Ayat has never experienced what it is like to be in love. And at 18, she is not sure she ever will. "The scars on my face are so clear and not easy to cover with makeup. I can't wear makeup, because I'm not able to do it, you know I can't see, I'm not capable of applying it correctly," she said on an August day, seated in what is now her home in Turkey. When she was just 7, Ayat was disfigured and blinded by an explosion in her native Iraq. She said she was playing with her brother when she was struck during a U.S. demolition of a facility the Americans had been using as a base. “I was playing…and suddenly…I passed out and couldn’t remember what happened,” she recalled. “I woke up in the hospital. When I woke up, I was confused. I asked my mom, ‘Why can’t I see anything, like I used to?’” Ayat and her mother say American soldiers apologised and helped connect her with a way to receive treatment in Germany. The family said it was given a document confirming an incident that could be used to file a claim, a route they did not take. The Army division listed on the family's copy of the Iraqi Claim Card did not respond to Refinery29's request to confirm its authenticity. Ayat is still angry about what happened. "The Americans took the most precious gift I had," she said. "I want to ask everyone, if the Americans had this happen to their daughters, would they be OK with it?" Now, living in Turkey, Ayat still mourns the life she could have had. "I cry because my life is destroyed," she said. "When I see girls going to school, and having a life, I sigh sadly, wishing I could do the same, and I wish this and that. But it's all wishes, and nothing comes true." She worries about what will happen to her if she can't find a husband, and wonders who will care for her if her brothers marry and move out and her parents pass away. But she tries to find peace in the new life she is creating for herself post-injury. Her dream, she says, is to be a pianist. “I feel in harmony when listening to the piano," she said. "I feel transported to another world. I feel the purity of the sound, clear of any hatred, grudge, or revenge.” And she hopes she can inspire other girls to appreciate — and take advantage of — all the opportunities life gives them. "It’s true that losing my sight closed so many doors, but it also opened other doors that other girls wouldn’t know about normally," she said. "But I want to say to other girls to focus on their lives, to study, to enjoy lives. Enjoy your friends, your family, enjoy everything because life comes once, not twice."
This story draws on interviews conducted in person in Turkey by filmmaker Tarek Turkey.