In a world where trauma is a reality, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder commonly known as PTSD can be an eventuality in people who have undergone such traumatic experiences. PTSD is an affliction that can plague anyone who has been through a horrendous experience from adults to even young infant children as it is a psychological disorder. In Khaled Hosseini’s book “A Thousand Splendid Suns“, Aziza who is a relatively young girl seems to be suffering from this disorder. The aim of this essay is to show how trauma in the life of Aziza led to this eventuality and all the symptoms that she exhibits that are typical of a person suffering the adverse effects of PTSD.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD) is a disorder that afflicts people have been through dangerous or shocking events in their lives such as gruesome car accidents, rape attacks, war situations or even those who have survived a violent robbery attempt. It is normal for a human to be scared and frightened during such events as it the natural body response of fight or fright that usually takes over the body. Most people usually recover quickly after such experiences but when one starts to have the recurrence of the event playing in their minds leading them to be scared even when they are not in danger, they can be said to be experiencing the early signs of PTSD.
Individuals who have been through these traumatic events that cause PTSD usually have distinct symptoms of this malady. The most common symptoms of PTSD are usually the flashbacks of the events that happened, physical symptoms like heavy perspiration when they are having nightmares about the experiences at night, thoughts that usually scare them, avoiding people or situations that remind them of the event, hyperarousal while always looking out, having a difficult time concentrating and trouble trying to get sleep.
AZIZA SUFFERS FROM PTSD
Emotions and behavior of a person that has PTSD can change drastically and this might be noticeable to people who knew this individual due to the sudden change in demeanor and routine. Aziza is such a person. Her life is suddenly transformed by various traumatic events that take place in Afghanistan. Conflict is rife as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) had invaded the country to annex it as part of its subjugated dominion but a fatwa was issued by the religious clerics calling for jihad, a war to protect the Muslim land from what they referred to as an ‘infidel incursion’.
The call for jihad further exacerbated this situation as conflict now rocked the whole country in all directions between as foreign fighters from other Muslim countries commonly known as the mujahedeen flocked the county in droves to fight alongside their Muslim brothers. After losing this battle for Afghanistan to the jihadis the country is now under the rule of fanatical Islamic fundamentalists known as the Taliban. It is under the backdrop of their iron-fist rule that the story of Aziza is set, showing how this sudden change of events contributed to her suffering from PTSD, from a normal young Afghani girl, to a whole new individual that her mother Leila couldn’t really understand.
Aziza is a victim of a violent society in which war and strife is a common occurrence. When the Taliban take over the country people in Herat do not think that these jihadis would reach their small but there fears soon come true. The Taliban reaches Herat and starts imposing its strict form of Islamic Sharia Law. Young able bodied men and boys are plucked from the streets and forcible forced to fight for these fundamentalists who are ruthless in enforcing their version of Islamic Sharia Law.
It is the infighting among the Taliban that ends up creating more fighting as those who are opposed to their nature of rule fight back and this is what affects the residents the most. The constant shelling and bombardment scares the children in Rasheed’s household and especially. These loud dins and bangs lead her to always be frightful as the author writes,
‘‘Aziza shrieked at the thumping of mortars. To distract her, Mariam arranged grains of rice on the floor, in the shape of a house or a rooster or a star, and let Aziza scatter them. She drew elephants for Aziza the way Jalil had shown her, in one stroke, without ever lifting the tip of the pen.”( Hosseini, Khaled 141)
Aziza is also a victim of wanton violence meted to both her and her mother. It was clear that Rasheed was not fond of Aziza from the very begin. He would never call her by her name which meant the ‘cherished one’ but referred to her simply as ‘the baby’ or when distressed, he would refer to her as ‘that thing’ (Hosseini, Khaled 132).According to him, this baby had hijacked Laila’s responsibility to him as a wife and diverted her attention from the constant demands that a baby requires. He once brandished a gun at her in the house when she would follow him around in the house and this really frightens her (Hosseini, Khaled 141).The author is very categorical about Aziza’s situation even after they move to Kabul;
“Aziza has nightmares from which she wakes up shrieking. Laila has to lie beside her on the cot, dry her cheeks with her sleeve, soothe her back to sleep” (Hosseini, Khaled 206).
This is a clear a manifestation of a person suffering from PTSD as the traumatic events keep replying themselves in the form of dreams even when she is clearly out of danger.
The drought and hunger of April 2001 forces Leila to send Aziza to an orphanage as Rasheed is unable to earn enough money to feed his family. She is forced to lie to her daughter that the orphanage is a special school and feels guilty for doing this. Aziza is also encouraged to lie to the Zaman, the orphanages director that her father was killed by the Taliban which further confuses this young girl. On realizing that that she would be left here, Aziza is filled with anxiety and panics because she had never been away from her mother under such circumstances. Aziza is very uncomfortable living in this dirty orphanage as it is an environment that she had never been exposed to and which disgusts her to some point. It is difficult for Laila to visit her due to the Taliban soldiers patrol set up by the Taliban and even gets whipped savagely on several occasions by them in her quest to visit her daughter.
When she finally manages to visit Aziza, she notices that the whole experience of being in the orphanage has somewhat changed her and her personality. She has developed a stutter in her speech and also becomes nervously chatty, maybe to cover her discomfort of having to make the orphanage her new abode. The simple fact that her whole personality changed and was now characterized by a change in behavior goes ahead to show how the whole experience of being dumped in an orphanage was traumatic to Aziza. A change in behavior and emotional stability is usually a tell-tale sign of PTSD affliction. Being in the orphanage was also responsible for the bad dreams and nightmares that she experienced;
“The children need reassuring, each in their own way. Laila has to sit down with an agitated Aziza, who still has nightmares, who’d been startled to tears the week before when someone had shot rounds into the sky at a wedding nearby. Laila has to explain to Aziza that when they return to Kabul the Taliban won’t be there, that there will not be any fighting, and that she will not be sent back to the orphanage” ( 212).
Aziz is terrorized endlessly by Rasheed when she is around him or when he is around the house. This abuse ranges from verbal abuse, to physical abuse that he inflicts on her. She is always precarious now that she is aware of her father’s violence towards her and ends up living in fear when she is around. It reaches a point that Aziza is so scared of her father, that her bladder lets go when she thinks of what he is capable of doing to her and her mother. Khaled writes that:
“Downstairs, the beating began. To Laila, the sounds she heard were those of a methodical, familiar proceeding. There was no cursing, no screaming, no pleading, no surprised yelps, only the systematic business of beating and being beaten…. thump of something solid repeatedly striking flesh, something, someone, hitting a wall ………Now and then, Laila heard running footsteps, a wordless chase, furniture turning over, glass shattering, then the thumping once more. Laila took Aziza in her arms. A warmth spread down the front of her dress when Aziza’s bladder let go.”( Hosseini, Khaled 148)
This is clearly a sign of an individual suffering from PTSD she is so scared of her father due his previous abuses towards her that the very imagination of what his father is able to do to her scares the whims out of her.
In conclusion, it would be true to come to the logical to say that Aziza is a young girl who has been affected adversely by the traumatic occurrences in her life. These effects have come to manifest themselves in the various symptoms of PTSD that she has ranging from the nightmares she gets at night in Pakistan away from where all the abuse happened to the change in personality and her stuttering affliction when she is put in the orphanage by her mother. In a way, Aziza represents the plight of young girls in patriarchal societies where abuse is normal and has in some way been institutionalized. She brings the reader to the realization that PTSD can affect everyone, including young children such as her whose innocence was taken away by these traumatic experiences and had to grow up quickly to the realization of the grim realities in life.