African Culture and Traditions as Told by Waris Dirie

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African Culture and Traditions as Told by Waris Dirie

Waris Dirie was born into a family of nomads in a Somalian desert. Growing up, she was privileged to run free with nature’s most majestic animals, and learned a respect for nature that many of us as Americans could never fathom. However, these thrills are just on the surface of what life is really like for African women. She suffered through intense traditional mutilation in her childhood, and endless hours of hard labor in the fields everyday. At the age of 13, she ran away to escape the marriage that her father had arranged for her to a sixty-year-old man in exchange for five camels. She left with nothing but the swaddling clothes on her back not even shoes to protect her feet from the scorching African sun. Her journey on foot went on for weeks, until she found her sister, who had also ran away five years earlier for the same reasons. After getting reacquainted with an aunt and her ambassador husband, Waris moved to England with them. When her uncle’s term was up, she stayed in England where a photographer, who eventually put her on the cover many major magazines, discovered her. In describing her remarkable journey through life, Waris demonstrates examples of a masculine culture with elements high uncertainty-avoidance, and her own individualism amongst such a collectivistic society.

Waris’s description of life in Africa is a perfect definition for a masculine culture. She explains, “Women are the backbone of Africa; they do most of the work. Yet women are powerless to make decisions.” She recalls a story of how her loving mother permitted her to be butchered, because of a traditional African ritual to please African men. When she was five years old, her mother made her an appointment to meet with “the gypsy women.” Waris didn’t know exactly what this meant, but it was supposedly an exciting moment in the lives of young African girls, and when they returned, they were considered women. Waris recalls in graphic detail being bound and blind-folded by her mother while the gypsy women sliced between her legs repeatedly, then sewed her up, leaving a whole the size of a match-head. She was then drug off to a shelter under a bush where she spent weeks alone to recuperate. Sadly, this is not an isolated case, millions of nomadic cultures still perform the ritual, and many young girls do not survive the surgery.
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