When a chicken was slaughtered for dinner, the girls would get the wings and the neck while theluscious breast meat was enjoyed by my father, his brother and my grandfather. ‘From early on I couldfeel I was different from my sisters,’ my father says.There was little to do in my father’s village. It was too narrow even for a cricket pitch and onlyone family had a television. On Fridays the brothers would creep into the mosque and watch inwonder as my grandfather stood in the pulpit and preached to the congregation for an hour or so,waiting for the moment when his voice would rise and practically shake the rafters.My grandfather had studied in India, where he had seen great speakers and leaders includingMohammad Ali Jinnah (the founder of Pakistan), Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi and Khan AbdulGhaffar Khan, our great Pashtun leader who campaigned for independence. Baba, as I called him, hadeven witnessed the moment of freedom from the British colonialists at midnight on 14 August 1947.He had an old radio set my uncle still has, on which he loved to listen to the news. His sermons wereoften illustrated by world events or historical happenings as well as stories from the Quran and theHadith, the sayings of the Prophet. He also liked to talk about politics. Swat became part of Pakistanin 1969, the year my father was born. Many Swatis were unhappy about this, complaining about thePakistani justice system, which they said was much slower and less effective than their old tribalways. My grandfather would rail against the class system, the continuing power of the khans and thegap between the haves and have-nots.My country may not be very old but unfortunately it already has a history of military coups, andwhen my father was eight a general called Zia ul-Haq seized power. There are still many pictures ofhim around. He was a scary man with dark panda shadows around his eyes, large teeth that seemed tostand to attention and hair pomaded flat on his head. He arrested our elected prime minister, ZulfikarAli Bhutto, and had him tried for treason then hanged from a scaffold in Rawalpindi jail. Even todaypeople talk of Mr Bhutto as a man of great charisma. They say he was the first Pakistani leader tostand up for the common people, though he himself was a feudal lord with vast estates of mangofields. His execution shocked everybody and made Pakistan look bad all around the world. TheAmericans cut off aid.To try to get people at home to support him, General Zia launched a campaign of Islamisation tomake us a proper Muslim country with the army as the defenders of our country’s ideological as wellas geographical frontiers. He told our people it was their duty to obey his government because it waspursuing Islamic principles. Zia even wanted to dictate how we should pray, and set up salat orprayer committees in every district, even in our remote village, and appointed 100,000 prayerinspectors. Before then mullahs had almost been figures of fun – my father said at wedding partiesthey would just hang around in a corner and leave early – but under Zia they became influential andwere called to Islamabad for guidance on sermons. Even my grandfather went.Under Zia’s regime life for women in Pakistan became much more restricted. Jinnah said, ‘Nostruggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men. There are two powersin the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a third power stronger than both, thatof women.’ But General Zia brought in Islamic laws which reduced a woman’s evidence in court tocount for only half that of a man’s. Soon our prisons were full of cases like that of a thirteen-year-oldgirl who was raped and become pregnant and was then sent to prison for adultery because shecouldn’t produce four male witnesses to prove it was a crime. A woman couldn’t even open a bankaccount without a man’s permission. As a nation we have always been good at hockey, but Zia made
our female hockey players wear baggy trousers instead of shorts, and stopped women playing somesports altogether.Many of our madrasas or religious schools were opened at that time, and in all schools religiousstudies, what we call deeniyat, was replaced by Islamiyat, or Islamic studies, which children inPakistan still have to do today. Our history textbooks were rewritten to describe Pakistan as a‘fortress of Islam’, which made it seem as if we had existed far longer than since 1947, anddenounced Hindus and Jews. Anyone reading them might think we won the three wars we have foughtand lost against our great enemy India.Everything changed when my father was ten. Just after Christmas 1979 the Russians invaded ourneighbour Afghanistan. Millions of Afghans fled across the border and General Zia gave them refuge.Vast camps of white tents sprang up mostly around Peshawar, some of which are still there today. Ourbiggest intelligence service belongs to the military and is called the ISI. It started a massiveprogramme to train Afghan refugees recruited from the camps as resistance fighters or mujahideen.Though Afghans are renowned fighters, Colonel Imam, the officer heading the programme,complained that trying to organise them was ‘like weighing frogs’.The Russian invasion transformed Zia from an international pariah to the great defender of freedomin the Cold War. The Americans became friends with us once again, as in those days Russia was theirmain enemy. Next door to us the Shah of Iran had been overthrown in a revolution a few monthsearlier so the CIA had lost their main base in the region. Pakistan took its place. Billions of dollarsflowed into our exchequer from the United States and other Western countries, as well as weapons tohelp the ISI train the Afghans to fight the communist Red Army. General Zia was invited to meetPresident Ronald Reagan at the White House and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at 10 DowningStreet. They lavished praise on him.Prime Minister Zulfikar Bhutto had appointed Zia as his army chief because he thought he was notvery intelligent and would not be a threat. He called him his ‘monkey’. But Zia turned out to be a verywily man. He made Afghanistan a rallying point not only for the West, which wanted to stop thespread of communism from the Soviet Union, but also for Muslims from Sudan to Tajikistan, who sawit as a fellow Islamic country under attack from infidels. Money poured in from all over the Arabworld, particularly Saudi Arabia, which matched whatever the US sent, and volunteer fighters too,including a Saudi millionaire called Osama bin Laden.We Pashtuns are split between Pakistan and Afghanistan and don’t really recognise the border thatthe British drew more than 100 years ago. So our blood boiled over the Soviet invasion for bothreligious and nationalist reasons. The clerics of the mosques would often talk about the Sovietoccupation of Afghanistan in their sermons, condemning the Russians as infidels and urging people tojoin the jihad, saying it was their duty as good Muslims. It was as if under Zia jihad had become thesixth pillar of our religion on top of the five we grow up to learn – the belief in one God, namaz orprayers five times a day, giving zakat or alms, roza – fasting from dawn till sunset during the monthof Ramadan – and haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, which every able-bodied Muslim should do once intheir lifetime. My father says that in our part of the world this idea of jihad was very muchencouraged by the CIA. Children in the refugee camps were even given school textbooks produced byan American university which taught basic arithmetic through fighting. They had examples like, ‘If outof 10 Russian infidels, 5 are killed by one Muslim, 5 would be left’ or ‘15 bullets – 10 bullets = 5bullets’.
