Malala Yousafzai: father regrets not protecting her from Bono and extracts from her auobiography
TO write I Am Malala: The Girl who Stood up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, Christina Lamb spent a year in Birmingham with Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban. A few extracts from it. One notable fact is that her mother, Tor Pekai, is illiterate.
I had travelled up from London by train with her agent. As I am quickly to discover, there is a circus of people around Malala, including a leading PR company, an investment-banker friend of the family, do-good celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, and even former prime minister Gordon Brown, who hired Malala’s dad as an adviser to his own role as global education envoy for the UN. Everyone wants a part of her.
As we talk, I realise she cannot hear me from the left. Later, she explains that her left eardrum was destroyed in the shooting. She does not remember being shot. The last thing she recalls is getting on the bus… she tells me about the terror of waking up in a hospital in Birmingham with no idea what had happened and her parents nowhere to be seen. She shows me that the bullet went through the side of her left eye and travelled 18in down past her jaw, ending up embedded just under her left shoulder. “It could have taken my eye,” she says. “I might have had no eye, no brain. It was a miracle. I feel like I have been given a second life to help people.”
She places my hand on her tummy. “Feel this,” she says. I feel something hard under the skin and grimace, which makes her laugh. “It’s the top of my skull!” she says. When she was operated on in Pakistan, doctors removed part of her skull so her brain could swell, and placed it there to preserve it. At this moment, there is just skin over her brain.
The injuries are worth focusing on:
Before we can proceed any further with the book, Malala has to have another operation. She returns to QEH to have the skull bone removed from her stomach — and is delighted that the surgeon is a woman.
But when the surgeon looks at the piece of skull, she decides not to put it back as it has not kept well and there is a risk of infection. Instead she carries out a titanium cranioplasty, fitting a specially moulded titanium plate in Malala’s head with eight screws.
It will do the job of a skull and protect the brain. Another surgeon then inserts a small electronic device called a cochlear implant near her left ear. Malala is in theatre for five hours and has three operations, but is back in the apartment within five days.
A few weeks later, a receiver is fitted behind her left ear and she hears “beep beep” for the first time. To start with, the sounds are robotic, but she soon starts hearing better.
They eat in Harrod’s department store. London:
Lots of people try to photograph Malala on their mobile phones. I tell my son to stop them. “Everyone recognises her!” he says. We sit down by a window overlooking the London Eye and a blonde woman from the Southbank Centre comes bustling up, introducing herself. “Can you come and speak to some of the younger women?” she asks.
I explain to her that Malala is tired and we only came in for a cup of tea. But the woman is not to be deterred. “Just a few minutes,” she says. “The session ends at 3 and I will come back to get her just before.” By this time Malala has put her head on the table, and Dr Reynolds and I again explain that she simply can’t.
The next time I see Malala, the family has moved house. It had become claustrophobic in the apartment, and the Pakistan consulate has found them a house in Edgbaston, near the hospital. I’m amazed when I arrive. The house is enormous, in a wide leafy road with electric gates guarded by stone lions. Inside is a grand piano that nobody can play, and murals on the walls of Greek gods and little cherubs peeking from the corner of the ceilings. Malala’s mum doesn’t like it. “I feel men looking at me,” she says…
“Our house was always so full of people that we never had privacy and sometimes I cried — I couldn’t do my homework,” she says. “Now we long for guests.”
Just before Easter, Malala begins school. In her strange new existence, the police first have to do a security sweep, and it becomes a global event. She tells me she likes it, but has been put down two school years because she hasn’t done the GCSE syllabus. She shows me her homework, which is incredibly neat. Her favourite subject is physics, but she finds it difficult. She’s also finding it hard to make friends. “They see me as ‘Malala, social activist’, not just Malala, like my old friends.”
She’s also amazingly level-headed, for which her family must take credit. After all, how many schoolgirls sit doing history homework on the Treaty of Versailles next to a collage on the wall made by Angelina Jolie’s daughter Shiloh?
“I don’t seek vengeance against those who tried to kill me. They were led the wrong way. I just wish I could have talked to them.”
Sometimes when I go to their house I notice elaborate bouquets. When I ask where they come from, they say: “Oh, Angelina Jolie was over for dinner,” or: “The ex-prime minister of Norway dropped in for tea.” The family visits London and is taken to see Boris Johnson. He leaves Malala slightly baffled. “He just kept saying, ‘What’s it all about?’ ” she says.
In the Swat Valley:
Afterwards, when I chat to Malala’s classmates, tears spring to my eyes. All of them are so eloquent and passionate about schooling, even though some of them say their brothers would withdraw them from school at the first hint of any independent thought. One of her classmates says to me: “We could all have been Malala, but our parents wouldn’t have let us speak out publicly as hers did.”
Look out! It’s Bono:
Last time I was there to do the pictures for this article, Malala had been in Dublin the night before, where she had been made an Amnesty International ambassador along with Harry Belafonte. The award was presented by Bono. “Can you imagine — he was wearing sunglasses at night!” she told me. To her horror he embraced her hands. “That’s totally against our culture,” she said. Her father laughed.
“I can protect you from the Taliban, my dear, but not from Bono,” he said.
Read the book.