In May 2009, Ziauddin makes the difficult decision to take his family out of Mingora. The area has become too dangerous for a family to live in. Malala is particularly heartbroken with the news of leaving—she loves her home. On May 5, the family leaves together: Malala, her siblings and parents, her grandmother, her cousin, his wife, and their child. Before leaving, the family says a prayer to Allah, asking for protection and guidance. Afterwards, they leave, sharing the same tiny car.
Malala’s connection to her community is never clearer than in this section, when she’s forced to say goodbye to it. She’s not even a teenager at the time, but she’s forced to endure far more danger and adversity than the typical adult. And yet she seems remarkably calm—partly because she turns to Islam for guidance and comfort. An especially powerful part of Malala’s book is the fact that she fights radical Islam not with Christianity or secularism, but with moderate, sincere Islam.
Ziauddin drives his family through the streets out of Mingora. The streets are crowded, and Taliban soldiers push between the cars, searching for women not wearing their burqas. After hours of driving, the family leaves the town and heads for Mardan, the nearest major city. In Mardan, there are camps set up for refugees. Amazingly, Malala notes, 75 percent of the people who came from Swat were sheltered by families in Mardan. Ziauddin plans to take his family to Shangla, the village where he grew up. This requires him to drive to Abottabad, then Besham, then Shangla. Malala spends nights sleeping in a car, sleeping outside, and sleeping in cheap hotels. A man tries to attack Malala’s mother, but she defends herself and scares the man off. Malala gains new respect for her mother after this incident.
Even in moments like this, we recognize that Pakistan is still full of good, generous people. Here, for instance, the people of Mardan generously offer up their homes to the refugees who come into their town from Swat. In part, this is because of cultural norms (we’ve already seen how important hospitality is in Pashtun culture, for instance), but it’s because of the natural decency of many Pakistani people—they help other people out of the goodness of their hearts, not because they expect anything in return.
After weeks of travel, Malala’s family reaches Shangla, where they reunite with cousins, grandparents, and friends. The family in Shangla is surprised that Ziauddin has brought his family there, since it’s likely that the Taliban will invade Shangla next, forcing him to uproot his family once again.
Ziauddin seems curiously short-sighted in this section, and his decision to bring his family to Shangla is fundamentally an optimistic one: he thinks that he’ll be able to return to Mingora soon enough.
In the following weeks, Malala settles into her new life in Shangla. She gets up early to walk to school. At school, she finds that people distrust her because she’s a woman—at her old school in Mingora, this simply didn’t happen. Malala continues to give interviews with radio stations, since her father remains an influential man. Malala also reunites with Moniba, who also left Mingora on May 5.
It’s remarkable that both Malala and Ziauddin continue with their political projects even when they’re refugees. This is a testament to their own intelligence and initiative as well as to the generosity of their friends and family.
On Malala’s 12th birthday, nobody—not even Ziauddin—remembers the occasion. Malala is hurt, but she understands why: everyone is extremely busy, trying to decide what to do next. Malala remembers how happy she was on her 11th birthday, a day, which now seems long ago.
Malala isn’t even a teenager, but she’s capable of great maturity and mental insights—like seeing past her own wants and needs to focus on the bigger picture.