Memory gone, scars are Afghan victim's testimony

Alissa J. Rubin / New York Times News Service /

Published Jan 20, 2013 at 04:00AM

KABUL, Afghanistan — The stitches and bandages are gone, but scars streak across one side of the girl’s face, across her cheek and behind her ear: stark testimony to the brutal attack she barely survived three months ago.

When the girl, Gul Meena, is with other people, even those whom she knows at the shelter where she now lives, she pulls a veil across the damaged side of her face, often touching it gingerly and sucking in her breath.

“It hurts,” she said softly.

The man who swung an ax over and over into her face and neck was her brother, according to the Afghan police and her neighbors. His reason, as best it can be pieced together from people who know the family, was that Gul Meena had dishonored their family by running away with a man to whom she was not married.

What made her perceived crime worse — and, in the eyes of some, what made the “honor killing” necessary — was that she, barely past childhood, was married, said relatives and people in her village.

When talking to people she sometimes sounds confused, even surprised at her situation, like a person who wakes up for the first time in a new place and cannot remember getting there. “I don’t know how this happened to me,” she said as she traced the scars’ raised welts with her index finger.

Neither the doctors nor hospital orderlies who saw her in the days and even weeks after she was brought to a hospital in eastern Afghanistan at the end of September thought she would survive, much less regain the ability to walk, wash herself, eat and speak.

She does remember where her family comes from, and talks about it all the time. She says she cannot recall, however, what led to the attack.

“We had her see a counselor, but we don’t want to push her,” said Manizha Naderi, the executive director of Women for Afghan Women, a human rights group that runs the shelter that is caring for her.

Asked what she wants to do now, Gul Meena says that all she wants is to return to her family. “I will go as soon as you will take me,” she said to Naderi.

For a woman in Afghanistan who has broken every taboo, however, there is no going home.