Which one is Malala?
Która to Malala?
© by Renata Piątkowska
© by Wydawnictwo Literatura
Cover and illustrations:
Cátia Lamerton Viegas Wesolowska
First publication in this edition
Wydawnictwo Literatura, Łódź 2016
91-334 Łódź, ul. Srebrna 41
tel. (42) 630 23 81
faks (42) 632 30 24
Let me introduce to you Malala Yousafzai, the girl who looks at you from the cover of this book. Who is this teenager wrapped in a shawl? She is a young Pakistani who a few years ago almost died at the hands of the Taliban because she defended girls’ rights to education. She miraculously escaped death and today is committed in the fight to give every child a chance to go to school.
In our world education does not seem to be something special, it is something obvious. Everyday, teachers, school classrooms and books are there waiting for you. You can learn and in the future you can become whomever you want. But all around the world more than 60 million children are still lacking this opportunity. These children have no access to school and have to do hard labour instead. When Malala expressed herself in public she often spoke on their behalf: “I raise up my voice, not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard."  Those without a voice are the children who were deprived of the right to education. For them, childhood with no schools and with slave labour is everyday life.
In 2014, the eyes of the whole world turned to Malala when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She is the only child in the world honoured with this prestigious award. She became an icon of the struggle for freedom of speech and children’s right to education. The situation of children will obviously not improve overnight just because Malala was awarded, but it’s her message that counts: stop killing each other, stop destroying and demolishing, start building, allow children to learn. Malala, now ranked among a hundred of the most influential people in the world, brings awareness to the problem. It is essential to make a noise about children’s rights including the right to education. Malala Yousafzai should be an inspiration for us all. She is an unusual girl who on the one hand, like all teenagers watches television series and listens to teenage music, but on the other hand is a seasoned politician.
I recommend this moving story of a unique and steadfast girl to all teenagers. You will realise how much a courageous teenager can do and how much each one of us should be doing. Because even the greatest of changes begins in the hearts and minds of individual people.
The Ombudsman for Children
The Chancellor of the International Chapter of the Order of the Smile
Shots were fired on Tuesday 9th of October, 2012. On that day, as usual, the rickety bus drove up to the school building. At the sight of the bus, the school girls grabbed their backpacks and twenty pairs of nimble feet fled down the stairs at a frantic pace. They knew that the first one on the bus would get the best place. Just before the gate and according to tradition, all the girls covered their faces. All except for one, who in fact had a colourful scarf on her head but did not even try to hide behind it. Each time she was told: ‘Cover your face, people are looking,’ she answered with a disarming smile: ‘It doesn’t matter, I’m also looking at them.’
It took a while but in the end students sat crammed in the bus under the watchful eye of three teachers. In these conditions, any comfort was out of the question. Inside it was cramped and stuffy. The backpacks and bags lying underfoot intensified that cramped feeling. Dust particles swirled in the air of the overheated bus. There was a rising smell of gasoline mixed with the aroma of kebabs sold on the street and the stench of garbage, lingering in a nearby stream.
But none of that bothered the girls. They shouted and talked over each other, with flushed cheeks gleaming with sweat. It was a good opportunity to make fun of others and gossip. And, as if by magic all chemical equations, English words and geometrical figures faded away from the minds of the talkative schoolgirls, and instead the history of Bella and Edward the vampire from The Twilight required detailed discussion. There were scenes in the film about which they could only whisper into each others ear.
The bus rolled cautiously along bumpy roads, passing by snarling scooters and colourful rickshaws. The driver didn’t react to cars overtaking him, honking loudly and creating clouds of dust. Traffic teemed around and the school bus joined in, buzzing like a beehive. When it swerved to avoid potholes, the schoolgirls fell onto each other and cracked up laughing. Singing could sometimes be heard through the noise. It might have been a Justin Bieber song. Something about a boy whose heart beat harder when he saw his beloved girl on the street.
Suddenly the bus stopped abruptly. The reason being a young dark bearded man, who stood in the middle of the road and signaled the driver to stop. He started a conversation with him:
‘Is this the Khushal School bus?’ he asked.
Meanwhile another man got inside. He was also young, however it was hard to say if he had a beard because he covered his face with a scarf so no one was able to get a closer look at him.
He looked around nervously and asked only one question:
‘Which one is Malala?’
The girls fell silent but some of them looked sideways at the one who didn’t cover her face. That was enough.
