The chapter begins three months after the events of the previous one. Malala has been away from her home, Mingora, for months. Now Ziauddin is driving his family back to Mingora. The prime minister of Pakistan has announced that the Taliban have been cleared out of Swat, making the area safe once again. As Ziauddin drives, Malala sees the ruins of her home: houses she used to visit have been blown apart, and the beautiful gardens outside each house have become overgrown with weeds.
While there are no Taliban left in Mingora (or so it seems), the Taliban have done plenty of damage during their time there. Mingora is in ruins, and all the places where Malala played as a child have been destroyed. This is a harsh, devastating way for a child to come of age, yet we can sense that Malala is growing up simply by seeing the ruins of her old playgrounds.
When Malala and her family arrive back in their home, they check to see if they’ve been robbed. To their enormous relief, their home has been left virtually undisturbed. Malala is happy to find that the books she bought in Islamabad are still in her room. Inside the Khushal School, Malala is disturbed to see cigarette ashes, bullet casings, graffiti, and the corpses of goats. Clearly, the Taliban has treated the school as a target. Ziauddin is surprised to find a letter inside the school, sent by a Pakistani soldier. In the letter, the soldier criticizes the people of Swat for allowing the Taliban to take over their lives.
While it’s traumatic to see the ruins of her community, it’s a stroke of good fortune that Malala’s home has been left virtually unchanged. Her books—the first things she checks for—haven’t been touched, let alone ruined. It’s very telling that Ziauddin finds trash and debris from both the Taliban and the Pakistani military: as we’ll soon see, they’re not nearly as different as they’d like to pretend.
Malala tries to adjust to her new life in Mingora. Although the Pakistani army now keeps Mingora stable, she finds that things aren’t much different than they were when the Taliban dominated Mingora. Soldiers leave the bodies of dead Taliban soldiers in public as a threat—much as the Taliban soldiers did with the bodies of their own enemies, months before.
Although the Pakistani government is seemingly committed to helping the Americans fight the Taliban, we see that it’s effectively no different from the Taliban—it forces its citizens to live in a state of fear.
Malala begins school once again in the fall of 2009. She is overjoyed to be learning once again. She learns that most of her friends have stayed with their families across Pakistan, however. She’s also saddened to learn that one friend lost her father in an explosion in another city in Pakistan. Malala discovers that most of her classmates know she wrote the BBC diary, as she referenced events that occurred in Mingora, and she’s the only one who could have written so eloquently.
Clearly Malala is already recognized by her classmates as an eloquent writer, speaker, and activist, as they deduce that she’s the only one who could have written the BBC diaries. This recognition feels just as important as Malala’s growing international fame—she is still as closely linked to her community as ever.
Shiza Shahid, Ziauddin’s friend from Stanford, returns from Stanford to live in Islamabad. She invites girls from the Khushal School to visit Islamabad and talk about their experiences with the Taliban. Malala goes to Islamabad, along with Moniba, Malka-e-Noor, and many other students. Malala arrives in Islamabad, accompanied by her mother, on August 14. There she explores the parks and buildings of Islamabad, which she finds beautiful. She tries many things for the first time, liked going to an English-language play, and even samples food from McDonald’s. Most importantly, Malala meets women who are in positions of power: doctors, writers, journalists, etc. Malala finds these meetings especially inspiring.
Malala’s trip to Islamabad is something of a pilgrimage for her: an intense, life-changing journey. In Islamabad Malala discovers that it’s possible to have a thriving Pakistani community in which women are empowered and have careers. Indeed, this thriving community stands in stark contrast to the war-torn regions of the Swat Valley where women are repressed: all other things being equal, empowering women seems like the better strategy for a successful society. Malala’s journey to Islamabad also contrasts markedly with her months as a refugee. Whereas that period challenged her faith in education and women’s rights, her trip to Islamabad restores her convictions.
