I have just finished reading your book, I am Malala. I borrowed it from the New York Public Library and I have been reading it on my daily commute. Your words have moved me to tears in a crowded subway train, so much so that I am compelled to write you a letter. I hope it gets to you.
Your description of your home in Swat Valley makes me wish to go there one day, with its lush mountains, abundant fruit trees, and cool waterfalls. You talk about your friends and your close-knit community and the way you take care of each other through melmastia. I am imagining that you grew up in a paradise. When I hear about Pakistan in the papers, all I hear about are of the bombings. I didn’t know Pakistan was so beautiful and your words opened my mind in a welcome perspective.
I was devastated then to read about the Taliban blowing up Pakistan’s thousand year old shrines. The Taliban’s destruction of schools or anything that symbolized human innovation, infuriates me. I was also very sad that you were not able to go home to Swat after you got shot by the Taliban. You were brought to recover in the UK after immediate surgery and I later read that it took you 6 years after being shot, to safely visit your home in 2018. Under the Taliban, many girls in Pakistan are not allowed to do a lot of things that I take for granted, like dancing, watching movies, or going to school. In your book, you talked of how the mufti spread ignorance by broadcasting his misinterpretation of the Quran on the radio and how it was the beginning of brainwashing for the Pashtun people. He told men how to wear their beards and he told women to cover up and wear burkas. How infuriating that a mufti, a trusted Islamic scholar in your community would spread such ignorance.
I wrote this letter to thank you for your words. Now you are in your second year studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford and I hope you get to do what you set out to do. The last time you were in New York, you were launching your new book, We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World. I cannot wait to read it.
The next time you are in New York, I imagine you coming over for tea. We’ll both laugh about being 5 feet tall, and swap book and face cream recommendations. Until then, I wish you good luck in your studies.
This is the letter I wrote to Malala. My only regret is that I didn’t read her book sooner.
Reading her book put me in a state of despair because it made me think about my own tragedies. On top of that, Spring is just about to start, so in a way I am saying farewell to Winter. Winter reminds me that all good things must die. With my mother’s anniversary in early March it's hard to forget. Death reminds me of pain. Everyone experiences pain in some form, whether it’s grief, heartbreak, or loss. As the seasons change, I am reminded that I’m not the first, nor am I the last, to ever feel tragedy. When it comes, I will open my heart and let nature take its course.
Here is a girl, Malala, who was shot by the Taliban at 15. She could have given up but with the support of her family and community, she turned her situation into a movement. Since her shooting, she has founded the Malala Fund, a global organization that advocates for girls’ education. She has become the youngest person to ever be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize and she continues to study at Oxford University.
In life, there is always a choice. The first and easiest choice is to play the victim of our circumstances. The second is to do something about it. In my experience both choices are very painful. The first choice keeps me in darkness—hence, the pain. The second choice leads to actions that inevitably lead to mistakes and those mistakes are painful. But as I’ve learned, growing pains are useful. The pain of inaction is not.
Malala said, “We should learn everything and then choose which path to follow.” Education in any form, is a good start. There will be naysayers like the Taliban. There will be champions, like Malala’s father. We must choose wisely who to listen to, what we buy into, who to follow. There’s a lot of noise to sift through so it helps to find purpose and meaning to make the best choice possible.
Education is a funny thing. I am the first in my family to have a master’s degree. I was born in the Philippines and my grandparents started off poor and illiterate so getting a masters for me was a big stepping stone. My parents were thankfully encouraging. I once was thinking of getting my PhD and one of my titas told me not to. She discouraged me because she claimed it would be hard for me to find a husband. At the time, marriage was not even on my radar but maybe she said this because in her mind, I would be marrying a Filipino one day and that many traditional Filipino men generally do not get their PhDs. And in any case, the woman should always be a degree dumber than the man? No matter how I tried to unpack it, I decided that her reasoning was just false.
We need to teach our girls, but you know what Malala? Let’s also teach our elders. But first let’s teach ourselves.
Life is too short and too precious so here’s to reading new books and planting new seeds for living that crisp + sweet life! Happy Spring!
Stay crisp, stay sweet,