Interpreting Silence, Mine and Maybe Yours


. . . and I began to see that the pen and the words that come from it can be much more powerful than machine guns, tanks or helicopters. We were learning how to struggle. And we were learning how powerful we are when we speak.1

I was at a meeting. The preacher declared, “If you haven’t found what is worth dying for, then you haven’t started living!” In my mind, I said, “But I am living and I enjoy my life although, I don’t know what I would die for.” The preacher reeled off convictions on which he would stake his life. I thought, that’s good for you, my children are still small, my marriage too young.

In my university, when students would gather to protest against government policies, I always left the campus and went to stay at my aunt’s, as I did not fancy being tear-gassed, arrested, or beaten or raped if the protest degenerated to a free-for-all.

Their protests annoyed my middle-class sensibilities. Shielded by my parents, I had never felt the sting of socio-economic or political policies. The more daring the protest, the more likely, that my university would be shut down, so that, instead of graduating at twenty, I would graduate at twenty plus x, x being anything from one to five years. This concerned me because I had mapped my life’s trajectory without the possibility of detours.

And so, Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography interested me, as all biographical material does, but more so because she is a teenager. She’s described as the educational campaigner from Swat Valley, Pakistan, who came to public attention by writing for BBC Urdu about life under the Taliban. News about her work had floated in and out of my attention in years past, but as I settled to read her book, I shook my head, what was she thinking?

The man was wearing a peaked cap and looked like a college student. He swung himself onto the tailboard at the back and leaned in right over us.

Who is Malala? He demanded?”

No one said anything, but several of the girls looked at me. I was the only girl with my face not covered.

That’s when he lifted up a black pistol. I later learned it was a Colt 45. Some of the girls screamed.2

Malala’s story, in my view, traces the journey of her convictions, how they were shaped, how they crystallized, and how she learnt to live and expect to die for them. Her father is central to her story. She interprets her world through his eyes. But I get the sense as I read that even if Malala were translated into another set of circumstances, mine as a youngster, for example, she would still shake the world. Named after the Pashtun heroine, Malalai of Maiwand, when she was born, she popped out kicking and screaming.

Malala gives us a history lesson on her beloved Pakistan and Talibanization. It is a story I recognize: Nigeria before and after British colonization; Nigeria in the age of Boko Haram. Politics never sleeps. Poverty and illiteracy make indoctrination and intimidation potent. But Kalashnikovs and RPGs make the rich and educated flee too.

Her photo on the book cover hides fear and courage, a tension that she draws her readers to share with her family in Taliban-controlled Swat Valley and beyond.

Are you scared now?” I asked my father.

At night our fear is strong, Jani,” he told me, “but in the morning, in the light, we find our courage again.”3

She writes that her father hated the fact that most people would not speak up. She knew he was right. He kept a poem by Martin Niemoller in his pocket.

First they came for the communists,                                                                              

and I did not speak out because I was not a communist.                                           

Then they came for the socialists,                                                                                    

and I did not speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.                                                 

Then they came for the trade unionists,                                                                        

and I did not speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.                                        

Then they came for the Jews,                                                                                               

and I did not speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.                                                        

Then they came for the Catholics,                                                                                    

and I did not speak out because I wasn’t a Catholic.                                                 

Then they came for me,                                                                                                     

and there was no one left to speak for me.

I live in a land where my concerns range from 30% income tax deductions to choosing between Gouda and Maasdammer cheese. Comfort is a familiar place and I do not apologize for it. Privilege comes with responsibility and many are not silent. But I must break my silence and scream with more than sympathy, with my words, my money, my time, and my votes, because Malala proves that one voice can be heard. At a cost, at a cost . . .


