My family was a tribe of herdsmen in the Somalian desert. And as a child, the freedom I had to experience nature’s sights, sounds and smells was pure joy. We watched lions baking in the sun. We ran with giraffes, zebras and foxes. We chased hyraxes—rabbit-size animals—through the sand. I was so happy.
Gradually, those happy times disappeared. Life became harder. By five I knew what it was to be an African woman, to live with terrible suffering in a passive, helpless manner.
Women are the backbone of Africa; they do most of the work. Yet women are powerless to make decisions. They have no say, sometimes not even in whom they will marry.
By the time I was around 13, I had had my fill of these traditions. A little girl no more, I was fast and incredibly fit. Before, I had no choice but to suffer. This time I determined that I would run away.
My nightmare journey began when my father announced he had arranged my marriage. I had to act fast, I told my mother I wanted to run. My plan was to find an aunt who lived in Mogadishu, the capital, a place I had never been.
While my father and the rest of the family were sleeping, my mother woke me and said, "Go now."
I looked around, but there was nothing to take—no water, milk or 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; I just ran. Slowly at first, because I couldn’t see. But as the sky lighted, I was off like a gazelle. I ran for hours.
By midday I’d traveled deep into the red sand. The landscape stretched on to eternity. Hungry, thirsty and tired, I slowed and walked.
As I pondered what was going to happen next, I heard, "Waris … Waris…" My father’s voice echoed all around me! I was frightened. If he caught me, I knew that he would make me, marry.
Even though I had gotten a head start, Papa had tracked me down by following my footprints through the sand. He was close.