The aggressor took out a gun, a black Colt 45. He aimed and shot Malala in the face. The bullet hit her in the forehead, just above the left eyebrow. He fired at her two more times, but the first had already made her collapse onto her friends laps. The other shots wounded two schoolgirls sitting behind her.
Even before the initial shock had passed the assassin was no longer there.
‘Help! Help!’ the girls shouted and cried, some of them cowering as if they wanted to become invisible.
‘I want to go home!’ sobbed Attiya, hiding her face in her hands.
‘They were the Taliban! They’ll shoot us! We’ll all die!’ students panicked.
‘No! They have already fled’ said the teacher calming them. ‘What about Malala?! That’s who they wanted!’
‘She’s alive! But covered in blood’ despaired Moniba, Malala’s best friend.
‘Let’s go to the hospital’ the driver decided, speeding off.
Fortunately Mingora is a small town and the dusty schoolbus with a severely injured girl quickly arrived at the door of the hospital.
‘Have you heard? The Taliban attacked a bus with children returning from school!’ The news of the shooting spread in a flash.
Malala’s father reached the hospital as did other parents, friends, journalists.
‘Apparently Malala Yousafzai was killed on the spot,’ was rumoured.
But life still smoldered in the girl and the doctors did their best to save her. They also treated Shazia and Kainat who were injured, as they were sitting close to Malala when the Taliban attacked. In their case there was no reason for concern as the bullets barely scratched them.
Later the same day Malala was transported by helicopter to the military hospital in Peshawar. The x-ray showed that the assassin’s bullet passed through her forehead, neck and was stuck near her left shoulder.
‘Her condition is deteriorating fast. We need to operate,’ said the doctor to Malala’s terrified parents. ‘Otherwise your daughter will die.’
For nearly five hours there was no news from the operating room. But behind the door Malala’s mum with the Koran in her hands, never stopped praying, her father promising to God:
‘Lord, I will give you the rest of my life, I’ve lived quite enough but please save her. She’s only fifteen. We cannot lose her. I told my daughter that she was as free as a bird. I promised that I would guard her freedom. God, let me keep my word. Do not take her from us. I can’t live without her.’
God must have been looking down with His gracious eye and also the capable hands of doctors did their job, for either way the operation was successful. But it was only the first of a whole series of operations which Malala has subsequently been subjected to. From the military hospital in Peshawar she was transported to Rawalpindi, but as the young patient’s condition remained critical balancing on the edge of life and death, the decision was made to take her to the UK.
On the 15th of October at dawn, a week after the attack, Malala arrived in a hospital in Birmingham. This information couldn’t be kept secret and soon more than two hundred and fifty journalists from around the world besieged the hospital building. They all wanted to know how Malala was feeling and were very keen on taking her picture.
Doctors had to make statements everyday for the press about the girl’s health. Daily newspaper headlines would announce:
But it wasn’t only the press who devoted a lot of attention to Malala. Internet forums wrote about her, they were written by teenagers as well as adult internet users concerned by the tragic events in Pakistan.
On internet chats such comments took place:
Anyone knows anything about the crowd at Queen Elizabeth Hospital? The place is abounded with journalists. I’ve even seen the Sky News helicopter. It flew around and filmed everything from above.
It is about Malala, this student from Pakistan, shot by the Taliban. They’re treating her in the hospital. Don’t you read the newspapers?
Man, on which world do you live? Haven’t you heard about Malala? They’re splashing it about on all the news.
Blocked175, I can enlighten you. She’s a fifteen year old Pakistani. In her country, the Taliban knock down and close schools. And she criticized their governing and demanded the right to education. They tried to kill her because of that.
Come on, I don’t get it. Why did she risk and bark back to the Taliban? To go to school? Not better to chill out and play computer games? Here even the worst geeks would be happy if they closed the school. Especially since next week there will be a maths test.
You don’t get it! In Pakistan, the possibility of going to school is a privilege, an opportunity to achieve something. And the Taliban want girls to sit at home, marry and have children. According to them, a woman should be illiterate, sit in the kitchen and stir the soup. Therefore in the Swat Valley, where Malala comes from, they forbade girls to go to school. An attempt to counter the Taliban could be paid with life. She dared. And here you’re outputting some nonsense about chilling out or maths test.
How could such a a young thing run afoul of the Taliban? I don’t think they get cold feet in front of little girls.
Still, they shot her and now they threaten that if she recovers they’ll attack again. Apparently, she is under permanent protection at the hospital.
