When I realized he was not going to kill me, I gave no sigh of relief, because I hadn't been afraid. I'd been ready to die. But evidently God, who has always been my best friend, had something else planned, some reason to keep me alive. I said, "What is it? Take me -- direct me," and struggled to my feet.

This nightmare journey began because I was running away from my father. I was about thirteen at the time, and living with my family, a tribe of nomads in the Somalian desert, when my father announced he had arranged my marriage to an old man. Knowing I had to act fast or suddenly one day my new husband would come to get me, I told my mother I wanted to run away. My plan was to find my aunt, my mother's sister, who lived in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. Of course I had never been to Mogadishuor any other city for that matter. Nor had I ever met my aunt. But with the optimism of a child, I felt somehow things would magically work out.

While my father and the rest of the family were still sleeping, my mother woke me and said, "Go now." I looked around for something to grab, something to take, but there was nothing, no bottle of water, no jar of milk, no basket of food. So, barefoot, and wearing only a scarf draped around me, I ran off into the black desert night.

I didn't know which direction led to Mogadishu, so I just ran. Slowly at first, because I couldn't see; I stumbled along, tripping over roots. Finally, I decided to just sit down because snakes are everywhere in Africa, and I was terrified of snakes. Each root I stepped on I imagined to be the back of a spitting cobra. I sat watching the sky gradually lighten. Even before the sun came up -- whoosh -- I was off like a gazelle. I ran and 1 ran and I ran for hours.

By midday I'd traveled deep into the red sand, and deep into my own thoughts. Where in the hell was I going? I wondered. I didn't even know what direction I was heading in. The landscape stretched on to eternity, the sand broken only occasionally by an acacia or thorn tree; I could see for miles and miles. Hungry, thirsty, and tired, I slowed down and walked. Strolling along in a bored daze, I wondered where my new life would take me. What was going to happen next?

As I pondered these questions, I thought I heard a voice: "W-a-r-i-s...W-a-r-i-s..." My father was calling me! Whipping around in circles, I looked for him, but saw no one. Maybe I was imagining things, I thought. "W-a-r-i-s...W-a-r-i-s..." the voice echoed all around me. The tone was pleading, but I was frightened all the same. If he caught me, he would surely take me back and make me marry that man, and probably beat me besides. I was not hearing things; it was my father, and he was getting closer. In earnest now, I started to run as fast as I could. Even though I had gotten a head start of several hours, Papa had caught up with me. As I later realized, he'd tracked me down by following my footprints through the sand.

My father was too old to catch me-so I had thought-because I was young and fast. To my childish thinking, he was an old man....