©Timi Yeseibo 2014


1. Yousafzai, Malala with Lamb, Christina, I Am Malala (London: Orion Books, 2014), 131.

2. Ibid., 6.

3. Ibid., 115.


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53 thoughts on “Interpreting Silence, Mine and Maybe Yours

  1. I just started reading the book, last week, and I must say that, it has captivated me, and really got me thinking. It’s filled with inspiration and fun though. I like the way she sees the world. But as to what I would die for?, It keeps changing every now and then. At one moment is to die for Christ, at another time it’s to probably – if not out of cognition- die for love.
    Well, middle class life kind of shield us from what really happens in our world. We are most engrossed with the glitz and glamour, and have all the biggest unfounded dreams. But those people like Malala, would grapple just for something as basic as education, food, and the hope of seeing another day alive.
    I travelled across the hinter parts of the eastern region of Ghana for a small research I was doing for a friend. As I drove through the bumpy roads and saw people in thatched houses, and presumably grappling to have a day of their life, I wonder how I would survive in those places, if I were to leave my job and decide to live there. But these people live in these towns, not with the hope or dream of driving a Cadillac and living in the expensive condos, just survival. Can I dream like Malala,?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Danyl, same here, the book got me thinking! Comfort can shield and blind us from the life-threatening issues that others face, true.

      Like you, seeing people in ‘disadvantaged’ positions tugs at my heart strings. But is what I’m feeling a temporary emotional pain or something deeper? There are so many causes in our world, to be effective, we can’t be involved in all of them. I like to think that we need to find the cause(s) that keeps us awake after we’ve drained the champagne glass and others have gone to bed. Maybe that’s the thing that will be worth dying for? Maybe then you and I can dream like Malala?

      Thank you for being here and keeping the conversation alive.


  2. How long now since this post, Timi? And finally the thread that had my tongue in stitches, and the cold that’s made my mind numb finally gives way for clarity.

    I woke this morning and thought about independence. What’s to celebrate when lives are been wasted everyday far away from the comfort of my bed at night.

    I remember being in a conversation with a friend once about the ebola outbreak, and she said, “let them take it to the north and kill all of them.” I was appalled. Is this the country i want to spend the rest of my life in? Somewhere i want my children to live? Where people in the west and east stay detached from the north, like humans don’t exist there, like all that’s existent in that part of the country are terrorists?
    Do I want a country where my daughters are taught to marry within their tribes because ethnicity has the power to ruin marriages; where everything is subject to prejudice?

    This isn’t a world or life want. This isn’t something i want for tomorrow. We can’t care less and expect heaven sent changes when we have been equipped with the power to exert change–through our words, pen, swords, actions–for one weapon is just as effective as the other depending on who its used on.

    I don’t want silence, i want activity…for when we stop caring for one another, is when we begin to lose our humanity.

    Thank you for sharing this.


    1. Reflection is good. Thank you for returning to share your thoughts.

      “We can’t care less and expect heaven sent changes when we have been equipped with the power . . . ”

      I agree Uju that apathy and desensitization are dangerous, as well as thinking, “all that’s existent in that part of the country are terrorists . . . ”

      Perhaps some are weary of the one-Nigeria dream. There are others who want to impose “Taliban-Islam” on the country. I can understand that. Lobbying, politicking, campaigning, are legitimate ways of pushing their agenda to culminate in a “Scottish Referendum” not carrying arms and killing people!

      We should use the platform we have to act. I’m happy that we’re stirring one another to think. Thanks Uju.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. We find our personal methods of resistance, being a change agent by living our values. I’m not convinced I have something to die for, that I believe in something so great that I would risk my life/safety. (However in the eyes of some folks, riding a bicycle is seen as risky.)

    We need to reflect on times in life where some of us may have felt on the edge of big social change but didn’t know how big that change was because we already were part of that change.

    I know I owe the benefits of having been born in Canada and lived here all my life, the freedom of choice, politics and expression, to my parents who immigrated to Canada. Their younger lives were radically different. They escaped the familiarity of their culture, language. So “protest”, striking a different road often has nothing to do with fleeing from violence, etc., but walking a path which you barely know/understand yourself what may lie ahead.


