Questions & AnswersWhy did you write the Girl with Three Legs?
A. I dedicated my life to end the torture of female genital mutilation (FGM) so that the darkened world could be a better place for children. I speak for those who have no voice, and writing the Girl with Three Legs helped me face my own deep and private wounds. Sharing my story allows me to show other FGM survivors that it is possible to heal and to face those private wounds. Writing this memoir taught me how to practice forgiveness and find joy in the midst of pain and confusion. I faced the scars of betrayal and forgave those cruel hands that left deep scars on my mind and body. I reclaimed my humanity, and writing this book became the medicine that healed my wounded soul.
Can you explain the title of the book?
A. A girl who didn’t go through the ritual of genital mutilation and still had her kintir (clitoris) carried a social stigma. It was believed that, if the kintir wasn’t cut, it would grow longer and the girl would have three legs. She would be ostracized by the community and, therefore, would bring shame to her family. My classmates wouldn’t touch or play with me because I wasn’t clean like them. I was called the "Girl with Three Legs." Before I was allowed to enter into the circle of womanhood, I had to become a grown-up and pass my body through the "fast sewing machine." I had no choice but to give the blood-thirsty ancestors my flesh and blood. Then, I was put on a shelf and became worthy of marriage.
Your father, a general under the military dictator and former Somali president Mohamed Siad Barre, objected to FGM. Why do you think your mother insisted the mutilation be performed?
A. Not only did Father witness the suffering of my sisters but he understood the backward cultural mindset and conformity in the face of violating a child’s bodily integrity. The institution of marriage is the focal point for mothers, and FGM allows them to prepare their daughters' future security. In my case, Mother was so worried about securing my worth and marriageability that she didn’t consider the unbearable pain she was inflicting on me. FGM is physically and psychologically traumatic to any child and, yet, we have surviving mothers, like my own, who refuse to acknowledge this cultural torture, let alone feel or address their own pain. They became branded lambs with sutured lips as they watched our bodies ripped open like curtains. They had no power to stop the actions of those cruel hands or condemn the violation of our human rights. To them, this reckless ritual, called a "rite of passage," was justified because the tradition must continue in order to preserve our virginity and, therefore, the family honor. It’s time to address the damage that is done to millions of women, along with the violation of their basic human rights. The atrocity must stop and we must do whatever it takes to bring an end to this ancient genital mutilation.
The Girl with Three Legs chronicles in heartrending details the strained relationship you have with your mother. You note in the book that you spoke with her briefly when you began writing your memoir. Have you reconciled at all or are you still estranged from her?
A. It’s true that I called Mother and tried my best to keep the lines of communication open, but, how long can I sit in meditation and hear Mother’s damaging words ring in my ears, “You will always be nothing to me!”? This time, I just couldn’t sit in a corner and allow the core of my being to shatter. I refused to remain a helpless child who needed her touch or hug. Because she’ll always be my mother, it’s important that I wish her good health. Before my father passed away, I made a promise to him that I regret. I told him all is forgiven and that I promised to always keep talking with Mother. Well, now in order for me to embrace my new, wholesome, and radiant life, I have closed the door. I hope Father will smile down on me from the full moon, knowing that I did what I could and now must do what I need to do to maintain my own health and wellbeing.
After you escaped the arranged marriage to your first cousin Yusuf, you fled to France. Once there, you underwent corrective genital surgery and began working with Nigel, a sex therapist. How did he aid your healing process?
A. Nigel was the first human being, an intelligent man, who saw me. I was no longer a body without a head. He helped me reconnect the broken pieces within myself. With me, he walked through those painful flashbacks and never let me fall again into the ring of fire. He showed me how to communicate with my new body and reclaim my humanity as a sexual being, without shame. Naked, I sat in front of the mirror and loved the person I was seeing. I said to my vulva, I promise no one will ever hurt or mistreat you as long as I remain conscious and awake. It felt good to be empowered and take back my power. I learned how to hold the light for other survivors and never let go, no matter what!
What do you think about activist groups or organizations that oppose the stigma of the word “Mutilation” and prefer to use the term FG cutting (FGC)?
A. The unthinkable pain, trauma, and damage done to our bodies and minds by female genital mutilation makes that terminology accurate. However, with respect to those women who have survived genital mutilation and who do not want to be called "mutilated," female genital cutting describes the act without offending some survivors. In 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement that said, ” It might be more effective if federal and state law enabled pediatricians to reach out to families by offering a ritual nick as a possible compromise to avoid greater harm.” The greatest harm was done by proposing this unthinkable compromise and using the term “ritual nick” like it was a pleasant alternative, rather than female genital mutilation, to the minor’s body. After we exposed the AAP”S shameful offer of compromise, they did reverse their proposed "ritual nick." Terminology is important, and I think we can use it interchangeably to fit the circumstances as we communicate the harm of genital mutilation, cutting, or nicking. These are all terms that can be used effectively, depending on the situation.
Because of the federal law in the US prohibits FGM, citizens and refugees in the US take their daughters to their country of origin to have the procedure performed. In April 2010, legislation was introduced in congress to attempt to make transport of girls for FGM illegal, and still pending. Have you participated in any activism outreach to support this legislation? If so, what has been the response from the Somali community?
A. In regards to the proposed bill HR 5137, I called Congressman Joseph Crowley’s office in Washington, DC, and offered my support and anything else they needed. I did not get involved in the actual activism they were doing to pass this important legislation, however, I’ve been doing activism outreach since speaking at the Nevada Senate. There, I informed the legislators that the Somali community was entertaining the idea of taking their daughters out of US during the school break to perform FGM. After traveling around the country, I was lucky enough to block parents who were taking their daughters back to Kenya for the mutilation.
What do you hope readers take away from your memoir?
A. My wish is to inspire readers and to give hope. Reading about my life and understanding how difficult it was to break cultural chains, initially without the help of others, I want my readers to know that, no matter what they are facing, they too will find those enlightened and brave souls along the way who will help them to overcome, just as I did.