I am Malala: Pashto Landays

When sisters sit together, they always praise their brothers.
When brothers sit together, they sell their sisters to others.
– attributed to Malalai, Malala’s warrior namesake

A lot has already written about Malala Yousafzai, the youngest person to have ever won the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala is one of the most prominent advocates for empowerment i am malalathrough education. I didn’t know a lot about Malala besides her basic platform and her Malala Fund, so I read her book, I am Malala, over the holidays. Malala was cowritten with Christina Lamb. The book is a combination of a political history of Pakistan and the story of Malala’s family. Malala’s parents are both such strong figures in the story, and it quickly became apparent how Malala’s upbringing shaped her views on the world. One thing that really stuck with me after reading this book, however, were the landays that were sprinkled through the book. A landay is a folk couplet, often passed down through oral traditions and sung aloud. Malala’s mother is illiterate (as are about 44% of the Pakistani population*). In the book, she would sing these landays while doing chores or drinking tea with her friends.

A landay has twenty-two syllables, nine in the first line and thirteen in the second. The poem ends with the sound of “ma” or “na” but doesn’t have to rhyme. The most common themes of landays are war, separation, homeland, grief, or love. In today’s war-torn Afghanistan and Pakistan, landays have become more politicized, critical, and have started some modern hip-hop trends.

How much simpler can love be?
Let’s get engaged now. Text me.
Eliza Griswold writes an amazing essay for The Poetry Foundation about landays and her attempt to translate and record some of them. She tracks the evolution of landays, from its origins at the river while women did laundry to a form of empowerment for women throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan. Griswold writes:
Many landays use sex and war to tease men about their cowardice in bed and in battle. This is one of the ways in which Pashtun women undermine the social code through these folk poems: simultaneously seducing men and mocking their weakness at the very skills with which they’re supposed to display the greatest strength.
The more I read about landays, the more fitting they seem to me, to be sprinkled throughout Malala’s memoir. For many women who do not have access to education, their main source of contact with the outside world is through the radio programs they’re permitted to listen to, including poetry programs. Because singing in public is not allowed in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a lot of these poems are sung in private among family and friends. I tried looking for some videos on YouTube, but (maybe unsurprisingly) I wasn’t able to find any that looked genuine to me – although I don’t speak the language so I may be a poor judge of authenticity. For now, I will have to settle for reading the translations online.


I would recommend this book to anyone who is unfamiliar with Malala’s story, people with an interest in the conflicts in the Middle East, people who would to be informed global citizens.

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