SULTANA: the Afghan girl who inspires me every day

Eating my 8000 rupiah lunch in a local cafeteria, I overheard some girls talking about their acquaintances: “Oh my God, I am so freaking annoyed at Mirna. How could she be so clueless? With a face like hers, she will never get a boyfriend. Damn she really needs a plastic surgery, don’t you think? Oh, do you know that…”

Not trying to be a hypocrite, I used to also relish in the act of gossiping. Even if I did not contribute to the conversations, I listened thoroughly. Usually they’d start off with “Hey, do you know….”, and I’d widen my eyes to implicate that I wanted to hear MORE — come on! Give me MORE information about that girl Tara and her so-called boyfriend!

Recently, I have been contemplating about my pettiness for the past few years. Why did I fill myself with useless information which give zero impact on my personal life? Why did I care so much about other people’s mistakes? It’s not like I am one perfect angel sent by God or whatever.

The other day, I stumbled upon an article (read: here) and have been continuously reading it whenever I feel down. The article, written by Nicholas Kristof, is about an Afghan girl named Sultana.

Picture
Sultana accompanied by her books.. She strives to become an astrophysicist someday

As you can see from the photo above, she could not even show her face to the media due to Taliban threats. Living in Afghanistan, Sultana had to stop going to school when she was still in 5th grade, in order to avoid being shot by the Taliban. If she still insisted on going to school, the Taliban would douse her with acid (in fact, acid-burning is a common attack for women pursuing education in conservative parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.. can’t you believe that?). When she first found out about her inability of learning in normal classes, Sultana woke up every day at 5 a.m to educate herself through books. She’d learn English, tackle Algebra, breathe Calculus, inhale Astrophysics, and devour Trigonometry. Although she is only a grade 5 drop-out, Sultana never stops learning up until now. With the help of internet connection, she proceeds to watch educational videos from Khan Academy and take courses on edX. Isn’t she amazing?

At the age of 11, she refused to be confined with ignorance and narrow-mindedness. Having surrounded herself with English each day, she is now able to speak the foreign language fluently, even speaking to a notable physicist Lawrence Krauss via Skype. The fact that she can only go out from her house for 5 times a year does not hinder her willingness to keep studying.

Her life story has left me agape.. I am dumbfounded by her brilliancy and persistence towards life struggles. Whenever loneliness and self-pity struck me, I’d censure myself. Why in the world should I complain, when my problems are diminutive when compared to Sultana’s? In spite of obstacles, she continues to educate herself — so, why should I give up when things don’t go picture perfect?

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