Malala wakes up in Birmingham, England, on October 16. The first thing she thinks is, “Thank God I’m not dead.” The first person she talks to is Dr. Kayani, who speaks to her in Urdu. Dr. Kayani explains that she’s in England, and that her parents are still in Pakistan. Malala finds this news enormously distressing. A Muslim chaplain named Rehanna visits Malala and calms her down somewhat by reciting Quranic verses.
In Birmingham Malala is instantly disoriented, but the doctors there have made some effort to make her feel at home: they’ve brought a chaplain who shares Malala’s religion. It’s painful for Dr. Kayani to explain to Malala that her parents are still in Pakistan, and again Malala seems more concerned about her family than herself.
On Malala’s second day of consciousness after her shooting, she learns more about her surroundings. She’s in the Queen Elizabeth hospital, a far cleaner, more sophisticated building than the one where she’d been in Pakistan. She finds it difficult to speak, so she communicates mostly with a pen and paper. Dr. Reynolds visits her, and gives her a white teddy bear as a present. She tells Malala that she should name the bear “Junaid,” for reasons that will become clear to her later.
We know that it was Colonel Junaid who saved Malala’s life, more than any other single person, but Malala won’t discover this until later. Clearly she has a long way to go before she could be considered “recovered” from her shooting: in the meantime, she’ll have to communicate by pen and paper.
As Malala becomes increasingly conscious, she asks two questions: “Where is my family?” and “Who is paying for this?” The doctors assure Malala that her family is safe in Pakistan, and will visit her soon. They say that the government of Pakistan will pay for Malala’s treatment. Malala is nonetheless terrified that Ziauddin could be dead. She continues to believe that he’s trying to find a way to pay for her treatment himself. Dr. Kayani calls Ziauddin, and gives the phone to Malala. Though she can’t speak, she’s overjoyed to hear his voice.
The first questions Malala asks by writing on her pad are very telling: both are fundamentally about other people, and both are very practical. Malala is always thinking of her family—she values them and loves them more than anything else—and she’s also very realistic and practical. It’s for this reason that Malala can’t bear the thought of costing her parents money, hence her second question.
Back in Pakistan, Ziauddin continues to worry about his daughter’s well being, while also immersing himself in politics. He criticizes the government of Pakistan for its ineptness: it had claimed that all Taliban soldiers had been cleared from the Swat Valley, an obvious lie. He talks with Dr. Reynolds constantly, and she tells him that Malala is making a slow recovery.
Ziauddin doesn’t let his relationship with his daughter infringe on his pursuit of his political goals. In fact, just the opposite is true: Ziauddin uses Malala’s shooting as an opportunity to attack the government for its obvious incompetence and clumsy political maneuvering.
In England, Malala communicates mostly with her pen and paper. She asks, “Who did this to me?” and Dr. Reynolds informs her that the Taliban shot her. Malala is worried, and wants to know if her family is all right. Reynolds insists that they are. Slowly Malala recovers control of her voice. After five days, she’s able to talk to Dr. Reynolds. With Rehanna, she has conversations about women’s rights, education, and the perception of Muslims in the Western world. Malala, now in control of her own voice, talks to her parents over Dr. Kayani’s phone. Ziauddin is greatly concerned about her health, but Malala tells him that she’s recovering.
Malala continues to advance the causes of women’s rights and education, even if it’s only in the most minuscule of ways, by talking with another person about these issues. She’s slowly improving, thanks to Birmingham’s expert medical attention. We might consider her time in this hospital a kind of “rebirth.” She’s rising from the ashes of her assassination attempt, preparing to return to the global stage stronger than ever.
In Pakistan, Tor Pekai becomes increasingly worried that the Pakistani government isn’t making any arrangements for them to travel to England. She threatens to go on a hunger strike if they’re not given news of their transportation to England soon. Tor Pekai’s threat is surprisingly effective, and officials have her and Ziauddin moved to Islamabad overnight. In Islamabad, however, Tor Pekai is disappointed to learn that she’s no closer to flying to England than she was before. Later, she learns that the interior minister, Rehman Malik, is the one causing the delay. Rehman wants to fly to England along with Malala’s parents, so that he can preside over a press conference from Malala’s hospital. He also wants to ensure that Malala’s family doesn’t seek political asylum in England, which would be highly embarrassing for Pakistan.
The political maneuverings of the Pakistani government continue, even after Ziauddin persists in denouncing them on the radio and in his writings. In Pakistan’s defense, however, almost any other government (including the United States) would be concerned about these same issues of political asylum and preserving national image.
In all, it takes ten days for Ziauddin and Tor Pekai to fly to England. In the meantime, Malala enjoys talking with Dr. Reynolds, but can barely wait to see her parents. She watches television and begins her physical therapy. It takes her hours of concentration to take her first steps, but the doctors assure her that she’ll regain full motor control in due time. Malala also receives flowers from hundreds of well-wishers, including Beyoncé, Angelina Jolie, and the Archbishop of Canterbury. One bouquet is simply addressed to “The Girl Shot in the Head, Birmingham”—Malala’s fame is so great that the bouquet has made its way to her anyway.
In stark contrast to what the Taliban intended, Malala’s near death does not intimidate the Taliban’s enemies into silence. Instead, it creates new enemies for the Taliban all around the world. Many of the world’s most powerful people, including movie stars, politicians, and religious authorities, unite in their support for Malala—thus implicitly condemning the Taliban for attacking her. When Malala was nearly killed she was a national figure, but after being “reborn” in Birmingham,” she’s becoming a global icon.
As Malala waits for her parents to arrive, she realizes that she’s been spared for a reason: to fight for education and free speech across the entire world. In a way, she concludes, the Taliban have helped her mission, rather than hindered it: they have made her campaign global. Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the UN special envoy for education, has instituted a petition in Malala’s name (“I Am Malala”), demanding schooling for all children of the world. Malala is overjoyed with these measures. Looking back, she thinks of this time in her life fondly, but she had no idea that she wouldn’t be going back to Pakistan.
Malala has become globally famous, but she doesn’t bask in her glory, even when she’s still in the hospital. Instead, she immediately uses her fame to advance the causes of equality and education, supporting a UN bill even more ambitious than anything Malala had supported in Pakistan. Previously Malala had supported education for women in Pakistan, but now she’s moved forward to support education for all human beings on the planet.