While Malala is in Islamabad, Shiza introduces her (along with the other schoolgirls) to Major General Athar Abbas, the commander of the Pakistani army. Malala asks General Abbas a difficult question: where is Fazlullah, and why can’t he bring him to justice for his crimes? Abbas takes more than fifteen minutes to answer this question, and when he’s finished, Malala has no idea what he’s said. Moniba asks Abbas who will rebuild the cities of Pakistan after the wars with the Taliban end. Abbas replies in an evasive, boilerplate way, leaving Moniba and Malala unsatisfied. On Malala’s final day in Islamabad, she and her friends give speeches at the Islamabad Club about life under the Taliban. Moniba gives an emotional speech, and before she finishes, she bursts into tears. In all, Malala’s trip to Islamabad makes her realize that Pakistan is a vast place, full of opportunities for women.
As Malala grows older, she gains more confidence in her abilities as a political leader. One consequence of this is her realization that proper politicians—of the kind she meets in this scene—aren’t particularly mature or competent at all. Indeed, many of them are more or less unconcerned with the well-being of their constituents, and their goal is to maintain their power and—much like the superintendent who asked for a bribe from Ziauddin years before—to make money for themselves. Here we see that Malala is not alone in being an intelligent, eloquent young girl from Swat—Moniba too has a passion for justice and skill at public speaking.
When Malala returns to Mingora, she finds that Ziauddin has a major problem: he has no income to pay the teachers at the Khushal School. Malala suggests that Ziauddin talk to General Abbas. Ziauddin realizes that this is a good idea. Malala sends an email to Abbas, and in response he sends the Khushal School over one million rupees, enough money to pay all the teachers for more than three months. Ziauddin is overjoyed by this turn of events.
Throughout the book thus far, Ziauddin has used his friends and connections for Malala’s benefit. Here, however, the tables turn in a noticeable way, as Malala uses her connections to General Abbas to help her father, and ultimately keeps her father’s school open for three more months.
Malala is grateful to General Abbas for his donation to the Khushal School, but she continues to find fault in the way he runs the military in Pakistan. In Mingora, people are bullied and intimidated by the army, just as they were under the Taliban. Malala and her father give interviews in which they criticize the army for failing to bring the Taliban leaders to justice. Malala becomes increasingly interested in journalism after spending time giving interviews and making radio broadcasts.
Malala is happy to use her political connections for the betterment of her family and her community, but this doesn’t meant that she’s willing to compromise on her beliefs by working with corrupt politicians. Thus, she has no reservations about accepting General Abbas’s money and also criticizing his inattentiveness to the Swat.
As 2009 comes to an end, Malala does well on her school exams, coming in first (and narrowly edging out Malka-e-Noor). The first half of 2010 is uneventful, compared with the years preceding it. In July, Malala turns 13 years old. Around this time, monsoon floods begin in the Swat Valley, threatening the homes of thousands of people. In the past, the trees in the valley formed a natural barrier against the floods—now, just as Ziauddin had warned years ago, the trees have been chopped down, and floods are a serious danger. Bridges are destroyed, electric power lines collapse, and buildings flood. There is a general feeling that Allah is punishing the people—first with an earthquake, then a flood. Some people even suggest that Americans have engineered the flood and earthquake using technology.
As we’ve already seen, natural disasters and crises bring out both the best and worst in people. Here, we see some of the “worst.” Instead of accepting that the crisis in question is a random event, they conclude that the US government is trying to destroy Pakistan. While wilder things have happened (with American involvement, to boot), it seems immoral to turn to conspiracy theories in such a time, as doing so seems like an alternative to actively helping people—choosing revenge and hatred over compassion and the difficult work of rebuilding communities. This passage also shows the danger of mixing religion so closely with politics—the Taliban can twist any event to make it seem like Allah is supporting their cause.
Following the floods, violence escalates. Taliban soldiers, still secretly living in the valley, blow up more schools and kidnap people they judge to be dangerous to Islam. Several of Ziauddin’s friends are murdered for protesting the Taliban in print. Malala is frustrated and frightened by the lack of progress in the valley. She resolves to become a politician when she grows up—someone who can bring progress to her country.
For Malala, the crisis brings out her desire to lead others—to be their representative, and to use her talents to bring them happiness and peace instead of violence. There’s no law that says that Malala has to respond to crisis in this way—indeed, most of the people around her respond to the same events with fear or anger.