When I tell her the question is not important she says that she does like some English-language songs, but “most of them I can’t understand. They say words and words and words, and I don’t know what they’re telling me. I like songs with a meaning.”
It is not that she does not have any interests beyond her education campaign; it’s just that “a normal teenager” in Swat is not defined by Justin Bieber and Twilight. If you really want to get her animated, talk about the one subject that can make almost any Pakistani turn into a bit of a teenager: cricket. She follows it closely on TV (which is not unusual for girls in Pakistan), and also plays (which is).
When she sees that I am interested in talking to her about the game everything in her poised manner changes. Within seconds she’s calling out “Howzat!” and “Siiiiiix!” and showing me the deficiencies of her bowling action (she’s a wrist spinner, though she prefers to bat). When I mention the Birmingham women’s cricket club she says: “Yeah, I would like to join them.”
She is so entirely sparkling and alive, with no sign of the Taliban or education or responsibilities intruding on her memories of playing cricket on the rooftop of her house with the mountains as backdrop, that I wish I could take her to a world famous cricket ground instead of plying her with questions. Does it get lonely, knowing there is no one else in the world who has had the same experience as her? I don’t just mean being shot by the Taliban, which is a tragically common experience, but the attention that followed. It is the only time she does not understand what I am asking her.
I explain and she says: “When someone tells me about Malala, the girl who was shot by the Taliban — that’s my definition for her — I don’t think she’s me. Now I don’t even feel as if I was shot. Even my life in Swat feels like a part of history or a movie I watched. Things change. God has given us a brain and a heart which tell us how to live.”