A copy of the memoirs of Pakistani child activist Malala Yousafzai is pictured in a bookstore in Islamabad on October 8, 2013. — Photo by AFP
An autobiography by Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, entitled 'I am Malala' is pictured in a book store in London, on October 8, 2013. — Photo by AFP
WE all know Malala the victim, Malala the activist, and Malala the icon. What we only get glimpses of, however, is Malala the 16-year old girl. Despite being catapulted into the world stage, she’s still a young lady who, like many her age, enjoys a good joke, fights with her younger brothers and is also a fan of the Twilight series of movies predominantly enjoyed by teenage girls the world over.
“I like Edward the vampire, more than Jacob the werewolf because vampires live forever,” she says as she refers to the central characters of Twilight, between whom the leading lady of the series has to choose.
“It’s fun to get away from the real world and enter a new world where you can take your mind away from your daily life. I think that’s really important,” she says in an interview with Dawn newspaper and CityFM 89.
But the real world just won’t be denied. It’s been a busy week for this child activist. There have been dozens of interviews, a book launch, meetings with global leaders and celebrities alike, an invitation to Buckingham Palace and — last but never least — talk of a Nobel prize.
Is that a fair burden to place on these shoulders? Will the prize, as some have argued, prevent her from enjoying a ‘normal’ life?
“I do want to enjoy my life,” she says after a moment of consideration. “But if I have to give up a few minutes of playing cricket, or fighting with my brothers, then that’s what I’ll do. What’s important to me is the cause of education and I want to fight for those millions of children who are out of school, who are suffering from terrorism, or are forced to labour, who do not even have food to eat or who are homeless. If I have to give up a little normality for that, then that’s what I’ll do.”
But does she feel she deserves the prize itself?
“In my opinion I haven’t done enough to deserve the prize,” she replies candidly. “There are a lot of people who deserve the prize and I think I still have a lot of work to do.”
From there the conversation turns to her family. We’ve heard a great deal about her father, who has clearly been a major influence on her life but what about her mother? What has her role been through these trying times?
“People only know about my father, but my mother loves me and has always supported me and encouraged me. She’s a great woman! She never stopped me or my father from continuing our campaign and always told me I was doing the right thing.” The attack, the coma and the very fact of moving away from home has, however, been hard on Malala’s mother. “It was hard for her when she saw I could not smile, that the left side of my face was paralysed. Even my voice changed and it was very tough on her. I lost hearing in one ear and that too was hard for her because she’s a mother and she wants her daughter to be perfect. Even today she prays constantly that I should be the same Malala I was then, before the attack. I think God is listening to her prayers because I’m recovering every day,” she says.
Adjusting to life in the UK has been difficult for Malala as well. “At home I was just Malala, but here they treat me differently. I think my personality of being ‘only Malala’ or being a normal child…that’s gone now.” There’s a note of sadness in her voice as she says this, but then she perks up the very next instant. “I think it will get better with time,” she says.
“There’s no sun here in Birmingham,” she sighs as she recalls the valley of Swat where she was born and grew up. It is clear that, despite the global platform she now occupies, she misses her home. That begs the question: Will she ever come home?
“Yes,” she replies without hesitation. “I love my home and I miss it and I now realise how beautiful Swat is and how precious Pakistan is. I’ll come home as soon as possible but first I have to empower myself with knowledge, I need to study hard and equip myself with the weapons of education. So yes, I’ll be back as soon as possible and I’ll continue my campaign for education.