Afghan teen who lost leg promotes prize-winning book

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Farah Ahmedi says: "In the world there are a lot of people like me. ... So if I got out and kept hoping, they can do it, too."
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Farah Ahmedi has lost a lot.

Ten years ago, at the age of 7, she lost a leg when she stepped on a land mine in her native Afghanistan. After that, she lost her father and sisters when a bomb fell on their house.

Today, the 17-year-old high school student living in suburban Chicago is a winner in more ways than one.

Farah will be in Pittsburgh today as the winner of "The Story of My Life," a national search by ABC's "Good Morning America" and Simon Spotlight Entertainment for a first-time author. Her book, "My Life: An Afghan Girl on the Other Side of the Sky" written with Tamim Ansary, was released two weeks ago.

Farah was one of three finalists whose stories were told in three consecutive segments on "Good Morning America" in March. Viewers then voted on which book they wanted to read.

The selection of Farah's story was announced live during a "Good Morning America" broadcast last month.

"I was in shock. It was so surprising," said Farah from a tour stop in Washington, D.C. "I was so happy. First of all I can't believe it. They chose me, and that was a great feeling."

In addition to having her book published, Farah received $10,000. Her visit here is part of a 10-city tour to promote the memoir. She's scheduled to appear at 7 tonight at the Joseph Beth Booksellers, SouthSide Works, 2705 E. Carson St., South Side.

"In the world there are a lot of people like me," she said. "They have a hard time or have a disability in some way. So if I got out and kept hoping, they can do it, too."

Hope seemed in very short supply that fateful day in Afghanistan when Farah, running late for school, decided to take a short cut. Venturing off the paved road into a nearby field, she stepped on a land mine.

After 40 days in an Afghan hospital where doctors were ill-quipped to treat her injuries, she was transported to a German hospital. However, doctors there were forced to amputate one leg while the other had to be fused in such a way that she can no longer bend it.

Farah spent two years in that German hospital without any family to comfort her. By the time she returned home, the Taliban had taken control of her country. Her brothers fled to escape the regime and so far have not been heard from. It was just she and her mother after the bomb killed her father and two sisters.

She and her mother, who was ill, escaped to Pakistan, where they lived in refugee camps and other horrendous conditions for four years. After making their way to the United States in 2002, Farah and her mother were befriended by Alyce Litz, who's involved with the two relief agencies that had assisted them.

Litz, who has become Farah's mentor, is traveling with her on the tour.

In an excerpt from the book, Farah writes of Litz:

"She's funny. She makes me laugh. When I'm with her, I forget my problems. I don't think of her as an American or a foreigner or this or that nationality. It never crosses my mind that she's an adult woman, so much older than me. Different ages, different religions, different nationalities -- none of that matters. She's my friend. It's as simple as that."

Farah said she's been received warmly during her book tour, which has included stops in Ridgewood, N.J.; Huntington, N.Y.; Philadelphia; Indianapolis; and Detroit.

"People are so interested in my story, and they're so happy to see me," said the teen. "They come up to me and say, 'Hi, I saw you on TV. Your story is such an amazing story,' and we shake hands."

The recognition and well wishes make her feel good, she said.

"They're proud of me and they're amazed. They're not feeling bad or pity for me."

The same goes for her friends back at Wheaton North High School, she said.

"They're just anxious for me to get back, and they'll have a big party," she said.

Farah would like to return to Afghanistan after she's done with college and has started a career. She's considering something in the medical field, perhaps involving prosthetics.

"There's a lot of people who lost their legs, and they don't have a good prosthesis there," she said. "It's not comfortable. They cannot do a lot with [their prosthesis]. I'm hoping I can be able to help them."


Monica Haynes can be reached at mhaynes@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1660.


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