LOS ANGELES (AP) — A little Afghan girl whose love of painting won the hearts of U.S. doctors who fitted her with a prosthetic arm returned to the United States on Thursday, after the group that sponsored her first visit said it learned her newfound celebrity made her a subject of death threats at home.
Six-year-old Shah Bibi Tarakhail arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on Thursday morning on the last leg of a journey from Kabul. She has been granted a six-month visa, but Amel Najjar, executive director of the nonprofit Children of War Foundation, said her group is looking into permanent residency status for her, perhaps as a political refugee.
Najjar said all the attention has made the girl a target of insurgents in Afghanistan, who railed against her exposure to Western culture. The father told the group that he and his daughter had been in hiding and separated from the rest of their family since her return to Afghanistan in April. However, the girl had grown so depressed that he had her hospitalized.
"Her father called us a week ago, said she'd been in a hospital near the Pakistani border and her life was in danger," Najjar said. "Her father said, 'I can't care for her anymore and it's at a point where she needs to be out of here sooner rather than later.'"
The girl lost her right arm last year when she picked up a grenade following a firefight between U.S. and Taliban forces in her village near the Pakistan border. The explosion, which killed her brother, also destroyed her right eye.
After doctors at Shriners Hospital For Children fitted her with a prosthetic arm she quickly adapted and resumed painting, something she revealed was her favored pastime in Afghanistan. After a stop at a restaurant Thursday for a soda and chicken nuggets, she headed back to the hospital to be checked out before going home with Najjar. She'll move in with a host family next week.
The child broke into a huge grin when reunited with her physical therapist. "You remember me?" Vivian Yip asked as Shah Bibi rushed to embrace her. Soon she was demonstrating that, although her prosthetic had lost one of its straps, she hadn't lost any of her skill. She was stringing children's blocks together with yarn, cutting up a pink sheet of paper and drawing a happy face on it. Then, with Yip's help, she signed her name.
She cocked her head, smiled and said "Thank you," when someone praised her work. Just before she returned home last April, Children of War had arranged a lesson for her with prominent abstract expressionist Davyd Whaley, who praised her talent. After Galerie Michael in Beverly Hills showed her work around, she received an invitation to visit the Picasso Museum in Spain.
Whaley has offered her another lesson at the gallery. Before she enrolls in school in the fall, her doctors plan to fit her with a prosthetic eye. They'll eventually treat some of the scars she sustained when the grenade exploded.