#10 Life in Afghanistan :: NesimaPosted: October 10, 2013
I’m sitting next to a woman who looks like she could easily be 70 but I know in reality she is probably not more than 40. We had talked a little already, she had asked me how to buckle her seat-belt; a common question I get asked here. I had showed her, and exchanged brief greetings. Her name is Nesima*. I desperately want to rest, its been a long, emotional, few days, so I keep the introductions to a minimum and turn to face the window.
I can’t relax, I feel watched. I try to ignore the sensation, but it won’t pass, slowly I turn my head. I’m met by Nesima’s face just inches from mine, staring at me. I try not to laugh, but I cannot withhold the smile from spreading across my face and she takes it as a sign to start talking. “How pale your skin is!” (I remind myself that here that is a complement), “And your eyes are beautiful, and your nose is so big!” (again another compliment) “Thank you,” I reply “Your eyes are beautiful” I turn to face the windows again and make a strong attempt to ignore her eyes boring into mine and her breath on my cheek. I close my eyes and begin to rest.
The plane starts moving, I feel the steady rolling of it getting into position for take-off, then suddenly I’m jerked back into the present by her hand grabbing my arm tightly. I look at her and she has fear glowing from her eyes. I realize there will be no rest on this ride, so I make conversation instead. “Is this the first time you have flown?” She nods, “Yes! I have only been to this city once before, never further. I only stay in my village.” It’s now blindingly obvious to me that she is a village lady. Her accent is thick and I have to concentrate hard to understand. Her clothes and the way she wears her headscarf say it clearly and I wonder how I missed it before. Curiosity is stirred within me, and I begin to question her.
“So this is your first time to the capital?”
“Are you visiting family?”
“No I am going to India”
India! I am shocked! What is an un-traveled villager doing going to India in the middle of winter? Where is her husband? Why is she flying when she could take road transport? I ask her many questions to find out her story, the more she tells the more questions I have, and the more moved I am.
Nesima told me her story; interrupted, of course, by many questions from me.
“I am traveling with my nephew he is sitting there, and the girl next to him, she is 6 years old. We have traveled by road for 2 days to get to this city, it was very long and hard and dangerous because the girl is very sick. It is only my second time in the city, I have lived all my life in the village and I like it there. We are going to India because the girl is very sick, maybe the doctors there can help her. She is not my nephews daughter, she is a girl from our village, she has been abandoned and so I take care of her.
Her father used to beat her mother, and her mother became very depressed. When she gave birth to the girl she took very little interest in her, but of course she would give her bread to eat and try to keep her safe. The mother’s depression continued to get worse. One day when the girl was 5 she became very ill. Her mother was too depressed to look after her and thought she would die anyway. She left her in the corner of the room without helping her. The girl got a very high fever and began to have fits, her mother said she had a demon inside her. When I heard what was happening I went and took the girl to my own house, I gave her something to drink, and tried to keep her alive. She survived, as you can see. Her mother killed herself shortly afterwards, and her father did not want her anymore, so I have continued to look after her. My husband is dead now, he died many years ago, but I live close to my nephew and he helps me get everything I need. Since the girl was ill she has not spoken a word, she cannot walk anymore, and she often has fits. Many people in my village told me that she has a demon and there is no hope – but I have heard that sometimes this can be caused if you are ill, so I want to see the doctors in India, I hope they can make her better.”
I am amazed at what she is doing for this girl, who is no blood relation to her. I am moved by her steadfastness in putting superstition to one side and trying to seek medical help. I think to myself that there is probably no hope of the girl being able to be made well again, but I dare not say this to Nesima. Instead I ask a question; “What if the doctors cannot make her well, what will you do then?” She replies as if she has already thought this scenario through; “They will still tell me if she is sick, if she is sick then I will take her home and look after her like she was my daughter, as long as I need to. If she is not sick, then I know that the people in my village are right – she has a demon. Still I will look after her.”
Nesima grabs my arm again as the plane begins to descend for landing; she asks me a question which reminds me how simple her life has been. “Will the plane just suddenly drop? Will it hurt us?” I smile at her kindly, her child-like question melts me, “No Nesima, we will slowly, slowly, get closer to the ground, you will just feel a little bump, you don’t need to be scared. I will hold you hand.”
Holding hands, we looks out the window together, her leaning right over me so she can see. I point out all the different things, and show her the capital below us. As we descend further she leans against me and grips my hand tightly, I gasp her’s back, I feel overcome by the privilege of sitting next to this woman. She is changing Afghanistan one life at a time. She is hoping beyond all hope, she is loving the unloved, caring boundlessly, and setting the example of what tomorrow can look like. To think that when she first sat down I simply wanted to ignore her, now I know she is no ordinary woman, she is a hero.
*Names changed to protect identities
This is part of the 31 Day series