Some boys from my father’s district went off to fight in Afghanistan. My father remembers that oneday a maulana called Sufi Mohammad came to the village and asked young men to join him to fightthe Russians in the name of Islam. Many did, and they set off, armed with old rifles or just axes andbazookas. Little did we know that years later the same maulana’s organisation would become theSwat Taliban. At that time my father was only twelve years old and too young to fight. But theRussians ended up stuck in Afghanistan for ten years, through most of the 1980s, and when he becamea teenager my father decided he too wanted to be a jihadi. Though later he became less regular in hisprayers, in those days he used to leave home at dawn every morning to walk to a mosque in anothervillage, where he studied the Quran with a senior talib. At that time talib simply meant ‘religiousstudent’. Together they studied all the thirty chapters of the Quran, not just recitation but alsointerpretation, something few boys do.The talib talked of jihad in such glorious terms that my father was captivated. He would endlesslypoint out to my father that life on earth was short and that there were few opportunities for young menin the village. Our family owned little land, and my father did not want to end up going south to workin the coal mines like many of his classmates. That was tough and dangerous work, and the coffins ofthose killed in accidents would come back several times a year. The best that most village boys couldhope for was to go to Saudi Arabia or Dubai and work in construction. So heaven with its seventy-two virgins sounded attractive. Every night my father would pray to God, ‘O Allah, please make warbetween Muslims and infidels so I can die in your service and be a martyr.’For a while his Muslim identity seemed more important than anything else in his life. He began tosign himself ‘Ziauddin Panchpiri’ (the Panchpiri are a religious sect) and sprouted the first signs of abeard. It was, he says, a kind of brainwashing. He believes he might even have thought of becoming asuicide bomber had there been such a thing in those days. But from an early age he had been aquestioning kind of boy who rarely took anything at face value, even though our education atgovernment schools meant learning by rote and pupils were not supposed to question teachers.It was around the time he was praying to go to heaven as a martyr that he met my mother’s brother,Faiz Mohammad, and started mixing with her family and going to her father’s hujra. They were veryinvolved in local politics, belonged to secular nationalist parties and were against involvement in thewar. A famous poem was written at that time by Rahmat Shah Sayel, the same Peshawar poet whowrote the poem about my namesake. He described what was happening in Afghanistan as a ‘warbetween two elephants’ – the US and the Soviet Union – not our war, and said that we Pashtuns were‘like the grass crushed by the hooves of two fierce beasts’. My father often used to recite the poem tome when I was a child but I didn’t know then what it meant.My father was very impressed by Faiz Mohammad and thought he talked a lot of sense, particularlyabout wanting to end the feudal and capitalist systems in our country, where the same big families hadcontrolled things for years while the poor got poorer. He found himself torn between the twoextremes, secularism and socialism on one side and militant Islam on the other. I guess he ended upsomewhere in the middle.My father was in awe of my grandfather and told me wonderful stories about him, but he also toldme that he was a man who could not meet the high standards he set for others. Baba was such apopular and passionate speaker that he could have been a great leader if he had been more diplomaticand less consumed by rivalries with cousins and others who were better off. In Pashtun society it isvery hard to stomach a cousin being more popular, wealthier or more influential than you are. My
grandfather had a cousin who also joined his school as a teacher. When he got the job he gave his ageas much younger than my grandfather. Our people don’t know their exact dates of birth – my mother,for example, does not know when she was born. We tend to remember years by events, like anearthquake. But my grandfather knew that his cousin was actually much older than him. He was soangry that he made the day-long bus journey to Mingora to see the Swat minister of education.‘Sahib,’ he told him, ‘I have a cousin who is ten years older than me and you have certified him tenyears younger.’ So the minister said, ‘OK, Maulana, what shall I write down for you? Would you liketo have been born in the year of the earthquake of Quetta?’ My grandfather agreed, so his new date ofbirth became 1935, making him much younger than his cousin.This family rivalry meant that my father was bullied a lot by his cousins. They knew he wasinsecure about his looks because at school the teachers always favoured the handsome boys for theirfair skin. His cousins would stop my father on his way home from school and tease him about beingshort and dark-skinned. In our society you have to take revenge for such slights, but my father wasmuch smaller than his cousins.He also felt he could never do enough to please my grandfather. Baba had beautiful handwritingand my father would spend hours painstakingly drawing letters but Baba never once praised him.My grandmother kept his spirits up – he was her favourite and she believed great things lay in storefor him. She loved him so much that she would slip him extra meat and the cream off the milk whileshe went without. But it wasn’t easy to study as there was no electricity in the village in those days.He used to read by the light of the oil lamp in the hujra, and one evening he went to sleep and the oillamp fell over. Fortunately my grandmother found him before a fire started. It was my grandmother’sfaith in my father that gave him the courage to find his own proud path he could travel along. This isthe path that he would later show me.Yet she too got angry with him once. Holy men from a spiritual place called Derai Saydan used totravel the villages in those days begging for flour. One day while his parents were out some of themcame to the house. My father broke the seal on the wooden storage box of maize and filled theirbowls. When my grandparents came home they were furious and beat him.Pashtuns are famously frugal (though generous with guests), and Baba was particularly careful withmoney. If any of his children accidentally spilt their food he would fly into a rage. He was anextremely disciplined man and could not understand why they were not the same. As a teacher he waseligible for a discount on his sons’ school fees for sports and joining the Boy Scouts. It was such asmall discount that most teachers did not bother, but he forced my father to apply for the rebate. Ofcourse my father detested doing this. As he waited outside the headmaster’s office, he broke out into asweat, and once inside his stutter was worse than ever. ‘It felt as if my honour was at stake for fiverupees,’ he told me. My grandfather never bought him new books. Instead he would tell his beststudents to keep their old books for my father at the end of the year and then he would be sent to theirhomes to get them. He felt ashamed but had no choice if he didn’t want to end up illiterate. All hisbooks were inscribed with other boys’ names, never his own.‘It’s not that passing books on is a bad practice,’ he says. ‘It’s just I so wanted a new book,unmarked by another student and bought with my father’s money.’My father’s dislike of Baba’s frugality has made him a very generous man both materially and inspirit. He became determined to end the traditional rivalry between him and his cousins. When hisheadmaster’s wife fell ill, my father donated blood to help save her. The man was astonished and