    1. Jean, this had me in stitches, “However in the eyes of some folks, riding a bicycle is seen as risky.” In some parts of the world, it is! 😀

      “. . . walking a path which you barely know/understand yourself what may lie ahead.” This takes courage and conviction to see it to the end. Like you, I understand that people paid the price for the life I now enjoy. I’m mustering the courage to broaden the path, so more people follow after me.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think we’re all heroes at several levels. Is there something worth dying for? Well, we all have natural survival instincts. I once put myself in line of gunfire for a friend I met just 1month earlier during my NYSC. Was it worth it? I think so but does that make every other person who stalled that day, less heroic? I’d firmly say NO. Experiences shape people and what made me dare that gun, I myself may not know.


    1. “Experiences shape people . . . ” I agree. As I read her story, I was impressed by what she did, but I was more intrigued by why, what I have called the journey to conviction. Conviction produces movement . . .

      You were very brave to put yourself in the line of gunfire for a friend. Was it a conscious rational decision or was it instinct?

      Are all heroes? No. Can all be heroes? Yes, the potential is there. We can’t all be Malala. All of us do not have her platform. But we can consciously commit our resources to something bigger than us, something that empowers humanity, something that moves us, in my opinion.

      Thank you so much Tobi, for sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting! Inspiring!! ..erm (searching for something more appropriate), Galvanizing!!! Yeah, that’s the word. You may not understand my excitement, I’m a Malala aficionado.

    Her story motivates me…her activism at a very young age has effected positive change in her immediate environment as well as around the world. I assent to everything she stands for and there are very few people born with such; nerve, confidence and precocity. Her achievement at an age when the fortunate among her peers are aspiring to be social debutantes, is intimidating; a two-time Nobel Prize nominee among other things. Something tells me they’l award it to the Pope, but the male feminist (if such a term exists) in me sincerely hopes Malala gets this one.

    Timi, you brought a refreshing angle to this topic, I’m sure you write for a living. Lovely blog u got.


    1. You’re a Malala aficionado, and it shows 🙂

      Like you, her story inspires me. I always say that the world is looking for heroes. The Observer endorses the book with these words, “. . . Malala’s level-headed resolve to continue to champion education and children’s rights – these are all powerful reminders of the best in human nature.” I see a few things here, maturity, determination, staying-power, and commitment to a cause bigger than oneself.

      I’m happy that this post makes you come alive. I hope the fall out would be us, you and I, doing life better and making a difference in our respective spheres of influence.

      @write for a living, I don’t. Thanks Olisakwerah, for the compliment on my blog!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I think that Malala inspired so many of us w/her journey and bravery. She’s a definite wise old soul and a great reminder of what we can all strive too especially when we are feeling scared about voicing ourselves. You definitely strike me as someone who will use what she has to make a difference, Timi.


    1. She did/does. I’d certainly like to make a difference in my sphere of influence. What about you Diahann? Malala’s quote from the book, “. . . how powerful we are when we speak,” corroborates what we know, that words aren’t empty, whether spoken or written. Thanks Diahann!


      1. Yes, for sure… she is a definite inspiration to keep voicing in spite of what we fear may happen–although in truth I feel like what Malala had to contend with is so much bigger than the consequences that can happen in America for speaking out–and not intending to negate those either.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post Timi.
    Powerful girls, like Malala, can really put a lot of us to shame. I too, enjoy my comforts. And may I also say, I don’t want them to be disturbed. The sad thing is that, for great change to come about because of dark circumstances, many times death is inevitable. It makes me think of that verse in the Bible, “unless a grain of wheat that falls to the ground dies, it stays just a grain; but if it dies, it produces a big harvest.”


    1. I think of the Bible verse you quoted not necessarily in terms of physical death, but sacrifice. We admire Malala’s heroism because it’s rare. I like to think there are other kinds of heroism that are less dramatic but valid. My biggest takeaways after reading her story is that one person with convictions can make a difference and that developing conviction is a journey.

      Do we have to apologize for privilege and comfort? I don’t think so. We can use it as a platform..Thanks Staci!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Very rare indeed. And yes, there are definitely other kinds of heroism that are less dramatic, but valid. I see that scripture as both ways. Like I think of Keith Green when he died, or even more so Picasso and other great artists. The impact of their work.
        Interesting, “developing conviction is a journey.” I had never thought of that before. You’ve given me some food for thought Timi.
        I don’t think we have to apologize for these things. We should be thankful for them, and as you said, “use them as a platform.”

