Alan Goldstein/The Grossman Burn Foundation
Bibi Aisha, with her temporary prosthetic nose, at the Grossman Burn Foundation gala.
She was so beautiful that the first time I saw Bibi Aisha on the cover of Time magazine, it took me a moment to realize she didn't have a nose. Her husband and his family had hacked it off when she'd tried to escape being abused in her home. The magazine said she was the graphically horrifying illustration for the fate that awaits many women if the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan too soon.
The cover of the Aug. 9 issue of Time magazine features a photo of Aisha, an 18-year-old Afghan woman with a mutilated nose.
The cover of the Aug. 9 issue of Time magazine features a photo of Aisha, an 18-year-old Afghan woman with a mutilated nose. Time Inc./AP
Promised to a Taliban fighter by her father when she was 12 to satisfy an obligation, Aisha was married at 14 and had been used as a servant and forced to sleep in an outbuilding with her in-laws' animals. When she fled their abuse, neighbors turned her in.
She was jailed briefly, and her father retrieved her and returned her to his in-laws, after being assured they would treat her better. Instead, her husband walked her into a mountain clearing and held her down while his brother chopped off her nose and ears as other Talib watched. Then they left her to die in the mountains where they'd disfigured her.
"I passed out," she said in an interview with CNN's Atia Abawi. "In the middle of the night it felt like there was cold water in my nose."
It was her own blood, so much of it, she told Abawi. "I couldn’t even see…"
Somehow Aisha managed to feel her way to her grandfather's home, where she was hidden and then spirited away to a medical center run by the U.S. military, who eventually transferred her to a privately-run women's shelter... After 10 weeks' care, Aisha was stabilized enough to go to the Grossman Burn Center for a series of rehabilitative surgeries that the center had offered to perform pro bono.
On Saturday, Aisha appeared at a Grossman Burn Foundation fundraiser in a traditional embroidered caftan and a sheer scarf draped over her wavy black hair. It was the first time she'd been seen in public since arriving in the U.S. The radiant 19 year old was wearing a prosthetic nose, something that indicated how she would look when the several reconstructive surgeries are completed. She didn't speak, but her smile said everything.
Aisha was wearing the kind of nose actors often do for a part. Her goal is still to have a permanent one. But getting there will be a tough slog: she'll have to have bone and cartilage reconstructed, possibly from flaps of her own skin and several surgeries. But within a year, doctors expect she'll have a nose that not only completes her face, but that can do what her old nose did — twitch when it itches, smell, even sneeze.
Aisha, now 19, told The Daily Beast last year that her father (after being alerted by her grandfather) saved her by bringing her to the Americans in Afghanistan for medical treatment. But, she says, he cautioned her about talking about her attack. He suggested a cover story, something she refused to do.
"I will tell them all these things because I am not such a person to lie; I will tell them because I think my story must be told."