A Lot Like You: The Eli Kimaro Story

Since yesterday was International Day of Zero Tolerance for female genital mutilation (FGM); we thought to share this story with you about a young lady with roots in two different continents that could not be farther from each other.

In 1970, a baby girl was born in New York to a unique inter-racial couple, most especially the era in which her parents were married.  The father was from Tanzania in East Africa and the mother, from Korea in Asia.  Mr. & Mrs. Kimaro named their little girl, Eliaichi.  The parents had met while attending university in New York.

Eli, short for Eliaichi was only 3-months old when the family moved to Tanzania and Mr. Kimaro got a job at the University of Dar Es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania.  Both parents being economists, Mr. Kimaro landed a position at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and his wife was hired at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. long before Eli began her puberty years.  The couple packed their bags and moved with Eli back to the United States, where they set up a home in the Bethesda-Rockville, Maryland area, a Washington, D.C. suburban community.

Although her parents taught her about their individual cultural backgrounds, Eli grew up in the western culture.  She attended secondary school in the Washington, D.C. area, as she developed into a curious young lady.  Eli went off to college and began to shape her own life, thinking about what she wanted for herself.  While in college, she became fascinated with photography and filmmaking.

After graduation, Eliaichi decided to search her roots; she traveled to Korea in search of her maternal family.  As she traced her father’s footsteps back to Mt. Kilimanjaro, she discovered the beauty and brutality of the life he had left behind.  Searching for her identity in Tanzania, she found out that the very thing she had battled against as a community activist in the United States, including sexual and domestic violence was part of her own history and culture on another continent.

With her love for photography and film, Eli filmed her family members in both Korea and Tanzania, and captured an array of photographs in her travels to Asia and Africa.

“I had known about female genital mutilation (FGM) and that it happened.  I was an activist and in 2007, there was a large influx of East Africans to Seattle during the time I lived there.    Women wanted Seattle hospitals to perform circumcision on their daughters.  Feminists began to bring about awareness to it.”  Eli said in a private conversation about her film she had just made about her family histories.

Though Eli had had some exposure to the knowledge of female genital mutilation/cutting, she was in for a big surprise when she discovered that it was an old practice in her own paternal family.  She met her paternal aunts in Kilimanjaro who had all experienced the dreadful practice of female genital mutilation/cutting; she asked them to be included in her film.  Her aunts began to tell their childhood stories about how they had been cut as little girls and unwillingly married off to men twice their ages.  It took a great deal of courage for those women to share their stories with their western-cultured niece.

“Their beliefs are to the core of their beings.  Their belief is that you’re going through the right of passage to adulthood.  They had wanted to be grown-ups and make their parents proud; they wanted to be marriageable, according to their tradition,” said Eli about her paternal aunts.

Eli’s passion about the film shows in the footages, as she narrates the story in her own voice; you hear the voices of her maternal family and those of her paternal family, as you read the subtitles in English.  Eli hopes that all public libraries, community centers and wherever people are hungry to see such a story will have it available.  The film has appeared in several film festivals.  For a first time filmmaker, Eli did an excellent job with the narration and the production.

Asked what inspired her to make the film?  Eli said, “I was driving to work in the summer time, listening to Angelique Kidjo’s song.  The song took me back to Tanzania; as I looked out the window, I had a vision about telling my children about my childhood experience.”

At the time of the film, Eli had a 4-year old daughter, Lucy.  She understood why she had to tell the stories of her aunts and other relatives.  She wanted her daughter and children that come later to have access to that information.  She wanted to honor her aunts’ stories.  “I will not let their stories get swept under the rug.  Stories are the core of activism.  Get stories out from the voices of the people”, she said.

The 80-minute film is riveting and astounding.  “The truce in this film resonates with me.  It speaks about who I am as a human being”.  Eli continued in the conversation.  At the time of the making of the film, her aunts were in their 80’s, and they had never shared their stories with anyone prior to the filming.  Eli was captivated by their stories and so will you, when you listen to Eli’s narrative and watch the film.

A Lot Like You is a film that is highly recommended for every woman and man alike to see.  The story gives you a different insight on the unexpected manner in which our lives are webbed together.

For more information on this film or to obtain a copy of the DVD, visit www.alotlikeyoumovie.com or write to info@alotlikeyoumovie.com.  The film is also available for private and public showing.

The following link was taken from a special news story in the publication, Global Issues.  In observance of International Day of Zero Tolerance yesterday, we share this story with you.

Female Genital Mutilation is a Gruesome Impediment to the Empowerment of Women: