This provides a sobering look at the process of trying to help one of the young women mutilated by the Taliban. She was brought to the U.S. after her appearance on the cover of Time made her an iconic symbol of the Taliban’s brutal misogyny. Much as we would like it to be otherwise, there is no quick & happy ending.
How could there be? What is it like at age 20 to have lived through being traded off in marriage by your dad, treated like an animal by your new husband’s family, and then having had your husband & in-laws slice off your nose & ears? What kind of nightmares do you have? How in the hell do you cope? Add to this that you’re completely illiterate—you cannot read or write, you have no skills, and your government was complicit in your suffering. How terrifying is the world? Where do you turn for help? Who do you trust? Not surprisingly, she’s been diagnosed with PTSD and BPD.
Reading it, I couldn’t help but think: This is one who’s getting help. What about the thousands who aren’t? There’s a saying amongst Muslims that a child’s first school is its mother. No truer words. It doesn’t bode well for Afghanistan’s future.
Without a knock, the office door flies open. She barges into the room, a perfumed tornado disrupting every conversation and worker in her path.
Wearing skinny jeans, UGG knockoff boots and a pea coat, she carries the swagger of any self-absorbed American teen. Her long dark hair flows thick, smooth and enviable. Her makeup is impeccable — barring one small flaw. It doesn’t perfectly match the shade of her prosthetic nose.
Only because of her nose do I realize who this is: the Afghan woman whose disfigured face graced the August 9, 2010, cover of Time magazine. Her Taliban husband and in-laws punished her for running away by hacking off her nose and ears and leaving her for dead. She became a symbol of the oppression of women in her war-torn country.
She looks at me, at my reporter’s notebook, with a knowing smile. We won’t talk on this day — or for more than a year to come — but the glint in her eyes says she welcomes any form of attention.
“This is Bibi Aesha,” says one of the women I’ve come to interview.
“No Bibi!” she whines, with a stomp of her foot. “Aesha!”
This term of respect for women, a title comparable to “lady” or “madam,” makes her feel old, I learn later. She can’t stand being called “Bibi.”
It’s January 2011, and we’re in the humble Queens, New York, house that serves as the U.S. office for Women for Afghan Women, a grass-roots organization dedicated to protecting and empowering Afghan women and girls.
Though the group mostly serves those in Afghanistan, including more than 4,000 who’ve lived in its shelters there over the past decade, this small New York community center offers English, driving and citizenship classes to Afghan women and others from places such as Pakistan and India. It organizes field trips, brings in speakers, facilitates job placements.
And now, it’s also in the business of saving Aesha. […]