Not my Daughter

Oct 4, 2022 | Blog, News | 0 comments

A scream echoed through the night. Waris winced in pain as a wave of contractions hit her: the first of many. Despite it being the middle of the night, the refugee camp bustled with life. Children ran barefoot between the narrow alleyways, the sound of their laughter seeming to trail behind them. Men huddled together listening to a live report of the evening’s soccer game, which played loudly from a radio placed in the centre of them. A cheer would erupt each time a goal was scored and the chatter of women sounded over them. Through the chaos, a few stray dogs howled through the night and the soft sound of waves gently crashed against the shore. Stars scattered across the sky and an eerie light from a crescent moon filtered through the dimly lit alleyways.

Clutching her swollen belly, she stumbled towards the opening of her tent, but another wave of contractions followed – more painful than the last. Her legs gave in and a cry escaped her lips. Not one of pain, but of a woman who endured so much hurt and betrayal building up to that moment. The fact that she was alive was a testament to what she had gone through. Her mother once told her that giving birth was not as painful as it was made out to be, that she would not feel a thing. Her mother lied. With all the strength she could muster, Waris got up again. Her dirac, still damp, draped over her belly, seemingly emphasizing its bulge. She only had one thing on her mind: to have this baby, or die trying.

I just have to get to the door.

It was in her sight, but the pain and the effort weakened her. She lived alone. Her tent was situated in the heart of the camp. The area was crowded, and with new refugees clocking in almost every day, there was virtually little room to accommodate everyone, putting a lot of pressure on the resources available. Although the WHO made efforts to supply the camp with medical supplies and volunteers, it was never enough. Waris did not have a family either. The few belongings she had were arranged neatly by her bedside: a comb, three hijabs, few pieces of jewelry, her childhood photographs and a candle. Her blanket and shawl lay in a tangled mess on her mattress on the floor. They did little to keep out the cold.

Just when she thought all hope was lost, Taban, her young Sudanese neighbour, rushed to her side. He wrapped her arm around his shoulder and gently put his arm around her waist. Waris leaned her weight on him and let out a sigh of relief as she looked him in the eye.

“Thank you.”

His expression softened. To think that he was staring in the eyes of a woman who was a stranger months ago was hard to believe. She was the same woman with whom he had endured the treacherous journey across the Atlantic and Western Mediterranean to Europe in search of peace. The same deep-brown-eyes that he fell for.

“Let’s hurry.”

With only the light of the moon to guide them, the two hurried through the crowded streets. Tents were neatly aligned on either side of them and specks of gravel kicked at their heels. Still clutching her belly, Waris tried her best to keep up with Taban as he weaved their way to the medical tent, narrowly avoiding stepping on human faeces in the middle of the path. Waris could not have been more relieved to see the makeshift clinic. When the medical staff finally noticed the two figures approaching them, Waris had already collapsed three times and Taban had to carry her the rest of the way.

Flanked by medical staff and volunteers, she was led inside and laid on a gurney. Taban stood by her side and gave her hand a gentle squeeze. The news of Waris’ condition spread through the camp. Every now and then, Taban would catch the head of a curious child poking through the flaps, desperate to get a peek. Through teary eyes, Waris could not help but notice the look of shock and horror on the medical staff’s faces as she spread her legs. The stitches ran from the tip to the base of her femininity, or what was left of it, leaving a space that could only be described as the size of a button. Everything else had been sealed up and cut off.

Before they could think of how they were going to deliver the baby, Waris screamed and pained sobs followed. Her contractions were getting stronger and becoming more frequent. One of the nurses frantically rummaged through the medicine cabinets with hopes of finding morphine but the bottle was empty. Her screams grew louder and neither she nor they knew how to make the birth any easier. Then it occurred to her. As the saying went: desperate times call for desperate measures.

“Cut me.”

The tone in which the demand was issued brought everyone to a standstill.

“It’s the only way. Cut me,” she said in between sobs.

Her voice was hoarse from screaming, but that did not weaken her resolve. Soon, preparations were under way for the impromptu operations. Defibulation is a simple procedure, but unmedicated, that only complicates matters. Waris knew the implications of her decision but her mind was made up.

The scalpel hovered uneasily in the doctor’s hand.

“Do it!”

She turned to look at Taban, who dutifully stood by her side

“Promise me… you won’t let go of my hand….”

And as soon as the knife touched her skin, the memories came flooding back.

She was only 8 years old when it happened. Near the coast of Mogadishu, the city’s marketplace bustled with life. It was barely midday but the sun shone with great intensity. Women hurried from stall to stall with hopes of finding last minute ingredients before lunchtime, and men huddled by the docks hauling nets of freshly caught fish. Waris wondered why her mother sent her there to buy more eggs. Just the other day, father had come home with a basket full of them. Nonetheless, like the obedient child she was, Waris did her mother’s bidding.  Only when she was home did she have the uncanny feeling that something was not quite right. She was led by her mother to the living room where she was greeted by all her aunts, female cousins, and a few of her mothers’ friends who’d often come over for tea, and on most occasions, gossip.  There was only one unfamiliar face in the room: an old man seated at the centre of the room. A daya.

Waris’ heart sank and she was filled with a sense of dread. She heard the stories. She knew the rumours but she never thought her turn would come. Her body began to tremble as she turned to face her mother and tears welled in her eyes.

“Grab her!”

She was in hysterics. Her legs flailed wildly as she was held down by her aunties. Maybe this was some form of punishment for something she had done. Waris confessed to everything she had done wrong. That she was the one who broke her mother’s teacup. That she dipped her hand in the sugar bowl. That she accidentally tore a hole in the curtains. Confessed to every little sin with hopes that her mother would come to her rescue, but her pleas were met with a sharp pain between her legs. That first cut was something she would not wish on her worst enemy. Searing pain shot through her body as the daya expertly cut his way through her femininity. From her labia to her clitoris, the daya removed the parts that were culturally considered unclean and with blood stained hands, he then stitched Waris up, leaving just enough room for her to pee.

Waris was never the same after that. Robbed of her innocence, the only thing she associated with that part of her was pain. The pain of walking. The agony of using the bathroom. She could not even look at herself in the mirror. For years she felt ashamed of her body. Unbeknownst to her, many Somali girls had felt the same way. Sex was an obstacle itself. An act meant to signify the uniting of two souls filled with love and lust only brought her discomfort. Amir tried to be gentle with her but the slow arching of her back, the soft moan that escaped her lips and her sharp intake of breath only seemed to stir him on. Each thrust would tug at the stitches and the pleasures were rare.

Fast forward 14 years, she found herself in a similar predicament, only this time, she did so willingly. Her cries were then replaced by those of the squirming little bundle in the doctor’s hands.

“It’s a girl!”

It was over, the fight for her daughter’s life was finally over. How she wished for Amir to see their little girl but he was long dead, shot by Al-Shabaab jihadists in Mogadishu, what later promoted Waris to seek asylum. How he would’ve marveled at her short black curls, her tiny fingers and toes and big hazel eyes.

“Xoriyo… her name is Xoriyo,” Waris took in a shaky breath before continuing, “it means ‘Freedom’.” From that moment, Waris felt she could rest easy knowing that her daughter would not have to go through what she experienced in her home country. Generations of women from her family had undergone the procedure, but with Xoriyo, she would put an end to the cycle.

She planted a soft kiss on Xoriyo’s forehead and Taban had kept his promise, his fingers gently entwined in hers, but the moment was ruined by the look of panic shared among the medical staff’s faces. Taban was the first to notice.

“What’s wrong?”

Blood seeped through the mattress and dripped onto the floor. A river of crimson. The source: the gaping hole left by Xoriyo’s arrival.

The scar tissue had barely healed and Xoriyo’s birth reopened old wounds. The doctors tried as hard as they could to stop the bleeding – bandages, towels, tissues, but to no avail. And Waris could feel herself slowly slipping away. The muffled sounds of the doctors’ and nurses’ desperate attempts to save her life faded into the background. She became paler by the second, but with the little of the strength she had left, she planted a final kiss on Xoriyo’s forehead, and still holding Tabans hand, she placed his palm on her cheek.

“Will you promise to never let go of her hand?” she implored in a breathy whisper.

“I promise.” Taban nearly choked on the words.

Her hold on Xoriyo began to slacken. The baby had no idea that her mother was slowly fading from existence. To Waris, Xoriyo’s cooing was like a gentle whisper, a lullaby putting her to an eternal slumber.

Sleep did not come easy for Taban that night. It was a bittersweet moment: a life was lost but a new life was just beginning. But for Taban, the loss of the woman he had come to love and was so close to calling his own gave him a heavy heart.

Xoriyo spent the first few months of her life in the medical tent under the watchful eye of the doctors and nurses there. Taban would visit her every day until the day he was permitted to take her home with him. Taban raised Xoriyo like she was his own daughter, which she was in a way. Xoriyo grew up to be a kind and bright little girl and on her 8th birthday, Taban had something special planned for her.

“I have a gift for you my desert flower”

That was the name he would call her in honour of her mothers’ memory: it was what Waris’ name translated to. He then handed her a small box. Inside it was a comb, 3 neatly folded hijabs, some jewelry and a few old photos. Xoriyo picked up one of the photos and carefully studied the little girl that stared back at her.

“Baba, who is this?”

A few days after Xoriyo was born, Taban went back to Waris’ tent and collected all of her belongings and put them away with hopes that one day, when Xoriyo was old enough, he would give them to her.

“That, my dear, is your mother. In fact, all these little trinkets were hers”

Xoriyos’ eyes went wide and then followed a torrent of questions. What was she like? What happened to her? Where was she from? What was her name? Where is she now? Taban only looked at her and smiled.

“Her name was Waris, and you, my dear, look just like her”

Taban brushed away a lock of hair from her face and gently took her hands in his.

“I promised your mother that I would never let go of your hand, and now, my desert flower, I make the same promise to you.”

Taban pulled her into a warm embrace and her little head rested on his shoulder.



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