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No more shame

Mark Duell
Friday, December 21, 2012

A young woman who was brutally tortured in Afghanistan by her husband after she tried to escape their abusive forced marriage is on the road to recovery as doctors continue to rebuild her face.

Aesha Mohammadzai, who believes she is 21 or 22, moved to the U.S. two years ago after fleeing the war-torn country and is now six months into her surgery at a hospital in Bethesda, Maryland.

As part of the life-changing treatment, her forehead has ballooned and dark, drooping flesh now covers where her nose once was - before her husband sliced it off.

Yet Aesha , who has never attended school or celebrated her birthday, insisted yesterday that she is no longer scared to look at herself in the mirror, as her treatment reaches the halfway stage.

'I don't care,' she told CNN. 'Everybody has some kind of problem. At the beginning, I was very scared. I was scared to look at my face in the mirror.

'I was scared to think what will happen in the future to me. But now I'm not scared anymore. Now I know the meaning of life, how to live. There, I couldn't understand how to live.'

Doctors placed an inflatable silicone shell under the skin of her forehead and gradually filled it with fluid in order to expand her skin and provide them with extra tissue for her new nose.

They have also already taken tissue from her forearm and transplanted it to her face to form the inner lining and lower part of the nose, doctors told CNN.

Their next step is to take cartilage from Aesha's rib underneath her breast, which will be used to build her nose. The skin from her forehead will then be 'flapped down' to cover the structure.

Aesha's story was first told in August 2010 by Time magazine, who published a harrowing cover photo of her - horrifying people around the world and symbolising the oppression of Afghan women.

When she was 12, her father promised her in marriage to a Taliban fighter to pay a debt. She was handed over to his family who abused her and forced her to sleep in the stable with the animals.

But when Aesha attempted to flee, she was caught and her nose and ears were hacked off by her husband as punishment. Left for dead in the mountains, she crawled to her grandfather's house.

She managed to get to a U.S. medical facility, where medics cared for her for 10 weeks, and then was taken to a secret shelter in Kabul before she was flown to the U.S. by a charity to stay with a family.

Nowadays Aesha still prefers watching Bollywood films rather than American TV. She arrived in Maryland 16 months after she came to the US and had spent time in California and New York.

Aesha is being treated at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre in Bethesda, which was arranged for her by the office of outgoing U.S. Representative Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland.

Couple Mati and Jamila Arsala have been caring for Aesha in Maryland, and they have a 15-year-old daughter in Miena Ahmadzai, who has become good friends with her adopted older sister.

But Aesha will look far worse before she stars to look better, and her forehand already has major swelling, while darkened and drooping flesh is currently where her nose once was, reported CNN.

She was given a prosthetic nose at first, but full plastic surgery had to be delayed because it was thought she was still not emotionally stable to cope with the painful and lengthy surgery required.

Aesha was said to have displayed volatile mood swings in the past - oscillating between violent tantrums and displaying deep affection to people around her - so the surgery is a huge milestone.

'What happened, it's part of me, part of my life and it's all the time in my mind and with me,' she told CNN. 'But I have to live, and I have to love.'


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