Rushing around in my usuallly unfocused haze one Wednesday in April, a message dropped into my WhatsApp from a dear friend reminding me that she’d got tickets for us to see the new National Geographic documentary about Malala Yusuf Zai. Malala is the teenage girl who survived an assasination attempt by the Taliban in October 2012. Though this movie date should have been written into my calendar, it wasn’t, so I needed to pause and reset. Then after a dash up the PIE for a school run, collecting a broken laptop and dropping my son home, I was actually able to make the movie on time. Needless to say, my head space was jammed and slightly disjointed from any semblance of thought or real planning. It was with this frame of mind that I walked into the movie theatre, void of expectations.
Luck of the draw tickets meant that we ended up craning necks from the 2nd row, but we soon got into the somewhat mesmerising flow of the movie. The first few minutes glided gracefully into a swirling, moving and deeply emotional recollection of Malala’s journey from Pakistani school girl to global icon and Nobel Peace prize winner. Juxtaposing her innocent naivety as a teenager against the brutal truth of the circumstances that had her name written into the history books, Malala seemed so ordinary, just like the rest of us, despite her huge presence as an activist. The movie theatre was full, mainly of women, some of whom had brought their daughters along, inspired and intrigued by an individual who has become the standard bearer for a girls right to an education. Indeed a Q&A after the screening mostly focused on women’s rights in a cultural, societal and educational context. The panelists praised the inspiring nature of the story and the fact that Malala’s experiences were not just about her but instead a combination of personalities, links and opportunities that led to her ability today to effect so much change in the World. This was the aspect of the story that resonated the most with me, turning my day from average to extraordinary and filled with the idea of possibility.
This was a story about courage, bravery and an incredible partnership between a father and his daughter. Her mission to get an education despite the tyranny of the Taliban was based not just on her own bravery, but also upon her father’s determination to stand up and speak out against a movement that had begun to terrorise his people. It showed that role models are hugely important to us and perhaps it is worth looking at our lives and making sure that our icons are worthy of praise and then, if they are, taking the best of what they have and moving it forward. True, the life that Malala Yusuf Zai experienced in Pakistan is so far removed from most of you reading this article, but there is something we all have in common with her. In life, there are people who inspire us. It is as if destiny throws them our way and when that destiny comes knocking we have a choice. To take action or to walk away. Malala was supported and encouraged by her father and mother as Malala’s father had been supported and encouraged by his father before him and so on through the generations.
By the end of the movie, which by the way was panned by one critic writing for the New Yorker and applauded by another at the Guardian, I was filled with a new found bravery. Yes, I live in Singapore and there are hardly any Talib fighters here to worry about. But the demons in societies like this that we fight every day, are the ones that come from within. Having moved to Singapore four months previous, I was languishing in what friends were describing as a Singapore funk. A sort of strange haze that comes with moving country, trailing a husband, restarting a career and being forced to go beyond my comfort zone on yet another international move. I had been feeling so sorry for myself… But somehow, watching this inspiring story of great courage turned this funk on its head.
We can all count times in our lives when fear has held us hostage. Sometimes it’s a fear of failure and at other times it’s fear of success that chokes us and snuffs out our chances of ever getting underway. It’s a feeling that has had me ensnared ever since I arrived in this urban paradise. Watching this movie broke through the accumulation of all the excuses that have held me back. When a young girl, a teenager, can stand up to terrorists using her words to fight an ideology, to bring light in the darkness, how could I have any excuse to ever feel that I couldn’t do something?
Writing about this moment and about my experience that night is the first step in my new journey. It was the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu who reputedly said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” and it seems so simple but until now I’d been struggling with the anguish of deciding what that step should be. Malala didn’t plan her steps but she had the courage to take them. That’s how I realised that sometimes it doesn’t matter which step you take, you just have to take one.
So it is that a new journey begins. It’s taken 40 years but I’ve finally realised there is inspiration everywhere, from the light of day to the twinkle of the stars but often we are so wrapped up in our reality that we fail to see it. If we fail to see it, then we fail to act on it. The truth is, there are no excuses and there is always something we can do. Something that can make our world a better place. It could be anything, from being more relaxed around our children to starting a book club about positive role models. In our lives, it could just mean making a choice to encourage at least one person every day. The way to fight the darkness, whether it’s in the form of a Talib or a demon thought from within, is to be brave enough to live in an inspired way even if people think you’re crazy. That’s exactly what I plan on doing.
He Named Me Malala, is no longer being screened in Singapore, however please visit The Malala Fund website for further information.
Images provided by Fox (Asia) Networks Group