She floats into the room, a fine silk scarf and light perfume trailing behind her.

She is wearing a pastel yellow skirt, a navy-blue blouse, heels with bows. She loves colors, art, travel, classical music. She introduced me to George Enescu. She smiles and hugs me warmly. I ask her:

‘How was your trip?’

Aurora Martin had just returned from a month-long visit to … the Gambia, a small West African country. Population: just over two million.

My fine and soft-spoken friend, who also happens to be Romania’s leading anti-discrimination and gender expert, was visiting schools, NGOs, government officials, and victims of female genital mutilation.

Last November, Aurora knew nothing of the country and its practices.

She now knows that many tribes perform mutilations to secure the ‘honour’ of their women. In these places, the girl is given no choice. In most cases, nor are her parents. She tells me horror stories of young women abducted on their way to school, cut, maimed.

She describes the vacant look in the eyes of the shells of girls she encountered. Quiet women who have lost their womanhood, turned in on themselves. She paints a picture of a feeling: a heavy pain on her chest and in her head, as large as the baobabs that towered over her on Kunta Kinteh Island.

The last time she had felt such weight she was standing in an empty prison cell. Aurora is no stranger to injustice; she grew up in communist Romania. She knows gender discrimination intimately and has spent her life fighting it. She began as a teacher, engaging her students in discussions about democracy and equal rights. She then pursued her doctorate and joined the Romanian government. There, she was the first to speak out against corruption and for women’s and minority rights.

Her voice may be soft, but it is powerful. Now she is giving it to Gambia’s women. Aurora has recently published a book on female genital mutilation in her native language.  (WS will provide a link when it is translated into English.)

It is not a textbook or human rights report; there are already enough of those.

Aurora’s goal is to tell these women’s stories and show them the justice they are due. Light must be shed on the issue, politicians must be informed, the laws of the country must be changed, its social and cultural norms revised.

If anyone can touch souls, it is Aurora. I do not tell her that; she is quite shy. We have tea instead and move on to other subjects, like chocolate, music, travel,  books.

She will be in the Gambia for the next ten months, she tells me, kissing me à bientôt. She smiles. She is always smiling. When I point that out she says:

It is a choice.

The end of each day brings you face to face with you; […] if at the end I feel like I left something behind and I have a lot to do, then I say I am happy.’

Yara Zgheib

Yara Zgheib

Yara is a writer, policy researcher and analyst, and lover of culture, travel, nature, art. She is the author of The Girls at 17 Swann Street and blogger behind Aristotle at Afternoon Tea. She has written for The Huffington Post, The Four Seasons Magazine, The Idea List, A Woman’s Paris, and Holiday Magazine.

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