ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2015
issue/numero: # 07

Malala, the girl who wanted to go to school

Author | Autor: Adriana Carranca

Translated by Guillaume Duvignau


Everything I am about to tell you actually happened. It is incredible that

it happened this way, but it did. I know because I was there. I traveled

around the world with a mission: to find out what had actually happened

to a girl named Malala Yousafzai and why she was being persecuted. I

went on this mission because that is what journalists do; they investigate and pry

into everything, they plant questions and harvest stories.

It was a dangerous mission and I knew there would be many challenges. On the

day I left I heard an order being given out on the radio: journalists were not to

travel to Swat! The valley was now off limits, but, just like children, journalists love

to do things that are forbidden. So I packed my backpack in a hurry. I placed my

crank-powered flashlight, mosquito net, pepper-spray, and anything else that fit

and I left. I crossed the Atlantic and Africa. I reached the desert, then crossed the

Arabian Sea and headed towards the mountains where Malala lived.

When I reached my destination I had to disguise myself because the valley had

many dangers and nobody could know I was there. The only ones who knew of

my presence were my guide and protector, Ejaz – a big man, as strong as he was

kind and with a thunderous voice - and Sana’s family, brave and generous, they

accepted to hide me in their home so that I could get acquainted with the terrifying

and captivating story I am about to tell.


Malala was a girl who wanted to go to school, but in the place where she lived

that was forbidden. Books could only be read in hiding and there were many

dangers on the way to school; unimaginable risks, even the risk of death.

This place is called the Swat valley.

The Swat valley is located in a distant country called Pakistan. It has rolling green

fields surrounded by gigantic mountains whose peaks the snow paints white almost

all year round. In the summer, when the sun warms the peaks, the snow melts

into the Swat River and the river serpentines down the mountains where it meets

the Cabul River; the latter comes from a neighboring country called Afghanistan.

There, between the magnificent Hindu Kush mountain range and the crystalline

waters of the rivers – with a foot in Pakistan and the other in Afghanistan- is where

Malala’s people, the Pashtuns have lived for over two thousand years.

Pashtun: An ethnic group of warrior people who live along the Hindu Kush mountain

range. Their origins are unknown, but some believe they are descendants of one

of the ten lost tribes of Israel, yet there is no historical evidence confirming such

claim. Others say they are descendants of Arian mixed with invader peoples. They

were called the ‘mountain people’.

Their lands are so beautiful and fertile that many powerful emperors have tried

to conquer it. The greatest of these emperors was Alexander the Great. The king

of kings traveled to the Swat valley in 328 B.C where he challenged the gods

that people believed protected the valley, crossed rivers brimming with gavials,

conquered the mountains, and fought atrocious battles. He was hurt fighting the

brave Pashtuns and because of that, admitted he was a regular man and not an

immortal god as he used to say. His writings have not resisted the passing of time,

but the stories are alive in the legends of the Swat.

Gavial: Large crocodile that inhabits the Ganges River and whose size can exceed

five meters.

Ganges River: is one of the primary rivers of the Indian sub-continent and one of

the planet’s twenty largest rivers. It is 2.525 km long and runs from the north of

India to Bangladesh (a country that used to be a part of Pakistan). It is considered

sacred by the followers of Hinduism, India’s largest religion.

Alexander said that the Pashtuns were as fierce as lions. “ I am engaged in a land

of lion-like, and brave people, where each foot on the ground is like a wall of steel

confronting my soldiers. [...] Everyone in this land can be called Alexander”.

Genghis Khan, founder of the greatest empire in history, traversed these lands in

1200 AD with his warhorses and archers so dexterous they could hit a target from

a distance of five hundred meters. The Buzkashi, a warlike sport where horsemen

compete for a headless goat remains as a legacy of Genghis Khan’s passage

through the land. Headless! This was how he trained his warriors in the mountains

and the Pashtuns learned from them.

Other conquerors came, but the Pashtuns were never dominated because they are a

fierce and valiant people, the most fierce and valiant of all the fierce and valiant peoples.

This was how the Greek philosopher Herodotus, the father of history, described the

Indians who lived around 430 BC in a place called ‘paktuike’, today’s Swat valley: a

place inhabited by gigantic ants that mined for gold in the desert, by camels that

ran like horses, and by the “most combatant of all people”.

It was from these people that the girls from Swat inherited their courage.

Indians: inhabitants of India. The territory that is now Pakistan used to be a part o

f India until its independence in 1947.


In a not too distant past, princes and princesses, kings and queens inhabited the

Swat, just like the valleys in the fairy tales, except they were real.

I find it curious that kings and queens still exist, real princes and princesses. So,

when I arrived in Pakistan the first thing I did was pay the prince of Swat a visit.