apologised for having tormented him. When my father tells me stories of his childhood, he alwayssays that though Baba was a difficult man he gave him the most important gift – the gift of education.He sent my father to the government high school to learn English and receive a modern educationrather than to a madrasa, even though as an imam people criticised him for this. Baba also gave him adeep love of learning and knowledge as well as a keen awareness of people’s rights, which my fatherhas passed on to me. In my grandfather’s Friday addresses he would talk about the poor and thelandowners and how true Islam is against feudalism. He also spoke Persian and Arabic and careddeeply for words. He read the great poems of Saadi, Allama Iqbal and Rumi to my father with suchpassion and fire it was as if he was teaching the whole mosque.My father longed to be eloquent with a voice that boomed out with no stammer, and he knew mygrandfather desperately wanted him to be a doctor, but though he was a very bright student and agifted poet, he was poor at maths and science and felt he was a disappointment. That’s why hedecided he would make his father proud by entering the district’s annual public speaking competition.Everyone thought he was mad. His teachers and friends tried to dissuade him and his father wasreluctant to write the speech for him. But eventually Baba gave him a fine speech, which my fatherpractised and practised. He committed every word to memory while walking in the hills, reciting it tothe skies and birds as there was no privacy in their home.There was not much to do in the area where they lived so when the day arrived there was a hugegathering. Other boys, some known as good speakers, gave their speeches. Finally my father wascalled forward. ‘I stood at the lectern,’ he told me, ‘hands shaking and knees knocking, so short Icould barely see over the top and so terrified the faces were a blur. My palms were sweating and mymouth was as dry as paper.’ He tried desperately not to think about the treacherous consonants lyingahead of him, just waiting to trip him up and stick in his throat, but when he spoke, the words cameout fluently like beautiful butterflies taking flight. His voice did not boom like his father’s, but hispassion shone through and as he went on he gained confidence.At the end of the speech there were cheers and applause. Best of all, as he went up to collect thecup for first prize, he saw his father clapping and enjoying being patted on the back by those standingaround him. ‘It was,’ he says, ‘the first thing I’d done that made him smile.’After that my father entered every competition in the district. My grandfather wrote his speechesand he almost always came first, gaining a reputation locally as an impressive speaker. My father hadturned his weakness into strength. For the first time Baba started praising him in front of others. He’dboast, ‘Ziauddin is a shaheen’ – a falcon – because this is a creature that flies high above other birds.‘Write your name as “Ziauddin Shaheen”,’ he told him. For a while my father did this but stoppedwhen he realised that although a falcon flies high it is a cruel bird. Instead he just called himselfZiauddin Yousafzai, our clan name.
3Growing up in a SchoolMY MOTHER STARTED school when she was six and stopped the same term. She was unusual in thevillage as she had a father and brothers who encouraged her to go to school. She was the only girl in aclass of boys. She carried her bag of books proudly into school and claims she was brighter than theboys. But every day she would leave behind her girl cousins playing at home and she envied them.There seemed no point in going to school just to end up cooking, cleaning and bringing up children, soone day she sold her books for nine annas, spent the money on boiled sweets and never went back.Her father said nothing. She says he didn’t even notice, as he would set off early every morning aftera breakfast of cornbread and cream, his German pistol strapped under his arm, and spend his daysbusy with local politics or resolving feuds. Besides he had seven other children to think about.It was only when she met my father that she felt regret. Here was a man who had read so manybooks, who wrote her poems she could not read, and whose ambition was to have his own school. Ashis wife, she wanted to help him achieve that. For as long as my father could remember it had beenhis dream to open a school, but with no family contacts or money it was extremely hard for him torealise this dream. He thought there was nothing more important than knowledge. He rememberedhow mystified he had been by the river in his village, wondering where the water came from and wentto, until he learned about the water cycle from the rain to the sea.His own village school had been just a small building. Many of his classes were taught under a treeon the bare ground. There were no toilets and the pupils went to the fields to answer the call ofnature. Yet he says he was actually lucky. His sisters – my aunts – did not go to school at all, just likemillions of girls in my country. Education had been a great gift for him. He believed that lack ofeducation was the root of all Pakistan’s problems. Ignorance allowed politicians to fool people andbad administrators to be re-elected. He believed schooling should be available for all, rich and poor,boys and girls. The school that my father dreamed of would have desks and a library, computers,bright posters on the walls and, most important, washrooms.My grandfather had a different dream for his youngest son – he longed for him to be a doctor – andas one of just two sons, he expected him to contribute to the household budget. My father’s elderbrother Saeed Ramzan had worked for years as a teacher at a local school. He and his family livedwith my grandfather, and whenever he saved up enough of his salary, they built a small concrete hujraat the side of the house for guests. He brought logs back from the mountains for firewood, and afterteaching he would work in the fields where our family had a few buffaloes. He also helped Baba withheavy tasks like clearing snow from the roof.When my father was offered a place for his A Levels at Jehanzeb College, which is the best furthereducation institution in Swat, my grandfather refused to pay for his living expenses. His owneducation in Delhi had been free – he had lived like a talib in the mosques, and local people hadprovided the students with food and clothes. Tuition at Jehanzeb was free but my father needed moneyto live on. Pakistan doesn’t have student loans and he had never even set foot in a bank. The collegewas in Saidu Sharif, the twin town of Mingora, and he had no family there with whom he could stay.There was no other college in Shangla, and if he didn’t go to college, he would never be able to move
