Rock Center   |  June 14, 2013

Aesha, three years later: ‘I’m a very lucky girl’

NBC’s Ann Curry sits down with Aesha, the young Afghan woman whose mutilated face became the symbol for brutality against women in Afghanistan. Today, she has a new life, and a new nose.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

vo: legacies of our long war in afghanistan is what we have learn good life there for women and girls. tonight ann curry has an update on one woman who defied the taliban and paid a terrible price for it. her story is a portrait of bravery, and it includes the involvement of some extraordinary americans who were moved to act.

>>> this is the story of a girl who defied fate and against all odds survived. and while you may not know her name, you likely remember her face. this is aesha mohammadzai on the cover of "time" magazine in 2010 after her taliban husband and in-laws cut off her nose and parts of her ears. the image shocked the world and transformed aesha's life, taking her some 8,000 miles from home to of all places frederick, maryland, where she has finally landed on a quiet suburban street with an afghan american family. it is here with mati and jamilla and their daughter mena that 22-year-old aesha has been able to begin a journey to a new life and a new face with the family she met almost by chance. do you remember your first glimpse of aesha?

>> it was in "time" magazine. i saw the picture, and i saw -- i read the story, and i never thought that i will meet her.

>> mati of shocked when he first met aesha.

>> i'm a father. god forbid that somebody would do such a thing to my daughter or to my son. what would i do? i will burn the world.

>> forced to marry at a young age, aesha was mutilated for running away , left for dead , a cousin helped her get to an american military hospital and eventually transferred to a shelter run by the organization women for afghan women.

>> i would say probably 90% of african households experience some form of abuse.

>> the executive director of afghan women says aesha is just one of many cases of extreme abuse. what made you decide to have aesha photographed?

>> we wanted to tell the world that look what the taliban are doing.

>> you had no idea the impact of that photograph?

>> not at all.

>> you smile, why?

>> well because everything changed for us and aesha after that photograph.

>> offers for help poured in. and when aesha arrived in the u.s., a self ranger prosthetic nose was built for her. reconstructive surgery seemed to be on the horizon, but she was struggling emotionally and was prone to violent outbursts making it difficult to find her a home. desperate, women for afghan women sent her on a retreat with one of their board members who happened to be jamilla 's cousin. they stopped by the house for tea.

>> she didn't want to go back with my cousin. she asked her if she can stay overnight.

>> this is what i don't understand. you met her once.

>> yeah.

>> she spent one night with you.

>> yeah.

>> so why did you open your life to her?

>> because i feel so much pain as she told me her story. she lost her mother. she was 2 years old. she's a person who survived all her life. we couldn't say no to her.

>> the couple were both born and raised in afghanistan.

>> the soccer, you don't have control, you cannot play soccer.

>> mati is a civil engineer and volunteer soccer coach. jamilla practiced medicine in europe before marrying mati. with her medicbackground. she was able to help prepare aish for surgery. at first she was deemed not psychologically ready for surgery.

>> no. she wants it, but she was not.

>> in the home, aesha began to stabilize and finally in the summer of 2012 , doctors agreed she was ready to begin the grueling series of surgical procedures. this was aesha last december in midst of retrucktive surgery. her forehead had to be enlarged to create skin for the outer layer of her nose.

>> i would never expect that i would be running to the hospital that many times, you know. and bring her from hospital and wash her hair.

>> much of the care of aesha fell to mati because to try to get a residency to practice medicine in the united states , jamilla has had to work in a hospital in new york and commute home every weekend she can. her absence was hard on everyone, especially as the surgeries approached and aesha's moods swung wildly.

>> i ask her, how can i make you happy, you know. and she said, "you know, when you give me all the world, i will always have this pain in my chest what happened to me. it will not help." but we try at least to make it for her easier to go forwards.

>> and slowly with patience, consistency, and love, progress has been made. this is aesha today. and even with many months of surgery still ahead, she finally has what she wanted most. did you ever think you would have a nose again?

>> translatranslator: i never thought i would have a nose again. i'm happy now that my surgeries are taking place. i endured a hard time , but something good is coming out of it for me.

>> and today, aesha is finally ready to tell her story to the world. how old were you when you were married?

>> 12.

>> 12? at the tender age of 12, aesha's father gave her away to settle a dispute, a tradition called bond. she said her much older husband and in-laws were rootsed in the tapgz and abused her severely -- taliban and abused her severely for five years.

>> translator: at that time i was very scared. i never thought i could escape. then i said, "whatever it takes, i want my freedom."

>> finally she ran. but she didn't get far before she was arrested and put in jail. after five months, the judge ordered her to go back to her husband. and that is when the unimaginable happened.

>> translator: they tied my hands. they tied my feet. when they cut my nose, i lost consciousness.

>> it was aesha's unbreakable will to survive that saved her. she dragged herself in the dark for hours, knocking on door after door.

>> translator: i realized i had relatives in this town, so i knocked on their door. they said, "who is this?" i said, "it's "they cut my noise and ears off." they said, "go away. go back to your father-in-law's house."

>> what is your message about how you were treated by these men, your father, your husband, and his relatives?

>> translator: i have bad feelings toward them. i don't even say he is my father, and i don't ever want to think he was my father. because fathers are so good. uncle mati has done more for me in one day than my father has ever done.

>> she never trust a man because that thing has happened by the man. men tie her hands, men cut her nose. men cut her ears. that's what happened. it's hard for her to trust.

>> it has gotten harder for the couple to care for aesha. while her surgeries are paid for by the military because she is considered a casualty of war, mati was laid off from his engineering job last december after 29 years. how bad is it financially for you now?

>> it's hard but -- we will manage. we did our part to aesha, and we will be doing it as long as we live.

>> ah, this is where you do your jewelry? after so much suffering, aesha is finally looking forward to the next phases of her life. what is giving you the most happiness now?

>> translator: i'm a very lucky girl that i finally got my own freedom. and i always want and pray for every woman to get her freedom like me.

>> good luck to you in the future.

>> thank you.

>> english! bring it!

>> incredible story. great ending. ann curry reporting from frederick, maryland, tonight.