        Liked by 1 person

  8. This is a very interesting post, Timi. When I think about silence — and I’m personifying silence, I think about a person without regard for human feelings. And this is out of the Malala or the Boko Haram context. Silence doesn’t care what we think about injustice and what our response to unjust acts is. It is a lifeless effigy.

    But in coaching and even in my graduate classes, I’m learning that silence is powerful…and full of energy! It has the power to influence people, the power to slow things down…even the mind.

    With that said, I dread to think about the abilities of silence in these sociopolitical contexts. Because we are wired to avoid stressors, and because our abilities to interpret them as challenges or threats depend on our emotions, fear and intimidation are the weapons of choice…the reinforcers!

    There are only two physiological responses to perceived fear and that is the fight or flight response. Unfortunately, the combination of silence and fear triggers a flight response in most people. I often wonder how extensive of an impact we’ll have if the whole world became paralyzed by fear.

    Sorry for the long post. This post hit a nerve and I find myself in-between explaining the power of silence and feeling sorry for being part of the silent crew. I feel…terrible.

    Although I feel like writing more I’ll stop now. Lol 🙂


    1. I love your post! It’s you! You shouldn’t have stopped 🙂

      “There are only two physiological responses to perceived fear and that is the fight or flight response. Unfortunately, the combination of silence and fear triggers a flight response in most people.”

      Malala and her dad were afraid, but they dug deep and found courage time and again. As I read, I tried to determine where their courage came from- a sense of destiny, their inner circle, their convictions . . .

      No, we can’t all be Malala and that shouldn’t diminish what we do. At some point, weren’t you tutoring students, giving them your best everyday? Aren’t you pursuing a dream that scares you, a dream that will affect others? You’re not as silent as you think!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I agree with so much of what has been said here, but I also wanted to comment that you write beautifully. This struck me as much as anything about your Malala post. That the form, so to speak, fully matched the quality of the contents. Not every writer on the internet can make such a claim.


    1. Malala inspires us, I guess, because we know that this kind of courage is rare.

      @pen is indeed mightier than the sword, in the book, she describes how the Taliban wanted to eliminate every other “pen” but theirs- burning CDs, DVDs, TVs, and computers, and ensuring that the radios they permitted were tuned to their FM channel exclusively.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Sometimes I think the powers feed us just enough to make us docile. Sure, I care about social injustice, but what have I done about it? Sign some petitions. Write my congresspeople. Do a blog post. Leave encouraging comment on the internet. Pretty useless. I’m too distracted by my smart phone and my HDTV to get truly involved.

    I can do better.


    1. There is so much to distract us from weighty matters. Injustice is rife and there are many causes. Perhaps we are yet to find a cause that we’re passionate about. Signing petitions, writing posts, etc, are good. In reading about Malala, I was struck by how her convictions were formed. I am on a journey to conviction. On the way, I’ll keep doing better.


  11. Timi, I always have stood up to voice my thoughts. I have not been privileged in some respects, by my parents who said I was too lucky as I was. I needed to give back, stand up for others and march, fight and be part of picket lines for the rights of others who were not so lucky as I. I am so glad you are joining in, that you won’t be silent anymore! I feel so much for the girls in Nigeria and other countries where they are stifled. I am proud of you, for this post, Timi!


    1. Thanks Robin. Privilege comes with responsibility and your parents taught you well. We can make a difference using various means. I’m not sure I’ll march and carry placards, but I’ll deploy my strengths to causes that mean a lot to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. This is an important post Timi. A measure of its importance is found in the words of Alafia: “Hello Timi. I have really enjoyed this post. its so terrific. and it has motivated me to break the silence.” Powerful words— motivated me to break the silence. Individuals can and do make a difference and they do so every day. Indeed, things only change because of committed individuals. Much of my life has been devoted to this premise. In a couple of weeks I will be blogging about the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley in the mid-60s where committed students fought for their rights to participate in the crucial events of the time. FSM is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this month. The event was an important event in my young life. –Curt


    1. I have to agree. Hers was the first comment and it affirmed what I felt. I spent a great deal of time after I published the post chatting with friends about it. The general consensus was that to make our lives count, we needed to get involved in making a difference in other people’s lives. As you pointed out, “Individuals can and do make a difference and they do so every day.” Little drops of water make an ocean.