out of the village and realise his dream.My father was at his wits’ end and wept with frustration. His beloved mother had died just beforehe graduated from school. He knew if she had been alive, she would have been on his side. Hepleaded with his father but to no avail. His only hope was his brother-in-law in Karachi. Mygrandfather suggested that he might take my father in so he could go to college there. The couplewould soon be arriving in the village as they were coming to offer condolences after mygrandmother’s death.My father prayed they would agree, but my grandfather asked them as soon as they arrived,exhausted after the three-day bus journey, and his son-in-law refused outright. My grandfather was sofurious he would not speak to them for their entire stay. My father felt he had lost his chance andwould end up like his brother teaching in a local school. The school where Uncle Khan dada taughtwas in the mountain village of Sewoor, about an hour and a half ’s climb from their house. It didn’teven have its own building. They used the big hall in the mosque, where they taught more than ahundred children ranging from five to fifteen years old.The people in Sewoor were Gujars, Kohistanis and Mians. We regard Mians as noble or landedpeople, but Gujars and Kohistanis are what we call hilly people, peasants who look after buffaloes.Their children are usually dirty and they are looked down upon by Pashtuns, even if they are poorthemselves. ‘They are dirty, black and stupid,’ people would say. ‘Let them be illiterate.’ It is oftensaid that teachers don’t like to be posted to such remote schools and generally make a deal with theircolleagues so that only one of them has to go to work each day. If the school has two teachers, eachgoes in for three days and signs the other in. If it has three teachers, each goes in for just two days.Once there, all they do is keep the children quiet with a long stick as they cannot imagine educationwill be any use to them.My uncle was more dutiful. He liked the hilly people and respected their tough lives. So he went tothe school most days and actually tried to teach the children. After my father had graduated fromschool he had nothing to do so he volunteered to help his brother. There his luck changed. Another ofmy aunts had married a man in that village and they had a relative visiting called Nasir Pacha, whosaw my father at work. Nasir Pacha had spent years in Saudi Arabia working in construction, makingmoney to send back to his family. My father told him he had just finished school and had won acollege place at Jehanzeb. He did not mention he could not afford to take it as he did not want toembarrass his father.‘Why don’t you come and live with us?’ asked Nasir Pacha.‘Oof, I was so happy, by God,’ says my father. Pacha and his wife Jajai became his second family.Their home was in Spal Bandi, a beautiful mountain village on the way to the White Palace, and myfather describes it as a romantic and inspirational place. He went there by bus, and it seemed so bigto him compared to his home village that he thought he’d arrived in a city. As a guest, he was treatedexceptionally well. Jajai replaced his late mother as the most important woman in my father’s life.When a villager complained to her that he was flirting with a girl living across the road, she defendedhim. ‘Ziauddin is as clean as an egg with no hair,’ she said. ‘Look instead to your own daughter.’It was in Spal Bandi that my father came across women who had great freedom and were nothidden away as in his own village. The women of Spal Bandi had a beautiful spot on top of themountain where only they could congregate to chat about their everyday lives. It was unusual forwomen to have a special place to meet outside the home. It was also there that my father met his
mentor Akbar Khan, who although he had not gone to college himself lent my father money so hecould. Like my mother, Akbar Khan may not have had much of a formal education, but he had anotherkind of wisdom. My father often spoke of the kindness of Akbar Khan and Nasir Pacha to illustratethat if you help someone in need you might also receive unexpected aid.My father arrived at college at an important moment in Pakistan’s history. That summer, while he waswalking in the mountains, our dictator General Zia was killed in a mysterious plane crash, whichmany people said was caused by a bomb hidden in a crate of mangoes. During my father’s first term atcollege national elections were held, which were won by Benazir Bhutto, daughter of the primeminister who had been executed when my father was a boy. Benazir was our first female primeminister and the first in the Islamic world. Suddenly there was a lot of optimism about the future.Student organisations which had been banned under Zia became very active. My father quickly gotinvolved in student politics and became known as a talented speaker and debater. He was madegeneral secretary of the Pakhtoon Students Federation (PSF), which wanted equal rights for Pashtuns.The most important jobs in the army, bureaucracy and government are all taken by Punjabis becausethey come from the biggest and most powerful province.The other main student organisation was Islami Jamaat-e-Talaba, the student wing of the religiousparty Jamaat-e-Islami, which was powerful in many universities in Pakistan. They provided freetextbooks and grants to students but held deeply intolerant views and their favourite pastime was topatrol universities and sabotage music concerts. The party had been close to General Zia and donebadly in the elections. The president of the students’ group in Jehanzeb College was Ihsan ul-HaqHaqqani. Though he and my father were great rivals, they admired each other and later becamefriends. Haqqani says he is sure my father would have been president of the PSF and become apolitician if he had been from a rich khan family. Student politics was all about debating andcharisma, but party politics required money.One of their most heated debates in that first year was over a novel. The book was called TheSatanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, and it was a parody of the Prophet’s life set in Bombay. Muslimswidely considered it blasphemous and it provoked so much outrage that it seemed people weretalking of little else. The odd thing was no one had even noticed the publication of the book to startwith – it wasn’t actually on sale in Pakistan – but then a series of articles appeared in Urdunewspapers by a mullah close to our intelligence service, berating the book as offensive to theProphet and saying it was the duty of good Muslims to protest. Soon mullahs all over Pakistan weredenouncing the book, calling for it to be banned, and angry demonstrations were held. The mostviolent took place in Islamabad on 12 February 1989, when American flags were set alight in front ofthe American Centre – even though Rushdie and his publishers were British. Police fired into thecrowd, and five people were killed. The anger wasn’t just in Pakistan. Two days later AyatollahKhomeini, the supreme leader of Iran, issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s assassination.My father’s college held a heated debate in a packed room. Many students argued that the bookshould be banned and burned and the fatwa upheld. My father also saw the book as offensive to Islambut believes strongly in freedom of speech. ‘First, let’s read the book and then why not respond withour own book,’ he suggested. He ended by asking in a thundering voice my grandfather would havebeen proud of, ‘Is Islam such a weak religion that it cannot tolerate a book written against it? Not myIslam!’
