By Debbie Emery
An Afghan woman who became the face of Taliban brutality after her husband and in-laws hacked off her nose and ears has not had a Hollywood happy ending despite the global spotlight on her plight.
Aesha was catapulted to infamy when she appeared on the August 2010 cover of Time magazine unashamed of the butchered face that she received as punishment for trying to run away from an abusive marriage in the war-torn country.
After she hit newsstands all over the country, the teenager was thrust into the celebrity lifestyle hobnobbing with movie stars and politicians, and even being offered free reconstructive surgery by the Grossman Burn Foundation, a humanitarian medical group in the Los Angeles area, reported CNN.com.
Despite the glitz and glamour, it soon became obvious that there were deep emotional scars that went beyond even the atrocious physical torture she endured and the pretty brunette began fighting with the families who took her in, had fits where she shook, went stiff and her eyes rolled back in her head, or bit herself, screamed and pulled out her hair.
Doctors decided she was too unstable to undergo surgery and Aesha (which is also spelled Aisha) was ultimately hospitalized and the charity Women for Afghan Women had to step in to care for her.
Since becoming the poster child for 15 million Afghan women, Aesha was suddenly kept out of the public eye and even Oprah’s attempts at an interview were rejected.
“We’re hoping she’ll spread her wings,” said Esther Hyneman, 73, a retired professor of women’s and multicultural studies and longtime Women for Afghan Women volunteer who became Aesha’s unofficial guardian.
“But when you’re 20 years old, from a village in Taliban-controlled southern Afghanistan where you’ve never been to school and can’t read or write in your own language, and you’ve never heard of France or Italy or Canada, and you don’t speak the language in the country you’re living in, and you’ve been through hell – it’s a little hard to spread your wings, even if you want to do it.”
While living in a small ground-floor apartment in New York, Aesha was being schooled by her patient mentor, Ariela Perlman, who normally works with emotionally disturbed fifth-graders, and was teaching the girl who is even illiterate in her native language of Pashto, to read and write in English.
Born in a village in southern Afghanistan, Aesha didn’t even know the days of the week, not to litter, or how to board a subway.
“She loves physical affection, which is really sweet — except when you’re trying to type, and you have a 20-year-old sitting in your lap,” Kelly Becker-Smith, who works with volunteers at the Women for Afghan Women office told CNN, while another teacher had pulled muscles in her back and legs pushing her “giant little girl” on a swing.
It is the kind of loving attention that was severely lacking in her previous life where she was offered up for marriage to a Taliban family to even out a family score. After being beaten and forced to sleep with the animals, she ran away but was hunted down, tossed in prison and a court ruled that she should be mutilated for dishonoring her husband’s family.
Trying to fit in to life in the Big Apple was a major challenge for Aesha due to erratic mood swings and strange unsocial habits that caused a string of roommates to flee.
While the noise of an ice cream van would cause her to run in fear, she watches online videos of Taliban members cursing, shooting and beating women when she’s feeling low.
Desperately missing being part of a family, Aesha, now 22, abruptly left New York and is currently living with Mati Arsala and Jamila Rasouli-Arsala in Frederick, Maryland.
“She’s a trauma patient,” Jamila said. “If you want to help, you have to have a very thick skin… There’s no room in her heart for appreciation.”
The couple has vowed to keep her with them until the overgrown child can stand up on her own.