Returning to Pakistan for Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai’s mother, Thorpekai Yousafzai, was a dream come true.
The Pashtun housewife, now in her 40s, began packing her bags weeks in advance of their flight to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, from their current home in Birmingham on March 28.
“A lot went through my mind as we flew back. I imagined reuniting with my sisters, brothers, friends, and relatives,” Yousafzai told Radio Mashaal. “I glanced at Malala often and remembered the terrible journey the four of us first made to Britain.”
Yousafzai and her schoolteacher husband, Ziauddin, along with their two sons flew to the United Kingdom in October 2012. They followed Malala, who had been flown to a hospital in Birmingham days after she was shot in the head and neck by the Taliban. Twelve years old at the time, she had been coming home from school in Mingora, the capital of picturesque Swat Valley.
“That was a terrible journey. We all cried most of the flight. But this time around, we were smiling and excited on our way home,” she recalled. “Malala was unconscious when she was flown to the United Kingdom, but now she was returning home with her eyes wide open.”
Yousafzai says she is a nervous flyer but that she forgot her fears once they reached Pakistani skies.
“As we circled over Islamabad before landing, I could feel the sense of our homeland,” she said. “We kept asking each other if we were dreaming.”
The Yousafzais slept little over the next four days. For Thorpekai, it was a whirlwind trip.
She says the highlight of the visit was their brief visit to Swat.
“All of us woke up two hours before our departure time for Swat,” she said of the family’s March 31 trip to their hometown. “We happily chatted away about what had changed and what remained the same in Mingora.”
For Yousafzai, a visit to the family’s modest rented house in Mingora was the highlight. Once inside the brick-walled compound, the memories came flooding back.
“I stood in the same spot where I had prayed to Allah to protect Malala,” she said. “I had pleaded that day: ‘You gave me this child, and I now ask you to return her to us. I know you never violate your promises. She did nothing wrong but had only raised her voice for a just cause.’”
She says she thanks God for his mercy and compassion. “I wept uncontrollably as I thanked Allah,” she said. “I also met a neighbor and close friend, and we reminisced about drinking afternoon tea in our front yard.”
Yousafzai says four days didn’t feel long enough to meet all her relatives and friends. But reuniting with her elderly mother was a source of great joy. “My mother always wondered why I couldn’t return to Pakistan despite the fact that my daughter had been shot,” she recalled of their frequent telephone conversations.
She wept during most of the journey back to Birmingham. “Ziauddin kept on consoling me and promised we would return again to our homeland,” she said.