Adds Miena, with a laugh and a shrug: "She doesn't have patience."
'Now I know the meaning of life'
Fortunately, there's plenty else Aesha has mastered around the house.
She loves doing dishes so much that she sometimes can't help but wash them before she puts them in the dishwasher. Her rice needs work, but she makes potatoes that Mati can't rave about enough. A pile of dough wrapped in plastic bulges from a shelf in the refrigerator door. She makes bread and, for a while, she and Miena got into baking croissants, which Aesha would warm up and smear with Nutella in the middle of the night.
Aesha is at peace in Maryland. She says there was too much going on in New York, where she lived for a year. Her mind, she says, has cleared.
"Now I know the meaning of life, how to live," she says in Pashto, which Jamila translates. "There, I couldn't understand how to live."
Jamila, her mother figure, is gone a lot these days. While the separation has been hard, it has helped Aesha step into new roles.
Jamila, who speaks six languages, was an OB-GYN in Germany before she permanently moved to the United States to be with Mati. To practice medicine here, she must start over in a residency program. She has passed the necessary exams and is open to residencies outside her previous specialty, including internal medicine, family medicine and pathology. But so far, despite several years of trying, she has gotten nowhere.
So, seven months ago Jamila tore herself away from her family and took a job at a hospital in Brooklyn, New York, in an effort to change her luck. She's working as a house physician at Lutheran Medical Center. It's a supervised resident-like position that's open to foreign-trained doctors. She has a small apartment walking-distance from the hospital.
It has been tough to be absent, especially around Aesha's surgeries. With the job comes long hours, plenty of overnight shifts and little flexibility. But Jamila, 46, hopes it will lead to a full-fledged residency somewhere.
Mati drives the 267 miles each way to bring his wife home on the days she has off. She tries to Skype with her family when she can. If it weren't for how tired and busy she is, homesickness would make this chapter in her life impossible.
Her husband loses sleep missing Jamila and fretting about her situation. He thinks it's a crime that she's not being utilized as a doctor. He has withdrawn thousands of dollars from his 401(k) to pay for the hundreds of residency applications she completed. He also worries about the security of his own job as a civil engineer at Bechtel, where he says layoffs are imminent and jobs have been moved to New Delhi. He would relocate the family anywhere in the country if it meant Jamila could do what she's supposed to be doing. If she can't practice medicine in the United States, he says, the whole family -- Aesha included -- may move to Germany.
And then, of course, he worries about Aesha. He sees how eager she is to learn and hopes they can find a way to provide the education and opportunities she deserves. She thinks about teaching others how to make jewelry. Someday, she says, she'd like to help women.
For now, she's helping family members, just as she relies on them.
When Miena couldn't get around right after her soccer injury, Aesha propped pillows under her foot. She brought her warm food. She fetched ice to help with the swelling. After Miena took showers, Aesha braided her wet hair.
Unable to wash her own hair after her surgeries, Aesha sits in a small chair and leans back over the bathtub so Mati can do it. When a pinched nerve in Mati's back left him bedridden, Aesha would pad upstairs to his bedroom to see what she could bring him. She offered him tea, food and her own pain medications.
The day she told him he was the first father she'd ever really had, they both cried. "Momo," she said, "I will always take care of you."
The satisfying sound of laughter
A note on the kitchen table bears Aesha's writing. Certain words are crossed out, casualties as she toiled with what she wanted to say. What is left is this: "Hola," which she picked up from Spanish speakers in her English as a second language class. "Besket Blue Piless."
Miena and I whisper, trying to figure out what it means. "Is there a blue basket," I wonder, looking around for one with piles in it. "Maybe it's basketball," Miena guesses.
Eventually, we turn to Aesha, who is sifting through the bags of groceries Jamila just bought.
She opens a box of individually wrapped Rice Krispies treats. The biscuits, as she calls them, are wrapped in blue foil. That's what she wanted, please. She'll eat one before breakfast and another after.
Jamila never saw the note, but she knows what Aesha likes. It's the sort of thing family members -- even those separated for stretches of time -- remember about one another. Knowing that Aesha is happy helps Jamila, who can't be home as much as she'd like.
Whenever she hears Aesha laugh, Jamila says, it makes her feel good.
Aesha's nightmares of being chased have stopped. She is not haunted the way she once was. She realizes there are many women in this world who have suffered like her, that she's not alone and that she is, in fact, very lucky. If she were still in Afghanistan, she's sure she'd be dead.