For the first few years after graduating from Jehanzeb my father worked as an English teacher in awell-known private college. But the salary was low, just 1,600 rupees a month (around £12), and mygrandfather complained he was not contributing to the household. It was also not enough for him tosave for the wedding he hoped for to his beloved Tor Pekai.One of my father’s colleagues at the school was his friend Mohammad Naeem Khan. He and myfather had studied for their bachelors and masters degrees in English together and were bothpassionate about education. They were also both frustrated as the school was very strict andunimaginative. Neither the students nor the teachers were supposed to have their own opinions, andthe owners’ control was so tight they even frowned upon friendship between teachers. My fatherlonged for the freedom that would come with running his own school. He wanted to encourageindependent thought and hated the way the school he was at rewarded obedience above open-mindedness and creativity. So when Naeem lost his job after a dispute with the collegeadministration, they decided to start their own school.Their original plan was to open a school in my father’s village of Shahpur, where there was adesperate need: ‘Like a shop in a community where there are no shops,’ he said. But when they wentthere to look for a building, there were banners everywhere advertising a school opening – someonehad beaten them to it. So they decided to set up an English-language school in Mingora, thinking thatsince Swat was a tourist destination there would be a demand for learning in English.As my father was still teaching, Naeem wandered the streets looking for somewhere to rent. Oneday he called my father excitedly to say he’d found the ideal place. It was the ground floor of a two-storey building in a well-off area called Landikas with a walled courtyard where students couldgather. The previous tenants had also run a school – the Ramada School. The owner had called it thatbecause he had once been to Turkey and seen a Ramada Hotel! But the school had gone bankrupt,which perhaps should have made them think twice. Also the building was on the banks of a riverwhere people threw their rubbish and it smelt foul in hot weather.My father went to see the building after work. It was a perfect night with stars and a full moon justabove the trees, which he took to be a sign. ‘I felt so happy,’ he recalls. ‘My dream was coming true.’Naeem and my father invested their entire savings of 60,000 rupees. They borrowed 30,000 rupeesmore to repaint the building, rented a shack across the road to live in and went from door to doortrying to find students. Unfortunately the demand for English tuition turned out to be low, and therewere unexpected drains on their income. My father’s involvement in political discussions continuedafter college. Every day his fellow activists came to the shack or the school for lunch. ‘We can’tafford all this entertaining!’ Naeem would complain. It was also becoming clear that while they werebest friends, they found it hard to work as business partners.On top of that, there was a stream of guests from Shangla now that my father had a place for them tostay. We Pashtuns cannot turn away relatives or friends, however inconvenient. We don’t respectprivacy and there is no such thing as making an appointment to see someone. Visitors can turn upwhenever they wish and can stay as long as they want. It was a nightmare for someone trying to start abusiness and it drove Naeem to distraction. He joked to my father that if either of them had relativesto stay, they should pay a fine. My father kept trying to persuade Naeem’s friends and family to stay sohe could be fined too!After three months Naeem had had enough. ‘We are supposed to be collecting money in enrolmentfees. Instead the only people knocking on our doors are beggars! This is a Herculean task,’ he added.
‘I can’t take any more!’By this time the two former friends were hardly speaking to each other and had to call in localelders to mediate. My father was desperate not to give up the school so agreed to pay Naeem a returnon his share of the investment. He had no idea how. Fortunately another old college friend calledHidayatullah stepped in and agreed to put up the money and take Naeem’s place. The new partnersagain went from door to door, telling people they had started a new kind of school. My father is socharismatic that Hidayatullah says he is the kind of person who, if invited to your house, will makefriends with your friends. But while people were happy to talk to him, they preferred to send theirchildren to established schools.They named it the Khushal School after one of my father’s great heroes, Khushal Khan Khattak, thewarrior poet from Akora just south of Swat, who tried to unify all Pashtun tribes against the Moghulsin the seventeenth century. Near the entrance they painted a motto: WE ARE COMMITTED TO BUILD FORYOU THE CALL OF THE NEW ERA. My father also designed a shield with a famous quote from Khattak inPashto: ‘I girt my sword in the name of Afghan honour.’ My father wanted us to be inspired by ourgreat hero, but in a manner fit for our times – with pens, not swords. Just as Khattak had wanted thePashtuns to unite against a foreign enemy, so we needed to unite against ignorance.Unfortunately not many people were convinced. When the school opened they had just threestudents. Even so my father insisted on starting the day in style by singing the national anthem. Thenhis nephew Aziz, who had come to help, raised the Pakistan flag.With so few students, they had little money to equip the school and soon ran out of credit. Neitherman could get any money from their families, and Hidayatullah was not pleased to discover that myfather was still in debt to lots of people from college, so they were always receiving lettersdemanding money.There was worse in store when my father went to register the school. After being made to wait forhours, he was finally ushered into the office of a superintendent of schools, who sat behind toweringpiles of files surrounded by hangers-on drinking tea. ‘What kind of school is this?’ asked the official,laughing at his application. ‘How many teachers do you have? Three! Your teachers are not trained.Everyone thinks they can open a school just like that!’The other people in the office laughed along, ridiculing him. My father was angry. It was clear thesuperintendent wanted money. Pashtuns cannot stand anyone belittling them, nor was he about to pay abribe for something he was entitled to. He and Hidayatullah hardly had money to pay for food, letalone bribes. The going rate for registration was about 13,000 rupees, more if they thought you wererich. And schools were expected to treat officials regularly to a good lunch of chicken or trout fromthe river. The education officer would call to arrange an inspection then give a detailed order for hislunch. My father used to grumble, ‘We’re a school not a poultry farm.’So when the official angled for a bribe, my father turned on him with all the force of his years ofdebating. ‘Why are you asking all these questions?’ he demanded. ‘Am I in an office or am I in apolice station or a court? Am I a criminal?’ He decided to challenge the officials to protect otherschool owners from such bullying and corruption. He knew that to do this he needed some power ofhis own, so he joined an organisation called the Swat Association of Private Schools. It was small inthose days, just fifteen members, and my father quickly became vice president.The other principals took paying bribes for granted, but my father argued that if all the schoolsjoined together they could resist. ‘Running a school is not a crime,’ he told them. ‘Why should you be
