Because I Could Not Walk With My Feet, I Walked With My Hands

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(Ed. Note: This essay is part of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project founded by novelist Masha Hamilton. Under the project, Afghan women write in secure online workshops taught by published American novelists, poets, memoirists, screenwriters and journalists. The strongest pieces are posted online on a blog. The AWWP is aimed at giving women a voice at a time when Afghanistan appears to be growing more conservative. The project encourages participants to claim their own stories and publishes them under their first names.)


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When I was nine months old, I had a fever and my family took me to a doctor. The doctor gave me a shot, and the next morning my legs would not support me. I had polio. My family did not have money for follow-up treatment.

When I was five years old, my father left my mother for another woman. Then we did not have money even for food. We were Afghan refugees living in Pakistan. My younger brother tried to earn money by doing anything he could, like going to people’s houses, collecting their trash and selling it. One day my younger brother got sick, so my mother had no option but to take me in her arms and sit beside the street begging for money so she could take my brother to the doctor. I do not remember anything from that time because I was very young. But my mother told me people were not friendly; after all, they saw women like her, begging with a baby in arms, every day. Finally, after quite a long time, a kind-hearted man got out of his car and gave her a fair amount of money so she could take my brother to a doctor. Until now, every time my mother prays, she remembers that man and prays for him, as well.

My father returned home, then, and stayed with us for one year. I was seven years old when he died of a heart attack. Two months later, my mother took me to a German doctor who was working briefly at a hospital and helping Afghan refugees for free. He operated on my knee, but he made a mistake and operated on the wrong one, and soon after that, he returned home. My life became even harder. Whenever my family went to a party or wedding, they told me I could not go because people would laugh, point and mock me. I stayed alone at home and talked with the walls. Sometimes I cried. I did not go outside. Because I could not walk on my feet, I walked with my hands.

One day my family went to party, and I was alone at home. I fell down. My foot and my hand were hurt. My hand started bleeding. I was crying and calling my mom, but nobody was there to hear. I felt so lonely. I wished that I was never born since I could not walk, run and enjoy life like other kids my age. I asked myself why I came to be in this world.

When I was nine years old, I lost my grandmother. When my family and I were at my grandmother’s house for her funeral, suddenly my aunt pointed at me and said, “Why didn’t she die instead? She cannot walk and is of no use. Why hasn’t she died instead?” It was like the whole world collapsed on me. Even though I was young, I could understand. It became a big burden on my heart. Many nights after that, I was thinking about why my aunt, my own aunt, had said those harsh words to me and about me.

In the tenth spring of my life, it was my aunt’s wedding. As usual my family told me, “You stay alone at home.” I cried and asked them to take me with them, but they said, “No, you have to stay at home.” They went to the wedding. I cried for hours after they left until at last I went to sleep. When they came home and talked about the wedding, I was crying in my heart.

Every Eid, all my siblings got new clothes and other gifts, but my family did not buy for me because they told me, “Since you do not go out, you do not need new clothes and other things.” One day I didn’t tell my mom, and I went outside. The children started laughing at me and teasing me and hurt me, and my head became bloody. I walked with my hands back home, and then my mom was very angry at me.

When I was twelve years old, we came back to Kabul from Pakistan. I still stayed home, but I started to read books and magazines. I was thirteen years old when I went to the Red Cross. They gave me crutches. Then I attended school for the first time and began with the fourth grade. I went to the Red Cross again, and they put both my legs, from toe up, in a cast. I was in the cast for six months. It was difficult, but I continued to go to school and became first in my class. I had another operation, and then I could walk with crutches. And now some Americans have helped me, I have learned English and I may have three more surgeries in the coming three years so that I can walk better and better.

This is my life story. But this is not the end. Wait for the end!

Read more by Sana at the Afghan Women's Writing Project site.

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