      I’ll look out for your post. I know you’ve been involved with the Peace Corps as a volunteer, so I expect it to be coloured with your rich experiences. Thanks Curt.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. The book is easy-to-read, and a page turner, in my view. The fact that she didn’t die after the shooting, and that the shooting incident became a bigger platform for her cause warms my heart. Happy reading!


    1. The poem reminds me of this quote:

      The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.- Edmund Burke

      Her father carried the poem in his pocket. I like to imagine that on difficult days, he read it over and over. Her father shaped her convictions.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I could relate to this. I always had strong opinions about the situation in my country, but I just started spreaking up. But going out in protests was unimaginable, even moreso for my parents who brought me up in a safe environment. That is why I have deep respect and awe for malala. It takes more than courage to stand up like that. It takes more of everything really. Malala is from my country, yet I can’t associate or relate to her. Hers was a different , fearful world, though only a few hours drive from the comfortable little bubble that I called home.


    1. Nida, a similar situation exists in Nigeria, where those living in the south are far removed from the Boko Haram terror in the north.

      As I read Malala’s story, I kept asking, where does her courage come from? Perhaps that’s why where others might see a story about her childhood, for example, I saw a story about the shaping of convictions. I like to think that a person with deep-seated convictions that they’re ready to die for, will shake their world. Way to go, Malala!


  14. Each of us has different strengths and weaknesses. We should all care about the world, but we can do so in different ways.

    We can’t all be Malala . . . that was her job.

    Don’t worry about what the world wants from you, worry about what makes you come more alive. Because what the world really needs are people who are more alive. ~ Lawrence Le Shan

    You might be interested in this post:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We can’t all be Malala, true, and I think we don’t all want to be Malala either. I like the Lawrence Le Shan quote you shared. Malala found what makes her come alive early in life and followed her passion, even when she knew it would cost her. I find her example inspiring.

      Nancy, you’ve summed it nicely in your post:

      “If we each select only the causes which interest us most, the ones that touch our hearts, we funnel our energy (instead of diffusing it) ~ increasing the odds that we will contribute to creating effective solutions for the planet.”

      Thanks for sharing!


    2. I have always aligned with nrhatch’s opinion on this matter. I think it is very important to protest injustice and fight for rights, even if in dangerous ways, but then, it is equally important to focus on our strengths and passions. I believe many who conveniently type out lengthy protests on social media never make it to the streets, more so when they know armor and boots shall be their opposing companions. For this reason, people like Malala are to be praised, honoured, and emulated as your post, Timi, aptly asks of us. We may not all wield our pens and swords in such hostile environment as hers but we can learn to do so on the small small platforms each one of us acts out this script called life.


      1. @lengthy protests on social media, I tend to see it this way. “War” is fought on many fronts. Foot soldiers, Pen soldiers, and Hashtag soldiers have a role to play. Hashtag soldiers can garner global recognition for the cause. Propaganda is powerful. So even if Hashtag soldiers never take to the streets, their endless debates and commentary, keep the discussion on the table and the fire burning . . . What do you think?

        True. Some causes elicit a “heya” and 5 Dollars from me, others keep me on Google search and awake long after other people have gone to bed. These are the ones I should focus on and use my “small small” platform to push.

        Thanks Samuel. As always, you make me “talk” 🙂


  15. Hello Timi. I have really enjoyed this post. its so terrific. and it has motivated me to break the silence. I see myself in the first few lines. I know that is me and at the end, with the poem written by Martin Niemoller, I know I need to break the silence.

    this is really good stuff, plus now I really want to get the book.

    Thanks so much for sharing this.


    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. The book gave me a few things to chew on as well. At around 275 pages, it’s an easy read. I am impressed by the way she lived out her convictions, even in the face of danger.


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