paying bribes? You are not running brothels; you are educating children! Government officials are notyour bosses,’ he reminded them; ‘they are your servants. They are taking salaries and have to serveyou. You are the ones educating their children.’He soon became president of the organisation and expanded it until it included 400 principals.Suddenly the school owners were in a position of power. But my father has always been a romanticrather than a businessman and in the meantime he and Hidayatullah were in such desperate straits thatthey ran out of credit with the local shopkeeper and could not even buy tea or sugar. To try and boosttheir income they ran a tuck shop at school, going off in the mornings and buying snacks to sell to thechildren. My father would buy maize and stay up late at night making and bagging popcorn.‘I would get very depressed and sometimes collapse seeing the problems all around us,’ saidHidayatullah, ‘but when Ziauddin is in a crisis he becomes strong and his spirits high.’My father insisted that they needed to think big. One day Hidayatullah came back from trying toenrol pupils to find my father sitting in the office talking about advertising with the local head ofPakistan TV. As soon as the man had gone, Hidayatullah burst into laughter. ‘Ziauddin, we don’t evenhave a TV,’ he pointed out. ‘If we advertise we won’t be able to watch it.’ But my father is anoptimistic man and never deterred by practicalities.One day my father told Hidayatullah he was going back to his village for a few days. He wasactually getting married, but he didn’t tell any of his friends in Mingora as he could not afford toentertain them. Our weddings go on for several days of feasting. In fact, as my mother often remindsmy father, he was not present for the actual ceremony. He was only there for the last day, when familymembers held a Quran and a shawl over their heads and held a mirror for them to look into. For manycouples in arranged marriages this is the first time they see each other’s faces. A small boy wasbrought to sit on their laps to encourage the birth of a son.It is our tradition for the bride to receive furniture or perhaps a fridge from her family and somegold from the groom’s family. My grandfather would not buy enough gold so my father had to borrowmore money to buy bangles. After the wedding my mother moved in with my grandfather and myuncle. My father returned to the village every two or three weeks to see her. The plan was to get hisschool going then, once it was successful, send for his wife. But Baba kept complaining about thedrain on his income and made my mother’s life miserable. She had a little money of her own so theyused it to hire a van and she moved to Mingora. They had no idea how they would manage. ‘We justknew my father didn’t want us there,’ said my father. ‘At that time I was unhappy with my family, butlater I was grateful as it made me more independent.’He had however neglected to tell his partner. Hidayatullah was horrified when my father returnedto Mingora with a wife. ‘We’re not in a position to support a family,’ he told my father. ‘Where willshe live?’‘It’s OK,’ replied my father. ‘She will cook and wash for us.’My mother was excited to be in Mingora. To her it was a modern town. When she and her friendshad discussed their dreams as young girls by the river, most had just said they wanted to marry andhave children and cook for their husbands. When it was my mother’s turn she said, ‘I want to live inthe city and be able to send out for kebabs and naan instead of cooking it myself.’ However, lifewasn’t quite what she expected. The shack had just two rooms, one where Hidayatullah and my fatherslept and one which was a small office. There was no kitchen, no plumbing. When my mother arrived,Hidayatullah had to move into the office and sleep on a hard wooden chair.
My father consulted my mother on everything. ‘Pekai, help me resolve my confusion on this’, hewould say. She even helped whitewash the school walls, holding up the lanterns so they could paintwhen the light went off in power cuts.‘Ziauddin was a family man and they were unusually close,’ said Hidayatullah. ‘While most of uscan’t live with our wives, he couldn’t be without his.’Within a few months my mother was expecting. Their first child, born in 1995, was a girl andstillborn. ‘I think there was some problem with hygiene in that muddy place,’ says my father. ‘Iassumed women could give birth without going to hospital, as my mother and my sisters had in thevillage. My mother gave birth to ten children in this way.’The school continued to lose money. Months would pass and they could not pay the teachers’wages or the school rent. The goldsmith kept coming and demanding his money for my mother’swedding bangles. My father would make him good tea and offer him biscuits in the hope that wouldkeep him satisfied. Hidayatullah laughed. ‘You think he will be happy with tea? He wants his money.’The situation became so dire that my father was forced to sell the gold bangles. In our culturewedding jewellery is a bond between the couple. Often women sell their jewellery to help set uptheir husbands in business or to pay their fares to go abroad. My mother had already offered herbangles to pay for my father’s nephew to go to college, which my father had rashly promised to fund –fortunately, my father’s cousin Jehan Sher Khan had stepped in – and she did not realise the bangleswere only partly paid for. She was then furious when she learned that my father did not get a goodprice for them.Just when it seemed matters could not get worse, the area was hit by flash floods. There was a daywhen it did not stop raining and in the late afternoon there was a warning of flooding. Everyone had toleave the district. My mother was away and Hidayatullah needed my father to help him moveeverything up to the first floor, safe from the fast-rising waters, but he couldn’t find him anywhere. Hewent outside, shouting ‘Ziauddin, Ziauddin!’ The search almost cost Hidayatullah his life. The narrowstreet outside the school was totally flooded and he was soon up to his neck in water. There were liveelectric cables hanging loose and swaying in the wind. He watched paralysed with fear as they almosttouched the water. Had they done so, he would have been electrocuted.When he finally found my father, he learned that he had heard a woman crying that her husband wastrapped in their house and he had rushed in to save him. Then he helped them save their fridge.Hidayatullah was furious. ‘You saved this woman’s husband but not your own house!’ he said. ‘Wasit because of the cry of a woman?’When the waters receded, they found their home and school destroyed: their furniture, carpets,books, clothes and the audio system entirely caked in thick foul-smelling mud. They had nowhere tosleep and no clean clothes to change into. Luckily, a neighbour called Mr Aman-ud-din took them infor the night. It took them a week to clear the debris. They were both away when, ten days later, therewas a second flood and the building again filled with mud. Shortly afterwards they had a visit from anofficial of WAPDA, the water and power company, who claimed their meter was rigged anddemanded a bribe. When my father refused, a bill arrived with a large fine. There was no way theycould pay this so my father asked one of his political friends to use his influence.It started to feel as though the school was not meant to be, but my father would not give up on hisdream so easily. Besides, he had a family to provide for. I was born on 12 July 1997. My mother washelped by a neighbour who had delivered babies before. My father was in the school waiting and
