The Duchess of Cambridge, aka “Princess Kate,” has been suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, better known to us commoners as a very serious form of morning sickness. But when Buckingham Palace is involved, nothing is common and media vultures descend with a magnifying glass to observe every increment of Her Highness’ royal belly, as they speculate where she is carrying one heir or two.
In Kenya, another woman may have moved her family from a mud thatched hut to a tin-roofed brick home with the proceeds from her sustainable new business, making her not just queen for a day, but for life. But the paparazzi would have missed that event, as the tabloids were busy speculating whether or not the Duchess would be able to keep down her Christmas pudding.
In the 1960’s, no one was privy to the birth of a princess born to a high-ranking Somali general and his wealthy Saudi wife and no paparazzi were on hand to mark the birth, as they will be for Princess Kate. No one voiced their opinion when this granddaughter of a former king was given away to an infertile aunt in Kenya, or forced into an arranged marriage with an American Peace Corps worker at age 12. The world did not blink when she gave birth to a son, and he, too, was whisked away and given to yet another infertile aunt in still another country. Such was life in a place where prejudice and cultural demands led to promises that dictated the course of one woman’s life — even a princess. That was the inspiration for my novel, Sometimes It Snows in America.
I met Fatma, the woman I based my book’s protagonist on, when she was in a women’s residential recovery program I was involved with in western Massachusetts. She was battling to overcome years of trauma, abuse, and addiction experienced both in Africa and the United States, and it took a very long time—two years—to win her trust as I followed her during this new period of struggle in her life.
Because it can sometimes be difficult to elicit precise information from a person in such a compromised physical and emotional condition, and since I’m most comfortable writing fiction, I chose to write a historical novel that chronicles Somalia’s actual descent into violent desperation during the terrifying reign of Siad Barré. Perhaps most importantly, I wrote a work of fiction because my subject was so fearful of any retaliation that might be taken on her family back in Somalia.
But the truth is Fatma’s family was indeed aristocracy in a land where power and greed have delineated its borders and political alliances for centuries, and civil war, along with drought and famine, have decimated its infrastructure and annihilated much of its population. To this day, prejudiced and power-hungry clan warlords and militant Islamic groups threaten any attempts at stable government in a land without judicial and defense systems. And violation of women—always a bad side effect of prejudice and male aggression—rises as mostly females have been forced into refugee camps in both Somalia and Kenya, notorious for rape and female brutality. What, I’d like to know, is the legacy for their babies?
The next time I stand in line at the checkout counter and wait for my oranges and avocados to civilly make their way along the conveyor belt, I’d like to lay eyes on the smiling hopeful face of a woman who escaped from one of those refugee camps. She might be a princess or she might not. But I’d like to learn how she might have been empowered by a micro-finance institution like Village Enterprise or Kiva that provided her with training and start-up cash to open a restaurant, or a clothing store, or a goat-rearing business. And when the camera zooms in on her rotund belly, I want to know that it’s healthy, safe from physical harm—fit for royalty.
Guest contributor Marisa Labozzetta’s latest novel is Sometimes It Snows in America. A former education specialist in the D.C. Office of Bilingual Education, Labozzetta was a regular contributor at The Torrance County Citizen. She won first prize in the Rio Grande Writers’ fiction contest, and was a finalist in Playboy’s Victoria Chen Haider Memorial Literary Award for Fiction, and in New Letters Literary Awards.
Labozzetta’s stories have been published in a variety of anthologies including When I Am An Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple, The Penguin Book of Italian American Writing, and Our Mothers Our Selves. Labozzetta was nominated for the Pushcart Prize and was a finalist for the John Gardner Fiction Award in 2009. “Forecast for a Sunny Day,” from the new collection of linked stories, Thieves Never Steal in the Rain, won the Watchung Arts Center Award for Short Fiction in 2010.