by Charlie Leck
I was riveted this week by a story in the NY Times Magazine. Yes, riveted. Entirely rapt by it and I cannot too strongly recommended it to you. The story appeared in a special issue of the magazine called SAVING THE WORLD’S WOMEN. The story itself, written by Dexter Filkins, is titled A SCHOOL BUS FOR SHAMSIA.
It is a disturbing story and it made me wince from time to time, but it must be read and it must be understood.
“The attackers appeared in the morning on Nov. 12 of last year, as the girls were walking to school. The men came on three motorcycles, each one carrying a driver and a man on back. They wore masks. Each of the men riding on back carried a small container filled with battery acid. The masked men circled for several minutes as the girls streamed to school. Then they moved in.
Sometime ago I wrote about the book, THREE CUPS OF TEA, by Greg Mortenson. I was so moved by the book that I offered to send a free copy to anyone who would ask me for it. The offer still holds. It is the story of Mortenson’s all-consuming mission to build schools for children, including girls, in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. He was able to raise enormous amounts of money for his project and he began to build them.
“Shamsia Husseini and her sister, Atifa, were walking along the highway when they spotted the men on the motorbikes. Shamsia, then 17, was old enough to be married; she was wearing a black scarf that covered most of her face. Shamsia had seen Taliban gunmen before and figured the men on the motorcycles would pass. Then one of the bikes pulled alongside her, and the man on back jumped off. Through the mask, he asked Shamsia what seemed like a strange question.
“‘Are you going to school?’
“The masked man pulled the scarf away from Shamsia’s face and, with his other hand, pumped the trigger on his spray gun. Shamsia felt as if her face and eyes were on fire. As she screamed, the masked man reached for Atifa, who was already running. He pulled at her and tore her scarf away and pumped the spray into her back. The men sped off toward another group of girls. Shamsia lay in the street holding her burning face.”
Though Mortenson has been successful beyond his dreams and beyond the expectations of most skeptics, the whole idea of girls attending school stood in opposition to tradition and the mores of the tribes of that area. The ideas of equality for all women, held in the more advanced civilizations of the world, are not part of the lives of undeveloped Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Though Filkins’ story is disturbing, it is also hopeful and boasts of great successes brought about by American influences and American money contributed by thousands and thousands of people.
I think it would be a shame if you didn’t read A Schoolbus for Shamsia.