when he heard the news he came running. My mother was worried about telling him he had a daughternot a son, but he says he looked into my eyes and was delighted.‘Malala was a lucky girl,’ says Hidayatullah. ‘When she was born our luck changed.’But not immediately. On Pakistan’s fiftieth anniversary on 14 August 1997 there were parades andcommemorations throughout the country. However, my father and his friends said there was nothing tocelebrate as Swat had only suffered since it had merged with Pakistan. They wore black armbands toprotest, saying the celebrations were for nothing, and were arrested. They had to pay a fine they couldnot afford.A few months after I was born the three rooms above the school became vacant and we all movedin. The walls were concrete and there was running water so it was an improvement on our muddyshack, but we were still very cramped as we were sharing it with Hidayatullah and we almost alwayshad guests. That first school was a mixed primary school and very small. By the time I was born ithad five or six teachers and around a hundred pupils paying a hundred rupees a month. My father wasteacher, accountant and principal. He also swept the floors, whitewashed the walls and cleaned thebathrooms. He used to climb up electricity poles to hang banners advertising the school, even thoughhe was so afraid of heights that when he got to the top of the ladder his feet shook. If the water pumpstopped working, he would go down the well to repair it himself. When I saw him disappear downthere I would cry, thinking he wouldn’t come back. After paying the rent and salaries, there was littlemoney left for food. We drank green tea as we could not afford milk for regular tea. But after a whilethe school started to break even and my father began to plan a second school, which he wanted to callthe Malala Education Academy.I had the run of the school as my playground. My father tells me even before I could talk I wouldtoddle into classes and talk as if I was a teacher. Some of the female staff like Miss Ulfat would pickme up and put me on their lap as if I was their pet or even take me home with them for a while. WhenI was three or four I was placed in classes for much older children. I used to sit in wonder, listeningto everything they were being taught. Sometimes I would mimic the teachers. You could say I grew upin a school.As my father had found with Naeem, it is not easy to mix business and friendship. EventuallyHidayatullah left to start his own school and they divided the students, each taking two of the fouryears. They did not tell their pupils as they wanted people to think the school was expanding and hadtwo buildings. Though Hidayatullah and my father were not speaking at that time, Hidayatullah missedme so much he used to visit me.It was while he was visiting one afternoon in September 2001 that there was a great commotionand other people started arriving. They said there had been a big attack on a building in New York.Two planes had flown into it. I was only four and too young to understand. Even for the adults it washard to imagine – the biggest buildings in Swat are the hospital and a hotel, which are two or threestoreys. It seemed very far away. I had no idea what New York and America were. The school wasmy world and my world was the school. We did not realise then that 9/11 would change our worldtoo, and would bring war into our valley.
4The VillageIN OUR TRADITION on the seventh day of a child’s life we have a celebration called Woma (whichmeans ‘seventh’) for family, friends and neighbours to come and admire the newborn. My parents hadnot held one for me because they could not afford the goat and rice needed to feed the guests, and mygrandfather would not help them out because I was not a boy. When my brothers came along and Babawanted to pay, my father refused as he hadn’t done this for me. But Baba was the only grandfather Ihad as my mother’s father had died before I was born and we became close. My parents say I havequalities of both grandfathers – humorous and wise like my mother’s father and vocal like my father’sfather! Baba had grown soft and white-bearded in his old age and I loved going to visit him in thevillage.Whenever he saw me he would greet me with a song as he was still concerned about the sadmeaning of my name and wanted to lend some happiness to it: ‘Malala Maiwand wala da. Pa tooljehan ke da khushala da,’ he sang. ‘Malala is of Maiwand and she’s the happiest person in the wholeworld.’We always went to the village for the Eid holidays. We would dress in our finest clothes and pileinto the Flying Coach, a minibus with brightly painted panels and jangling chains, and drive north toBarkana, our family village in Shangla. Eid happens twice a year – Eid ul-Fitr or ‘Small Eid’ marksthe end of the Ramadan fasting month, and Eid ul-Azha or ‘Big Eid’ commemorates the ProphetAbraham’s readiness to sacrifice his son Ismail to God. The dates of the feasts are announced by aspecial panel of clerics who watch for the appearance of the crescent moon. As soon as we heard thebroadcast on the radio, we set off.The night before we hardly slept because we were so excited. The journey usually took about fivehours as long as the road had not been washed away by rains or landslides, and the Flying Coach leftearly in the morning. We struggled to Mingora bus station, our bags laden with gifts for our family –embroidered shawls and boxes of rose and pistachio sweets as well as medicine they could not get inthe village. Some people took sacks of sugar and flour, and most of the baggage was tied to the top ofthe bus in a towering pile. Then we crammed in, fighting over the window seats even though the paneswere so encrusted with dirt it was hard to see out of them. The sides of Swat buses are painted withscenes of bright pink and yellow flowers, neon-orange tigers and snowy mountains. My brothers likedit if we got one with F-16 fighter jets or nuclear missiles, though my father said if our politicianshadn’t spent so much money on building an atomic bomb we might have had enough for schools.We drove out of the bazaar, past the grinning red mouth signs for dentists, the carts stacked withwooden cages crammed with beady-eyed white chickens with scarlet beaks, and jewellery storeswith windows full of gold wedding bangles. The last few shops as we headed north out of Mingorawere wooden shacks that seemed to lean on each other, in front of which were piles of reconditionedtyres for the bad roads ahead. Then we were on the main road built by the last wali, which followsthe wide Swat River on the left and hugs the cliffs to the right with their emerald mines. Overlookingthe river were tourist restaurants with big glass windows we had never been to. On the road wepassed dusty-faced children bent double with huge bundles of grass on their backs and men leading
