Courage = Creating Your Own Story

It is 3:55am and I should be asleep, but I have been thinking about the difference between the words survivor and victim.

  • Breast Cancer survivor or Breast Cancer victim.
  • Burn survivor or Burn Victim.
  • Domestic Abuse Survivor or Domestic Abuse Victim.
  • Rape Survivor or Rape Victim.

I actually don’t admire the word victim. Victim feels recent.  The word “victim” has the same connotations and depth as the scarlet letter. It is something that can never be removed with soap and water. Victim stays with you and is haunting.

However the word “survivor” is a conquering word. It swoops in after battle and is celebrated for years to come. The word survivor has muscles and can beat any obstacle that comes its way.

The thing is- the words survivor and victim are words are so close they can be hard to separate. Almost like drinking tea and having a few tea leaves left in the bottom of a full cup, victim will always linger around the strong survivor.

So as most of you know I have been away for a couple of weeks to complete BODY/COURAGE and finish up the last interviews. I am back in the UK and it feels awesome to be back in my second home. My husband and I got to walk through the graduate program, where we met, and see all the places we used to hang out. It was like stepping into a time zone. I walked on campus and was instantly flooded with memories of the past.

I also got to look at the studio theatre where BODY/COURAGE was first performed! It is insane to think that three years ago, December 2011, I began my pursuit to find five people that would talk to me about their body image.

In 2014 I have interviewed nearly 400 people for this play. I have laughed, cried and been taught by these courageous individuals. I just wanted to take this time to say THANK YOU to everyone who has willingly told me a little piece of who they are.

This weekend I have been racking in my brain about what to talk about with you all. I had an interview this past weekend that truly defined the meaning of the word courage for me. It is the reason I have set my life to working on this type of theatre. It is the reason I created this project. According to my mother in law, my father in law described courage as: “grace under pressure.” Or as she says: “feel the fear and do it anyway.”

This weekend in London, I interviewed Co-Founder of Daughters of Eve Nimco Ali. Please visit the website and learn more about the movement. “Daughters of  Eve is a non profit organization, that works to advance and protect the physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health rights of young people from female genital mutilation (FGM) practising communities.” –Daughters of Eve

When I first created this play, FGM was a topic I felt needed to be addressed in the theatre. It is never spoken about.

Every 16 seconds a girl is cut. The immediate physical effects of FGM are traumatically devastating and may involve excessive bleeding which can result in death. Lifelong health complications can occur such as severe pain during urination, menstruation, sexual intercourse and childbirth. (formafgc.org)

I wanted to find a way to effectively introduce the audience to this subject matter in a way that would begin to create a conversation. People think this is only happening in the “far away” countries of Africa, India and many more.  Female Genital Mutilation is practiced in the UK as well as in America. Surprise!

How can we collectively come together to stop this from happening? I’m not just talking about making a donation and feeling like you did a good deed for the day. I am talking about how can we effectively make change?

Nimco said that real courage is “going against the grain and creating your own story.” Nimco was cut as a child and her younger niece will be the first of the family’s  generation who will not be cut. This is huge. Her niece will be able to create her own story.

FGM related complications are often normalized for groups practicing this tradition. Girls and young women who undergo this dangerous experience become heroic and honorable believing that FGM exemplifies beauty and courage. Cutting becomes a test of bravery and proof that they will be able to endure the pain of childbirth.  (formafgc.org)

Nimco explained to me a lot of people in the practicing communities feel like FGM is done out of love, but it is truly done out of hatred. She explained that FGM is used to control women and the practice is barbaric. She truly is one of the most courageous people that I have ever met, because she is speaking out to end this generational practice that has gone on for centuries. A practice that is still going on. She is brave enough to go against the grain and create her own story. She is the true definition of the word survivor. I thank her for taking the time to speak with me.

Organizations like Daughters of Eve and forma FGC in Chicago are out there to help women who have experience FGM. Joanna Vergoth, who is based in Chicago, is the founder of forma FGC in Chicago. There are only two organizations in the Midwest that support women and families that have gone through FGM. Joanna was interviewed for BODY/COURAGE last year and she is truly an angel.

If you, or know anyone who may be a survivor of FGM please visit the websites listed above for help and/or your nearest health care provider.

I am curious to know what your definitions of the word courage are?

What are your takes on the words “victim” and “survivor?”

Love y’all

D

Actor | Playwright

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