By Mahsa Elham*
Arzo* told her story to Mahsa Elham:
Fifteen months ago, I was travelling with my family to our hometown in the Du Layna district of Ghor province. I was falling asleep as the sun was rising from behind the mountains when our vehicle suddenly veered off the road. The car flipped three times. I felt severe pain in my leg then immediately lost consciousness. When I reopened my eyes, I was in a hospital bed, surrounded by my mother, father, sisters, and brothers, who were crying as they comforted me.
In shock, I pulled up the blanket that was covering my leg and saw that it had been severed. Pain, despair, and hopelessness engulfed me. My body was drenched in sweat, and my eyes were filled with tears. My throat was dry. I looked at my severed leg and saw that my dreams had been shattered. I was no longer the girl who used to run with enthusiasm. I couldn’t play with my sisters and classmates. My mother and sister reassured me that I wouldn’t be a burden, that the stump of my leg would heal, and that I could return to school. I was 12 years old and in the sixth grade. I hoped that the Taliban would allow girls above the sixth grade to attend school by the time I entered the seventh grade.
I spent more than a week in the hospital undergoing treatment until they finally discharged me. For a long time, the pain in my leg bothered me so much that I couldn’t sleep at night and writhed in pain during the day. I constantly wished for death, but in reality, I had no choice but to be patient.
Our family’s financial situation was not good. To cover my medical expenses, my father had borrowed more than 50,000 afghani from our relatives and others to cover my medical expenses. He took me to Kabul for treatment, and doctors amputated more of what remained of my leg and ordered a prosthetic limb for me. I found walking with such a limb was very difficult and painful and I couldn’t move properly.
I felt better after returning to Ghor. I could do household chores and go outside. Five months ago, my leg started hurting again. Doctors say that my leg bone is still growing because I am still young, so, every four or five months, I have to see a doctor to have that new bone in my leg removed so that I can walk comfortably. Doctors have said that the treatment will cost about 40,000 afghani. It’s too expensive. Though my father tries to cover my medical expenses and household needs by selling items such as biscuits, tea, children’s toys, and other necessary items to remote villages on his motorcycle, he only earns 200 to 300 afghani a day. My parents often go to bed hungry, so their children can eat. This situation distresses me even more, and I feel like a burden. Because I cannot walk properly with the prosthetic leg. I spend most of my time at home and move using crutches.
My disability also prevents me from going to school. Our house is situated on top of a hill in the capital city of Firozkoh. I can’t go down the hill with my crutches so I often sit by the window or in the courtyard, looking down at my classmates in the school.
Sometimes, I go to a nearby religious school to learn the Quran. The girls in the neighbourhood make fun of me. Many of them mimic my gait and laugh at me. I tell them that I can study books and read even with a limp. In religious school, I made friends with some girls and we used to walk home together after school. They played games while I watched, and while I was happy to see them enjoy themselves, I couldn’t join them.
Still, over time, my classmates started avoiding me, including walking ahead of me. I tried to get used to being alone, walking alone, and studying alone. I told myself I might be happier and livelier if I had a healthy leg. After a few months of just going back and forth to school, I stopped attending. I don’t know how my life will pass and what will happen.
We are poor, my brothers are young, and my father doesn’t make enough from his job as a street vendor to cover my medical expenses as well as the family’s needs. My father has taken me to foreign NGOs several times, asking for help paying for my surgery. No organization, including the Martyrs and Disabled Office and the Taliban government, has helped us. They say that they don’t work in this area or have no budget.
My only hope is that my father will be able to afford yet more surgery to relieve me from this pain so I can continue my education. I want to become a doctor and, in this way, help people with disabilities, especially girls. No one can truly understand the suffering I and other girls are going through until they find themselves in a similar situation.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the interviewees and writer. Mahsa Elham is the pseudonym of a Zan Times journalist in Afghanistan.