flocks of shaggy goats that wandered hither and thither.As we drove on, the landscape changed to paddy fields of deep lush green that smelt so fresh andorchards of apricot and fig trees. Occasionally we passed small marble works over streams whichran milky white with the discharge of chemicals. This made my father cross. ‘Look at what thesecriminals are doing to pollute our beautiful valley,’ he always said. The road left the river and woundup through narrow passes over steep fir-clad heights, higher and higher, until our ears popped. On topof some of the peaks were ruins where vultures circled, the remains of forts built by the first wali.The bus strained and laboured, the driver cursing as trucks overtook us on blind bends with steepdrops below. My brothers loved this, and they would taunt me and my mother by pointing out thewreckage of vehicles on the mountainside.Finally we made it up onto Sky Turn, the gateway to Shangla Top, a mountain pass which feels as ifit’s on top of the world. Up there we were higher than the rocky peaks all around us. In the fardistance we could see the snows of Malam Jabba, our ski resort. By the roadside were fresh springsand waterfalls, and when we stopped for a break and to drink some tea, the air was clean and fragrantwith cedar and pine. We breathed it into our lungs greedily. Shangla is all mountain, mountain,mountain and just a small sky. After this the road winds back down for a while then follows theGhwurban River and peters out into a rocky track. The only way to cross the river is by rope bridgesor on a pulley system by which people swing themselves across in a metal box. Foreigners call themsuicide bridges but we loved them.If you look at a map of Swat you’ll see it is one long valley with little valleys we call darae off to thesides like the branches of a tree. Our village lies about halfway along on the east. It’s in the Kanadara, which is enclosed by craggy mountain walls and so narrow there is not even room for a cricketground. We call our village Shahpur, but really there is a necklace of three villages along the bottomof the valley – Shahpur, the biggest; Barkana, where my father grew up; and Karshat, which is wheremy mother lived. At either end is a huge mountain – Tor Ghar, the Black Mountain to the south, andSpin Ghar, the White Mountain, to the north.We usually stayed in Barkana at my grandfather’s house, where my father grew up. Like almost allthe houses in the area, it was flat-roofed and made of stone and mud. I preferred staying in Karshatwith my cousins on my maternal side because they had a concrete house with a bathroom and therewere lots of children to play with. My mother and I stayed in the women’s quarters downstairs. Thewomen spent their days looking after the children and preparing food to serve to the men in theirhujra upstairs. I slept with my cousins Aneesa and Sumbul in a room which had a clock in the shapeof a mosque and a cabinet on the wall containing a rifle and some packets of hair dye.In the village the day started early and even I, who liked to sleep late, woke with the sound ofcocks crowing and the clatter of dishes as the women prepared breakfast for the men. In the morningthe sun reflected off the top of Tor Ghar; when we got up for the fajr prayers, the first of our fivedaily prayers, we would look left and see the golden peak of Spin Ghar lit with the first rays of thesun like a white lady wearing a jumar tika – a gold chain on her forehead.Often rain would then come to wash everything clean, and the clouds would linger on the greenterraces of the hills where people grew radishes and walnut trees. Dotted around were hives of bees.I loved the gloopy honey, which we ate with walnuts. Down on the river at the Karshat end werewater buffaloes. There was also a shed with a wooden waterwheel providing power to turn hugemillstones to grind wheat and maize into flour, which young boys would then pour into sacks. Next to
that was a smaller shed containing a panel with a confusion of wires sprouting from it. The villagereceived no electricity from the government so many villagers got their power from these makeshifthydroelectric projects.As the day went on and the sun climbed higher in the sky, more and more of the White Mountainwould be bathed in golden sun. Then as evening came it fell in shadow as the sun moved up the BlackMountain. We timed our prayers by the shadow on the mountains. When the sun hit a certain rock, weused to say our asr or afternoon prayers. Then in the evening, when the white peak of Spin Ghar waseven more beautiful than in the morning, we said the makkam or evening prayers. You could see theWhite Mountain from everywhere, and my father told me he used to think of it as a symbol of peacefor our land, a white flag at the end of our valley. When he was a child he thought this small valleywas the entire world and that if anyone went beyond the point where either mountain kissed the sky,they would fall off.Though I had been born in a city, I shared my father’s love of nature. I loved the rich soil, thegreenness of the plants, the crops, the buffaloes and the yellow butterflies that fluttered about me as Iwalked. The village was very poor, but when we arrived our extended family would lay on a bigfeast. There would be bowls of chicken, rice, local spinach and spicy mutton, all cooked over the fireby the women, followed by plates of crunchy apples, slices of yellow cake and a big kettle of milkytea. None of the children had toys or books. The boys played cricket in a gully and even the ball wasmade from plastic bags tied together with elastic bands.The village was a forgotten place. Water was carried from the spring. The few concrete houses hadbeen built by families whose sons or fathers had gone south to work in the mines or to the Gulf, fromwhere they sent money home. There are forty million of us Pashtuns, of which ten million live outsideour homeland. My father said it was sad that they could never return as they needed to keep workingto maintain their families’ new lifestyle. There were many families with no men. They would visitonly once a year, and usually a new baby would arrive nine months later.Scattered up and down the hills there were houses made of wattle and daub, like my grandfather’s,and these often collapsed when there were floods. Children sometimes froze to death in winter. Therewas no hospital. Only Shahpur had a clinic, and if anyone fell ill in the other villages they had to becarried there by their relatives on a wooden frame which we jokingly called the Shangla Ambulance.If it was anything serious they would have to make the long bus journey to Mingora unless they werelucky enough to know someone with a car.Usually politicians only visited during election time, promising roads, electricity, clean water andschools and giving money and generators to influential local people we called stakeholders, whowould instruct their communities on how to vote. Of course this only applied to the men; women inour area don’t vote. Then they disappeared off to Islamabad if they were elected to the NationalAssembly, or Peshawar for the Provincial Assembly, and we’d hear no more of them or theirpromises.My cousins made fun of me for my city ways. I did not like going barefoot. I read books and I had adifferent accent and used slang expressions from Mingora. My clothes were often from shops and nothome-made like theirs. My relatives would ask me, ‘Would you like to cook chicken for us?’ and I’dsay, ‘No, the chicken is innocent. We should not kill her.’ They thought I was modern because I camefrom town. They did not realise people from Islamabad or even Peshawar would think me verybackward.
Sometimes we went up to the mountains and sometimes down to the river on family trips.