In a wood-paneled office in a sprawling ranch home tucked away in a pastoral equestrian community, a young woman with shiny shoulder-length hair held back by a single barrette hunts for Pashto-language songs on YouTube.
She is Bibi Aisha, the young woman whose image ignited a heated political debate when her maimed face graced the cover of Time magazine this summer under the headline “What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan.” Her story, first reported in The Daily Beast last December, later appeared on World News with Diane Sawyer, which documented her trip to the U.S. for reconstructive surgery to replace the nose and ears her husband and his family severed as punishment for daring to flee after years of abuse. Since then, Bibi Aisha's case has captivated international news audiences, who now are awaiting photos of the new nose the young woman came to the U.S. to receive.
Until now the media has largely portrayed Bibi Aisha's story as a tragic story with a made-for-TV ending about a young woman's journey to the United States for a second chance at a new face and a fresh start. The reality is that rebuilding a life, particularly one marked by harsh years of abuse, is far more difficult and complicated than headlines permit. So far doctors who have evaluated Bibi Aisha say that she is not yet emotionally ready for the endurance test of reconstructive surgery, as she continues to suffer from seizure-like incidents in which she recedes deep into herself, pulling at her hair and appearing to flash back to her past. In the past 3 1/2 months, she has been in and out of local hospitals and shuttled among host families, with staff and volunteers from the Grossman Burn Foundation, which sponsored her trip to the U.S., fighting to figure out the best way forward for the troubled young woman.