His name is Miangul Adnan Aurangzeb and he is now an ex-prince, he wears a

suit and tie and lives in a house because he does not have a castle anymore. It is a

small house for a prince, and if the walls seem to have shrunk, they do however still

retain their charm with relics of the times when the Swat valley was a magnificent

kingdom. While we had tea in gold and porcelain cups, he showed me pictures

from his childhood and it was like taking a trip back in time.

One of the pictures was of his grandfather, general Ayub Kahn, who became

president of Pakistan after a coup d’état. He was a powerful general. At his side, an

elegant lady with a precise haircut and a skirt down to her knees sparks my interest.

They really are old photographs because today women in Swat cannot show either

their legs or hair. In another photo the same lady is seen greeting female students

in a school. That was a time when girls could study in safety. The lady is Nasim, the

general’s daughter and prince Adnan’s mother. Nasim married Miangul Aurangzeb,

the last prince of Swat and Adnan’s father. The scrawny boy wearing short trousers

in the photo is Adnan, without the lush mustache he has today but with the same

haircut; meticulously parted and fixed with gel. Beside him is a girl in a round dress.

She was the prince’s childhood friend. Her name was Benazir Bhutto. Have you heard

of her? When she grew up, Benazir became the first woman to hold the highest

post in a Muslim country: that o prime minister of Pakistan! But the same men who

persecuted Malala also did not let her be and one day she was not able to escape

their claws anymore; Benazir Bhutto was killed in a bombing.

Absorbed in his memories, Adnan runs his delicate fingers (because princes

have very delicate fingers and well done nails) over a photo of his paternal greatgrandfather

as if he wanted to caress him. The prince really misses this grandfather

of his. His name was Miangul Golshahzada Abdul-Wadud Badshah Sahib. He was

the wali of the Swat valley. A real wali!

Wali: Crowned leader of a region, the equivalent of a king.

The Swat’s wali had his own army, but that was useless because the valley was at

peace in those days. He was a pacifist and benevolent king; at least that is how the

people of the Swat remember him.

In another photograph, the Swat’s wali is seen on the day of his coronation. He

wore socks up to his knees, short trousers, and coke-bottle glasses. He looked like

a tall boy wearing children’s clothes, a ‘Little Prince’ with a white beard. However,

he did not intend to travel the world, rather he wished to bring the world to Swat.

That was his dream.

One day, queen Elizabeth II from the United Kingdom visited the valley. She was

enchanted with the White Palace, the wali’s summer residence. The castle is called

that because it is surrounded by snowy mountains and made of white marble, the

same stone used in the construction of the magnificent Taj Mahal. It was in the

gardens of the White Palace, where the flowers colored the landscape, that Malala

and her school friends enjoyed picnicking in the summer.

Built between 1632-1653 on the banks of the Yamuna River in Agra, India, it is

considered one of the New Seven Wonders of the Modern world. It is a sumptuous

monument made of white marble, which the emperor Shah Jahan had built in

memory of his favorite wife, Aryumand Banu Begam, whom he called, Mumtaz

Mahal (Jewel of the palace). She died after giving birth to the emperor’s 14th son

and the Taj Mahal was erected over her tomb in homage to her. For this reason it is

also known as the greatest proof of love in the world.

I told the prince that one day, I too met queen Elizabeth. It was when I lived in

England, where she lives. We were in a small church, a very old chapel in the back

of the Windsor Palace, the queen’s official residence and the largest occupied

castle in the world. The largest in the world!

I went there because a Muslim (like Malala) friend of mine had never been inside

a church and was very curious so she asked me to take her. When I visited Egypt,

Diana, my friend, took me to the most beautiful mosques of her land, so I returned

the favor.

Church: Where Christians pray.

Chapel: Small church

Mosque: Where Muslims pray.

Synagogue: Where Jews pray.

Buddhist temple: Where Buddhists pray.

How surprised were we when we saw that the queen was there (in person!)

attending mass, elegantly dressed in a emerald tailleur and matching hat. On the

way out I expected to see her leave in a carriage, like she did in the royal parades,

but she climbed into her green Jaguar (she must really like this color!) and drove

off through the gardens of the small church towards the gates of her palace. Before

saying goodbye she approached our group and asked, “Are you students at the

London School?” We were indeed, but were so surprised we could not answer. So

she said, “Very well! Study hard because education is very important for both boys

and girls.”

The Swat’s wali also thought education was important. He was the one who set up

the first schools for girls in the valley.

But this was before the war, and before girls were forbidden to study. To learn how

all this happened, I continued on my travels and headed to the Swat valley.

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