You can’t joke with the Taliban. I was in Pakistan in 2007, when they occupied the Swat Valley. Since then the kidnappings, executions and bombings have continued on a daily basis. They destroyed and plundered schools and their leader Fazlullach claimed that: ‘Those who learn, will go to hell.’
Government troops failed to deal with terror.
How did you get there?
I was a reporter. I filmed in hiding how the Taliban in turbans burnt tellies and computers on the street. At night I photographed fire columns emerging in the sky when they blew up power stations, pipelines and bridges.
I could earn a bullet in the head for this.
You bet. At dusk after the curfew, the city looked abandoned. Streets were deserted. No one dared to even listen to music, because it was also prohibited. The indomitable were whipped or killed. And women had to wear the burqa and even during the day they couldn’t leave the house alone. They always had to be accompanied by a husband or a male relative.
And if someone wouldn’t listen, then what?
You don’t want to know.
It’s no secret. On the network there is a video that went viral. A teenager in a black burqa is facedown, and a bearded Talib pummels her with a horsewhip. She screams and begs him to stop and he beats her mercilessly. Finally, he leaves her weeping and bloodied. Around the crowd gathers, but no one has the courage to help her. Someone recorded the scene on a mobile phone and uploaded the video onto the net. Later, this recording was shown on television around the world.
Why did he do this to her?
The guy she left the house with was not her husband nor a relative. Prohibited and contrary to the tradition.
Freaking insane. But how did Malala piss the Taliban so much? They could have had her whipped and not shot right away.
Malala is an opponent difficult to deal with. Since the age of eleven she’s stood boldly in front of cameras and has been giving interviews. News stations in Pakistan knew that the child on the screen made an impression. Especially when she spoke so simply and honestly, like Malala did. And she felt comfortable in front of the camera and didn’t hesitate to ask: ‘By what right the Taliban forbid me to go to school? Why can’t I learn?’
If they had her whipped it would go on TV right away, everyone would symphatise with Malala and the Taliban would have been dragged through the mud. One good shot could solve their problem.
All in all, it was close. It’s a miracle she survived. I would be scared to put myself at such a risk.
Her friends’ parents were afraid too. Therefore they forbade their daughters to talk to reporters. But Malala had a father who was not afraid and let her give interviews. He supported her and used to say: ‘You are a child and you have the right to speak.’
Well, this guy had nerves of steel! He let his own daughter play with the Taliban! Didn’t he realise what he was exposing her to?!
I met him. Ziauddin Yousafzai is a very brave and an extraordinary man. A great teacher and poet. He often appeared in the media himself, he spoke at rallies and meetings. He spoke bluntly about the invasion of the Taliban, about what is happening in the Swat Valley. He criticized the government for not protecting citizens against terror.
Wasn’t he afraid the Taliban would shut him up?
He was. Especially since getting anonymous threatening letters. For a time he even slept at a friend’s, because he didn’t want to get caught home and be killed in front of the family. He knew they had him in their aim. But he did his own thing. He kept saying that you have to tell the truth because only the truth overthrows fear. He established a network of schools and struggled for their survival. He cared about the education of Malala and her brothers. He obviously feared about the safety of his daughter, but on the other hand he knew that she is still a child and believed that ‘not even the Taliban kill children’.
She supposedly wrote a blog using a pen name, but the Taliban sussed out that it was her job.
She must have pissed them off with that blog...
The blog was my colleague’s idea. He is a Pakistani reporter, working for the BBC. In 2009 he was looking for a female teacher or a schoolgirl to write a diary about life under the Taliban regime. But there was no one willing, even the teacher refused, afraid of a lynching.
No wonder. People were really scared.
However, Malala’s father agreed that she undertook this task. To hide from the Taliban she wrote under the pseudonym of Gul Makai, meaning Cornflower. As time passed the eleven-year-old’s jottings gained a lot of publicity. They gave courage to the intimidated residents of Swat. The brave voice of a girl who wrote that she had only one dream – to be able to go to school without fear – increasingly irritated the Taliban. They began to threaten her, but Malala continued to speak her mind freely. In the end, she was sentenced to death.
What a journey. And here was me thinking that all around the world walking to school is something like forced labour. And getting F’s or reprimanded for no apparent reason and then grounded at home.
Blocked175, you’d better just go and learn your maths.
I see this test quite negative. Gotta go. See ya.