Da Malala Yousafzai [premio Nobel per la Pace 2014] with Christina Lamb, I AM MALALA. The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2013
I liked to sit on the roof and watch the mountains and dream. The highest mountain of all is the pyramid-shaped Mount Elum. To us it’s a sacred mountain and so high that it always wears a necklace of fleecy clouds. Even in summer it’s frosted with snow. At school we learned that in 327 BC, even before the Buddhists came to Swat, Alexander the Great swept into the valley with thousands of elephants and soldiers on his way from Afghanistan to the Indus. The Swati people fled up the mountain, believing they would be protected by their gods because it was so high. But Alexander was a determined and patient leader. He built a wooden ramp from which his catapults and arrows could reach the top of the mountain. Then he climbed up so he could catch hold of the star of Jupiter as a symbol of his power.
From the rooftop I watched the mountains change with the seasons. In the autumn chill winds would come. In the winter everything was white snow, long icicles hanging from the roof like daggers, which we loved to snap off. We raced around, building snowmen and snow bears and trying to catch snowflakes. Spring was when Swat was at its greenest. Eucalyptus blossom blew into the house, coating everything white, and the wind carried the pungent smell of the rice fields. I was born in summer, which was perhaps why it was my favourite time of year, even though in Mingora summer was hot and dry and the stream stank where people dumped their garbage.
Near us on our street there was a family with a girl my age called Safina and two boys similar in age to my brothers, Babar and Basit. We all played cricket on the street or rooftops together, but I knew as we got older the girls would be expected to stay inside. We’d be expected to cook and serve our brothers and fathers. While boys and men could roam freely about town, my mother and I could not go out without a male relative to accompany us, even if it was a five-year-old boy! This was the tradition.
I had decided very early I would not be like that. My father always said, ‘Malala will be free as a bird.’ I dreamed of going to the top of Mount Elum like Alexander the Great to touch Jupiter and even beyond the valley. But, as I watched my brothers running across the roof, flying their kites and skilfully flicking the strings back and forth to cut each other’s down, I wondered how free a daughter could ever be.
LEAVING THE VALLEY was harder than anything I had done before. I remembered the tapa my grandmother used to recite: ‘No Pashtun leaves his land of his own sweet will. Either he leaves from poverty or he leaves for love.’ Now we were being driven out for a third reason the tapa writer had never imagined – the Taliban.
Leaving our home felt like having my heart ripped out. I stood on our roof looking at the mountains, the snow-topped Mount Elum where Alexander the Great had reached up and touched Jupiter. I looked at the trees all coming into leaf. The fruit of our apricot tree might be eaten by someone else this year. Everything was silent, pin-drop silent. There was no sound from the river or the wind; even the birds were not chirping.