MINGORA (Pakistan) • Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai visited her birthplace in Pakistan's Swat Valley yesterday, bursting into tears as she entered her childhood home for the first time since a Taleban gunman shot her in 2012.
The 20-year-old told a family friend she planned to return home after completing her education at Oxford, where she is reading for a degree in politics, philosophy and economics.
Roads were blocked off in the town of Mingora as the young woman, known universally by her first name, flew in by military helicopter with her parents and brother.
Security was tight around her former home, now rented by a family friend, Mr Farid-ul-Haq Haqqani, who has kept Ms Yousafzai's room intact with her books, school trophies and luggage.
"They were weeping. They were kneeling on the ground. They were touching the mud with their eyes," Mr Haqqani said of the family. He agreed to be interviewed inside the family home and pointed out a shelf in her room with books, including Shakespeare's Comedy Of Errors and Romeo And Juliet, as well as a copy of the TV series, Ugly Betty.
"I asked her when are you permanently coming back and she said, 'God willing, when my education is completed, I will, God willing, come back to Pakistan.'" He added that Ms Yousafzai chatted in her room with four friends from her school days in Swat, while her parents greeted neighbours who dropped by - since the security detail would not allow her to go to other houses or even up on the roof of her home.
Ms Yousafzai has been visiting Pakistan since last Thursday, her first trip home since she was shot and airlifted abroad for treatment. The government and military have been providing security.
It had been uncertain whether she would be able to visit Swat, a scenic mountain region parts of which spent nearly two years under the control of Pakistani Taleban militants and their harsh interpretation of Islamic law, because of continued concerns for her safety.
RUSH OF EMOTIONS
I miss everything about Pakistan... from the rivers, the mountains, to even the dirty streets and the garbage around our house, and my friends and how we used to gossip... to how we used to fight with our neighbours. I have never been so excited for anything. I've never been so happy before.
NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WINNER MALALA YOUSAFZAI
"I miss everything about Pakistan... from the rivers, the mountains, to even the dirty streets and the garbage around our house, and my friends and how we used to gossip... to how we used to fight with our neighbours," Ms Yousafzai told Reuters on Friday.
"I had never been so excited for anything. I've never been so happy before," she said of returning to Pakistan.
Another family friend, Mr Jawad Iqbal Yousafzai, who is from the same Pashtun clan as Ms Yousafzai, said the family also visited a local army cadet college.
The Pakistani army wrested control of Swat back from the Taleban in 2009 and the area remains mostly peaceful, but the militants still occasionally launch attacks, including one on the military a few weeks ago.
The Taleban claimed responsibility in 2012 for the attack on Ms Yousafzai for her outspoken advocacy for girls' education, which was forbidden under the militants' rule over Swat.
She wrote an anonymous blog for the BBC Urdu service as a schoolgirl during the Taleban rule and later became outspoken in advocating more educational opportunities for girls.
In 2014, she became the youngest Nobel laureate, honoured for her work with the Malala Foundation, a charity she set up to support education advocacy groups with a focus on Pakistan, Nigeria, Jordan, Syria and Kenya. Last month, a new girls' school built with her Nobel prize money opened in the village of Shangla in Swat Valley.