NBC's Ann Curry sits down with Aesha, the young Afghan woman whose mutilated face became the symbol for brutality against women in Afghanistan. Today, she has a new life, and a new nose.
By Ann Curry, Shoshana Guy, and Becky Bratu
Three years after her photograph appeared on the cover of TIME magazine and became a symbol for oppressed women in Afghanistan, Aesha Mohammadzai has made incredible strides recovering from the night when her father-in-law, husband and in-laws cut off her nose and parts of her ears.
An Afghan-American family in Frederick, Md., took her into their home, and that’s where Mohammadzai, 22, has been able to begin a journey to a new life and a new face.
Mati and Jamila Arsala caught their first glimpse of Mohammadzai in TIME. Mati was shocked when he later met her for the first time.
“I'm a father. God forbid if somebody would do such a thing to my daughter. Or to my son,” Mati told NBC News’ Ann Curry. “What would I do? I will burn the world.”
Mohammadzai’s father gave her away when she was 12 years old to settle a family dispute, in a traditional practice known as baad. She said her husband and in-laws were rooted in the Taliban and abused her severely for five years.
“At that time, I was very scared. I never thought I could escape,” she told Curry. “Then I said, whatever it takes, I want my freedom.”
When Mohammadzai finally ran away, she didn’t get very far before being arrested and put in jail. Five months later, a judge ordered her to return to her husband – but he and the rest of the family were not ready to forgive her.
“They tied my hands. They tied my feet. When they cut my nose, I lost consciousness,” she said.
Mohammadzai dragged herself outside in the dark for hours, knocking on door after door for help, but even her relatives told her to go back to her father-in-law’s house.
Finally, a cousin helped her get to an American military hospital. From there, she was transferred to a shelter run by the New York-based organization, Women for Afghan Women.
The executive director of the shelter, Manizha Naderi, said Mohammadzai’s is just one of the many cases of extreme abuse in Afghanistan.
“I would say probably 90 percent of Afghan households experience some form of abuse,” Naderi said.
Mohammadzai’s photo spurred uncountable offers of help. Shortly after she arrived at the shelter, she was flown to the United States to receive reconstructive surgery.